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Don Ho, Hawaii's best known musician ever, suffered a heart attack at his home in Waikiki in died Saturday at The Queen's Medical Center. For almost 50 years, Ho entertained millions of visitors to Hawaii and others at home with his recordings.

Don Ho forged a career out of his own blend of Hawaiian and hapa haole standards, the mainstream pop hits of the day, and the written songs by Kui Lee. His name will forever be associated with such songs as "Tiny Bubbles," Kui Lee's "I'll Remember You." and "Pearly Shells."

For 43 years, Ho could be found performing to a packed house in Waikiki, first at Duke Kahanamoku's, 1964-70; Cinerama Reef Towers' Polynesian Palace, 1970-81; his own Don Ho's Waikiki, 1981-91; Hilton Hawaiian Village Dome, 1992; Hula Hut, 1992-93; Outrigger Reef Towers' Polynesian Palace, 1992-94; and most recently at the Waikiki Beachcomber's Hoku Hale Showroom, 1994-2007.

Donald Tai Loy Ho was born Kaka'ako, Oahu on August 13, 1930. He was the embodiment of what it is to be Hawaiian in the 20th century, part Hawaiian, part Chinese, part Portugese, part German and part Dutch.

A Kamehameha schools graduate of 1949, Ho earned a bachelor of science degree in 1954 from the University of Hawaii. Following graduation he entered the U.S. Air Force where he served from 1954-1959 and attained the rank of first lieutenant.

Following his discharge he returned to manage his mother's bar Honey's in Kaneohe where he had grown up listening to Hawaiian music, jazz and popular swing on the juke box during the war years. That mixture of Hawaiian music and popular music would influence his own style and tastes for the rest of his life.

In a 1999 interview with Burl Burlingame for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, Ho stated, "It created a nice hybrid sound in my head," said Ho. "Everything was treated equally, and it went all day and all night long. Later, I realized I knew all these songs, hundreds of songs, and I don't know where they came from. I picked up music through osmosis."

Ho began playing an old chording organ and singing at the bar and there was no turning back. By 1964 his career had taken off, thanks largely to a song that Ho forever claimed he didn't really like, "Tiny Bubbles." While Ho may have disliked the song, millions of visitors to Hawaii loved it and it became his signature song for almost 50 years.

The last three years of Don's life have been marked by his battle with cardiomyopathy, a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn't work as well as it should. Unable to find satisfactory treatment in the U.S., Ho traveled to Thailand where in November 2005, he underwent VesCell Adult Stem Cell surgery in Bangkok. As explained in the Honolulu Advertiser, "The procedure uses stem cells taken from the patient's own blood, which are multiplied in a laboratory and inserted back into the patient's heart to restore damaged tissue."

Ho showed some improvement following the surgery and even resumed his show at the Waikiki Beachcomber's Hoku Hale Showroom although on a reduced schedule. It is reported he had hoped to return to Thailand for further surgery. His last show was just two days before his death on Thursday evening.

It's easy for fans of today's Hawaiian music to see Don Ho as more of a pop singer or crooner with roots in the 1940's style of music and performance and not a true Hawaiian musician. It's impossible to know just how many middle aged haole ladies Ho brought up on stage to give a kiss and have their photo taken with Hawaii's big music star.

The fact, however, is that without Don Ho, there would likely never have been the renaissance of Hawaiian music of all styles that we've seen over the past 30 years. Ho paved the way for all of today’s superstars of Hawaiian music opening many doors that were previously shut.

Don Ho's legacy lives on with his amazingly talented 25-year-old daughter Hoku Ho, whose song "Perfect Day" was the title song to Reese Witherspoon's movie "Legally Blond." Her second album is scheduled for release this summer.
Comments
April 15, 2007 at 11:17 am
(1) cati rutledge says:

I am really sorry to hear of his death.
I was traveling with some friends a few years ago and got to see his show. He was a true showman. My friend was ina awheelchair and he had us take him over to where he was and he visited with him. He was a very gentle man.
He will be greatly missed.

mahalo friend

Cati Rutledge

April 15, 2007 at 6:30 pm
(2) Bill Lyons says:

Aloha,

My wife and I saw Mr.Ho last week while in Hawai’i. He was a great showmen and a very nice man. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. Mahalo, for the perfect last night in Waikiki. You will be missed my friend.

Bill & Sara
(Barrie, Ontario Canada)

April 16, 2007 at 6:07 am
(3) barry mckeown says:

I was raised in Lanikai,and mom used to sing pearly shells alot..I was to young to go to Honeys in Kaneohe….my heart go out to his children,as they will miss him….
Aloha,
Barry McKeown

April 16, 2007 at 10:19 am
(4) Amy says:

A star on earth has moved to the heavens,
That light will shine forever in the memories of all the hearts he touched,
Aloha Oe Don Ho

April 17, 2007 at 3:00 pm
(5) karen Shaw says:

I saw Don Ho in 1970 with six other classmates from nurning school. We enjoyed his show so much. This past fall while visiting my son on the Marine base in Hawaii was so looking forward to seeing him again but unfortunately his show got canceled.Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

April 25, 2007 at 1:50 pm
(6) Ann, Seattle, WA says:

I first saw Don Ho in 1966, when Duke’s was just a bar at the back of the market place. I saw him last when he had a show at the Hilton. Don Ho and his music will always trigger fond memories of Hawaii for me.

June 16, 2008 at 11:39 pm
(7) halie says:

i now don ho. he is my great great uncle. i never got to meet him but i wish i could of met him. i hear so many stories about him. i just want to say i love you and i am so sad that you left us so early uncle don.

January 29, 2010 at 12:11 am
(8) Cynthia Koja says:

My favorite Hawaiian song has always been I’ll Remember You, with Don Ho singing it. I was fortunate to have a boyfriend who was a drummer for him and got to see his many proformances. God Bless his family.

June 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm
(9) Mikala says:

I lived in Hawaii from 1969 to 1980 and consider it my home. I saw Don Ho when he played at the Marketplace in Waikiki when the marketplace was still a “real” place .. now I hear it is awful nothing but foreign jewelry booths etc.

Anyway he never told anyone but he used to walk the waikiki beach late at night and often when he found Vietnam vets sleeping on the beach he would give them money.

No one knew that part of him. A part of Hawaii’s heart has gone but I hope his spirit will always be there.

po’ino

July 1, 2013 at 12:58 am
(10) Katie Burke says:

Very sad that Don is no long with us in flesh but in spirit. That means he is with my son. I was born and raised on the beach and raised listening to he wonderful sons thanks to my parents. My Dad was a bass singer and we always had the Hi Fi going with vinyal daily. We have always spent our years beach combing and it is something my son enjoyed as well. I lost him at the young age of 21 in 2009. I only wish I could have heard Don sing the song “Pearly Shells”. Daily I spend time on the beach and there isn’t a day that I don’t have the song in my mine. It brings me to tears. I have been collecting a bottle full of Puka shells since everyone represent the hole in my heart I have for my son. I miss him dearly. Being from the Big Island I would love to make it to Oahu where my step daughter is to hear the song being song by one of the the greatest. Hawaiian music has always had a place in my heart and I am glad to live out my life is such a majical place!
When the Keiki’s call me Auntie it makes me feel special and blessed.

Mahalo for your time!

Kona Katie Burke

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