Video: Willie K Jams Jazz, Opera, and Hawaiian Classics

Willie K

Wiliam “Willie K” Kahaialii is a spectacular musical performer. While that may be stating the obvious, that thought has lingered in my mind for a whole day following the latest opportunity I had to watch him perform live.

The company I work for, Hawaii Information Service, was the entertainment sponsor for an awards gala last night at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Hawaii Business magazine has honored the state’s “Top 100 Realtors” for nine years running (and uses our company’s real estate data as part of compiling the list). This year’s entertainer was Willie K.

He is a top-shelf Hawaiian musician, no question. But his musical background is incredibly diverse, and his broad talents are amplified by a powerful stage presence. While he’s been described as “the Hawaiian Jimi Hendrix,” I think the label sells him short. His knowledge and love of classic rock and blues and jazz runs deep, and he more recently found that his solid and full-throated voice lends itself well to Italian opera.

All of those passions and skills were on display last night, and he played well over an hour, right up until the hotel-imposed noise curfew. I planted myself at his feet, in the front row (thanks, Bank of Hawaii, for sharing your table!), and soaked it all in. And recorded some of it.

He did a lot of improvisational riffing and storytelling, and played a couple of original pieces of blues and jazz. But he absolutely treated us to some of the all-time classic Hawaiian songs, from “Hi’ilawe” to a nice medley of “Ku’u Home o Kahalu’u” and “Ku’ulei Awapuhi” (the latter declared “our song” by my wife when we first started going out over twenty years ago).

Another memorable pairing connected two classic songs about mothers from opposite sides of the world: the Italian “Mamma Son Tanto Felice” and the Hawaiian “E Mama E.” But it was his performance of Italian opera standard “O Solo Mio” that still resonates in my head. I may or may not have gone a little hoarse on the drive home today.

Listen through my “Willie K” YouTube playlist. To hear more, visit or tune him in on Spotify, on Rdio, or on Pandora.

2 Responses

  1. Sharon Inake says:

    Thanks for the Willie K sampling. I forwarded it to my Honolulu Chorale board as we also mix a variety of styles and languages in our performances.

  2. Kate says:

    Willie K has a gift which at times he has not realized the clout of. His guitar is so very special and his voice diverse. A special gift, for sure that could take him higher than many in the industry.

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