A Broadway leading man, successful Hawaii recording artist and songwriter, and Waikiki showroom headliner, Ed Kenney conveyed the spirit of his Hawaii home with a magnetism that had worldwide appeal.
Kenney died Friday at his home on Kauai. He was 85.
Born Edward Kamanaloha Kenney Jr., in Anahola, Kauai, to a Swedish-Irish father and Hawaiian-Chinese mother, Kenney proved himself to be a multi-talented entertainer at a young age, performing as a piano soloist at age 6 and singing solo tenor parts at 12. He attended Punahou School on a piano scholarship. There he expanded his repertoire to the stage, starring in school productions of “Gondoliers” and “The Student Prince.”
He continued to hone his acting skills at the University of Oregon, where he performed in “Brigadoon,” “Paint Your Wagon,” and other productions.
Kenney went to Broadway in 1955 and appeared in a non-singing role in “Shangri-La.” He next originated the role of Wang Ta in the original 1958 production of “Flower Drum Song.” Two years later, he originated the role of Mana, the Prince of Hawaii,” in Eaton “Bob” Magoon’s 1961 production of “13 Daughters.”
Kenney also worked with Magoon and Gordon Phelps to co-write “Numbah One Day of Christmas,” which he then recorded for Magoon’s record label, the Hawaiian Recording and Publishing Co. Kenney’s recording has been a perennially popular seasonal hit on island radio stations for more than 50 years.
Kenney released seven solo albums, including “My Hawaii,” a collection of 12 Hawaiian and hapa-haole songs he recorded for Columbia Records in 1959.
Returning to Hawaii in 1961, Kenney was a headliner at Duke Kahanamoku’s restaurant before bringing his act to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the old Halekulani Hotel, where he performed with his first wife, renowned hula dancer Beverly Noa.
He was also a regular on the TV version of “Hawaii Calls,” performing with Noa, Lani Custino and other Hawaiian entertainers.
Kenney returned to the local stage in 1989 to play King Keoki in Tommy Aguilar’s production of “13 Daughters” at the Hawaii Theatre.
In 1994, Kenney received the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kenney is survived by his wife, Judy Bailey, his son, prominent Honolulu chef and restaurateur Ed Kenney III; daughter-in-law Kristen; granddaughter Celia Kaleialoha Kenney; and grandson Duke Kenney.