Shockwaves rippled through Rotorua the day Sir Howard Morrison died - 10 years ago on Tuesday. Not only did Rotorua lose its most successful entertainer, but a big part of the city's heart was gone. Sir Howard was born for the stage. There was no one better. Journalist Kelly Makiha reflects on 10 years since his death and reveals how his children are trying to keep his memory alive, especially for the sake of their mum, Lady Kuia Morrison.
Howie Morrison Jnr has one goal as 10 years since the death of his namesake, Sir Howard Morrison, ticks over on Tuesday. He wants to take his mum, Lady Kuia Morrison, on the road one last time for a Howard Morrison Quartet tribute national tour.
There's a special reason he wants her there.
She has dementia and her memories are fading.
But it's music that keeps her happy.
"Whenever music comes on, she jumps up and starts singing or doing poi. She just loves music ... It's my goal to take her on the road for a final time," Morrison said.
Lady Kuia recognises her immediate family members and her home surrounds at the pā in Rotorua's Ōhinemutu. She also remembers her husband, Sir Howard.
But for most others, she's simply smiling and saying "kia ora" out of kindness.
"I get upset when I see her sometimes," Morrison, her son, said.
"I can't accept she is like that now. She was the one always up early in the morning walking and running around Rotorua. Everyone saw her out. Everyone knew her and she knew everyone."
Morrison said their mother's memories started to fade about three years ago.
"But, in hindsight, it wasn't long after dad died she started going down. We sort of forgot how lonely she was. He was demanding. Our home was like a chemist, so many prescription pills he was taking and Mum was always the one who would give them to him because if she didn't he wouldn't remember."
She went from being the busy wife of the great Sir Howard to a life completely different.
"I think deep down inside she misses all the music she grew up with and Dad ... I wouldn't wish this [dementia] on anyone. It's heartbreaking for family members to see them like that."
He said it was always his father's wish to die in his sleep - and he got his wish.
"If there was a tangi on at the pā, he'd say to me 'how did he die?' and if I said 'in his sleep', he would say 'lucky bas***d'. So for him to see mum like that would have hurt him."
Morrison said many people weren't aware just how much Lady Kuia sacrificed.
"There was only room for one star in our family and that was Dad.
"Between 1969 and 1976 dad was in Southeast Asia for seven months of the year. She got a cleaning job to keep the home fires burning and not a lot of people know that about Mum."
She got down to a handicap of six in golf, has five holes in one to her name and walked or ran 14 marathons and half marathons, including the New York Marathon.
"Mum got chosen to play representative squash for New Zealand in Europe in the 70s but she couldn't go because she needed to stay home and look after us. Mum was always in the background."
All three children, including Richard Morrison and Donna Grant, have a close and special bond with their mum.
As a whānau, they care for her. It's no burden, it's just what they do for the woman they love and are so grateful for.
"It is hard but the tables have turned now. It's really just a flip of the coin. She looked after us for so long and now we are looking after her."
How Great Thou Art
Sir Howard was the biggest icon that came out of Rotorua and his career spanned 55 years, right until the day he died.
No one else has had that longevity at the top and he left a legacy not only in the entertainment industry but also as a community leader.
He believed in young people, nurtured and encouraged up-and-coming talent and awarded scholarships to those he saw greatness in.
He was a leader for Māori, tourism, education and performing arts.
When he died at 74, there was an outpouring of grief at his funeral that has never been repeated.
Thousands came from far and wide to remember, to cry, laugh and sing.
Dignitaries including then Prime Minister John Key, Labour leader Phil Goff, the Māori King, and entertainers such as Frankie Stevens, Tony Williams, Tina Cross and Jacky Clarke were among the mourners.
It has been reported by the Rotorua Daily Post that such was Sir Howard's regard that when former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard held his hand and sang Pokarekare Ana with him in March 1995, she commented: "My life is complete. I can retire quite happy from this job knowing I have sung with Sir Howard Morrison.''
It was one of countless compliments, accolades and honours bestowed upon Sir Howard during his five-plus decades in the music industry.
Among the more formal, he was made an OBE in 1976 and knighted in 1990.
Of mixed Māori and Pākehā ancestry, Sir Howard was born in 1935 into a Rotorua family renowned for its entertainment skills.
His mother was Kahu Morrison (nee Gertrude Harete Davidson), who cut her own record and was a cornerstone of Māori culture and entertainment both nationally and internationally.
His son, Howard Morrison jnr, and daughter, Donna Grant, are entertainers in their own right and Hollywood-acclaimed actor Temuera Morrison is a nephew.
But Sir Howard's early ambitions also included rugby, like his Māori All Black father Temuera Leslie Morrison.
The Rotorua Daily Post has previously reported that ambition was dashed when, after watching him play, the elder Morrison told him he had done well, but would be "a better singer than a footballer''.
Sir Howard, who had left school without school certificate and worked at the freezing works and as a surveyor's assistant, instead began singing part-time for serious money.
He formed the Clive Trio from 1954, teaming up with Isobel and Virginia Whatarau, who were known as the Clive Sisters.
But it was with another group, formed with Noel Kingi, Wi Wharekura and Gerry Merito, that Sir Howard enjoyed his first success.
In 1958 the Howard Morrison Quartet's debut record Battle of Waikato/My Old Man's an All Black sold a massive 78,000 copies. The quartet had a string of Kiwi-centric hits - among them My Old Man's an All Black, Hoki Mai, The Battle of the Waikato and Pokarekare Ana, and on stage they had a special art of combining music and comedy.
The quartet became fulltime professional entertainers two years later and performed live on television in 1961 - a big deal in those days.
A royal command performance, national tours, Australian tours all followed before the quartet disbanded in 1964 and Sir Howard made his way as a solo entertainer.
Morrison jnr said the quartet "turned the music industry in New Zealand on its head" and opened so many doors for other artists.
"They were the first group to perform live on TV, first professional group to travel to Australia and the first pop group to perform for the Queen. They were told not to sing a Māori song and they agreed, then got on the stage and sang Karu Karu."
Morrison said their manager at the time, Harry Miller, wanted to take them to superstar status in Europe and the United States but they had families and knew that kind of lifestyle wasn't ideal.
"Family was always number one for Dad and the others."
Sir Howard's solo career flourished and not only behind a microphone. In 1966 he had a lead role in the film Don't Let It Get You.
On stage, How Great Thou Art became his theme song and he soon became known as New Zealand's Mr Showbusiness.
The following years were full with hit singles, chart-topping albums, Southeast Asian tours and sell-out concerts as he mixed his special blend of performance including song with comedy.
And if he was not already a household name and face, a more diminutive art form would keep him in the public eye. Who can forget those television ads for Bic lighters and pens?
As another sideline, Sir Howard became involved in tourism promotion from the early 1970s. Eventually, he became an official tourism ambassador for the Cook Islands. He was a solo performer at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990.
In latter years, he was on countless trusts, iwi boards and groups and took an active role on the marae.
One of his most significant milestones was a 45-day horse trek through New Zealand the same year, which raised $1.5 million for the Life Education Trust.
In December 2008, a tribute concert was held in Rotorua, To Sir With Love, which highlighted his career in showbusiness.
Performing artists included Dame Malvina Major, John Rowles, Frankie Stevens and Ray Woolf.
Marking 10 years
A new book marking 10 years since Sir Howard Morrison's death will reveal never heard before stories, memories and feelings from the great entertainer.
Morrison has spent the past few years compiling the book, some of it from notes and writings he has only recently found from his father.
He has engaged help from writer Rotorua's Geoff Thomas and funding has just been confirmed by the Ngāti Whakaue Education Endowment Trust Board.
"It started out being a stage play but the more I researched, the more I found.
"A book about Dad hasn't been written since 1991 and there are more than 20 years of his life that no one knows about."
Morrison said some of the stories would blow people's minds, including a quirky tale of why he was taken to a private plane in Manila by rogue armed guards, where it was strongly suggested he shouldn't come back.
There will also be funny stories he's collected from former quartet members about Sir Howard's infamous ego, including memories of the quartet travelling in a van driven by Sir Howard only to find the rearview mirror firmly fixed on him instead of the traffic behind.
"He was his own biggest fan and he just loved the way he looked," Morrison said.
"He would often say the perfect entertainer would have Sammy Davis Junior's timing, Frank Sinatra's phrasing, Harry Belafonte's diction and his good looks."
Along with the book, Morrison is also working on the Howard Morrison Quartet tribute tour planned for next year and is currently seeking the other quartet members.
"We will be taking the quartet Mark II on the road again next year and it'll be about picking people who believe in the culture because it's not just about singing songs.
"This will not be just another tour. There are people who remember and were brought up on that music and we want to bring them out and give them a good time for just one last time."
The tour will be followed by an album which will also pay homage to Sir Howard a decade on.
Morrison said the day itself on Tuesday next week will be relatively low key and marked in the same way as they have done every year on September 24.
"As a family we will go up to the urupā [Kauae Cemetery] and have a singalong, then go to the Citizen's Club and have a pork chop meal and a drink, which were his favourite things to do."
At a tribute concert in 2014 marking five years since Sir Howard's death, mayor Steve Chadwick announced the Rotorua Convention Centre would be renamed the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre.
The centre had to shut suddenly in November 2017 when it was discovered it needed earthquake strengthening.
A total of $22.5m has been secured for the strengthening and refurbishment and work is set to start in November.
Now the Morrison family are looking ahead to the reopening in March 2021 when, in true Sir Howard style, it will feature a spectacular concert.
"Dad had so many come back tours, we look at the reopening as just another one of his comebacks. It really just goes to show the man couldn't sit down."
What he meant to us
He meant the world to me. His death was like losing a brother, we were never cousins, we brothers we were that close. We shared so many good times when he used to take me on all his trips. He made a huge impression on me and my life and supported everything I did in my schools. I miss him terribly and I loved him so much.
Cousin and Howard Morrison Quartet member
Ten years and his memory is still so much alive. It is great to see the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre restoration is under way and I am looking forward to seeing how we will commemorate his contribution as part of the restoration.
Mayor of Rotorua
Not because I was married to his sister, the late Atareta Maxwell, but in my humble opinion he was New Zealand's greatest solo entertainer for over 50 years achieving many awards and accolades, including receiving a knighthood. I was so blessed to have shared and enjoyed many whanau occasions on and off the stage. I have a thousand memories.
Sir Howard was my mentor, my friend and, in some ways, the koro I never had. I owe my music career to Sir Howard. He gave me my first big break and taught me about the music industry, stagecraft, perseverance and professionalism. He also helped me to find my way back to my whakapapa, and held my hand as I took my first shaky steps back to my Māoritanga, which I will be forever grateful for. I loved him dearly and I still miss him today.
His influence on the fabric of our country's entertainment industry is without question. He opened many, many doors for a host of precious singers and performers during his time. His standard of excellence and professionalism was legendary. He demanded the best of you.
Sir Howard's musical director
When I think of Sir Howard it's important to recognise that the path travelled by most contemporary Maori performers today has been made somewhat easier because of the struggles he survived and those who came before us. Today's success comes off the shoulders of our tupuna. As a student of his teachings I've learned that having a musical talent isn't enough, you have to love bringing joy to others. He did that with class and united a nation.
For the people in the business, he was our teacher. I was at school when the quartet started but we were both from Rotorua and distantly related. I did many tours with Howard with the Miss New Zealand shows and country and western shows and I did a few of his reunion shows. Everybody learnt something from Howard, he was just a brilliant showman. His timing was excellent and he was one of the people I respected most in the business. It was terrible when we lost him.
He was an iconic ambassador for our people, our culture and our place. His passion was his home and his people and his passing was a huge loss for our country, let alone our own people. He bridged gaps, not just with his remarkable talent as a singer but also with his personality and his drive.
Te Taru White
Te Tatau o Te Arawa
The life of Sir Howard Morrison
August 18, 1935: Howard Morrison is born to Kahu and Temuera Morrison. Kahu made her own record while Temuera was a Māori All Black
1954: Teamed up with Isobel and Virginia Whatarau, who were known as the Clive Sisters, forming the Clive Trio.
1956: Was a member of the successful Aotearoa Concert Party that toured Australia. That group later became the Howard Morrison Quartet
1957: Married Rangiwhata Ann Manahi (known as Kuia) and had three children, Richard, Donna and Howard jnr
1958: The Howard Morrison Quartet's debut record Battle of Waikato/My Old Man's an All Black sold 78,000 copies
1964: The quartet disbanded and Morrison began a solo career
1966: Had a lead role in the film Don't Let It Get You
1970s: Performed exensively throughout South East Asia
1976: Made an OBE
1983: Awarded Feltex Entertainer Award
1986: Awarded HMV Entertainer of the Year
1989: Awarded Entertainer of the Decade and featured in the This Is Your Life television programme
1990: Received a knighthood which was bestowed upon him by the Governor General at Te Papaiouru Marae
1990: Did a 45-day horse trek through New Zealand which raised $1.5m for the Life Education Trust1995: A 40th anniversary tour in 1995 was a sellout. Ten shows were expanded to 14 because of demand.
2000: A Knight with Dame special millennium Lakeside concert, featuring Sir Howard Morrison and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
2008: Sir Howard celebrated 50 years in showbusiness with a concert featuring Dame Malvina Major, John Rowles and Tiki Taane
2009: Sir Howard's DVD Once in a Lifetime reaches number one
August 18, 2009: Sir Howard celebrates his 74th birthday with a special Good Morning television programme dedicated to his life in entertainment
September 24, 2009: Sir Howard dies peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack at his home in Ōhinemutu in Rotorua
September 2014: A Knight to Remember — a tribute concert celebrating the life of Sir Howard Morrison five years after his death is held at the Rotorua Convention Centre where mayor Steve Chadwick announces the Rotorua Convention Centre will be renamed the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre
November 2017: Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre is closed for earthquake strengthening
March 2021: The scheduled re-opening of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre following the $22.5 million rebuild