The Legacy of a princess

Kamehameha Schools was founded by the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great.

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Home I MUA NewsroomSong Contest connects haumāna to culture through mele
The 97th Annual Kamehameha Schools Song Contest is coming up this Friday, March 17.
Song Contest connects haumāna to culture through mele

Hawaiian culture-based education is a core component of the Kamehameha Schools learning experience. Firmly grounding our haumāna in who they are where they are from culturally establishes a solid foundation upon which they are able to build continued personal and educational success. Song Contest, a KS tradition for more than nine decades, connects multiple aspects of culture, music and learning that remain with our graduates throughout their lives.

For 97 years, the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest has brought the Kapālama campus together in a night to celebrate mele and connect its haumāna to a shared Hawaiian heritage and culture.

The Song Contest started in 1921 as a competition for the Kamehameha School for Boys on the steps of Bishop Hall. The following year the Kamehameha School for Girls held their own contest with the two combining in 1952. It was held on campus until 1964, when it moved to the Neal Blaisdell Center, and it has been held there since. 

Even in its early days, when Hawaiian culture was a minimal part of the curriculum, KS kumu saw the importance in using mele to foster a cultural identity. Laura Brown, the Director of Music at KS from 1926-47, stated that, “the objectives of the song contest are to build up the repertoire of the best in Hawaiian music for the cultural heritage of any student who attends Kamehameha,” also noting the important lessons in leadership, cooperation, class spirit and using singing as a means of expression.

“Given that I attended KS during a time when culture was not prominent (1968-1974), Song Contest became one of the few aspects of our education where we were all encouraged to promote being Hawaiian through singing,” Poʻo Kula Kūikawā Debbie Lindsey remembered of her time as a student at Kamehameha. “We sang our Hawaiian songs in four-part harmony, like our kupuna, and learned to understand the meaning of our language through our songs. Concert Glee became the vehicle to sing and dance Hawaiian mele or chant, but for those of us who were not selected for that special group, Song Contest was our annual opportunity.”

This year’s Song Contest is themed around the music of Bina Mossman, an influential and progressive Hawaiian woman of her time known mainly for her contributions in music and politics. Mossman was born just days before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and was mentored later in life by Queen Liliʻuokalani. She was the first person to create an all-Hawaiian girls glee club and has a political career that included prominent positions in the Territorial Legislature, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and as the Republican National Committeewoman of Hawaiʻi.

The Song Contest will be broadcast live on KGMB, while being streamed live on the Song Contest website at The broadcast starts with a pre-show at 6:30 p.m., with the live competition starting at 7:30 p.m.  The website is also the best place to view videos of all 10 Song Contest directors, telling why the annual tradition is important to them, download an online version of the program, and get more information on this year’s competition.

“Song Contest for me was an opportunity to bond with my classmates as Hawaiians and to share with the community and the state our singing talents as young teenagers from Kamehameha,” Lindsey added. “I felt it was a tremendous feat to bring 1,400 high school students together to learn, memorize, and perform Hawaiian music for a common purpose of a song competition for all the world to see. Here, today, as almost 1,800 students do the same 43 years later, it is truly overwhelming and continually amazing! A legacy lives on…”


SP2020 is a five-year strategic plan that will guide Kamehameha Schools from 2015 to 2020. The plan marks a starting point toward KS’ Vision 2040, which envisions success for all Native Hawaiian learners.

This aligns with Goal 3 of SP2020 as KS aims to cultivate a strong Native Hawaiian identity. It also aligns with Action 5 of Kamehameha Schools’ Ten Actions for fiscal year 2016-17, calling for the integration of cultural principles.

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