Eddie Kamae was born in 1927 and spent his entire life in the Hawaiian Islands. Through the years he distinguished himself as a singer, musician, composer, a documentary director, and author. He has been a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, which found one its earliest and strongest voices in the Sons of Hawai‘i. This charismatic band, was formed in 1959 by Kamae - already famous for his ‘ukulele virtuoso -and the legendary singer and slack-key guitar master, Gabby Pahinui. The band became known for its authenticity of feeling and music. Many of their songs were the result of Kamae’s research into the archives of long-neglected Hawaiian melodies and lyrics.
Eddie’s story began when he taught himself to play the ‘ukulele after his brother found an instrument on a city bus and brought it home to him. From that moment on, Kamae was captivated by the sound it produced. In the late 1940s, he teamed up with Shoi Ikemi as the ‘ukulele Rascals at the famous Lau Yee Chai restaurant in Waikiki. They then joined the Ray Kinney Band for a tour of the US mainland. Shoi never returned to Hawai‘i, but Eddie couldn’t wait to get home and later rejoined the Ray Kinney Band at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the 1950s as the ‘ukulele soloist. He also played with respected entertainer and singer Haunani Kahalewai where she asked him to learn his first Hawaiian song, Queen Lili‘uokalani’s beautiful composition Ku‘u Pua o Paoakalani.
Eddie knew and loved Hawaiian music, but in his early years, found no challenge in its simple progressions, so he turned to classical, Latin, popular, and jazz tunes which required a mastery of theory and technique that few, if any, had ever attained on the ‘ukulele. Kamae learned to play the most difficult classical arrangements and developed a technique of plucking all four strings simultaneously, resulting in a sound that included both melody and chords together at the same time. He almost single-handedly revolutionized the traditional method of playing the ‘ukulele and transformed it from a rhythmic instrument with limited capabilities into a major instrument with unlimited potential.
It was not until the late 1950s that Kamae incorporated Hawaiian songs into his performing repertoire. This was the turning point in his musical career, as he gradually abandoned non-Hawaiian music and devoted himself almost exclusively to traditional Hawaiian music. It was not an instant conversion, but an evolution caused by the haunting memory of the only thing his father asked him to do - - to sing and play Hawaiian music.
Helped along by his close Hawaiian friends, Eddie’s growing awareness and aloha for the culture that surrounded him deepened with each step of his musical research. Among those that influenced him the most was Gabby Pahinui, who Kamae had helped to recover from an almost fatal illness. The two began playing together – one providing technical expertise and the other a feeling for tradition - and so began the first Sons of Hawai‘i group with its revolutionary sound.
During the 1970s through Hawai‘i Sons Productions, Eddie and his wife, Myrna, produced seven albums of traditional Hawaiian music in a series called Eddie Kamae Presents The Sons of Hawai‘i, a Christmas Album in 1978 and between 2000 and 2008, they produced four Hoku award-winning CDs. Marking his impressive 50 year milestone in music, Eddie released his newest CD titled Eddie Kamae & The Sons of Hawai‘i: Yesterday and Today Volume 2 in September of 2009. It includes many songs that were never heard before the release, even though some of the songs were more than 100 years old.
In the 1970s, Eddie’s group, the Sons of Hawai‘i, included the steel guitar genius of David “Feet” Rogers, Joe Marshall’s solid bass and vocals, Moe Keale on ‘ukulele and vocals and Dennis Kamakahi (one of Hawai‘i’s most prolific songwriters) on guitar replacing Gabby Pahinui.
Today, Sons of Hawai‘i keep the magic and excitement going with the rhythm and solos of Mike Kaawa’s 12 string guitar, the driving bass of Analu Aina, Ocean Kaowili on guitar, and with Paul Kim on steel guitar, capturing the original sound of The Sons of Hawai‘i once again.
Best known compositions include the hauntingly beautiful song Morning Dew (E Ku‘u Morning Dew) written with Larry Kimura; Kela Mea Whiffa written with Pilahi Paki and Ke Ala A Ka Jeep written with Mary Kawena Pukui. Eddie has written fourteen songs with his wife Myrna, including the 2009 Hoku nominated song Maka Ua (Little Raindrops).
While music has always been the driving force behind Kamae’s work, during the 1980s, while still leading The Sons of Hawai‘i, he found his second calling as a filmmaker. His years of searching for original musical sources put him in touch with the generation of older Hawaiians who he understood represent the last living links with the pre-modern life of 19th century Hawai‘i. Moved to record their voices, their faces, their ways of speaking and thinking, Kamae undertook a series of documentary films dealing with Hawaiian musical and cultural tradition.
The Hawaiian Legacy Foundation documentary series began with a film about one of Kamae’s most beloved teachers and friends - Sam Li‘a Kalainaina. LI'A: The Legacy of a Hawaiian Man made its world premier in 1988 as the opening documentary at the prestigious Hawai‘i International Film Festival. The Kamaes now have ten award-winning documentaries under The Hawaiian Legacy series banner including: LISTEN TO THE FOREST (1991); THE HAWAIIAN WAY (1993); WORDS, EARTH & ALOHA (1995); LUTHER KAHEKILI MAKEKAU (1997); HAWAIIAN VOICES (1998); SONS OF HAWAI‘I (2000) and the most recent documentaries, KEEPERS OF THE FLAME (2005); followed by LAHAINA: WAVES OF CHANGE (2007), and THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE (2010)
Kamae has received numerous awards throughout his career including: A Living Treasure of Hawai‘i award in 1979, a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Artists In 1992. Bishop Museum’s Charles Reed Bishop Medal for his outstanding contributions to Hawai‘i’s musical heritage in 1996. In 2000, The Commission on Culture and The Arts for City and County of Honolulu honored Eddie with a Lifetime of Achievement Award. He was inducted into the ‘Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2001. Eddie has received numerous Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, Hawai‘i’s equivalent of the Grammy. In 2007, The National Endowment for the Arts granted him the National Heritage Fellowship Award the highest federal government award a folk musician can receive. Eddie and The Sons of Hawai‘i won another Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) in 2009. In May, 2010, Kamae also received an diploma from Farrington High School, after a 65 year wait.
For more information and research into the remarkable life and music of Eddie Kamae, read his biography titled “The Music & Life of Eddie Kamae” written by James D. Houston available in fine bookstores throughout the US or visit www.Hawaiianlegacy.com and www.SonsofHawaii.com
Myrna Kamae is the Producer for the nine documentaries in The Hawaiian Legacy Series and Executive Director of The Hawaiian Legacy Foundation. Before working with her husband, Eddie, on The Hawaiian Legacy Series, she worked in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor in Voter Education and as a Production Assistant for the Hawai’i State Department of Education in Educational Television. She is the Coordinator for The Hawaiian Legacy Series educational programs and the co-writer of the Study Guides that accompany these programs. From 1986 to 2000, Myrna worked as the Executive Director for the Hawaiian Division of The Asian/Pacific Foundation of Hawai’i. Currently, she is working with her husband, Eddie, to help preserve traditional Hawaiian culture through films and school programs through The Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.
Through Hawaii Sons, Inc. the Kamaes have collaborated on 14 songs, including three songs for the 1978 television special, Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae & The Sons of Hawaii, as well as other television productions. Together, they have produced seven albums and four award-winning CDs of traditional Hawaiian music.
For more information on the documentaries by Eddie Kamae, please visit www.hawaiianlegacy.com