JANUARY 16, 1932

NATIVE HAWAIIAN GUITARIST JOSEPH KEKUKU DIED–INVENTED STEEL GUITAR

Born in 1874, in Lāʻie, on Oʻahu, Hawaii, Joseph left in 1889 to attend the Kamehameha School for Boys in Honolulu.  While there, Kekuku accidentally discovered the sound of the steel guitar when he struck the string of an old Spanish guitar with a rusty bolt.  Later, he experimented with the back of a pocket knife, a steel comb, and finally a polished steel bar.  In 1904, Joseph left Hawaii for the United States where he performed nationally in Vaudeville theaters with his group, “Kekuku’s Hawaiian Quintet.”  In 1919, Kekuku left the U.S. for an 8-year tour of Europe traveling with “The Bird of Paradise” show that was popularized twice in film.  Kekuku eventually returned to U.S., settled in Chicago, and ran a successful music school.  On January 16, 1932, Kekuku died in Morristown, New Jersey.  In 1993, Kekuku was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame with full honors as the inventor of the Hawaiian steel guitar.  A statue of him was erected at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii in 2015. 

Source:  Haleema Shah, “How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed American Music,” Smithsonian Magazine, 4/25/2019. Retrieved 6/10/2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-hawaiian-steel-guitar-changed-american-music-180972028/
Photo:  The Colville Examiner (newspaper), July 22, 1916.  Public Domain.

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