The Story Behind The Sons of Hawaii

How Maui onions and Primo Beer helped launch a Hawaiian music classic.

1874

Story by Peter von Buol

Sons of Hawaii album
Debuting in 1971, the boxed set for The Sons of Hawaii: The Folk Music of Hawaii featured cover art by another Hawaiian legend, artist Herb Kane.

If not for Primo Beer and Maui onions, one of Hawaiian music’s greatest albums might not exist.

In 1959, slack-key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, ‘ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae, upright bassist Joe Marshall, and steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers formed the legendary band Sons of Hawaii. Among the best instrumentalists in the state, the four shared a love for traditional Hawaiian music, and during rehearsals at Pahinui’s house in Waimānalo, eschewed the hapa-haole songs heard in Waikīkī in favor of the melodies of old Hawai‘i. From the Sons’ first show at O‘ahu’s Sandbox, they drew crowds.

Historian DeSoto Brown says the band came along at just the right time. Native Hawaiians had begun to express pride in their culture and were ready for music that celebrated it. “Performers stopped wearing matching white pants, white shirts, and red sashes.” Audiences praised the earthier slack-key music; this wasn’t “Sweet Leilani,” the 1937 hit by bandleader Harry Owens, anymore.

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