Waikiki legend Don Ho dies
Publicist says Ho died this morning of heart failure
Don Ho, the biggest and best-known Hawaiian entertainer of the last 50 years, died this morning of heart failure, his publicist Donna Jung confirmed.
He was 76.
Known world-wide for his recordings of songs such as “Tiny Bubbles” and “I’ll Remember You,” Ho was a Waikiki showroom headliner for more than 43 years -- from 1964, when he opened with the Aliis at Duke Kahanamoku’s in the International Market Place, until his death.
Jung said in an e-mail that funeral arrangements are pending. The family has asked for privacy. But fans can post comments at donho.com.
The popular entertainer underwent an experimental stem-cell procedure in Thailand in December 2005 for an ailing heart and returned to the stage in January 2006 for twice-a-week-shows at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber.
Last September, he checked into the hospital to have his pacemaker tuned up. He said he was considering additional stem-cell treatment if necessary, but it would mean leaving here because the procedure isn’t appoved in the United States.
Ho was one of the very few Hawaii recording artists of any genre whose recordings appeared on any of the six major Billboard record charts in the 20th century.
In 2001, he became the first Hawaii recording artist to receive a Record Industry Association of America-certified “gold” record when “Don Ho’s Greatest Hits” was certified “gold” for sales of more than 500,000 copies.
At the peak of his popularity with the Aliis at Duke’s in the mid-1960s, Ho entertained visitors and residents alike with a unique blend of Hawaiian and hapa haole standards, the mainstream pop hits of the day, and the newly written songs of Kui Lee.
However, few of the visitors who enjoyed Ho at Duke’s were aware that the guy playing the role of a laid-back hard-drinking beach boy had a degree in sociology and six years’ experience as an Air Force pilot.
Born in 1930, Ho grew up a people-watcher in Honey’s, his parents’ neighborhood bar in Kaneohe. Although he listened to everything in the juke box -- American big band swing to traditional Hawaiian music -- he showed no particular interest in music. He was a high school football star at Kamehameha, graduated from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and then joined the Air Force. It wasn’t until after he returned home in 1959 and began helping out at the bar that he got into music.
At first all he did was pick out tunes on an electric organ when business was slow. From there he became the host of informal jam sessions, and eventually a group was formed that outgrew Honey’s and became good enough to sub for Arthur Lyman and Sterling Mossman in Waikiki. The group was playing in a Waikiki bar when Kimo Wilder McVay offered them a late-night gig at Duke’s playing on a small stage near the bathrooms.
The group was such a hit that Ho asked for a raise. McVay’s counter-offer wasn’t enough to keep him -- Ho left, and the rest of the group found a new singer. Ho found a new group to work with -- the Aliis.
The Aliis -- Albert Akana, Rudolph “Rudi” Aquino, Benjamin W.C. Chong, Manuel “Manny” Lagodlagod and Jose “Joe” Mundo -- had served together in the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington D.C., and performed on a level rarely reached by local musicians their age. McVay took Sonny Burke, a veteran mainland record producer, to see Don Ho & The Aliis are the Kalia Gardens.
Burke liked what he heard, and McVay made himself the middle man in the negotiations that followed. Burke signed Don Ho & The Aliis to Reprise Records, and McVay brought them to Duke’s as the new headliners on the club’s mainstage.
The show was a smash. The Aliis could play almost anything in almost any key, Mundo was an excellent arranger, and Ho was a superb front-man. The word soon spread that Don Ho & The Aliis was the hip new show to see. Burke introduced the group to the mainstream American public with a pair of “live” albums -- “The Don Ho Show!” and “Don Ho - Again!” -- that he assembled from two nights of recordings made early in 1965. The albums captured the energy and ambiance of the show, and also showed off Ho’s eclectic repertoire. The initial boom was fueled by mainland tours, national television specials, a solo album by the Aliis, and Ho’s first solo studio album, “Tiny Bubbles.”
The Aliis left in 1969 and Ho continued as a showroom headliner with multi-year engagements at the Polynesian Palace, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Dome, the Hula Hut, and the Waikiki Beachcomber.
Ho and several members of the Aliis returned to the International Market Place in 1981 and recaptured the spirit of the ‘60s with a 1 a.m. “Suck ‘em Up” weekend late show. The reunion ended when Ho moved to the Dome, but reunion concerts with the original five Aliis drew overflow crowds.
Ho had long since achieved iconic status when he appeared as the slum lord villain in the cult film, “Joe’s Apartment,” in 1996. He displayed his sense of humor when he agreed to record “Shock The Monkey” for a nationally released compilation album, “When Pigs Fly,” in 2002. Years before that, however, he recorded a local comedy song, “Who Is The Lolo (Who Stole The Pakalolo).”
Ho received the Sidney Grayson Award (the predecessor to the Hawai ‘i Academy of Recording Arts’ Lifetime Achievement Award) in 1979. His recording of “With All My Love” won the Hoku Award form “Single of the Year in 1989.
Throughout his career, Ho shared his stage with other entertainers and made room in his show for many talented young hopefuls. He shared his knowledge with many others, and provided several with recording opportunities. It became axiomatic that any Hawaii resident who made deprecating comments about Ho didn’t know what they were talking about and was not to be taken seriously.
He returned to the national headlines in 2005 when he announced that he was going to Thailand for a stem-cell treatment. He continued to entertain his fans but cut back his performance schedule.
Ho is survived by his wife Haumea and numerous family members, Jung said.