National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of Richard Ho'opi'i, 1996 NEA National Heritage Fellow

Two men on a stage playing ukuleles and singing.

Solomon and Richard Ho'opi'i performing at the 1996 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 Hawaiian singer Richard Ho'opi'i, recipient with his brother, Solomon, of a 1996 NEA National Heritage Fellowship—the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

The Ho'opi'i brothers were raised in the rural village of Kahakuloa on the island of Maui. Their father, Frank Ho'opi'i, was a schoolteacher who stressed discipline and church values to his large family. Their mother, Abigail Lum Lung Ho'opi'i Kenolio, insisted that the family attend church on Sundays and at other times during the week when work needed to be done or services were held. "In church we sang himeni, Hawaiian hymns," Richard said. "We learned harmony and the importance of praising God with our best voice and with all our hearts. Brother Sol and I still start every performance, even rehearsals, with a pule (prayer). And we love to sing religious songs." When they were not in church, the Ho'opi'i brothers got together with other family members to sing and play music. Growing up, the Ho'opi'i brothers were also inspired by the Hawaiian recordings that they heard, most notably Uncle Joe Keawe and Aunty Genoa Keawe. Through the years, Richard and Solomon developed a distinctive sound, marked by its open, robust style of falsetto singing that included all the ornaments, register breaks, and changes in timbre carried over from ancient chant. These were all features of the himeni (harmonic) style of leo ki'eki'e. They typically accompanied themselves on the ukulele. In the 1970s, they formed a duo, the Ho'opi'i Brothers, and with assistance from the Hawaiian Music Foundation, they began performing professionally in concerts and at hula festivals. In 2015 they received the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. For more information about the Ho'opi'i brothers, visit the NEA's website.

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