From Stumbling Over Words to Becoming a Grammy Award Winning Singer

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015


Kalani Pe’a (Native Hawaiian) writes, arranges, and produces Hawaiian, Contemporary, and Soul music. He won his second Grammy® at the 61st Annual Grammy® Awards for Best Regional Roots Music Album. He is also an illustrator and has published five Hawaiian language children stories for immersion programs statewide under the direction of the Hale Kuamo’o Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. 

Kalani has a B.A. in Public Relations/News Editorial from Colorado Mesa University and took M.A. courses in Early Childhood Education. He uses his college degree as an independent music owner.

His 2019 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship helped support his recent “Music For The Soul Tour” which included Portland, Eugene, Berkeley, Folsom, Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Irvine. 

Between Kalani’s parents and the mall’s security guard looking for the lost four-year-old, it wasn’t long before they found Kalani standing in front of a mannequin, serenading it. 

His parents were shocked. Kalani — a child diagnosed with a severe speech impediment — was standing there singing out words clearly.

Kalani’s parents immediately recognized the importance of music in his life.

“My dad came from a musical family,” he says. “My mom introduced new music material for me to learn while getting vocal training. They saw me compose music at age ten and noticed my stammering and stuttering stopped. Music helped me enunciate and emphasize words and phrases.”

Kalani entered and won numerous talent and karaoke competitions from age eight throughout his college career, singing in choirs to now taking his music around the world. 

“Music and singing saved my life,” he says.

His family spoke their native language at home. Kalani and his siblings attended Ke Kula ’o Nawahiokalani’opu’u, an immersion school where every subject was taught in Hawaiian. His original songs consist of music composed in Hawaiian.

Kalani shares his art internationally, selling out shows in Hawai’i, the U.S., and Japan. 

“Hawaiian music defines and describes my people, providing the listener knowledge of where we come from, how we think in a Hawaiian perspective and how we live day to day as people of our land,” he says. 

Kalani is passing on the gift of language and music to youth, hoping it impacts their lives as it did his. 

“You can sing R&B, opera, rock-n-roll, or rap in the Hawaiian language. It’s possible while maintaining your cultural values and practices. My long-term goal is to encourage every young child to feel that Hawaiian music tells their story.”