Collection, Hawaiian

An Evolution from Paniolo to the Grammy Awards: A Master of the Slack Key Guitar

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By Emilio Eusebio, Spring 2013 intern

Wearing his trademark glasses and hat, Dennis Kamakahi is a descendant of the slack key guitar sound that was brought to Hawai`i by Mexican and Spanish cowboys in the late 1880’s and later adopted by Hawaiian paniolos. Dennis started his career with the Na Leo Nuuanu group, but after the departure of the legendary slack key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, he found more prominent success with the group Sons of Hawaii. With the Sons of Hawaii, he wrote, performed, and played many Hawaiian songs that became classics. After several years playing in the Sons of Hawaii, he branched off and recorded his own solo material. His music garnered favorable acclaim and he won several awards and honors including three Grammys. His music continued to reach a wider audience when both him and his son contributed to the original soundtrack for Disney’s animated movie Lilo and Stitch 2. The melodic and tranquil sounds that emanate from Kamakahi’s guitar leave no question to the listener of the mastery of his craft.

Through Dennis’ generous donation to the museum, we are able to expand our collection and highlight different genres of music within the United States.   Among the items that Dennis donated include: an Ovation Ultra Deluxe-6 string guitar, sheet music, albums, and photos. Dennis performed with this guitar during his time with the Sons of Hawaii from 1986-1992.

Downloads: Podcast and Teacher’s Guide

  • Click here to download the podcast (mp3 file, 11 minutes, 7mb)
    History Explorer: Discovering Slack Key Guitar History with Dennis Kamakahi
    What do British cattle and Mexican cowboys have to do with the history of Hawaiian folk music? A lot, as it turns out. Slack Key guitar master Reverend Dennis Kamakahi explains in this episode of History Explorer. The episode features songs Rev. Kamakahi played during a ceremony in which he donated one of his guitars to the museum.
  • Click here to download the Teacher’s Guide

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