Justine Hawelu, a music industries studies student, was awarded the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) President’s Innovation Award (PIA).
Hawelu was among 33 recipients across the nation and was invited to attend NAMM’s Believe in Music Week event in January 2021.
For Hawelu, music was a way to feel connected to her late father, Edwin Kaime Hawelu. He shared his love of music with his daughter and that appreciation would influence her indefinitely.
Hawelu didn’t start out listening to the classics she enjoys now. Disney movies and songs captured her attention early on. Her father was always a good sport and actively participated in the Disney karaoke fun.
“My dad would sit there, watching, listening, and learning all the words to sing along with my sister and me,” said Hawelu.
As she got a older, her father introduced her to a whole new world of music. He handed her Journey and Queen CDs, and her fascination with rock ‘n’ roll emerged.
“I had never heard music like this before! I burned out both CDs and wanted more. I talked to my Nana, and she introduced me to Tom Jones and Elvis Presley,” she said.
Hawelu’s passion for music blossomed, and her father looked forward to nourishing her enthusiasm.
“When I turned 12, my dad took me to my first concert, Prince at The Forum. At 13, he took me to see Judas Priest at the Nokia Theatre, and that show became my gateway into loving heavy metal,” she said.
As she got older, Hawelu’s musical tastes continued to evolve. She listened to everything including classic rock, heavy metal, punk, folk, grunge, soul, psychedelic, old country, blues, Motown, reggae, Polynesian music, thrash, new wave, rap, hip-hop, 80’s, and more.
But, at one point, her future looked very different. A music career was not what she had planned.
“I was an education major, and I worked with elementary-school students. However, after being an instructional assistant for fourth and fifth graders, my dad would ask me, ‘Is this truly what you want? Music is your passion.’ Then, when he passed away that April , his words would ring within me, and I began questioning myself if this is what I wanted,” said Hawelu.
It wasn’t long before her students helped her realize what she needed to do.
“Once my dad passed away, and my students nudged me to my path, I changed my degree by the summer of 2017. In 2018, I graduated with an AA, and in 2019, I was admitted to Cal Poly Pomona.”
Hawelu continues to progress toward her ultimate goal of working at Capital Records. Before her NAMM PIA award, Hawelu was featured as a panelist for the 2020 NAMM genNEXT webinar “Students & Faculty Speak Out, Career Prospects and Concerns.” The webinar brought together current students, recently graduated students, and professors from several universities to discuss careers in the music industry, opportunities, and challenges.
Hawelu is also interning at Pixel Density, a full-service event production company,
an opportunity she learned about from the Department of Music. She expressed her appreciation for the support she’s received from the music department and professors that have shared opportunities with her.
“Dr. Michael Millar is one of the most supportive, inspiring musical resources that has ever graced Cal Poly Pomona. I am truly thankful for all the wisdom and time he has given to me,” she said.
However, Hawelu’s efforts don’t end with the President’s Innovation Award. She advances toward her goals every day, whether it’s checking out new music, reading books, networking with professors and peers, or attending conferences. But, one melody that keeps her going is her father’s voice.
“He would remind me every day that in everything I did, he would always be my number one fan,” she said. “He introduced me to the music I love, and for that, I will forever be grateful.”