Aloha-Mahalo Dennis Kamakahi

photo: Steve Hillman

Last night, while attending a University of Hawaii Maui College workshop on soil enhancement using Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO), I got a call from Robin Kamakahi, Dennis’ wife.  She let me know that Dennis had passed away at about 4:30 pm that afternoon [April 28, 2014]…

To me, Dennis Kamakahi was Hawaii’s greatest song composer since Queen Lili’uokalani. Dennis wrote about the simple things in life and was a great observer of nature. He wrote love songs,(Pua Hone) and songs about the Hihiwai (fresh water escargot) and Ka Opae (river shrimp). He wrote Wahi Pana– (place name) songs like Koke’e. He wrote songs about our Chiefs, songs about our Winds, our Waterfalls (Wahine Ili Kea), and those dear to us (Luther Makekau). He wrote in the “real” old style, simple catchy tunes that we could keep beat to with our feet, and his poetry was such that his words will be remembered for generations, yet unborn. Hula dancers around the world dance to Dennis’ compositions.

In my family alone, we span five generations who sang or danced hula to Dennis’ songs.  He was schooled by the school of hard knocks and learned from Hawaiian Masters such as Eddie Kamae, and studied Hawaiian language and Hawaiian poetry with Tutu Kawena Pukui and played music for Aunty Iolani Luahine. He was a great friend and we traveled the world together with Richard Hoopii sharing our Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian stories and Hawaiian music. All Hawaii, and the world, mourn his death and today, the skies cry in Kahakuloa Maui where we live, blessing his passing. Last night I saw a great Hoailona (sign) of white light amongst the clouds of the Wahine IliKea (mist) of where we live in Kahakuloa. I believe it was our ancestors parting the clouds revealing the heavens and creating a pathway for my brother in music, Dennis Kamakahi! Dennis will continue to live through us through his songs! E Ola Dennis! Blessings to his family from Kahakuloa Maui.

DGRpresskit-smlLast Friday, Uncle Richard Hoopii and I went over to Queens Hospital in Honolulu to share time and space with Dennis and his wife Robin . We sang songs and played Hawaiian hymns and played Dennis’ compositions and prayed and once in a while, from his bed, Dennis would keep beat with his feet or head and play air guitar with us. As in the past Dennis would take a solo Pa’ani just like when we toured all over the world together. This time playing his air guitar, fingers moving, holding his Slackkey cords in his C or taro patch G tuning.

Dennis’ Aloha Spirit will live on through his legacy of songs. When we used to travel together, touring, I was often the driver and Dennis would navigate using his computer and later his iPhone. Mahalo nui Dennis for helping many of us navigate not just on the road but all through this life! It has been an honor to share time and space during my lifetime with such a talented and great poet and songwriter.

The other night our friends Ed and Kim Tyler invited us to see Bob Dylan, noted as being one of America’s greatest poet and song composer. Unlike Dennis, Bob Dylan couldn’t sing worth a damn but his poetry and songs were often written in questions such as: How many times? as in …Blowin in the Wind!

Thinking about Dennis and seeing Bob Dylan made me yearn to take more time to write more songs about our observances of life on this earth. Think about it! Imagine writing more songs?  Thanks Dennis.  Thanks Bob. Just my 2 cents for today!

-Uncle George
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Mahalo to Scott Hillman who graciously has posted a gallery of Uncle Dennis.
“All of the photos are downloadable from the site.  When I first heard about Dennis’s diagnosis, I was hoping that I would never have to do this, but now, I am grateful that I have these memories to remind me of the friendship that we shared, and that I can share these images with others.”
-Mahalo,  Scott Hillman

KITV4’s Brenton Awa remembers the Hawai’i music legend with this video from the April 28, 2014 Newscast:

Another video courtesy of and Hawaii News Now:
Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL


[UPDATE: May 1, 2014, 11:46 am] Elaine Woo published a very nice obituary in the online Los Angeles Times [,0,3434368.story]  in part she wrote…

Dennis Kamakahi dies at 61; guitarist was ‘ambassador of aloha’
Dennis Kamakahi, a prolific songwriter and master of slack key guitar whose music helped propel a renaissance of traditional Hawaiian culture in the 1970s and 1980s, died of lung cancer Monday in Honolulu. He was 61.

His death was confirmed by his close friend, George Kahumoku Jr.

Dennis Kamakahi (Matthew Thayer / February 27, 2008)Dennis wrote more than 500 songs, including many that have become standards. He was particularly known for soulful compositions inspired by nature.
(photo: Matthew Thayer / February 27, 2008)








[UPDATE: May 1, 2014] Nate Chinen published a great tribute in the online New York Times []  in part he wrote…

Dennis Kamakahi, Hawaiian Renaissance Songwriter, Dies at 61
Mr. Kamakahi, a Grammy Award-winning virtuoso of the slack-key guitar tradition, composed roughly 500 songs, many of which have become beloved standards in Honolulu…

Dennis David Kahekilimamaoikalanikeha Kamakahi was born on March 31, 1953, in Honolulu. (His Hawaiian middle name means “the distant thunder in the highest heavens.”)

Dennis Kamakahi in Honolulu in 2006. Ronen Zilberman/Associated Press

His paternal grandfather played guitar in the slack-key style, and so did his father, Kenneth Franklyn Kamakahi, a first-chair trombonist in the Royal Hawaiian Band. Mr. Kamakahi’s first instrument was the ukulele, which he picked up at age 3. He switched to guitar at 10 and played trombone in middle school.

… “When people talk about sovereignty,” he said in 2009, “our music is our sovereignty. Because nobody tells us how to play our music. We know how to play our music because we learned from our kupuna, our teachers. Our music has always been here, our dance has always been here. But it just had to awaken.”

photo: Dennis Kamakahi in Honolulu in 2006.   credit:Ronen Zilberman/Associated Press



[UPDATE: May 8, 2014] Lahaina News | See more at:

Hawaii loses one of its greatest composers
Rev Dennis Kamakahi

West Sider George Kahumoku Jr. and Maui’s music community are mourning the loss of Rev. Dennis David Kamakahi, who lost his battle with cancer last week Monday.

Kamakahi was a dear friend to Kahumoku and a regular guest performer at his weekly Slack Key Shows in Napili. They also played together on tours, at concerts and on music recordings.

A special Dennis Kamakahi Tribute Concert is in the works. Check for the announcement.