Hawaii lost another of its great cultural treasures this weekend. On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 7, Eddie Kamae died next to his wife Myrna in Honolulu. He was 89. According to the news release his foundation sent out following his death, his song “‘E Ku‘u Morning Dew” was playing in the background when he died. A wonderful ukulele player and of the founders of the Sons of Hawaii, Kamae helped bring about a Renaissance of Hawaiian music thought lost to history.
“Together with Joe Marshall and David ‘Feets’ Rogers, Kamae and [co-founder Gabby] Pahinui brought to life an amazing repertoire of authentic Hawaiian music that might otherwise have been lost to the ages, including songs that were written by Queen Lili‘uokalani during her incarceration in ‘Iolani Palace after the U.S. Marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893,” states a news release from the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation sent out shortly after his death. “Kamae found them in the Bishop Museum archives, arranged the scores and began playing them. Soon everyone wanted to hear and sing them. By his persistent efforts to reclaim Hawaiian music for his people, Kamae played a key role in helping Hawaiians regain the rich culture that continues to flourish today.”
Kamae was also a gifted storyteller and documentarian. He and Myrna (his wife since 1966) created the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation to make and distribute their films. In 2007, when he released his film Lahaina: Waves of Change on the closure of the Pioneer Mill, Kamae sat down with writer Paul Wood for the MauiTime story “Eddie Sees It Go.” Here’s Kamae telling Wood why he made documentaries:
Change will always come. That’s why I make documentary films. Because my teachers told me, do it now. For there will be no more. It’s true. You look at things today, the change is happening. All the people I have filmed, they’ve all passed away. But their stories and the places, I have that on film. And that’s what I’m trying to share with the children in the schools.
He was born Edward Leilani Kamae in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1927. His 10 films are still shown today, especially to students statewide. In his lifetime, he’s won nearly 50 awards and honors, including the Master of Traditional Arts award from the National Endowment for the Arts; the lifetime achievement award from the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts; and an honorary doctorate from the University of Hawaii “for a lifetime of achievements in preserving Hawaiian language and culture through music and film.”
In lieu of flowers, Kamae’s family is requesting that people donate to the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.
Click here to read Paul Wood’s 2007 story about Kamae.
Photo courtesy Eddie Kamae