Biography::"King" Bennie Nawahi


Nawahi::hawaiian    Title::bennie    Category::steel    First::hawaii    Honolulu::records    Guitar::guitar

Biography Benjamin Keakahiawa Nawahi was born in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, one of 12 children. While not of royal descent, he was eventually nicknamed "King" as many show business personalities are for their particular genre.

Nawahi learned to play guitar in the parks of Honolulu for pennies,<ref name="Hawaii's Man of Steel">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> often teaming with Sol Hoʻopiʻi, who would later become his rival for the title "King of the Hawaiian Guitar", along with Sam Ku West.<ref name="Hawaiian Steel Guitar">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> He was also known as "King of the Ukulele".<ref name="The Rough Guide to World Music Vol 2 (Including Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific)">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

In 1919 Nawahi played with his brother Joe's band, the Hawaiian Novelty Five, on the Matsonia passenger liner that sailed between Honolulu and San Francisco. The group eventually became a staple on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit's North America tour.<ref name="Orpheum Circuit">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Bennie Nawahi separated from the group and embarked on a solo career as a singing ukulele player. Master showman Sid Grauman proclaimed him "King of the Ukulele"<ref name="Memorial Sid Grauman">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }} Find A Grave</ref> and the nickname stuck.

In 1920 an act of the United States Congress established "Hawaii National Park" (later split into Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park), shining a spotlight on the islands. The 1920s became a heydey for all things Hawaiian, including novelty acts of the vaudeville genre. Among Nawahi's novelty stunts was playing Turkey in the Straw on Hawaiian guitar with his feet.<ref name="The 1920s">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> Tin Pan Alley went with the Hawaii craze and between 1915 and 1929 produced such ditties as Hello Hawaii How Are You? (1915) (when many pronounced the state's name as How-Wah-Yah), Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wiki Wacki Woo (1916), Hula Hula Dream Girl (1924) and That Aloha Waltz (1928).

There is some evidence Bennie Nawahi also used the name "J. Nawahi", as the Victor Library lists the tune Hula Blues by "J. Nawahi (instrumentalist : steel guitar)".<ref name="J. Nawahi">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }} Regents of the University of California</ref>

By 1928 Nawahi had begun recording for multiple record labels,<ref name="Hawaiian String Virtuoso">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> including Columbia, Victor, Q.R.S. and Grey Gull, under multiple names (including Red Devils, Q.R.S. Boys, Slim Smith, Hawaiian Beach Combers, Georgia Jumpers, Four Hawaiian Guitars and King Nawahi & the International Cowboys), with band mates that included soon to be Sons of the Pioneers, Tim Spencer (singer) and Leonard Slye (later to become cowboy star Roy Rogers).

"King" Bennie Nawahi sections
Intro  Biography  Blindness and later life  Discography  References  External links  

PREVIOUS: IntroNEXT: Blindness and later life