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Fa’anana Jerome Grey, the son of a carpenter and composer, and sibling to 20 others, is no stranger to humble beginnings. Yet through all the challenges life has dealt him, he has succeeded in leaving an indelible mark on Samoa, and across the Pacific Islands. Grey has made a profound statement in the island music scene, and is the architect of a style of music that has impacted the hearts of his countrymen and beyond, over the past four decades.
The luscious, tropical island landscapes and crystal clear ocean waters were the backdrop for his childhood, and served as inspiration for Jerome Grey’s music. His great love for his country is reflected in his patriotic compositions such as “Polynesia is Home,” which was written specifically for the 1st Miss South Pacific Pageant. “Manu Samoa” was penned when he toured with the first Manu Samoa rugby team. The popular melody was sung in stadiums all over the Europe during the team’s tournaments. “O Le Olaga O Samoa” and “Fia Va’ai Pea Ia Samoa” were composed during his travels, when he was feeling nostalgic for his native country. He is also credited for writing Samoa’s unofficial national anthem, “We Are Samoa.” Jerome continued being an ambassador of Samoa, when he traveled with other performers to the Festival of Pacific Arts in Rarotonga in 1992.
Grey also wrote songs of social and political importance, effecting widespread change with his music, sometimes infusing comedy into otherwise serious issues, like “Eleni,” “LHD/RHD,” and “Lo’u Tau Au Ete Mapu Ai.”
Well-known hits like “Sau Sau Ia (Jambalaya),” “Lo’u Sei Oriana”, and “Apian Lady,” were born of Jerome’s experiences in his homeland. After relocating to Honolulu in the 1990s, his rendition of “Sweet Lady of Waiahole,” along with “Sau Sau Ia (Jambalaya),” and “Apian Lady” rocked the airwaves in Hawai’i, topping the KCCN charts and getting consistent airplay on radio stations statewide.
Today, the notion of fusing different styles of music is a popular and common creative practice in the mainstream music industry. But when Grey entered the island music scene in 1979 with his first album AVA, he hit the industry hard as a trailblazer, blending original Samoan music with rock, jazz, and pop. These songs also had deep, underlying messages for his native people. He performed “We Are Samoa” for President Jimmy Carter and Congress in 1980 at the invitation of Congressman Eni
Fa’aua’a Hunkin Faleomavaega, Jr., acknowledging American Samoan’s first Samoan Governor Peter Tali Coleman.
Jerome Grey is considered one of the patriarchs of Samoan music and entertainment. He has inspired generations of new artists, who have remade his songs including Sol3 Mio, The Katinas, Lapi Mariner, Jamoa Jam, and Kapono Beamer. His unique style pushed the boundaries and broke through an invisible barrier of what traditional music composition and entertainment across the Pacific was at that time. Now, with the internet, his music can be heard and felt around the world in an instant; from inside of the four walls of someone’s home, all the way to the largest entertainment venues––including the silver screen––where even Hollywood producers have chosen to use his song "Lo'u Sei Oriana" in blockbuster movies such a "Metro" starring Eddie Murphy. His music continues to create memorable experiences for visitors to the islands through luaus, sporting events, and special celebrations.
Having suffered a stroke in January of 2007, Grey proved that major obstacles could be overcome. His witty and easy-going onstage persona has made him one of the most recognized, respected, and sought-after entertainers of his time. Throughout his 40-year span of making music, with over a dozen successful albums released, his best work and his proudest moments have been when he’s made music with his own children and grandchildren.
In 2016, he co-wrote with his eldest son, Tinifuloa (aka Loa Greyson), a song called, “Nifo Oti,” in honor of legendary Paramount Chief Olo Letuli, godfather of the fire-knife dance. Jerome and Tinifuloa Grey also co-produced a song based on a poem by Tupuola Sione Malifa called, “Malietoa” as a tribute to Jerome’s personal friend––the late Head of State of Samoa, Malietoa Tanumafili II––10 years after the chief’s passing. The song was long overdue because Jerome had a stroke that same year and was, sadly, unable to attend the funeral.
When asked what his music legacy will be, Jerome says simply that it is to go out and do exactly what God sent him to do, which is to make people happy through his music. He hopes to pass this heritage on not only to his children, but also to his people. The love affair between Grey, his family, and his country is strong. It is said that if a painter or a poet falls in love with you, you can never die. Because of Jerome Grey’s contributions to Samoan music, he will not only secure his spot in the accounts of history, but Samoa––and the places and people he loves––will indeed last for all eternity, memorialized in the tapestry of his rich and lasting musical career.