It really can be hard to believe that one man has touched so much history in his life, but Uncle Bill Tapia has been at the right place at some of the most interesting times.
I met Uncle Bill last year when he was in Honolulu for the Ukulele Festival in Kapiolani Park. Although we’d never met before, his story was familiar to me because, as a writer for Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, I wrote an official birthday message to celebrate Uncle Bill’s 100th birthday that was presented to him in concert.
Unfortunately though, my boss read the message and declared I had completely screwed up. He said there was no way Uncle Bill could’ve played his ukulele as a 10-year-old on the streets of Honolulu to welcome troops returning from the First World War. My boss said that there was no way Uncle Bill could’ve possibly played at the grand opening of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1927.
In the end, unbeknownst to me, he rewrote much of the document, saying Uncle Bill played for troops at the Royal Hawaiian upon their return from that “other war” that ended in 1945 or something crazy. It was finalized, signed and sent before I had a chance to protest. Upon later discovering this mess, I was mortified and left with no way to fix the problem. I was deemed a crappy researcher, when the reality is that Uncle Bill has lived the most extraordinary life. Often credited as the first musician to play jazz on the ukulele, UncleBill has performed with likes of Bing Crosby, Louis Armh3, Elvis Presley and along with Hawaiian musicians including King Bennie Nawahi, Sol Hoopii and Andy Iona.You can learn more about Uncle Bill at www.myspace.com/billtapiahawaii
Fast forward to last year and I find myself at the grand reopening of the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, listening to the beautiful music of Makana when he introduces Uncle Bill Tapia, who is sitting just two tables away from us. At the end of the show, we get to chatting with his friends and soon find ourselves sitting at Duc’s Bistro in Chinatown, listening to Uncle Bill performing songs on his ukulele just for us. I wanted to apologize to him for the Governor snafu, but he’s such a sweetie, the story was lost in the beauty of the night.
That’s the spirit you can experience firsthand at the upcoming Ukulele Legends in Concert at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Waterfront at Aloha Tower Marketplace. The concert will feature ukulele playing by the 102-year-old Uncle Bill Tapia, 82-year-old Eddie Kamae and 75-year-old Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta. A fundraiser for the Ukulele Foundation of Hawaii, the concert kicks off a four day celebration culminating with the Ukulele Picnic at Kakaako Waterfront Park.
Tickets are available by contacting the Honolulu Box Office at 550-TIKS (8457)or online at http://honoluluboxoffice.com. Seating options include a VIP section in front of the stage, along with a bento for $65 or general admission seating for $30. In addition, a full bar selling food and drink will be available.
By Laurie Cicotello
Kahuna Matata Media
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