Jacqueline Leilani “Honolulu Skylark” Rossetti — a major figure in Hawaii radio, and a significant presence in Hawaiian music, for more than 40 years — died Wednesday at Kaiser Permanente in Moanalua of complications from end-stage renal disease. She was 65.
“We’ve lost one of our major resources,” Hula Records president Donald P. “Flip” McDiarmid III, said Thursday. “We’re gonna miss her.”
“We will miss her dearly, but not as much as the younger generations of Hawaiian musicians to come,” multi-Hoku Award-winner Hoku Zuttermeister agreed. “She was, and represented, what Hawaiian Music needs more than ever – integrity.”
Rossetti’s most enduring contribution to Hawaii’s music industry came in 1978 when she was working at Hawaiian Radio KCCN 1420 AM and joined Krash Kealoha and Kimo Kahoano in creating the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards as a co-promotion for the radio station and one of its biggest clients, the Ala Moana Americana Hotel (now the Ala Moana Hotel). The hotel was one of the Hawaii’s most extensive venues for modern Hawaiian music, and the Hokus were an instant success.
The awards continued as a KCCN/Ala Moana Americana promotion until 1982 when KCCN ceded the awards program to the newly created Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) and they became Hawaii’s regional equivalent of the Grammys.
Rossetti won Hoku Awards in 1987 and 1996 for her work as a liner notes writer for Dennis Pavao and Darlene Ahuna respectively. She received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Rossetti contributed to Hawaii’s music in other ways. In 1979 she helped launch Harry B. Soria Jr., as a radio show host when she persuaded Kealoha to give Soria and his proposed Hawaiian-retro radio show, “Territorial Airwaves,” a trial run on KCCN 1420 AM. It was the start of Soria’s continuing career as a radio show host, liner notes writer, record producer and multi-Hoku Award-winner.
“She and I built the show for the next seven years before she changed stations and Keaumiki Akui replaced her,” Soria reminisced. “She showed me radio and nurtured me into broadcasting. I will never forget those precious moments with dear Sky.”
Hoku Award-winner Gerard K. Gonsalves remembered Rossetti as the person who gave his music radio play when nobody else would.
“Back in 1999 Angelo Jensen and I released our first album as (the group) Native Tongue. It was a new genre we called “acoustic Hawaiian rock” and no Hawai‘i radio station would play it — except Skylark Rossetti. She believed in giving everyone a chance to share their music and she was the only one who played our album on the radio.”
In 1990, responding to the undeniable popularity of reggae-derivative “Jawaiian” music in Hawaii — music that was anathema to Hawaiian music traditionalists — she joined KCCN General Manager Mike Kelly in creating a new station, KCCN FM 100, with an all-reggae all-Jawaiian format. KCCN FM 100 was an instant hit with island reggae fans.
Rossetti continued her involvement in radio and Hawaiian culture when she moved to Hilo in 1992. She became an institution on Big Island radio stations KWXX-FM and KAPA Hawaiian FM, and continued to be a popular emcee at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival and other cultural activities.
“Aunty Skylark is a voice I grew up (listening) to in Hilo,” two-time Grammy Award-winner Kalani Pe‘a said. “Her smooth, distinctive voice on the radio is something to remember as a child listening to Aunty Genoa (Keawe) or Hoʻokena on the radio.”
Lehua Kawaikapuokalani, a friend for more than 30 years, said that Rossetti’s interest in cultural events remained strong during her final hospitalization.
“I went to see her on Saturday and we talked about so many things. She was concerned about the upcoming Merrie Monarch (Festival), she was concerned about the upcoming Hoku Hanohano event (and) she was concerned about the (HARA) Lifetime Achievement Awards. We met a long time ago in the days of Aloha ʻāina and Save Kahoʻolawe, and remained friends all these years. I will miss her greatly.”
Rossetti is survived by her longtime companion, Kimo Laʻau, her children, Imaka Lindsey, Kilohana Lindsey and Makana Rossetti-Ota, and six grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.