Ernest Lafaris Golden, a jazz and blues singer, portrait painter and entrepreneur who helped found the African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawaii, died Wednesday of a massive stroke at the age of 94.
“Ernest was a living treasure,” said Golden’s friend, Ed Young, who replaced him on the cultural center’s board of directors when Golden retired in 2015. “There’s not a lot of documentation on the history of African-Americans in Hawaii, especially from the time during World War II. Ernest lived it. He was passionate to preserve the history of these men and women.”
Golden was born May 21, 1923, in Athens, Ga. He left the segregated South and arrived in Hawaii in 1943 aboard a troop transport ship to work at Ford Island as a civilian laborer for the Department of Defense. While living in segregated housing, he started a social group called the Bachelors Club for fellow African-Americans working in the military and for the DOD, according to his daughter, Karen Lorraine Golden-Twiggs of Mililani.
“They invited the local girls and had dancing and music,” Golden-Twiggs said.
Although various ethnic groups in Hawaii also were subjected to discrimination, “it was better than it was in the South,” Golden-Twiggs said. “He left Georgia to get away from all of the racial issues. When he came here, it manifested that this was the place for him.”
After the war, he studied art, drove a bus and was an airline porter. In 1959 Golden helped form Honolulu Airport Porter Services and later bought out his partner. In 1974, he sold his interest in the business to return to Georgia, bringing a touch of the islands with him when he established the Hawaiian Hale Supper Club in Athens.
“He actually loved it here, but he had a longing in his heart to return home,” said Golden-Twiggs, who taught hula at the club. “He always had Georgia on his mind.”
Strict liquor laws prevented the supper club from becoming a success, she said, and after two years, her father closed the place and returned to Oahu.
“He actually loved it here,” Golden-Twiggs said. “He came from a period of racial segregation and racial prejudice. But my dad always believed that all races are one.”
Golden became the owner and general manager of Versatile Services Inc., which provided airline passengers with porter and wheelchair services, and allowed neighbor island-bound visitors to store large pieces of luggage and surfboards on Oahu.
In 1997 Golden and Deloris Guttman founded the African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawaii, and in 2011 they published the book, “Images of America: African Americans in Hawaii.”
“He was the one who pushed me to tell the stories,” Guttman said. “Ernest wanted these stories to be told.”
Golden also painted oil portraits and was the lead singer of the jazz and blues band The Key of G, in which his son Carl played lead guitar. They were staples at the Crouching Lion in Kaaawa, Jerry’s Pizza in Waialua and the old Pinky’s in Kailua, among many other gigs.
Golden liked to end each set with the Irving Berlin/ Ella Fitzgerald song, “The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On).”
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by sons Carl Lafaris Golden and Kevin Mark Golden, both of Laie, and seven grandchildren.
Services are pending.