|Subject: Archive: Don Ho, Apr. 14, 2007
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Date Posted: Friday, April 14, 04:33:08pm
Don Ho, Hawaiian Musician, Dies at 76
By NATE CHINENAPRIL 15, 2007
Don Ho, an entertainer who defined popular perceptions of Hawaiian music in the 1960s and held fast to that image as a peerless Waikiki nightclub attraction, died yesterday in Honolulu. He was 76.
The cause was heart failure, his daughter Dayna Ho said.
Mr. Ho was a durable spokesman for the image of Hawaii as a tourist playground. His rise as a popular singer dovetailed with a visitor boom that followed statehood in 1959 and the advent of affordable air travel. For 40 years, his name was synonymous with Pacific Island leisure, as was “Tiny Bubbles,” his signature hit, which helped turn him into a national figure.
Born Donald Tai Loy Ho in the Honolulu enclave of Kaka‘ako, Mr. Ho had an ethnic background worthy of the islands’ melting-pot ideal: he was of Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German descent. He grew up in Kaneohe, on the windward side of the island of Oahu, and it was there that he began his singing career at Honey’s, a restaurant and lounge owned by his mother, Emily.
Mr. Ho enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1954, receiving his certification as a fighter pilot in Texas but never seeing combat. He transferred to Military Airlift Command and flew cargo transport routes across the Pacific before leaving the service the year that Hawaii joined the Union as the 50th state.
Mr. Ho took over Honey’s and resumed performing. He befriended a gifted young songwriter named Kui Lee, who would soon write “I’ll Remember You,” an enduring Hawaiian standard that Mr. Ho effectively introduced. With a repertory that included some of Mr. Lee’s earlier work, Mr. Ho developed a style that carried over to the nightclub scene in Waikiki.
By 1962 he was headlining there with a backing group called the Ali‘is. Their blend of two guitars, piano, drums and xylophone, along with Mr. Ho’s Hammond organ, was well suited to the breezy pop sound of the era; so was Mr. Ho’s nonchalant, slightly slurred baritone. Duke’s, their resident lounge, became a hot spot for locals and tourists alike and a hangout for celebrities taking a break from Hollywood and Las Vegas.
Within five years, Mr. Ho had achieved nationwide fame with several successful albums and a hit single, “Tiny Bubbles.” A full decade before Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” the song painted an appealing portrait of tropical indulgence that cemented Mr. Ho’s character as an easygoing romantic rogue. He adhered to that character in his frequent television appearances in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and on his own ABC variety series, “The Don Ho Show,” from 1976 to 1977.
While Mr. Ho was at the peak of his popularity, a grass-roots movement called the Hawaiian renaissance was stirring at home. The movement, an effort at cultural preservation inspired by such folk traditions as Hawaiian falsetto singing and ki ho‘alu slack-key guitar, offered an implicit rebuke to the slick commercialization that Mr. Ho, as well as the CBS television series “Hawaii Five-O,” had come to represent.
But there was respect for Mr. Ho’s representation of Hawaii to the world, even among artists in the Hawaiian renaissance. For much of the past three decades, Mr. Ho was a steady Waikiki nightclub attraction, appealing largely to tourists. In his long-running show at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber hotel, he would crack jokes and play familiar songs. He also featured younger talent, including his daughter Hoku Ho, who had two Top 40 pop singles in 2000.
Late in 2005, Mr. Ho’s regular engagement was interrupted because of a heart condition called nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a muscular weakness unrelated to coronary artery disease. He traveled to Thailand in December 2005 to undergo an experimental stem cell treatment.
Less than seven weeks later, Mr. Ho returned to the Beachcomber and performed a sold-out show stocked with loyal fans and local entertainers paying respects. He resumed performing on a weekly basis and lunching at Don Ho’s Island Grill, a restaurant in which he was a partner that opened in 1998. Last September Mr. Ho took another medical leave to have a new pacemaker installed.
Around the same time Mr. Ho married his longtime executive producer, Haumea Hebenstreit.
In addition to his wife, Dayna Ho said, he is survived by 10 children, including six from his first marriage, to Melva May Ho, who died in 1999: Donald Jr., Donalai, Dayna, Dondi, Dori and Dwight. With his second wife, Patricia Swallie Choy, he had three daughters, Hoku, Kea and Kaimana, Ms. Ho said. The Ho family provided no further information.
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