Hawai‘i musical legends build on legacy of aloha

Gift from Rittenbands will support music programs and perpetuate Hawaiian culture at UH Mānoa

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jan 21, 2009

"Hawaiʻi is your real home and your spiritual home. There are many islands of the world with white sand beaches, rolling waves and swaying palm trees, but it is the culture and the spirit of Hawaiʻi‘s people and ancestors that make us unique. It must be preserved and that responsibility is in your hands to cherish, perpetuate, and, in your turn, to inspire your children and families."Victor Rittenband

HONOLULU—For 22 years, Victor Rittenband and his wife Nancy Gustafsson-Rittenband performed their beloved Hawaiian music and hula outside the Reef Hotel in Waikīkī. Hailed as tireless promoters of the Aloha Spirit and all things Hawaiian, they wrote and recorded countless songs and traveled the world as cultural ambassadors.

Along the way, Victor and Nancy also became known as caring philanthropists who gave of their time and resources. Recently, Victor announced the establishment of two endowed funds at the UH Mānoa Department of Music and the College of Arts and Humanities.

Named in honor of his wife who died in 2005, the Nancy Gustafsson-Rittenband and Victor Rittenband Endowed Fund will provide scholarships to assist students enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Music, who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in music, with an emphasis on Hawaiian music, dance and chant.

The second endowment, the Nancy Gustafsson-Rittenband and Victor Rittenband Endowment for Hawaiian Music, will also support the Hawaiian music program in the music department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, College of Arts and Humanities. The fund will be used by the music department chair for master classes, workshops, performances and research into Hawaiian music, dance and chant. The fund may also support a lectureship for the program.

"These gifts will have a dramatic impact on our program," said Thomas Bingham, interim dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at UH Mānoa. "For the first time, we will be able to offer scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students who are majoring in or focusing on Hawaiian music. We will be able to bring in master teachers and artists to share their knowledge through workshops and concerts, and we will be able to provide support such as equipment and costuming for our performing groups."

Originally from New Jersey, Victor Rittenband came to Hawaiʻi to work for First Insurance Company in 1964. Nancy, originally from Denmark and Sweden, moved to Hawaiʻi in 1959 after a visit in 1952. Victor and Nancy were introduced by mutual acquaintances in 1967 and married in 1969. "Nancy and I weren‘t lucky enough to be born here, but we were smart enough to COME here," said Victor. "Our lives were greatly enriched by the people and culture of Hawaiʻi. We wanted to give back and give thanks for what Hawaiʻi gave to us."

"These gifts will benefit students for years to come in so many ways," said Laurence Paxton, chair of the music department at UH Mānoa. "They will fund scholarships, visiting scholars, visiting professors and materials. We have a world-renowned ethnomusicology program at UH Mānoa, and we are thrilled Victor Rittenband has made this strong commitment to Hawaiian music and culture."

"It is the uniqueness and diversity of the Hawaiian culture that betters all of us," said Victor, "and there is no better repository and learning center to perpetuate that than the University of Hawaiʻi."

In addition to the endowments, Victor also recently donated a number of musical instruments to the Mānoa music department, including three ukuleles, two guitars, two accordions, an electric keyboard and an autoharp.