JULY 3, 1899

“KING” BENNIE NAWAHI BORN– NATIVE HAWAIIAN LAP STEEL GUITAR MASTER

Born in Honolulu, Bennie taught himself slack key guitar.  By 15, he played in parks for tourists.  In 1919, he played steel guitar with his brother’s group, the “Hawaiian Novelty Five” The group played on a passenger liner, but also toured North America doing the vaudeville circuit.  An established singer and ukulele virtuoso, Bennie later went solo.  Crowned “King of the Ukulele” by Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theater fame, his stunts included playing “Turkey in the Straw” on Hawaiian guitar with his feet.  In Los Angeles in 1930s, his group, “King Nawahi and the International Cowboys,” featured Roy Rogers.  He was one of the few Hawaiian musicians to back jazz or blues numbers.  In 1935, he suddenly and inexplicably lost his eyesight.  After World War II, he & his brother formed the “Nawahi Trio.”  Nawahi was also a noted long-distance swimmer doing the swim from San Pedro to Catalina Island in just over 22 hours in 1946–the only blind man to swim it.  He died in Long Beach, California on January 29, 1985.

Source:  “’King’ Bennie Nawahi," Brad's Page of Steel. Retrieved 5/21/2020, https://people.well.com/user/wellvis/nawahi.html
Photo:  Walter LaCroy (__ - 1933), circa 1928.  Public Domain.   

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