Airini Grennell

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Airini Grennell

Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu

Airini Ngā Roimata Grennell was born in 1910 on the Chatham Islands, but moved with her family to Banks Peninsula at the age of ten. A talented pianist and soprano, Grennell and her family formed part of the Koukourārata concert party performing to raise funds for local communities during the economic depression of the 1930s. 

Grennell became part of the Waiata Māori Choir organised by Methodist clergyman Reverend AJ Seamer and toured internationally just before the outbreak of World War Two, giving performances in Australia, England and India. She was affectionately known as the “Chatham Islands Nightingale”.

On her return to New Zealand in 1938, Grennell was invited to join radio station 4ZB in Dunedin, as the country's first Māori woman announcer. She had already appeared often on air as a performer, but her immaculate voice training and superb diction in both te reo Māori and English, meant she was well-suited to an announcing role. She went on to work at radio stations in Auckland and Christchurch, creating several series of programmes about Māori myths and history and also working on radio shows aimed at female listeners. She covered multiple royal tours of New Zealand for radio and interviewed celebrity visitors to Christchurch.

Grennell retired in 1966 after 28 years in broadcasting, to Rāpaki on Lyttelton Harbour. In this excerpt from an interview with Grennell from 1987 she tells fellow broadcaster Hēnare Te Ua about her time touring with the Waiata Choir, performing at Buckingham Palace and on some of Britain's early television broadcasts.

Find out more about Airini Grennell:

Listen to a 1964 radio documentary produced by Airini Grennell, about Māori urbanisation. 

Listen to the full 1987 interview with Grennell about her broadcasting career.

Read a biography of Airini Grennell. 

Image: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection.

Catalogue Reference 45827

Year 1987

Credits

Interviewer: Hēnare Te Ua, Te Puna Wai Kōrero, RNZ National

Excerpt: 00:02:36

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