• Rachel Cruz

Honoring a Hawaiian Legend, Willie K.

Today we pay homage to Local Music Legend, Willie K, who passed away Monday night after a two year long battle with lung cancer.



He was a phenomenal musician with a heart of gold. Born William Kahaialii, "Uncle Willie" as he

is referred to, was raised in Lahaina, Maui. Willie got his foundation as an artist from an early age thanks to his father who was a highly respected musician. His dad taught him everything from jazz and blues to classic Hawaiian music.


Uncle Willie got his start in the music industry thanks to Kelly Boy DeLima who was one of the lead singers in the group Kapena.


"When I decided I wanted to make music a career choice for myself, I was 29 years old turning 30. So I made a demo cassette and sent a bunch of them out. The last person I sent it to was Ken Thompson who was working with Kapena at the time. Ken spoke to Kelly Boy who said, 'we should help Uncle out!' So really they're the ones who started my career," Uncle Willie shared in a past interview with FAME Magazine.


Being humble is one of the many reasons we loved Uncle Willie. This Grammy nominee and winner of multiple Nā Hoku Hanohano Awards has experienced levels of success in his lifetime that most artists can only dream of, yet he still managed to stay grounded. But life in the industry was not an easy journey for him. His greatest struggle was trying to understand the FAME.


"I couldn't get a grasp on it at first. I could see why people turned to drugs and alcoholism because it's depressing. It's very lonely and people who want to become friends of yours, only want to become your friend for one reason and one reason only; even your relatives. Relatives who haven't seen or spoken to you for 20, 30 or even 40 years want to be your friends all of a sudden. It was the hardest thing for me and it turned me into an angry person."


He shared that he never really found a way to overcome the hardship of FAME, but that he had taken steps to surround himself with people who he loved, loved him and who spoke positively into his life. He had developed a core group of people who he trusted, traveled and worked with, which had also helped.


All artists go through a period in which they reinvent themselves because times change and so do people's taste in things, such as music. Uncle Willie himself went through several changes in his career.



"I started with Hawaiian Contemporary music, then went to Lava Rock, then got into producing Amy's album [Amy Hanaiali'i] and everything just began multiplying ten times after that. When things settled down, I started creating my own dinner shows. I have two dinner shows and a Sunday brunch show now."


"Live At Mulligan's" was a live acoustic show that Uncle Willie would put on in Maui. Thursday nights were a blues show where they'd play nothing but rock and blues at the King Kamehameha Golf Club. Every other Friday they'd perform in Lahaina town, which was after the dinner show that started at 9pm and finished at 11pm. This is the career that he'd built for himself, all while traveling and performing at other venues.


For up-and-coming artists out there, Uncle Willie wanted to share this message, "Know that if this is the lifestyle you choose, there will be a lot of people who will try to come in from different aspects of your life and you need to be very careful because any one slip up can become very costly. Once people like that start getting in, your reputation gets tarnished and it's hard to make it good again."


"There will also be a lot of people asking you to play for free, but you also have to know your value and worth as an artist. You have to see this coming and prepare yourself because it's hard to say no and you feel like you're letting people down. This kind of thing can really eat away at you and it can wear on you."


Growth has been ceaseless since this musical phenom began his career and he always looked to the future! He held the 5th annual Uncle Willie K's BBQ BluesFest in March 2017 and in 2018 he decided to turn the whole town of Lahaina into the Blues Capitol of the Pacific. It was a 3 day festival which had many musicians playing down on Front Street. They also held a VIP and audience party inviting fans to hang out with all of the celebrities and local musicians in Mick Fleetwood's restaurant. Many musicians participated in this amazing venture!


Not long after he found out about having cancer, he began posting more inspirational talks, and sharing words of encouragement on his social media feeds. He took time to reach out to fans and his fellow musicians and music star hopefuls to motivate them and share his Mana'o (wisdom). Another reason why he was so loved and highly respected.


FAME Magazine would like to send our deepest condolences to his family, send an a hui hou (until we meet again) to Uncle Willie, and a special Mahalo Nui Loa (Thank you so much) to him as well for all the love, support and wisdom he's shared with us. He will be sorely missed and FOREVER appreciated!


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