Don Ho, an entertainer who defined popular perceptions of Hawaiian music in the 1960s and held fast to that image as a peerless Waikiki nightclub attraction, has taken his Final Taxi at 76.
The first time I ever saw Don Ho was on that episode of the Brady Bunch when they get to take a trip to Hawaii. You remember the one where Bobby unearths an ancient tiki said to bring bad luck to whomever is holding it.
Later when watching an old 1966 Adam West “Batman” show while it was in syndication I spotted Don Ho again. I wiped the drool from my chin while watching Julie Newmar as Catwoman just as Don Ho made a walk on role.
He was on several other TV shows throughout the years and was a durable spokesman for the image of Hawaii as a tourist playground. His rise as a popular singer dovetailed with a visitor boom that followed statehood in 1959 and the advent of affordable air travel. For 40 years, his name was synonymous with Pacific Island leisure, as was “Tiny Bubbles,” his signature hit, which helped turn him into a national figure.
Born Donald Tai Loy Ho in the Honolulu enclave of Kaka’ako, Mr. Ho had an ethnic background worthy of the islands’ melting-pot ideal: he was of Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German descent. He grew up in Kaneohe, on the windward side of the island of Oahu, and it was there that he began his singing career at Honey’s, a restaurant and
lounge owned by his mother, Emily and later he took it over.
By 1962 he was headlining there with a backing group called the Ali’is. Their blend of two guitars, piano, drums and xylophone, along with Mr. Ho’s Hammond organ, was well suited to the breezy pop sound of the era. Within five years, Mr. Ho had achieved nationwide fame with several successful albums and a hit single, “Tiny Bubbles.” A full decade
before Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” the song painted an appealing portrait of tropical indulgence that cemented Mr. Ho’s character as an easygoing romantic rogue. He adhered to that character in his frequent television appearances in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and on his own ABC variety series, “The Don Ho Show,” from 1976 to 1977.
He performing on a weekly basis and lunching at Don Ho’s Island Grill, a restaurant in which he was a partner that opened in 1998. Last September Mr. Ho took medical leave to have a new pacemaker installed.
He was recently doing voiceovers for the Scooby-Doo cartoons.
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