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Musician Dennis Kamakahi remembered at service

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 12:43 p.m. HST, Jul 5, 2014

Hawaiian entertainers, songwriters and musicians from across the islands and beyond joined family members, friends and fans at Saturday's funeral for slack-key master Dennis David Kahekilimamaoikalanikeha Kamakahi, who died of lung cancer April 28 at age 61.

Observances started with a memorial service at 11 a.m. in the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Memorial Chapel at Kamehameha Schools. The service was followed by more than four hours of musical entertainment on the Great Lawn at Bishop Museum. The celebration of Kamakahi's life and his many contributions to Hawaiian music included an old-style Hawaiian luau with four 300-pound pigs, 250 pounds of poi, 200 pounds of luau leaf, 190 pounds of sweet potatoes, and comparable amounts of other Hawaiian staples all collected, prepared and donated by members of the Hawaiian community.

Aaron Mahi, one of the organizers of the luau, and a friend of Kamakahi from their days as students at Kamehameha, quoted Kamehameha III in describing the afternoon as an opportunity to bring the Hawaiian community together.

"He said we should come together and make one -- everyone with one thought -- come together and make one heart, come together and be of one aloha. One love, one for another and one to each another. That's the reason for doing this."

"Kamehameha (the Great) said that he had gathered the islands together but the truth and the justice of Hawaii was not finished. We, the flowers, the descendants, the mamo (descendants), we have to bring it together again and continue the work of Kamehameha in uniting ourselves."

Mahi said the afternoon was a time for the people of Hawaii to sing, eat, laugh and cry together in bidding aloha to Kamakahi.

Kamakahi was born March 31, 1953, in Honolulu. He began playing the ukulele at the age of 3 and started studying slack-key guitar at 10. Kamakahi dropped out of Leeward Community College in 1972 1to play music full time; he met Eddie Kamae, founder and leader of the Sons of Hawaii, that same year. Two years later Kamae invited him to join the Sons. Kamae and Hawaiian language expert Mary Kawena Pukui introduced him to the exacting techniques involved in writing traditional Hawaiian poetry.

Over the next 40 years Kamakahi made important contributions to Hawaiian music as a distinctive vocalist, slack-key guitarist, composer, recording artist, record producer, teacher and mentor to younger artists.

His lifetime achievements included two decades of work as the youngest member of the original Sons of Hawai'i, the albums he recorded for George Winston's Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters series, and his leadership of Na 'Oiwi, a group he formed with his son, David, Mike Kaawa and Jon Yamasato. Kamakahi also contributed as a solo artist to three Grammy Award-winning compilation albums.

Kamakahi received Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for his work as a composer, as a member of the group Amy Hanaiali'i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai'i, and for the album he recorded with slack-key guitarist Stephen Inglis. He also received the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts' Ki ho'alu Award in 2005 and the Ki Ho'alu Foundation Legacy Award in 2013.

The academy bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award on Kamakahi in 2009 for his work as a member of the Sons of Hawai'i.

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