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Na‘u E Lei: The Music of Bina Mossman

Guillhermina Kailipaina “Bina” Nieper was born in Honolulu on January 7, 1893 — just 10 days before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Although she did not receive much by way of formal musical training as a child, her mother, Susan Titcomb Nieper, was a gifted composer, and Bina was exposed to the sounds of Hawaiian oli and mele from birth.

In 1914, she organized Bina Mossman’s Girls Glee Club which for 30 years sang for the elite of Honolulu at various functions around town. Many of their early rehearsals were held at Washington Place, then home of Lili‘uokalani, and the Queen herself would correct their pronunciation. For seventeen years, the all-Hawaiian glee club also had a program on KGU radio station with Charles E. King as narrator. The club sang and recorded both the popular Hawaiian “standards” of the time as well as Bina’s own compositions. Many of her newly penned songs became hits and were soon being performed by fellow musicians across Hawai‘i and beyond.

The Bina Mossman Glee Club was discontinued in 1944 during World War II, as Bina decided to devote more of her time and energy towards her second passion in life—politics. Her interest and involvement in politics began as a young girl, even before women had the right to vote. During her 35 years as an active member of the Republican Party, Bina pushed for progressive legislation and advocated strongly for the rights of women and children.

Bina’s commitment to serving her community, however, extended far beyond the political landscape. Bina was an active member of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu and chairman of their first and second Holokū Balls. She was also a member of the Daughters of Hawai‘i, Hui Poni Mō‘ī, and ‘Ahahui Ka‘ahumanu. From 1958 to 1968, she served as curator of Hānaiakamalama in Nu‘uanu. As keeper of the home, Bina was responsible for caring for the history of Queen Emma, her family, and their cherished possessions.

In 1952, Bina found herself called back to music, organizing and directing the Ka‘ahumanu Society Choral Group. Nicknamed the “Traveling Tūtūs,” this group took Hawaiian music around the world, touring Europe, Asia, Canada, and the continental United States between 1960 and 1978. In her shows, Bina would innovatively weave music, dance, fashion, and history into a beautiful narrative—both teaching and entertaining her audiences all at once.

Bina Mossman lived in a Hawai‘i very different from that of today. And yet, for the upcoming generation of young Hawaiian leaders, her life story and outstanding contributions are more relevant than ever. This Renaissance woman was not only an exquisite composer and musician, but a true servant of her community who gave voice to the causes of her time. We celebrate Aunty Bina tonight as the students of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama lift their voices in a wreath of songs—Na‘u e Lei: the Music of Bina Mossman.