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Love Story, Hawaiian Style - Top Musicians Perform for Hawaiian Artist Peggy Chun
Carolyn Long --  Angels Over America Carolyn Long -- Angels Over America
Honolulu, HI
Friday, November 9, 2007

Boo in Contemplation, From The Watercolor Cat, Courtesy Mutual Publishing Company
by Carolyn Long

Honolulu, HI__Hawaii threw a party for beloved artist Peggy Chun?and everyone came?scores of famous performers, dozens of school children who sang and read letters to her, and hundreds upon hundreds of friends and fans of the artist. Peggy is considered a national treasure for her extraordinary watercolors and even more extraordinary life. Chun?s passion for life and art inspires her to continue painting and communicating in spite of advanced ALS (Lou Gehrig?s Disease), which has left her completely paralyzed except for eye movements.

The Na Mele Nei Concert honoring Peggy Chun on Sunday, November 4, at Honolulu?s Native Books at Ward Warehouse Amphitheater was yet one more sell-out book-launch party for her illustrated book, ?The Watercolor Cat,? (Mutual Publishing, $14.95). But Lynn Cook, volunteer concert coordinator and long-time friend of Peggy Chun, said that anyone who heard the music, or saw the huge crowds braving flash floods to attend, and the people lined up around the block to visit Chun, would recognize it as another chapter in Hawaii?s continuing love story with the celebrated artist.

Famed for her dazzling watercolors of Hawaii?s lush florals, fabled scenes and feline images, Peggy Chun is equally admired for her courage and optimism in the face of her debilitating disease. Her colorful book, authored by children?s book writer Shelly Mecum, traces Chun?s artistic career through the eyes of her cat Boo, with reproductions of her art from the time she began painting, through each new technique she developed to compensate for muscle deterioration from ALS.

When she could no longer paint with her right hand, she quickly taught herself to paint with her left; then with her teeth; and finally, using only her eyes and a special computer. Now that she can no long blink, she relies on volunteer readers to follow her eye movements and speak for her, convey her artistic directions, and spread her ?Spirit of Aloha.? Chun?s achievements prove her belief that ?You don't paint with your hands; you paint with your heart.?

So beloved is this artist that she has attracted an army of round-the-clock volunteers, dubbed ?Peg?s Legs,? who assist her devoted family and professional caregivers, and enable Peggy to ?talk? by reading her eye movements as she looks at individual letters on a board. In this way, Peggy was able to chat with literally hundreds of visitors at the concert, giving each a cheerful or encouraging word, remembering old friends and art students by name, even from decades past.

?The line was out the door and down the length of the shopping arcade as Shelly Mecum and the Peg's Legs volunteers signed books?more than 150 the first hour,? said Cook. Peg?s Legs volunteers do the signature stamping for Peggy and Boo, the book?s namesake and ?voice? of ?The Watercolor Cat.?

?Peggy is a party person,? said Cook, who described Peggy?s annual ?Women?s Party,? attended by as many as 500 of her best friends. ?Her whole life has been a party, with people coming and going all the time. So I thought this event should be a real party, with great music, lots of people, punch and homemade cookies, and all the trappings of a great party.? So Cook started calling Hawaii?s famed musicians. ?When I asked them to come, they just asked ?What time??? said Cook. ?And they all performed out of love for Peggy.?

Ellen Martinez, producer of the Na Mele Nei weekly concert series, pulled out all the stops for a full afternoon concert. A well known hula dancer, singer, musician and event producer, Ellen performs in some of the Islands? most elegant hotels and showrooms. Her group, Na Mele Nei Backyard Gang, performs classic Hawaiian music on the first Sunday of every month. The Concert was sponsored by Maile Meyer, many-time-honored Hawaiian businesswoman, publisher and owner of Native Books, and the new MANA Hawaii shop in Waikiki.

Thirty-five members of the Holy Trinity Choir, where Shelly Mecum teaches, sang ?Come See Her Smile? along with the CD, prompting the first of the day?s standing ovations. The song, written for Peggy Chun by Daniel Ho & Faith Rivera, captures the artist?s outlook:

?We run for shelter as she plays in the rain

Splashing in puddles of thankfulness

Where others, they find blame

We're just spectators in this game called "Life"

She's got the ball, oh, she's running.?

Cook said that Daniel Ho, one of the nation's most prolific songwriters, called to express his disappointment at missing the concert as he was on his way to Japan, but that he knew the students would "do him proud"

The place was packed when the Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning band, Pali, came on. ?Peggy loves their harmony and their ?Tribute? CD,? said Cook. The Hoku's are known as the Hawaiian Grammy's. Pali and other Hawaiian musicians are in the running for the new category of Hawaiian music in the Grammy Awards. Pali tours on the continental U.S. and Japan and performs each Friday evening at the Ala Moana Hotel Pakele Lounge. They can be viewed live via streaming video each Wednesday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Hawaiian time (11:00 p.m. EST) at www.AlohaVideo.tv.

Internationally known author, speaker and storyteller Wally Amos captivated the crowd as he read ?The Watercolor Cat.? He was joined on stage by two young boys, fans of Peggy, who turned the book pages as he read.

Next up was a great set by Hawaii's own Yvonne Elliman. She is best known outside of the Islands for her 1977 "Saturday Night Fever" hit, "If I Can't Have You," written by the Bee Gees. Elliman was the first Pacific/Asian female singer to have a number one song on the Billboard charts. She was joined on stage by guitarist Allen Alexander. The hana hou, Hawaiian for ?encore,? was Elliman's hit from Jesus Christ Superstar, "I Don't Know How to Love Him," followed by a standing O (ovation).

Two of Hawaii's most loved entertainers, Keith and Carmen Haugen, became known as KFC with the addition of Frank Uehara on pakini bucket bass. They performed all the Hawaiian songs Peggy loves. Ellen Martinez, Kats Uehara, Lynn Cook, and Native Books owner and sponsor of the event, Maile Meyer, danced Puamana. The Haugens? popularity at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, where they performed for 17 years, is such that guests from around the world book vacations around their schedule. Keith, a noted songwriter, poet and Hawaiian cultural expert, speaks and teaches the Hawaiian language, an interesting fact considering he is a Norwegian from the Midwest. His wife Carmen is Hawaiian, tracing her ancestry to the earliest royalty of the Islands, pre-dating Western contact.

Peggy Chun sent Keith a request for the song, "I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore,? a.k.a. "Trucker's Lament" Another standing O, mostly because you just can't sit down when Keith does that song, noted Cook. The crowd went home and Peggy went shopping in Native Books, wheelchair and all.

?Peggy and Shelly had the most fantastic day,? said Cook. ?They heard their favorite songs, watched lovely hula dancers, visited with hundreds of admirers and friends, and were met with great enthusiasm for their new book. Despite a Pacific storm that kept some hula dancers at home bailing out their yards and driveways, the concert drew big crowds, and even held off the storms during the nearly four-hour-long event.?

?Peggy is so grateful for everything,? says Shelly Mecum. ?She truly appreciates just how extraordinary life is?and not just every day; she sees every breath as precious?even if it?s taken through a ventilator. So she?s on a ventilator? She?s just so thankful that there is such a machine. I've never met anyone who could embrace adversity with so much joy. People?s lives change if they meet Peggy for even a moment.?

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, Peggy has lived in Hawaii since 1969. She was diagnosed in 2002 with ALS, the same disease that took her twin sister Bobbie, their mother and grandfather. Bobbie, who passed away in 1987, was a well-established artist herself, and the inspiration for Peggy to pick up her first paintbrush in 1989. Convinced her gift was transferred from her sister, Peggy?s talent flourished.

Shelly Mecum, who gave Boo her whimsical voice, is also one of ?Pegs Legs.? An inspirational speaker and author of the award-winning best-selling book, God?s Photo Album, Harper Collins, 2001, Mecum?s work has been featured on Dr. Schuller?s Hour of Power, Roma Downey?s national television program, ?It?s a Miracle,? Guideposts Magazine, and Charles Osgood?s national radio program, ?The Osgood Files.? Mecum is also a co-author of several Chicken Soup books and Literary Consultant to the 9/11 Memorial Poem and video ?Angels Over America.? She currently teaches at Holy Trinity School in East Oahu.

Though written for children, ?The Watercolor Cat? appeals to anyone who loves cats, appreciates art, or is moved by a beautifully-crafted story that redefines what is possible for an artist with a burning passion and an indomitable spirit.

The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders Books & Music Stores, or from Mutual Publishing in Hawaii.

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Name: Carolyn Long
Title: Author, Executive Producer
Group: Angels Over America
Dateline: Annapolis, MD United States
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