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Slack key master Cyril Pahinui dies at 68


    Cyril Pahinui plays guitar with Hi’ilawe waterfall in the background in this photo provided by his wife, Chelle.

Cyril Pahinui — slack key master, Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning recording artist, teacher, mentor and role model — died Saturday at Queen’s Medical Center. He had been in declining health for several years and was hospitalized in 2016. He was 68 .

Waimanalo born and raised, Cyril Pahinui learned to play by watching his father, slack key master Charles Philip “Gabby” Pahinui, play music in the backyard with a circle of friends that included slack key guitarists Leland “Atta” Issacs and Sonny Chillingworth, and acoustic bassist Manuel “Joe Gang” Kupahu. His first instrument was the ‘ukulele. He started playing slack key at seven and was allowed to start sitting in with the adults at the age of 12.

Pahinui played rock ‘n’ roll music with his older brother, Daniel James “Bla” Pahinui, in the mid-1960s but made his first recordings in 1968 as a member of the Sunday Manoa with Peter Moon, Palani Vaughan and Albert “Baby” Kalima.

Pahinui’s musical career was cut short when he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. While serving in Vietnam he was exposed to Agent Orange, the highly toxic aerial herbicide that American forces used as a weapon there.

Pahinui returned home in 1972 and joined his father, Isaacs, Kupahu and his brothers — Bla, Philip and Martin — to record the first in a series of albums recorded by what became known as the Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band.

In 1975 Pahinui formed the Sandwich Isle Band with Brian Hussey, Steve Hall and Eddie Palama, and in 1980 joined Moon’s new project, the Peter Moon Band. Pahinui remained with Moon through the group’s peak as the most influential contemporary Hawaiian group of the 1980s.

In 1988 Pahinui released his first solo album, “Cyril Pahinui,” and in 1992 he joined Bla and Martin in recording a long-awaited Pahinui Brothers album for Panini Records; unfortunately the brothers parted company up before producer Steve Siegfried could take the group to a national audience.

Pahinui received additional Hoku Awards for his solo recordings for George Winston’s Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters series, for his work as a member of the all-star quartet — with Henry Kapano, Roland Cazimero and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole — that recorded “Broken Promise,” a mele ku‘e (song of resistance) in 1991, and as a member of Amy Hanaiali‘i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai‘i, in 2011.

Pahinui received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Ki Ho‘alu Award in 1997 and again for a second time in 2017. He was given the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

He was also honored as a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in September 2017, and was the 2018 recipient of the Rotary Club of West Honolulu’s David Malo Award in October of this year.

Survivors include his wife, Chelle Pahinui, daughters Amber, Andrea, Anne, Carrie, and Elizabeth, 19 grandchildren, his brothers James (“Bla”) and Philip Pahinui, and sisters Margaret Pahinui Puuohau and Madelyn Pahinui Coleman.

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