Marlene Sai is a Hawaiian classic-style female solo singer, born in Honolulu of Hawaiian–Chinese heritage. The San Francisco Chronicle refers to Marlene Sai as one of the true icons of the islands. The Santa Cruz Sentinel refers to Sai as a living legend of Hawaiian music. PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox says of Sai “There are only a handful of true divas in Hawaiian music, women who wrap their powerful voices with grace, elegance and beauty.
Sai is from Kaimuki, Hawaii, and a product of the Kamehameha school system. She released her first record in 1959. Sai was taught the basics of singing and mentored by her uncle Andy Cummings, considered another legend of Hawaiian singing and songwriting. Cummings taught his niece the love song “Kainoa” written by his friend Jimmy Taka when he found out he was dying of cancer. The song was for his wife. Cummings put the song down on paper and later taught it to his then-teenage niece, Marlene Sai. “Kainoa” went on to become Sai’s first hit and title for her debut album. Sai was discovered by Hawaiian entertainer Don Ho before he was famous while managing his mother’s restaurant lounge Honey’s in Kaneohe on the island of Oahu.
Marlene Sai, just out of high school, became a teenage recording star. Sai toured Japan in 1962 and has an extensive following there. In 2007 Sai hosted the 23rd annual Ka Himeni Ana singing contest at the Hawaii Theater. In 2008, Sai performed in concert in New York City at Carnegie Hall. Sai’s album Kainoa was considered 21st out of 50 of the all-time great albums of Hawaii by Honolulu magazine in 2004. In the article it states that it wasn’t recorded under the most ideal circumstances. When she signed with Sounds of Hawaii, the new label hadn’t even finished building its studio. Kainoa was recorded inside the bus depot once located on King Street. “We recorded late at night, when it was quiet, buses weren’t moving, and you hoped an airplane didn’t fly overhead,” Sai says. “But I had Sonny Chilling worth on slack key and Don Ho on the organ behind me, so we still had a ball.”
Records and CDs
- Kainoa 1959
- Sweet Someone
- Best of Marlene Sai 1967
- Hana Hou
- Not Pau
- Marlene Sai 1985
- I Love You 1994
- Mele No Ka ʻOe 1996
- Marlene & Mahela 1999
- Legacy 2010
In 1986, Sai played Makua Wahine Luka in the TV series Magnum PI. In 1987, Sai starred in a one-actress play called Hear Me, O My People. In it she portrayed Queen Liliʻuokalani. She was also invited to perform the play for members of the United States Congress at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Sai also portrayed Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch, in the PBS documentary Betrayal. The made-for-TV film premiered in Hawaii on January 17, 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow it depicted. Sai portrayed Bloody Mary in the 2007–2008 Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production of South Pacific in Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu. In 2008 Sai starred in the dinner show This Is Hawai’i at the Hale Koa Hotel.
Recognition and awards
In 1986, Sai received the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) Na Hoku Hanohano Award for ‘Best Female Vocalist’ In 1987, Sai was given the “Po’okela Award” from the Hawaii State Theatre Council for her portrayal of Queen Liliʻuokalani in a one-actress play called Hear Me, O My People. In 2004, HARA honored her with Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award for her accomplishments in music and recording. In September 2007, she was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame by the Hawaiian Music Foundation. Her first LP release, Kainoa, was included in the book “The 50 Greatest Hawaii Albums”.
Sai is currently president of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts and on the board of the Honolulu Boys Choir and the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts.
Marlene Sai Photos and Articles
- Marlene at Celebration Aumakua in 2008
- Midweek Article About Marlene Sai in 2007
- Marlene With Flip McDiarmid in 2006
- Marlene Sai with Genoa Keawe in 2003.
Facts About Marlene Sai
- Ethnic Heritage: Hawaiian-Chinese
- Attended Kamehameha School for Girls
- Andy Cummings was her Uncle
- Don Ho Discovered her at Honey’s in Kaneohe
- Best Female Vocalist 1986 Na Hoku Hanohano Award
- Two of her signature songs are “Kainoa” and “I Love You”
Some of Marlene Sai’s Most Recent Activities
- Played Bloody Mary in 2007 “South Pacific” Production
- Hosted 23rd Annual Ka Himeni Ana Contest in 2007
- Good Life Expo Seniors Fair Ambassador in 2008
- Starred in the dinner show “This Is Hawaii” at the Hale Koa Hotel
- Served as president of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts
- Served on the board of the Honolulu Boy Choir
- Served on the board of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts
- Operates her own company called Blue Rain Entertainment