The Kennedy Center

Leedward Kaapana



Biography

Led Kaapana’s mastery of stringed instruments, particularly slack key guitar, and his extraordinary baritone and leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) voices, have made him a musical legend. He has been thrilling audiences for more than 40 years. With easy going style and kolohe (rascal) charm, he has built a loyal corps of Led Heads from Brussels to his birthplace on the Big Island of Hawaii. Recognition by his peers earned Kaapana four Grammy Award ® nominations in his own right and two wins on slack key compilations.   

Like so many Hawaiians, Kaapana grew up in a musical family. In the tiny black sand bay village of Kalapana, there were few distractions. Often everybody was playing music at a backyard party, many of which lasted for days. It was at these family gatherings that Kaapana learned to play in the old style— watching, listening, and then imitating. Chief among his teachers were his mother, Mama Tina Kaapana, and his uncle Fred Punahoa.  

Although isolated, outside influences did creep into Kalapana. Like most kids his age, Kaapana loved to rock and roll and also listened to country, jazz, and Latin music. When he would sneak a riff from a guitar hit of the day, like “Pipeline” or “Walk Don’t Run,” into his music, his dad would tease, “Hey, that’s not slack key!” But nobody ever stopped him, they just encouraged him to play what you feel and play with aloha. 

As teenagers, Kaapana and his twin brother Ned and cousin Dennis Pavao formed the Hui Ohana, one of the hottest groups of the 1970s and 1980s, and now legendary among Hawaiian musicians. The ’70s saw the blossoming of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and Hui Ohana was a key part of that return to traditional Hawaiian culture and music. Young Hawaii Plays Old Hawaii, the title of their first recording, was also their statement of purpose. 

The group produced 14 best-selling albums and made hundreds of live appearances, proudly sharing Kalapana’s musical traditions. Kaapana later formed another trio, Ikona, releasing six albums with that group, including Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner, Jus’ Press. Kaapana has also released a number of solo albums including two Na Hoku Hanohano “Instrumental Album of the Year winners,” Lima Wela and Black Sand. Ki Ho`alu, Hawaiian Slack Key, Grandmaster Slack Key and Force of Nature (with Mike Kaawa) also received Grammy® nominations. 

While recording for Dancing Cat Records, Kaapana produced a number of solo projects, duets, and a project with Allison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and other bluegrass legends called Waltz of the Wind. He has worked with Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, and many other Nashville notables. Back at home, he has shared his talents on recordings with most of Hawaii’s top talents including Aunty Genoa Keawe, Barney Isaacs, The Ho`opi`i Brothers, Melveen Leed, the Pahinui Brothers, Amy Hanaiali`i, and countless others. In 2008, Kaapana formed his own recording company, Jus’ Press Productions, and released his Force of Nature CD with 12-string virtuoso Mike Kaawa. The album earned a Grammy® nomination in 2009 and won Kaapana and Kaawa the Favorite Entertainer Award at the 2009 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Kaapana tours the U.S. extensively and has also appeared in Belgium, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Tahiti. 

When home in Hawaii, Kaapana can be found on Saturday evenings at Honey’s at the Ko`olau Golf Course in Kaneohe, where local talent and visiting musicians from the four corners of the globe drop in to join the “back yard” party.
 

Watch Past Performances

Video 7/5/2017: Ledward Kaapana

Ledward Kaapana’s mastery of stringed instruments, particularly slack key guitar, and his extraordinary baritone and leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) voices have made him a musical legend. With easy-going style and kolohe (rascal) charm, he has built a loyal corps of “Led Heads” from Brussels to his birthplace on the Big Island of Hawaii. Recognition by his peers earned Kaapana four Grammy® nominations and two wins on slack key compilations.

Presented in collaboration with the 2017 D.C. Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Library of Congress Homegrown Series.

Leedward Kaapana