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Hawaiian falsetto pioneer Richard Ho‘opi‘i dies at 76

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2015

    Richard Ho’opi’i performing with Na Hoa at the 2015 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

Renowned for his lilting voice and the singing contest that bears his name, Richard Ho‘opi‘i was both a pioneer and a preservationist in art of Hawaiian falsetto.

Ho‘opi‘i, 76, died at his home in Kahakuloa, Maui, shortly after midnight today.

Raised in a home founded on strict discipline and religious observance but also rich in music, Ho‘opi‘i and his elder brother Solomon learned ukulele from their father, Frank, and sang Hawaiian hymns at church.

Richard and Solomon gravitated toward the music of Uncle Joe and Aunty Genoa Keawe, through whom they learned leo kiekie, a style of falsetto that melds elements of traditional Hawaiian chant and Christian hymn.

As the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers, they recorded a string of influential Hawaiian albums in the 1970s and ’80s and were a mainstay at hula festivals and concerts around the state.

The brothers were recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 1996 and the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015

Solomon retired from performing shortly after he and Richard won the 1997 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Group of the Year on the strength of their final album “Ho‘omau: To Perpetuate.” He died in 2006.

Richard continued to perform and in 2003 help found the Richard Ho‘opi‘i Leo Kiekie contest, which continues to promote new generations of Hawaiian falsetto singers. That same year, he recorded a solo record, “Ululani.”

Rozanne Ho‘opi‘i said her father was to have undergone surgery for a heart-valve replacement but took ill before that could happen. He returned home last month following an extended hospitalization for pneumonia.

In addition to Rozanne, Ho‘opi‘i is survived by his wife, Priscilla, sons Richard Jr., Ruben “Kai” and Likeke Ho‘opi‘i and Kendall “Chico” Kaonohi; daughters Regina, Kamaile and Kalena; brothers Herbert and Ronald Kenolio; and sister Cyrilla Kealohanui.

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