Ana Matawhaura Hato was born in Ngapuna, Rotorua, on 30 December 1907, one of three children of Hato Mae Ngamahirau, of Ngati Whakaue, and his wife, Riripeti Te Opehoia Eparaima, of Tuhourangi. Her close relatives called her Whaura. She grew up in the tourist mecca of Whakarewarewa, where she was imbued with Maori custom, language and lore and exposed to other cultures. She was a strong swimmer, and dived for pennies thrown by tourists into Puarenga Stream. A sports enthusiast, she represented Rotorua at hockey and in 1925 her team won the Auckland Provincial Cup. She was also a keen basketball and rugby player.
By singing Maori songs in front of tribal audiences and tourists she developed sophistication and confidence as a soprano. Although unable to read music, she was noted for her accurate pitch. When Ana was 16 she was invited to join the concert party of Guide Rangi (Rangitiaria Dennan). Her reputation grew and she became much sought after as a soloist. The visit of the duke and duchess of York to Rotorua in 1927 provided an opportunity for tribes throughout the country to perform. Ana Hato featured at a concert in the old Tunohopu meeting house, Ohinemutu, and sang duets with her cousin, the tenor Deane Waretini. The event was recorded by the Parlophone Company from Australia, and this led to further recording engagements in Australia in 1929. Fourteen records were made in Australia and thousands were sold. Titles included ‘Pokarekare’, ‘E pari ra’, ‘Hine e hine’ and ‘Waiata poi’. Duets in the 1930s produced New Zealand hit songs like ‘Honey’ and ‘Home little Maori home’.
Ana Hato was unfortunate in marriage. According to family information, her first, to Arthur Black, a Pakeha, ended after a few months. Her second, on 30 May 1931 at Rotorua to Pahau Raponi, a labourer and Tuhourangi kinsman, ended with his death on 27 October 1942 while he was a prisoner of war in Germany. There were no children from either marriage but Ana adopted the child of a relative.
Ana gave concerts to raise funds for the Catholic church. In 1929 she was crowned queen at the Catholic Queen Carnival in Rotorua, and afterwards sang ‘E pari ra’ for her ‘subjects’. The restoration of St Michael’s Catholic Church was aided by her energy and drive. From 1933 she led her own concert party, which included other guides and members of her Tuhourangi tribe. She organised many concerts to help Maori serving in the Second World War. In 1941 she sang at the opening of the 1ZB building in Auckland, and in 1949 at the 1YZ radio station in Rotorua.
During the last eight years of her life Ana suffered from cancer and was frequently in hospital. Nevertheless, she continued to travel with concert parties and to delight the crowds. She died aged 45 at Rotorua on 8 December 1953 and was buried at Whakarewarewa among her Tuhourangi people. Her pianist, Hamuera Mitchell of Ngati Whakaue, said that Ana Hato ‘possessed a voice of calibre, trueness in purity and register…it was unique. She sang the real Maori way, there was a hotu [sobbing quality] in her voice’. For many years a memorial notice placed in the Rotorua Daily Post each December affirmed that although the melody had ended, the memory lingered on. In 1996 some recordings by Ana Hato and Deane Waretini were released on compact disc.