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Take a Look Back at 1960s Honolulu in This Former Reporter’s Breezy Memoir

David Butwin paints a dated portrait of Honolulu in “Barefoot Days, Electric Nights.”


Barefoot Days, Electric NightsBack in 1963, a boyish 20-something David Butwin left behind a job as a general assignment/police reporter at the Minneapolis Star for a tryout at The Honolulu Advertiser.


The St. Paul native spent most of the next four years working and learning about Hawai‘i as he covered the news of the day.


In March of 1966, Butwin also wrote a story for Paradise of the Pacific, shortly before our predecessor transformed into HONOLULU Magazine. He profiled then-32-year-old singer-songwriter Kui Lee, describing the brash confident singer/songwriter who’d already penned 60 songs. In the story, Lee predicted his hit song “I’ll Remember You” would earn him half a million dollars. (This was back in the day when Butwin complained of the “steep price” of $90 monthly rent for a studio cottage near Sans Souci.) Legendary radio personality Hal (Aku) Lewis told Butwin: “Kui is a gold mine for his songwriting alone. His music could be worth $10 [million] to $15 million.”


Butwin picks up the Lee story in his new book, Barefoot Days, Electric Nights: “Don Ho may have been ‘killing them’ on the Mainland, as Frank Sinatra put it, but in the mid-1960s a more genuine Island voice was knocking me out. Kuiokalani Lee, a Maui-born beachboy balladeer of Hawaiian, Chinese and haole descent, already on his way to stardom had a lot of us hooked.” That included Andy Williams, Tony Bennett and Elvis Presley, who all recorded the song.


By April 1966, the talented singer was battling the cancer that would kill him in a few months. Back to Butwin: “My Advertiser story ran with a Takashi Umeda photo showing the tousled-hair Lee the way I remember him: impishly handsome, a defiant half smile, half snarl on his lips, long fingers dancing to make a point.” (Presley’s famous Aloha from Hawai‘i concert in January 1973 turned into a benefit for the Kui Lee cancer fund.)


To write the book, Butwin mined through his letters home, newspaper clippings and memories. Though much of his viewpoint is that of a malihini from Minnesota, Butwin doesn’t take himself too seriously and clearly loves the art of storytelling so can be forgiven his moments of wide-eyed wonderment at Island life. He paints a dated portrait of Honolulu, possibly more interesting to those in journalism. If you’re under 65, you won’t remember his world but will recognize enough to make it interesting.


The book sells for $17 plus shipping at the author’s website at davidbutwin.com.




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Honolulu Magazine February 2020
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