Famous Hawaiian Musicians

Hawaiian music is fairly distinct, and this is attributed to the unique guitars used in many pieces of music. The three different guitar styles used in Hawaiian music are ukulele, slack key guitar and steel guitar. Famous Hawaiian guitarists did more than play their guitar excellently. These guitarists also altered guitar playing styles or introduced Hawaiian music to a broader audience through their adept use of their instruments. Because of these experts, Hawaiian music has crossed the waters to many faraway places. Following are some of the most famous guitarists.
Tau Moe Family
Tau Moe moved to Hawaii with his family when he was 11. M.K. Moke taught him how to play steel guitar, and Tau Moe eventually married Rose, another steel guitarist. This duo eventually joined a traveling show and performed to international audiences. The couple’s two children Lani and Dorian also learned how to play steel guitar, later joining their parents’ act. The family lived everywhere from Japan to Lebanon. It has been said that the family performed for Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. The performances of Tau Moe and his family spread Hawaiian and hapa haole music around the world.
Gabby Pahinui
Charles Philip “Gabby” Pahinui was born in 1921, and through him, slack key guitar was transferred from the back porch of Hawaiian homes to a larger audience. Dubbed the “folk hero of Hawaiian music,” Gabby was a driving force in stimulating the popularity of this music form.
Melding American jazz and traditional Hawaiian music became his specialty. While he had no formal musical education, Gabby was a wiz. For more than 40 years, he played in various clubs, cafes, and restaurants and produced albums and had concerts for 10. He recorded his first song in the early 40s, called Hi’ilawe, which quickly became a hit.
The Sons of Hawaii
The group entitled The Sons of Hawaii is comprised of four famous Hawaiian guitar players. Founded by Gabby Pahinui and Eddie Kamae (see below), it also included David Rogers (steel guitars) and Joe Marshall (bass). During 1960, The Sons of Hawaii was noted as the highest paid Hawaiian group in the state. In 1962, this unique quartet released their first album.
Eddie Kamae
Eddie Kamae was an ukulele prodigy, and is known for promoting the “Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance.” Prior to establishing The Sons of Hawaii, he was in other groups such as the Ukulele Rascals and Ray Kinney’s Orchestra. He was one of the first to pluck the ukulele strings, revolutionizing traditional playing styles. KAmae has also produced films promoting the music and culture of Hawaii.
Don Ho
Made famous by Tiny Bubbles and Pearly Shell is Don Ho, singer and slack guitarist. This former member of the United States Air Force is one of Hawaii’s most recognized slack key guitarists. He has made appearances in shows such as I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch, and eventually his own television show, The Don Ho Show.
Sol Ho’opi
The most famous steel guitarist of the 20th century is Sol Ho’opi. He has appeared in many movies, including Waikiki Wedding and a couple Charlie Chan Films.

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