Kealoha, born and raised in Honolulu, was the first poet laureate of Hawai‘i and the first poet in Hawai‘i’s history to perform at a governor’s inauguration. As an internationally acclaimed poet and storyteller, he has performed throughout the world — from the White House to the ‘Iolani Palace, from Brazil to Switzerland. He was selected as a master artist for a National Endowment for the Arts program, was named an American Academy of Poets Laureate Fellow, and is a teaching artist for the Hawai’i State Foundation Culture and the Arts, Artists in Schools Program. Kealoha received a Community Inspiration Program grant from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation towards the creation of his multi-media theater piece, The Story of Everything, which is now a full-length film, produced and directed by Engaging the Senses Foundation that condenses 13.8 billion years into an hour and 45 minutes of various cultural elements and scientific disciplines to approach the question that has challenged humans from the very beginning: “Where do we come from?”
Kealoha is the founder of Hawai‘i Slam, which was ranked second in the nation in 2015; Youth Speaks Hawai‘i, two-time international champions; and First Thursdays, the largest registered slam poetry competition in the world with an average attendance of more than five hundred people. In the 7 years that he represented Hawaiʻi at the National Poetry Slam, he performed on the finals stage 4 times, was ranked in the top ten of the nations best poets in 2007, and was honored as a “National Poetry Slam Legend” in 2010. He was featured on HBO’s “Brave New Voices” series presented by Russel Simmons, and has also made appearances on NBC, PBS, the Food Network, National Public Radio, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, and the State of Hawai‘i’s “Can’t Fool the Youth” anti-smoking campaign, which he wrote, performed, and co-directed.
Kealoha is the poetic vocalist for Henry Kapono’s “Wild Hawaiian Experience,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award. He has also been recorded on albums such as Hapa’s “Maui” (winner of four Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards and the Hawai‘i Music Award for Album of the Year), Henry Kapono’s “Henry,” the Mana Maoli compilation (featuring Jack Johnson and John Cruz), and a full-length spoken word CD entitled “Kealoha.”
Kealoha has shared the stage with Jack Johnson, CeeLo Green, Old Crow Medicine Show, Maxi Priest, Jason Mraz, Ben Harper, Kenny Loggins, Willie Nelson, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Michael Franti, Bootsy Collins, Fishbone, Don Carlos, Konishiki, Ohio Players, and almost every notable slam poetry superstar. He has also collaborated with artists such as Grammy nominee Henry Kapono, Nā Hōkū Hanohano award winner Hapa, slack key virtuoso Makana, Grammy nominee Willie K, multi-platinum Grammy award winner Mick Fleetwood, ‘ukulele virtuoso Taimane, and actor Jason Scott Lee.
Beyond poetry, Kealoha co-directed both The Story of Everything to a sold-out performance at Hawai‘i Theatre Center in 2019, and a sold-out 1,400-seat show of The Vagina Monologues at Hawai‘i Theatre Center in 2004, featuring luminaries such as Joy Harjo, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, and Nora Okja Keller. For his son Liko, Kealoha conceived, wrote, cast and performed in the theater performances and the full-length film of The Story of Everything.
Kealoha graduated from Punahou School and with honors from MIT with a degree in nuclear physics and a minor in writing, served as a business consultant in San Francisco, and played around as a surf instructor prior to becoming a professional poet in 2002. He was invited to give the commencement address for MIT’s 2020 & 2021 graduating classes. MIT President L. Rafael Reit wrote, “The classes of 2020 and 2021 faced challenges none of us could have imagined. To make it up to them, we sought a speaker who would deliver a message of hope and agency. You provided that and so much more – a call to action and a performance none of us will ever forget.”