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Date of Birth:
13 August 1930
Date of Death:
14 April 2007
Biography:
The icon of breezy island entertainment, Don Ho became synonymous with Hawaii and all it represented...colorful leis and shirts, festive luaus, strumming ukuleles, flowing palm trees, beautiful hula dancers, and, of course, the song "Tiny Bubbles". A trip to the "Aloha State" seemed incomplete unless capped by a Don Ho performance, a tourist attraction unto itself. He delighted thousands upon thousands for nearly five decades and was dubbed that island's "goodwill ambassador". Born in the small Honolulu neighborhood of Kakaako on August 13, 1930, he was one of nine children blessed with a mixed ethnic heritage that encompassed the Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German cultures. He was a high school football star by the time he left the state to study at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Chronic homesickness had him returning to his beloved island by year's end. Attending the University of Hawaii in 1954, he earned a BA in sociology, then served with the Air Force as a fighter pilot and was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1959. His parents owned a cocktail lounge, Honey's, in Honolulu and Don formed a small band to entertain the customers. The place started booming with business. He progressed to bigger hotels in the area ("Dukes", which became THE most popular night spot, thanks to him) and developed his own laidback style buoyed by easy, humorous banter and, above all, talented musicians. Reprise Records caught ear of his success and signed him up. Don's popular live albums "The Don Ho Show" in 1965 and the "Don Ho--Again!" were the results. "Tiny Bubbles" (1966), which he almost didn't record, became #8 on the Billboard charts and the signature song that opened and closed all his shows. Other popular tunes in his repertoire included "Pearly Shells", "I'll Remember You" and "With All My Love". Extending himself further inland, he enjoyed the nation's top niteries in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Chicago and New York, often breaking attendance records in the process. A frequent guest on the TV variety and night-time talk show circuits, he earned his own ABC daytime comedy-variety show, "The Don Ho Show" (1976) which filmed in Waikiki Beach. He made fun cameo appearances on TV too, nearly always as himself, on such popular shows as "I Dream of Jeannie", "Batman", "The Brady Bunch", "Charlie's Angels", "Fantasy Island" and "McCloud". Although he lost major clout after his 60s and 70s musical reign and was thereafter denounced/dismissed as little more than an outdoors lounge act, Don's natural charm and obvious charisma never lost for an audience back on his own Hawaiian turf, and he was hailed as Hawaii's equivalent of the "Rat Pack" in terms of style and sustained popularity. He was also a well-known restaurateur (Don Ho's Island Grill, which opened in 1998). Don developed heart problems (cardiomyopathy) in 2005 but did not let it prevent him from doing what he loved best. He was a mainstay in Waikiki (for over 40 years) and the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel was his official stomping grounds, ever reliable behind his trademark Hammond organ, crooning tunes and teaching enthusiastic tourists simple Hawaiian language and traditions. In 2006 he had his pacemaker replaced. He died of heart failure at age 76 on April 14, 2007. Don had ten children in all with first wife Melvia; one of his daughters, singer Hoku (their seventh child, whose name means "star" in Hawaiian), often performed with him and went on to launch her own musical career. He married Haumea Hebenstreit, who produced his show at the Beachcomber, in 2006.
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