Malani Bilyeu — founding member of Kalapana and a Hoku Award-winning solo artist — has died, friends and family reported Thursday. He was 69 and had a home on Kauai.
State legislator Donna Mercado Kim posted a statement about Bilyeu’s death on Facebook on Thursday evening. “My cousin Kalani Bilyeu from Kalapana just passed away on Kauai. I am at a loss,” she said.
Born Carl James Malani Bilyeu in Honolulu and raised in Kalihi Valley, Bilyeu was a 26-year-old Vietnam vet when he founded Kalapana with Mackey Feary, D.J. Pratt and Kirk Thompson in 1974.
Kalapana became second only to Cecilio & Kapono as the biggest contemporary local group of the 1970s, playing sold-out concerts at the Waikiki Shell and partnering with C&K in 1976 to co-headline the biggest Aloha Stadium concert of the decade with local entertainers as the headliners.
From the beginning, Bilyeu was one of Kalapana’s resident songwriters. His contributions included “Naturally,” “You Make It Hard,” “Dorothy Louise,” “(For You) I’d Chase a Rainbow,” “Girl” and “Many Classic Moments.”
Kalapana had drifted apart by 1980, and Bilyeu recorded a solo album, “Islands,” which included a song that became an island favorite, “Molokai Sweet Home.” Some people misinterpreted the song as autobiographical, but Bilyeu had never even visited Molokai when he wrote the song as a tribute to Molokai-born Hawaiian nationalist George Helm.
The success of a Kalapana reunion concert in 1982 was followed by a successful reboot — Bilyeu, Feary and Pratt, plus Gaylord Holomalia on keyboards and Kenji Sano playing bass — in 1986. Kalapana has continued to perform and record ever since. Feary died in 1999.
Bilyeu received several Hoku Awards as a member of Kalapana, and in 1995 he won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Religious Album of the Year with solo album “Saved.”
In 2011 Kalapana received the Hawai‘i of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
The band released a 20-song anthology, “Black Sand: The Best of Kalapana,” this year and announced plans for a seven-album boxed set of music from throughout the band’s history this month.
Bilyeu is survived by his wife and seven children.
Star-Advertiser staff writer John Berger contributed to this story.