Keola & Kapono Beamer

One of the first families of Hawaiian music, the Beamers can trace their musical roots back to King Kamehameha (Hawaii’s first king).  I won’t bore you with the whole family tree but arguably no other family has contributed more to Hawaii’s musical culture in both hula and music than the Beamers.  Winona Beamer is credited with being one of the earliest proponents of the ancient form of hula by teaching and public performances.  As a young girl she attended Kamehameha School  which was run by missionaries that forbid hula from being performed at the school.  In 1937 she was expelled for dancing the hula at school.  Ironically, she went on to teach Hawaiian culture at Kamehameha for almost 40 years. Her sons Keola & Kapono Beamer became Hawaii’s favorite musical sons in the late 70’s & early 80’s.  They were also some of the first teachers of slack key guitar and before becoming popular musicians were making guitars and teaching for a living.  Like my previous story of Kalapana, they performed some pop influenced music but they were more traditionally influenced and often sang in both Hawaiian and English on the same albums and even in the same songs.

They had a way of telling light hearted stories too, like this song Sweet Okole (Hawaiian for ass).

Both brothers were extremely talented slack key guitarists & their styles blended perfectly, something probably having to do with growing up in a Big Island home with no power.  Their father had left them when Keola was just one and Kapono wasn’t even born but their grandfather became the ideal father figure.  They told this story brilliantly in a song they performed on Sesame Street in ‘78

The 1978 album Honolulu City Lights was listed as the #1 most important Hawaiian album by Honolulu magazine and the title song still brings tears to every ex-pat Hawaiian when they leave Hawaii.

as does this tale of lost friends, Only Good Times.

The brothers found great success in the islands but went their own ways citing profound creative differences.  They both found solo success, though Keola much more success (even winning a grammy) with both instrumental albums and collaborations.  Personally, I think his collaborations with one of Hawaii’s greatest female voices, Raiatea Helm, are his best.

Keola still performs and teaches today so if he comes to your city, you will not want to miss this legend.  I’ll leave you with what I find the most beautiful version of John Lennon’s Imagine (Ina in Hawaiian), no offense to Lennon lovers, because we could all use this song about now.



  1. Keola Beamer’s book was the very first one I bought when I decided to learn how to play slack key guitar. He got me off and running with the kī hōʻalu. I still play my simplified arrangement of Hilo Hanakahi.

    Say, Loveshaq, lemme ask you something: Sometimes I feel funny playing (and singing) Hawaiian songs, since I have absolutely no connection to Hawaii or to Hawaiians. I’m afraid it’s what the kids call “cultural appropriation” these days. Do Hawaiians find it at all offensive when people like me with no connection to their culture (except in my heart) play their music? I try to be respectful about it, but I dunno.

  2. I don’t speak for all Hawaiians but can tell you that all the Hawaiian musicians I have met love it when people try to play their songs, especially if it comes from a place of Aloha and not trying to change it. The older Hawaiians know that they need more people to appreciate their culture and music to perpetuate it as their people get more assimilated by the other cultures. Most of the younger generation is into rap or Jawaiian (Hawaiian reggae)so families like the Beamers feel it is their duty to get people to carry on the music, stories and traditions regardless of cultural heritage. So I say, don’t be afraid, just be humble and sincere in what you play.

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