Hawai­ian Crooner Sang ‘Tiny Bub­bles’

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Martin Weil

Don Ho, the en­ter­tainer whose vivid shirts, bari­tone voice and easy­go­ing man­ner came to sym­bol­ize his na­tive Hawaii to mil­lions of vis­i­tors, died last night. He was 76.

Ho, who had per­formed steadily since the 1960s and could be found sev­eral nights a week per­form­ing at a Waikiki ho­tel, suf­fered a heart at­tack, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Han­ne­mann told the Honolulu Ad­ver­tiser.

For those who went to the is­lands or knew his trade­mark song, “Tiny Bub­bles,” Mr. Ho was as much a part of Hawaii’s trop­i­cal se­duc­tive­ness as the palm trees and the Pa­cific Ocean surf. He had be­gun singing be­fore Hawaii at­tained state­hood, and many of those who heard him over the years came back again and again.

Ho was still per­form­ing this year at the Beachcomber Ho­tel on Kalakaua Av­enue, be­guil­ing au­di­ences on Thurs­day and Sun­day nights.

In re­cent years, he had heart prob­lems and un­der­went ex­per­i­men­tal stem cell treat­ments in Thai­land in De­cem­ber 2005.

He told re­porters that he had scarcely been able to walk and would have been fin­ished with­out the pro­ce­dure, which re­port­edly in­volved in­ject­ing cells from his blood into his weak­ened heart. He was said to have learned about it on the In­ter­net and said it was his “last hope.”

“I’m feel­ing ter­rific,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press about two weeks af­ter the pro­ce­dure.

The heart prob­lems in­ter­rupted a ca­reer that stretched back to the 1960s. His ap­pear­ances were de­scribed as par­tic­i­pa­tory en­ter­prises dur­ing which he con­versed with au­di­ence mem­bers and lured them into singing along.

About six years ago, he told a re­porter from the Los An­ge­les Times that “we still like to swing.” But he said time had taken a toll: “We just do it ear­lier now.”

Some of his first au­di­ences in­cluded hon­ey­moon­ers or mem­bers of the mil­i­tary go­ing to or re­turn­ing from Viet­nam, and his mu­sic and the nos­tal­gia it cre­ated brought many back over the decades for shows that seemed like class re­unions. He aged along with them and was said to have aban­doned his drink-swig­ging ways for an early good night.

But the idea of aban­don­ing the night­club scene was un­think­able.

“Singing,” he said, “is what keeps me young.”

Mr. Ho, a man of mixed eth­nic­ity, was born on the is­lands, grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Hawaii and served in the Air Force as a lieu­tenant in the 1950s, fly­ing C-97 trans­ports for about five years. His mother’s ill­ness cut short what might have been a mil­i­tary ca­reer, he said. It was re­ported that a crash dur­ing his pilot days con­vinced him that life is to be cel­e­brated.

He started per­form­ing on the elec­tric or­gan at his par­ents’ cock­tail lounge on Oahu and went on to suc­cess at Duke Ka­hanamoku’s in Waikiki. Friends wrote most of his songs. He read­ily ad­mit­ted that it was not the tra­di­tional sound of the is­lands, nor was it rock or a part of any other clearly de­fined genre. “It’s is­land mu­sic that we’ve cre­ated our­selves,” he once told the Chicago Tri­bune. It was new to many peo­ple who first heard him, he said. But they quickly came to like it.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife; pub­lished re­ports in­di­cated that he was the fa­ther of as many as 10 chil­dren.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Don Ho en­chanted is­land vis­i­tors for decades with his night­club act.

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