The HONOLULU 100 – Israel Kamakawiwoole to Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole

To celebrate the city and county of Honolulu's centennial anniversary, Honolulu Magazine honors 100 noteworthy citizens from throughout the past 100 years.

Israel Kamakawiwoole (1959-1997)

After his death in June 1997, Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoole lay in state at the Capitol, an honor that had previously been reserved only for elected officials Gov. John A. Burns and U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga.

It was a fitting sendoff, though. During his too-short career, Kaimuki boy Kamakawiwoole became Hawaii’s son, capturing the hearts of residents and visitors alike with his delicate voice and simple ukulele. He first caught people’s ears as a member of the Makaha Sons of Niihau, where he followed in the footsteps of his older brother Skippy. It was as a solo artist, though, that Kamakawiwo’ole really shone. Facing Future, the 1993 album he recorded after splitting from the

Makaha Sons, became an instant classic, with songs such as “Hawaimakahai ’78,” “Maui Hawaiian Sup’pa Man” and his medley cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.”

His music has only gained popularity since his death. Facing Future has gone platinum, and his songs have been featured in numerous movies and television shows.


Abigail Kawananakoa (1926- )

If there is one thing that Abigail Kekaulike Kawananakoa is known for, it is her fighting spirit. “She is not afraid to undertake tremendous challenges,” says Alice Guild, president of the Friends of Iolani Palace.

“Kekau” as friends and colleagues call her, took over the presidency of Friends of Iolani Palace when her mother, the organization’s founder, died in 1971. Kawananakoa has since become the strongest advocate for the restoration and preservation of the palace and Native Hawaiian artifacts, says Guild.

As the great-grandniece of King David Kalakaua, Kawananakoa has also made the preservation of the Hawaiian culture a top priority. “She was very instrumental in calling the attention of governors and legislators,” says Guild. Although her straightforward manner may sometimes be misinterpreted, “Her major concern has always been for the Hawaiian people.”

After retiring from Friends, Kawananakoa moved to the Mainland, though she remains active in cultural preservation and struggles over Native Hawaiian artifacts.

photo: Honolulu Star-Bulletin


photo: courtesy of Nina Keali’iwahamana

Nina Kealiiwahamana (1936-   )

Nina Kealiiwahamana is one of Hawaii’s most beloved singers–one of the few performers who can be recognized solely by their first names.

The daughter of Vicki Ii Rodrigues, herself an influential figure in Hawaiian music, who played with Genoa Keawe on her album Party Hulas, Kealiiwahamana sang regularly on the internationally popular Hawaii Calls radio show, from 1957 until its last broadcast in 1974.

It was during a Hawaii Calls recording session at the Moana Hotel that composer and producer Jack de Mello discovered Kealiiwahamana. They went on to record extensively together, most notably on de Mello’s classic Music of Hawaii series. Kealiiwahamana’s crystal-clear soprano perfectly complemented de Mello’s orchestral arrangements.

In a 2004 interview, de Mello’s son Jon said the lasting appeal of her music comes from her heart. “Nina has been family for years; she still is. She’s so gentle and warm, and when she sings, you can tell.”


Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana (1934- )

“I’m thankful I got a big nickname,” says this consummate waterman. His big name fits a large life–he’s been a world-champion body surfer, pulled hundreds out of the churn at Makaha Beach, steered the Hokulea on its first voyage and has been inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame.

His biggest contributions, though, have been to generations of young people. “He had a vision to get kids involved with the ocean, to teach them how to conserve,” says Craig Inouye, a family friend. “He’s a man rich in heritage. Everyone in the ocean looks up to him. [He and his wife, Momi] hanaied so many kids and converted them into productive citizens.”

According to Robert “Bunky” Bakutis, a longtime supporter of the event Buffalo Keaulana founded, the Buffalo’s Big Board Classic, the event gives people “a sense of the beauty of their own place. It elevated surfing. He’s carried that respect for the ocean.”

“It’s great to feel you have your Hawaiian culture with you. I’m glad I’m still in the water,” Keaulana says.

photo: Olivier Koning


photo: Olivier Koning

Genoa Keawe (1918- )

Auntie Genoa is closing in on 90 years, but she can still hold audiences in the palm of her hand with her wit and trademark ha’i falsetto voice. Harry B. Soria Jr. says, “I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve introduced her to a crowd and she’s gotten a standing ovation just for being there. And when she starts to sing, there’s this roar from the audience that you don’t hear for anybody else.”

Keawe has enjoyed an amazingly long-lived career; she began performing in Honolulu before World War II, and recorded her first single in 1946 for the label 49th State. Many of her records have become staples in the Hawaiian music canon. One of her best loved albums is the 1965 Party Hulas, in which Keawe debuted her trademark song, “Alika.”

She’s not just a pretty voice, either: At a time when few artists owned their own recordings, Keawe took control of her career and founded Genoa Keawe Records in 1966, which has since released more than 20 of her recordings.


Monsignor Charles Kekumano (1919-1998)

Monsignor Charles Kekumano served as pastor of St. Pius X in Manoa and Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. He was chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu and served on the Cancer Research Advisory Board. He also encouraged reform in the Bishop Estate by co-authoring the essay “Broken Trust” in 1997. “He was a man driven by his love for the Hawaiian people and had the ability to work out differences that were seemingly unsolvable,” says Ambrose Rosehill, a close friend.

The monsignor’s biggest project was to create a one-stop-shop for Hawaiian service agencies, such as Alu Like and the Lili’uokalani Children’s Center. Although Kekumano’s dream was realized in 1999 when Kulana’oiwi was constructed on Moloka’i, it has yet to be carried out on O’ahu. “As long as I’m around, I’m going to make sure that this happens,” says another close friend, Oswald Stender.

photo: Honolulu Star-Bulletin


photo: courtesy of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts

Roy Kelley (1905-1997)

In a word, Roy Kelley was old-school. He opened the first of many Outrigger hotels in 1947 and managed his business face to face, by walking through the properties. He never worked in an office; instead he stationed himself near the front desk. “He always focused on customers first,” says David Carey, president and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises.

In a time when upscale hotels dominated the industry, Kelley built hotels with a much broader market in mind. “He liked to do things because it was right, not necessarily because of the way everybody else did it,” says Carey. Kelley’s reasonably priced accommodations increased travel to the Islands and created economic prosperity in Hawai’i.

He was “a product of the depression,” says Carey. “He did it all,” from designing the buildings to supervising construction and running each location. Although Outrigger has expanded far beyond what Kelley had envisioned, “We operate based on the same core values and mission,” says Carey.


John M. Kelly Jr. (1919-  )

Although John M. Kelly lives with Alzheimer’s disease, Marion, his wife of 62 years, has enough memories for both of them, in her mind and spilling out of the dozens of albums scattered around their home. Old newspaper articles covering his service in World War II, concert programs from his days conducting the Honolulu Community Chorus and papers relating to the Palama Settlement music school, where he served as director.

The albums also record Kelly’s groundbreaking work with Save Our Surf (SOS), which he founded in 1964. Photos of demonstrations held at city hall, educational leaflets identifying endangered surf sites and letters to governors, mayors and representatives cover the pages of an old scrapbook. “Save Our Surf is what he gave his life to,” says his daughter, Kathleen Kelly.

“He grew up surfing, and saving surf sites, that’s really what it was all about,” says Marion Kelly. “It was his life’s passion.”

photo: courtesy of Marion Kelly


photo: Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Charles E. King (1874-1950)

Hawaiian music’s canon would be much smaller were it not for composer Charles E. King, who was known as the dean of Hawaiian music. His songbooks, including King’s Book of Hawaiian Melodies and King’s Songs of Hawaii, have preserved hundreds of monarchy-era songs for posterity. Music historian Harry B. Soria Jr. says, “He was the conduit through which the music and the culture of the 1800s continued to the next century. He and Johnny Almeida are both credited with that.”

While Almeida covered the folk side of the musical spectrum, King wrote in the elevated style of the ali’i, with whom he was closely tied. Queen Emma was his godmother, and he was acquainted with Queen Liliuokalani. He wrote many waltzes, and produced an opera entitled The Prince of Hawaii.

King, who had been a member of the first graduating class of The Kamehameha School for Boys, also taught music at Kamehameha, served as a territorial senator and enjoyed two stints as conductor of the Royal Hawaiian Band. His most famous composition may be “Ke Kali Ne Au,” popularly known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”


Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole (1871-1922)

A Waikiki road, a beach park and a major highway bear his name today, but 19th-century kamaaina knew Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole as “Prince Cupid,” a nickname given to the angelic-faced alii as a child.

The royal family, including King Kalakaua, had groomed Kuhio for the throne, but the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy dashed those plans. Instead, Kuhio spent one year as a political prisoner for supporting his adoptive mother, Queen Liliuokalani, by leading the counterrevolution to restore the monarchy.

Kuhio eventually became part of the establishment, joining the Republican Party and getting elected to Congress in 1902. Kuhio’s chief accomplishment during his 20 years in office was the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which set aside 200,000 acres of public lands for homesteaders who were at least 50 percent Hawaiian. In 1919, he introduced the first bill for Hawai’i statehood. Kuhio also campaigned for the development of Pearl Harbor and the federal management of Hawaii’s national parks–all reasons his legacy, as well as his name, lives on.