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Hawaiian music legend Palani Vaughan dies

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    Cecilio Rodriguez, left, Henry Kapono Kaaihue and Palani Vaughan at the Sheraton Waikiki.


    Robert Bley-Vroman, left, Nina Keali’iwahamana, Palani Vaughan, Tammy Haili’opua Baker and Sarah Ayat Keahi at Kennedy Theatre.


    Hawaiian music legend Palani Vaughan died at age 72. He was best known for his albums honoring King David Kalakaua.

Hawaiian music legend Palani Vaughan died Thursday at the age of 72.

Vaughan, inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2008, is best known for albums honoring King David Kalakaua.

He formed the “King’s Own” and began to study, compose, publish, record, and perform tributes to Kalakaua and Hawaii’s monarchy, recording four albums in the 1970s and early 1980s in honor of Kalakaua.

Producing the albums himself, Vaughan released the Ia ’Oe E Ka La series on his own label. The third was voted Best Traditional Album and Best Produced recording in 1978 for the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards; and the fourth volumn earned him Male Vocalist of the Year in 1981.

Vaughan’s family said in a written statement: “Our Vaughan ʻOhana is grateful for everyoneʻs love and support and are focusing on spending time together.

“Beyond his accomplishments and the music he shared that the world could enjoy, he was our makuakane, the most loving grandfather, our Papalani, and a caregiver to his parents and so many.

“He loved his people, our aliʻi, and these islands. He was steadfast and dignified to the last in land disputes, and for our lāhui Hawaiʻi.

“He was a great teacher nurtured by great teachers, and touched so many with his music, his words, his spirit. He was selfless, haʻahaʻa, believed in prayer, loved and cared for our kūpuna. He listened to their voices on the wind, shared their lessons, and ensured they will always be heard and carried on.”

Vaughan was easily recognizable, sporting a mustache and thick mutton chops a la Kalakaua most of his life. But in his early years as a performer, he was fresh-faced and clean-shaven.

It was at the University of Hawaii that Vaughan and classmate Peter Moon planned to record an album together.

In 1967, Don McDiarmid Jr. produced the “Meet Palani Vaughan & The Sunday Manoa,” with singer Vaughan and Sunday Manoa founding members Peter Moon and Cyril Pahinui on ukulele and slack key guitar, and Albert “Baby” Kalima Jr. on bass.

Vaughan’s first solo album, “Hawaiian Love Songs,” released in 1970, “positioned him as the likely successor to the late Alfred Apaka as the romantic golden voice of Hawaii, Honolulu Star-Bulletin entertainment writer John Berger wrote in 2007 when the album was re-released.

“But Vaughan chose to put his personal commitment to honoring the legacy of King Kalakaua ahead of commercial success,” Berger wrote.

The album was a collection of mostly popular hapa haole standards, and “Vaughan does a wondrous job with all of them,” Berger wrote, including “My Little Grass Shack,” as a laid-back ballad rather than an up-tempo hula number, and a Kaua I Ka Huahau’i,” (“Hawaiian War Chant), as a seductive Hawaii love song.

Born May 27, 1944, Frank Palani Vaughan Jr. went on to become a central figure in the Hawaiian Renaissance.

Vaughan’s most important legacy as a songwriter and recording artist is his four-album series honoring Kalakua. The standard portrayal of Kalakaua in the 1960s and early 1970s had been of a carefree “Merrie Monarch” whose primary interests had been drinking and parties. Vaughan’s albums corrected the politically driven misrepresentation of Kalakaua’s character and documented his commitment to preserving and perpetuating traditional Hawaiian culture, embracing modern technology, and defending the Hawaiian people.

Vaughan’s commitment to publicizing Kalakaua’s true legacy ended his own career as a mainstream showroom entertainer but it was a sacrifice he made willingly — and continued to make in the decades that followed. While the third and fourth “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” albums received Hoku Awards, he received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

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