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Big parade may be the last for band

Polynesian group has marched in event since 1980

SHARE Big parade may be the last for band

For Sione Kinikini, the Days of '47, KSL Parade is always a big event.

It is the day on which he leads his popular Liahona Alumni Band through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City and the day he celebrates his birthday.

This July 24th could be an even bigger event. Kinikini will turn 65 Monday. And Monday's performance could be the final parade appearance by the Polynesian band.

Kinikini said he will think about retirement during the parade and afterward will inform the family members, former students and friends who play in the band of his decision.

"It may be the last year for this, but I cannot decide yet," Kinikini said prior to a practice session Thursday. "My children want me to rest and go around and do some things. I'll see. I may retire or I may continue. I really don't know."

One of those children, Kime Kinikini, said his father spends much of the summer organizing and rehearsing with the band.

"Half of June and the whole month of July, he's focused on getting things ready. It's a big deal for my dad," said the trumpet-playing Kime, one of nine Kinikini children, all of whom play in the band.

"He gets fired up. He's all edgy toward us all the time to make sure everything is perfect. And it is a lot of fun."

The band's origins stretch all the way back to 1954 when Sione Kinikini was a music instructor at Liahona High School in his native Tonga. He taught there until 1966 and in 1976 moved to Hawaii to learn carpentry.

When Sione Kinikini arrived in Salt Lake City two years later, he learned a number of his former students had moved to the Wasatch Front as well.

"They came and asked me, 'Why don't you start something so we can use what we know and keep it going,' so that's how we started — with nine of them," Sione Kinikini said.

The group played for the first time at a Christmas church service in 1978 and started performing in the Days of '47 Parade in 1980.

The band and dance group now involves between 60 and 100 members when it performs, including seven of Sione Kinikini's 20 grandchildren. Many of his former students and their children also play, as do various friends and acquaintances who have joined at different times along the way. Membership, Sione Kinikini says, is open to anyone.

"I hate to see it stop, but most of my members don't want" to lead the band, he said. "That's one reason most of them are coming to celebrate (the parade) this year. They figure it's the last year."

If Sione Kinikini does retire, the group likely will disband, although Kime Kinikini said other family members might try to keep it alive.

"There's probably a few of us that might," he said. "But it's hard to get the support like my dad got it because he was actually a teacher back in the islands and he has more clout to recruit people."

Sione Kinikini and his musicians and dancers have proved very persuasive with the public, too.

"They are very, very popular and very much appreciated by the audience," said Susan McHenry, parade co-chairwoman. "They bring enthusiasm and energy from the minute they start the parade until the end. They are as loud at the end as they are at the beginning. They don't run out of steam."

And they offer an entertaining style and a wide range of music that readily brings smiles to faces.

"As long as I see the people are happy, I enjoy it," Sione Kinikini said. "I consider that the pay I get for doing this."

For the many who would be sad to see him go, there is some hope: Sione Kinikini said he likes the idea of performing with the band during the 2002 Winter Games.

Regardless of Sione Kinikini's decision, the band plans to perform in Liberty Park after Monday's parade for as long as an hour.

The parade will begin at 9 a.m. Monday on the corner of South Temple and Main Street. It will flow east to 200 East, south to 900 South and east to Liberty Park at 600 East.

This year's parade will feature more than 150 pieces, including 56 floats, 16 antique cars and 16 bands. Sione Kinikini's band will be one of the last to march in front of the 200 East bleachers.

One of the bands will come from out of state — the Madison High School Summer Band from Rexburg, Idaho.

Of the 22 floats sponsored by religious organizations, 20 represent stakes and other affiliations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The other churches are the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church, represented by its choir, and the Free Weslyan Church of Tonga, which will present its band. Both churches are in Salt Lake City.

E-mail: zman@desnews.com