Hawaiian Crooner Sang ‘Tiny Bubbles’
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.
Don Ho enchanted island visitors for decades with his nightclub act.