Music is a powerful tool for bringing people together from different parts of the world. A unique form of art, music has the power to influence and shape culture while unifying individuals from all walks of life. Hawaiian music, for example, conveys the laid-back lifestyle that many know and love. In fact, music is so prominent in Hawaii that there are several instruments that originate from the island, such as the ukulele. That’s why, in today’s blog, we will talk about some of the most notorious Hawaiian musicians while highlighting some of their greatest pieces of work.

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A Brief History of Hawaiian Music

In the late 1700s, immigrants from around the world brought their musical influence to the island of Hawaii. With varying styles of song came a diverse offering of musical instruments like the guitar, and what is now known as the ukulele. In fact, the origins of the ukulele can be traced back to Portuguese immigrants who brought a small, stringed guitar with them known as a braguinha. The ukulele would later give Hawaii its notorious sound from the unique four-stringed instrument. It wasn’t until the early 1900s when Hawaii began to develop their own sound and style of music. This was an important moment in Hawaiian history, as the 1930s marked the beginning of the golden age of Hawaiian music.

Legendary Hawaiian Musicians

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

One of the most notorious Hawaiian musicians of all time, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, or Iz for short, is known for his rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” Nicknamed Braddah Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was revered as a Hawaiian activist whose main goal was to promote the independence of not only Hawaiian citizens, but Hawaii as a whole. This message can be heard throughout his discography, which changed many people’s view of what it actually means to be Hawaiian. Due to Iz’s weight problems throughout his life, he died in 1997 when he was just 38 years old. However, Iz’s music, as well as his legacy, lives on in Hawaiian culture today.   

Alfred Apaka

Born in 1919, Alfred Apaka is a Hawaiian musician that is noted as one of the most influential musicians in Hawaiian history. Although he professionally recorded music for less than 10 years, Apaka was able to make a great deal of impact on Hawaiian culture in a very short period of time. After touring along the Pacific coast, Apaka was signed to Decca Records where he worked with legendary musician Bing Crosby. Though he began to gain notoriety in the early 1950s, he died shortly thereafter at the young age of 40. His album titled “The Immortal Hawaiian” pays tribute to his legacy by offering some of Apaka’s greatest hits to listeners.

Don Ho

Most known for his hit titled, “Tiny Bubbles,” Don Ho was a Hawaiian legend whose musical career began to skyrocket in the 1960s. Along with a number of hits that charted for nearly a year straight, Don Ho was also a TV personality. Making cameos on shows like The Brady Bunch and Batman, Don Ho’s superstardom later propelled him into receiving his own show in the 1970s that was called “The Don Ho Show.”  Ho later suffered from heart failure in 2007, but his legacy lives on to this day.

Gabby Pahinui

One of the greatest slack-key guitarists to come from Hawaii, Gabby Pahinui is a Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame member with a discography that exemplifies his importance in Hawaiian culture. Growing up in Honolulu, Pahinui worked during his childhood years to help his family. Pahinui would later go on to form the “Gabby Band” in the 1970s, and release four subsequent albums that solidified his place in Hawaiian musical history. A Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Pahinui’s sound can still be heard in Hawaiian music today.

Though these are just four prominent artists to originate from Hawaii, there is an endless amount of musical talent that has helped shape the overall sound and feel of Hawaiian music. Music has played a major role in how Hawaiian culture has grown and developed, and continues to remain as a focal point of Hawaiian tradition.

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