The HONOLULU 100 – George Helm Jr. to Eddie Kamae

George Helm Jr. (1950-1977)

George Helm Jr. is widely regarded as one of Hawai’i’s best musicians, even though his debut album was released only after his death. Born on Moloka’i, Helm trained under famed musician Kahauanu Lake, and became a popular performer around Honolulu in the ’70s. His greatest legacy, however, may be political, particularly his work with the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana, a group opposing the United States military’s use of the island as a bombing range. Hawaiian rights proponent Haunani-Kay Trask says Helm did much to galvanize the movement. “He was just a tremendous beacon for those of us in our late 20s and early 30s. He was so brave, and he was quintessentially Hawaiian in the way he did things. He wasn’t a state senator, he was a singer. He was culturally one of our best.”

Helm disappeared off the coast of Kaho’olawe in March 1977, along with fellow activist Kimo Mitchell, during a protest. His goal has been realized, however: The Navy completed its handover of Kaho’olawe in April 2004, after a 10-year, $460 million cleanup.


photo: Honolulu Magazine, January 1998

Chris Hemmeter (1939-2003)

“Each hotel that I develop must be better than the one before,” developer Chris Hemmeter told HONOLULU Magazine in 1988. “If I can’t do it better and, in some cases, bigger–that’s why these things have gotten so enormous–I won’t do it.”

Given this philosophy, it’s no wonder that, before he left the Islands in the early ’90s, Hemmeter had built the Hyatt Waikiki, then the state’s largest private construction project, and some of the Neighbor Islands’ most opulent resorts, including the Westin Maui and Hyatt (now Hilton) Waikoloa. He also spent $19 million renovating the historic Armed Forces YMCA building to create his corporate headquarters.

“I firmly believe his ideas and vision changed the face of tourism in Waikiki and in the state of Hawai’i,” says Diane Plotts, his business partner of 30 years. “He allowed Hawai’i to think it could be a world-class destination, which I don’t think it ever thought it could, until we created what he dreamed up.”


Charles Higa (1930- )

Zippy’s is more than a beloved institution; it’s the chili-flavored bonding agent holding O’ahu’s community together. Ex-pats long for it. “Zippy’s is the first place I go when I get off the plane, for a plate lunch of fried chicken and chili, with a scoop of macaroni salad,” says former Kunia resident Aleathia Acosta-Cezar, who now lives in Las Vegas.

The first Zippy’s opened on South King Street in 1966, the creation of Charles and his brother Francis (who died in 1999). Zip codes had just been introduced, so they named it Zippy’s. “We were thinking about fast service, speed, takeout food,” explains Higa.

Higa says Zippy’s sells about 200,000 pounds of chili each month. Better up that beef order, as Higa is anticipating the 24th branch, in ‘Ewa, followed by a Maui location. “The key to me is the people we have, who we can depend on from top to bottom,” he says. “Good people and good food.”

photo: Olivier Koning


photo: HONOLULU Magazine, January 1968

Chinn Ho (1904-1987)

According to Stuart Ho, his father inspired many throughout Hawai’i by proving that an Asian American could succeed in the highest echelons of real estate and finance.

A gregarious man, the cigar-smoking Chinn Ho was the first Asian American to trade on the Honolulu Stock Exchange and later became its president. He also served as president of Capital Investment Corp., as president of the Hawai’i Visitors Bureau, and, from 1961 to 1971, led a group that owned the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A June 1960 article in Fortune magazine noted, “Chinn has snapped up many opportunities ignored by Hawai’i’s older, entrenched wealth.”

His best known project, The ‘Ilikai, opened in 1964. Alvin Wong, director of sales and marketing there, says, “Mr. Ho was known to come into the lobby and personally greet guests.” The ‘Ilikai’s glass elevator was one of the highest reaching in the world, but Ho was more down to earth. Says Wong, “He’d appear in the employees’ cafeteria and have a cup of coffee with them.”


Don Ho (1930- )

For millions of people around the globe, Honolulu means Waikiki. And Waikiki means Don Ho. Even after four decades of entertaining audiences in numerous hotel showrooms, Ho still plays a weekly gig at the Waikiki Beachcomber, sitting behind his Hammond organ, singing his way through such signature hits as “Tiny Bubbles” and “I’ll Remember You.”

In the early 1960s, Ho’s combination of charm, looks and talent lured crowds to Duke’s in Waikiki for freewheeling shows that could last till 3 a.m. He cajoled audience members to the stage for a kiss, encouraged the crowd to “Suck ‘Em Up” and got them to sing and clap along to his tunes. He still does. But in that Golden Age of Waikiki, Hawai’i’s best known entertainer became a national phenomenon, carving a permanent place for himself in American pop culture.

“I never think about how long I’ve been performing,” Ho told the magazine last year. “I really believe you should do what you love.”

photo: Olivier Koning


photo: Hawai’i State Archives

Daniel Inouye (1924- )

When measuring Sen. Daniel Inouye’s impact on Honolulu, consider this: There has never been a time when Inouye has not represented the state of Hawai’i in the U.S. Congress. He was the state’s first congressman in 1959. Since then, Inouye has had a direct hand in shaping the growth of Honolulu, using his status as a ranking member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and co-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to bring millions of federal dollars into the state every year.

“After the military and tourism, Dan is our most important economic engine,” historian Bob Dye says. “He’s one of the most powerful senators, third guy in seniority. If he wants something, for the most part, he’s going to get it.”

In addition to his economic influence, Inouye has also been a proponent of the Hawaiian people; he was instrumental in securing the return of Kaho’olawe to the state, and in passing the 1993 apology resolution, in which the United States apologized for its role in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.


Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (1890-1968)

Hawai’i’s consummate waterman, Duke Kahanamoku was an Olympic swimmer for 21 years. He is known as the father of modern surfing. In the late ’60s, he was the first inductee into both the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Surfing Hall of Fame.

In 1922, Kahanamoku’s international fame opened doors for him in Hollywood; he went on to appear in 30 films. Although he looked the part–Like a Polynesian sea god,” longtime friend Bill Morris says–his shy and humble character wasn’t well suited for Hollywood life.

Kahanamoku returned home in 1934. Later that year, he was elected sheriff of the city and county of Honolulu; a position he held for 26 years, until 1960.

In his later years, Kahanamoku spread the aloha spirit by partnering with radio and TV personality Arthur Godfrey. For his years representing the Islands to the world, he became known as the “ambassador of aloha.” 

Morris says, “He was a great inspiration to all of us. I totally admired him.”

photo: courtesy Duke Kahanamoku Foundation


photo: Hawaii State Archives

Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967)

Famed industrialist Henry J. Kaiser arrived in Honolulu in 1954, at age 72, with plans to retire. He didn’t. Over the next 13 years, he built Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village, the largest hotel Waikiki had ever seen, and transformed 6,000 acres of swampland and pig farms in East O’ahu into the Hawai’i Kai we know today–ushering in a new era of development in the Islands.  

The hotel also housed the original studios of his radio station, KHVH, where disc jockeys frequently announced they were broadcasting from “Henry Kaiser’s beautiful Hawaiian Village Hotel, home of the Alfred Apaka show.” Less than a mile away, Kaiser built his eponymously named hospital, introducing his controversial prepaid health plan to the Islands.

“Owning things was not a compulsive thing with Henry Kaiser,” one of his executives, David Slipher, told HONOLULU Magazine in 1988. “He was production-oriented–get it done, get it done early, figure out how to do it some way that other people would not think of.”


photo: courtesy of Chris Wong

Danny Kaleikini (1937- )

Danny Kaleikini has given the city his aloha. For 30 years he sang and entertained kama’aina, visiting dignitaries and tourists at the Kahala Hilton (now the Mandarin Oriental). Gov. John Waihee named Kaleikini “Hawai’i’s Ambassador of Aloha” in 1988.

When Kaleikini wasn’t traveling to Japan or doing a show at Harrah’s in Reno, he donated his time to charities such as the Hawaiian Humane Society and Easter Seals.

Giving back to the community has become his trademark. “You cannot forget where you come from,” says Kaleikini, who grew up on a Hawaiian homestead in Papakolea.

Kaleikini credits his music career for everything he has. “I thank God for my gift. I got to work with all the masters, Hilo Hattie, Ray Kinney and Leinaala Ignacio,” Kaleikini says. He explains that, in the 1960s, performers did it all: blew the conch shell, danced hula; Kaleikini even learned how to play the nose flute.

He says, “For me, music was the key. It opened doors and allowed me to spread aloha to the world.”


Eddie Kamae (1927-  )

It’s been more than 40 years since Eddie Kamae founded the legendary Sons of Hawai’i, which originally featured music greats Joe Marshall, David “Feet” Rogers and slack key icon Gabby Pahinui. Kamae, known for his distinctive jazz picking style, earned his place among the finest ‘ukulele players in Hawai’i history.

In addition to the Sons’ musical virtuosity and innovative arrangements, it was Kamae’s commitment to resurrecting traditional Hawaiian songs that helped rekindle a new interest in the culture and its music in the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s. Kamae worked closely with Hawaiian cultural expert Mary Kawena Pukui to unearth many old Hawaiian songbooks, filled with compositions that had never before been recorded, including the now-popular “No Ke Ano Ahiahi.” 

Today, at age 78, Kamae is just as dedicated to preserving Hawaiian culture. In the 1980s, he started a second career as a filmmaker. Kamae and his wife, Myrna, have since completed seven films, documenting noteworthy Hawaiian figures, including Pukui, Sam Li’a Kalainaina, Pilahi Paki and his own Sons of Hawai’i.