Multitalented musician Gregson “Bozo” Hanohano, a founding member of the Na Hoku Hanohano Award- winning group Ho‘okena, died Oct. 29 at his home in Waimanalo. He was 66.
Born in Honolulu, raised in Palolo Valley and a graduate of Campbell High School, Hanohano found his calling in music. He was working with kumu hula Aloha Dalire’s Keolalaulani Halau ‘Olapa O Laka — singing, playing ukulele and Tahitian drums, and sometimes emceeing the halau’s minishows at shopping malls — when he was invited to join a group of musicians who wanted to “quench the thirst” for traditional Hawaiian music during the height of the Jawaiian music boom.
Hanohano joined them to create Ho‘okena (the name translates as “to satisfy thirst”).
Ho‘okena debuted in 1989 as a quintet comprising Hanohano, William “Ama” Aarona, Manu Boyd, Horace K. Dudoit III and Glen Smith. The group’s aptly titled first album — “Thirst Quencher!” — was an instant hit with Hawaiian music fans when it was released in 1990.
“Thirst Quencher!” won three Hoku Awards — group of the year, most promising artists and contemporary Hawaiian album — the following year.
In remembering Hanohano, two other founding members agreed that although he was officially the bassist of the group, he contributed in other ways.
“He played the ukulele much better than I could, and I was happy to receive pointers from him,” Aarona recalled in an email. “Bozo was the soloist on ‘Lumaha‘i,’ from our (second) CD, ‘Choice of the Heart.’ He went into the recording room and recorded it in one take. He was dubbed ‘one-take Bozo.’ When it was my turn to do a solo, I struggled, but Bozo was right there encouraging me on, telling me I can do it.”
Dudoit remembered Hanohano as “a talented guy, an awesome ukulele player with a very unique voice,” who also enjoyed playing the Hawaiian card game paiute.
When the group used to play for Dalire’s halau at the Merrie Monarch Festival, “our rehearsals were always the first in the morning at 6 a.m., and we would stay up all night playing paiute and sound like s— at rehearsal,” Dudoit said. “Aloha Dalire would be (angry) ’cause she knew we’d been up all night, but after we slept during the day, we sounded great at night.”
In 1991, Hanohano left Ho‘okena after the release of “Choice in the Heart.” He spent the rest of his life working with halau hula in Hawaii and other parts of the world.
“He would fly to Hilo a lot because he would play for Halau Hula O Kahikilaulani and kumu hula Ray Fonseca, which is now under (kumu hula) Nahoku Gaspang, and also with (Keli) Gobbles (Viernes),” his sister Adele Hanohano Tripp said Thursday. “They would go all over the world to play music, and they would always go to Hilo and play with the halau.”
Hanohano also is survived by his mother, Sheila Hanohano; his brother, Lopaka Hanohano; and sisters Kehau and Jelyn Hanohano.
Plans for memorial observances have not been announced.