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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 16, 2007

Singer, OHA trustee Linda Dela Cruz, 77

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 •  Obituaries

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Linda Dela Cruz

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Linda Dela Cruz, "Hawai'i's Canary," fluttered through the Hawaiian music and political worlds. A star falsetto and later an activist and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, Dela Cruz died at her home in the Pana'ewa section of Hilo yesterday morning.

Dela Cruz, 77, was known for her "ha'i" style of falsetto and was honored in 2003 by the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts with a Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hawaiian music historian Harry B. Soria Jr. said Dela Cruz got the nickname Hawai'i's Canary because she was inspired by and sounded somewhat like Lena Machado, the Hawaiian music legend known as the Hawaiian Songbird.

Raised in Papakolea, she was making a name for herself with her soaring falsetto even as a teenager, said Soria, who wrote the liner notes for "Linda Dela Cruz, Hawai'i's Canary," a 2005 compact disc anthology of her musical highlights.

Soria wrote that Dela Cruz, a member of the famed Halekulani Girls trio, had incredible vocal range. "As quickly as Linda could unleash a stormy bluesy power, she could also caress with a gentle and subtle teasing," he said. "With an angelic smile on her lips and a naughty twinkle in her eye, her voice climbed the peaks of any soprano register in one moment and descended to the deep guttural chants of her ancestors in the next."

Dela Cruz retired from the music business at 41 and, in 1975, she and her late husband, John, moved their family to a 10-acre guava orchard on homestead land in Pana'ewa.

It was there that she took on the persona of activist, said former Advertiser Big Island reporter Hugh Clark.

She fought for the development of Prince Kuhio Mall on Hawaiian Home lands "because it was Hawaiian land and she believed they deserved to be compensated for it," Clark said.

Dela Cruz ran for office several times unsuccessfully before being elected to the OHA board in 2000. Clark said Dela Cruz as a candidate "was not so much about the politics as she was about enunciating her position as a pro-Hawaiian."

She won re-election to the Hawai'i Island seat in 2004 for a term that was to run through 2008. The OHA board has 60 days to select a replacement. If trustees cannot name a replacement in that time, the governor has 30 days to choose one.

OHA chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said Dela Cruz's death is a big loss to the Hawaiian community. "Linda has been a strong and assertive advocate for our Hawaiian people and brought heart and soul to her trustee work," she said in a release.

Dela Cruz was also past president of several community organizations, including the Pana'ewa Farmers Association, the Pana'ewa Hawaiian Homes Community Association and the Keaukaha-Pana'ewa Community Association.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.