Remembering Skylark

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It is rare that one can look back and say that that because of someone’s passion and lifelong dedication to a cause, things changed. Yet, that can be said of Jackie “Honolulu Skylark” Rossetti’s commitment to Hawaiian music, which is at the heart of why Hawaiian radio and music are flourishing today.

Skylark’s radio journey started even before she returned home to Hawaiʻi after going away to college. She knew then that she wanted to be a radio broadcaster and graduated with a FCC license. She next started playing Hawaiian music at a small radio station in San Francisco.

After coming home in the mid 1970s, knowing that her future lay here, not on the mainland, KCCN was the only Hawaiian music station in Honolulu. Of course, those days weren’t a particularly high point for anything Hawaiian, as we were only starting to take back our culture and our pride, and there was much lost ground to be made up.

Photo: Jacqueline Leilani Rossetti and Kimo Kahoano
Popular radio hosts ʻHonolulu Skylark’ Jacqueline Leilani Rossetti and Kimo Kahoano joined forces – and personalities – on Nā ʻŌiwi ʻŌlino, the OHA-produced morning radio show. – Photo: Courtesy of Kimo Akane

Despite her velvet voice and passion and knowledge about Hawaiian music, KCCN didn’t hire her immediately. They eventually did, though, and it wasn’t long before Skylark became not only a trusted authority on Hawaiian music throughout the state, but a moving force for upcoming Hawaiian musicians to getting their music heard. Considering there was a renaissance in Hawaiian music and culture going on during this era, the timing couldn’t have been better for her to become the link and the transition from the older, more territorial period music to the modern tunes and styles that were just as Hawaiian. Her interviews with musicians and songwriters during this time were so valuable that they are now in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Her radio shows were never about her as a radio personality as they were about showcasing Hawaiian music and artists. Yet her activism wasn’t limited to music, she was involved in reviving other important Hawaiian cultural practices as well, even going to Kahoʻolawe to protest the military occupation.

On the rare occasions that I saw Skylark in more recent years after she moved to Hilo in the early 1990s, I looked forward to hearing her perspectives on the ongoing evolution and changes to Hawaiian radio, for example, why were some music artists given either little or no air time. I remember her saying it was the often mainland corporate headquarters, whose concerns were more focused on the bottom line than showcasing artists. The fact that mainland companies even invested in Hawaiian music stations is a testament to the market that Hawaiian music has become. Skylark’s depth of knowledge about the inner workings of radio and of Hawaiian music and musicians was vital to the evolution of Hawaiian radio.

The reason I knew Skylark, though, wasnʻt through a radio connection, rather it was through hiring her as a narrator for video projects in which I was involved. She was a consummate professional with an exquisite yet authoritative voice. She was always a pleasure to work with and would elevate a project simply by the sheer beauty and power of her expression.

Skylark left an enormous legacy, not only to the Hawaiian community and Hawaiʻi, but to the world. The success of Hawaiian music today speaks for itself – Kalani Peʻa winning Grammy awards the past two years against genres of music that may have larger audiences, the proliferation of Hawaiian music stations throughout the islands, including community stations that play the music that corporate stations don’t play, and of the popularity of Hawaiian music in Japan. It is because of the commitment of people back in the 1970s, especially like Skylark, whose passion for Hawaiian music and the culture was persistent and fearless that Hawaiian music has risen to the level it is at today. The many awards and recognition she received over her career are testament to the impact of her dedication.

Mahalo, Skylark, for everything you did to make Hawaiian music the thriving industry and cultural expression that it is today, including the many Hawaiian radio stations we now have and the opportunities for new and aspiring Hawaiian musicians to be heard. Our culture is stronger because of the people like you who fought for it, especially at a time when it was an uphill struggle. The vibrancy of the music we have to share with each other and with the world speaks for itself and you will be remembered for it.

Lurline MacGregor is a writer, television producer and author of Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me.