National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of Eddie Kamae, 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellow

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A man in a red checkered shirt plays the guitar

Eddie Kamae performs at the 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert. Photo by Michael G. Stewart

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Eddie Kamae, Hawaiian musician, composer, filmmaker, and recipient of a 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Eddie Kamae was raised in Honolulu and Lahaina, Maui, within a family steeped in Hawaiian tradition.  Early in his career, he was known for his mastery of the ukulele, and in 1949, he toured the U.S. mainland as a member of Ray Kinney's Hawaiian Revue. Kamae became a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, co-founding the influential band The Sons of Hawai'i. In 1974, he helped produce the landmark album Music of Hawai'I, part of the National Geographic Music of the World series and with his group produced seven albums of traditional Hawaiian music. During the 1980s, Kamae took up filmmaking to document and preserve authentic Hawaiian cultural continuity. Among his many honors include designation as a Living Treasure of Hawai‘i and recipient of the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. 

In a 2007 interview with the NEA, Kamae discussed his efforts to inspire the next generation to learn Hawaiian musical traditions: “I'm trying to tell the boys that if you can have the steel guitar and the sweet sound of slack-key music, this music will live. I say to the young ones, ‘You say you're Hawaiian but you're doing something else. You must feel your grandfather and grandmother's days and the music of that time and share that with others.’ That's what I try to tell the children in schools. Ask your grandparents what life was like, what the sound of music was. What was the lifestyle like? That's what I want them to do to keep this music alive.”

For more information about Eddie Kamae, including the full interview, visit arts.gov.

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