As the only state physically disconnected from the North American continent, Hawaii has always had a unique place in American life. Tropical rather than temperate, and an archipelago rather than hulking land mass, Hawaii maintains a separate culture from the American mainland. This is identifiable in the islands’ music. This playlist strives to convey the beach inspired music of the Hawaiian Islands.
1. Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – 1993
Named as both the voice of Hawaii, as well as one of its favorite sons, Israel is easily the most recognizable voice in Hawaiian music. His rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World has been featured in television and movie advertisements. And his 1993 album Facing Future remains the best-selling album in Hawaiian history.
2. Tiny Bubbles – Don Ho – 1966
Honolulu born pop star Don Ho was one of the first Hawaiian artists to receive mainstream exposure and popularity. His album Tiny Bubbles peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 200.
3. The Other Side – Bruno Mars – 2010
Global pop and R&B sensation Bruno Mars began his career in Honolulu, the city where he was born. His debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans sold over six million copies world-wide and was nominated for five Grammy Awards. Since then, Bruno Mars has gone on to be one of pop music’s best-selling artists as well as a multiple Grammy Award winner.
4. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing – Jack Johnson – 2005
Born on the island of Oahu, Jack Johnson originally wanted to be a professional surfer. However, a serious accident derailed his career and Johnson retired to pursue a career in music. Entirely self-taught, Johnson’s relaxed acoustic compositions and beach folk lyrics have made him a staple on coffeehouse playlists.
5. Slack Key Lullaby – Ledward Kaapana – 2015
One of the most famous propagators of slack-key guitar, Ledward Kaapana is also one of Hawaii’s best-selling artists. He has released fourteen albums as well as being nominated for a Grammy. His voice and guitar work have made him a Hawaiian musical legend.
6. Higher Than the Clouds – Anuhea – 2012
Drawing inspiration from reggae, folk and pop, Anuhea has a relaxed sound reminiscent of traditional Hawaiian melodies melded with contemporary artists such as Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz. She has released five albums, her most recent coming in 2018.
7. Bamboo – Kimie Miner – 2017
A Grammy Award nominated producer, Miner also creates her own music. She has released four studio albums and is one of Hawaii’s most popular contemporary artists.
8. Hil’ilawe – Gabby Pahinui – 1978
Slack-key guitarist Gabby Pahinui was one of the 70’s most popular Hawaiian artists and was a center of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 70’s. His guitar work helped popularize slack-key guitar, which is the tuning of a guitar in which the six strings play a full chord at rest.
9. The Sun – Taimane Gardner – 2016
Ukulele sensation Taimane Gardner is one of Hawaii’s most accomplished artists. She has released five studio albums and is one of the most critically acclaimed ukulele players in the world.
10. Pua Hone – The Brothers Cazimero – 1978
The Brothers Cazimero were a Hawaiian duo made off bass and twelve-string guitar. They were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2005 and inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
11. Honolulu City Lights – Keola Beamer – 2017
Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Keola Beamer is known for his fusions of Hawaiian roots music and contemporary music. He has released more than a dozen albums and still tours widely.
12. Hallelujah – Jake Shimabukuro – 2011
Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro is known globally for both his original compositions as well as his ukulele covers of popular songs. One of the original viral YouTube stars, Shimabukuro was also the center of an award-winning documentary titled Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings.
13. Hurricane Iniki – The Gabe Baltazar Quartet – 1993
Perhaps Hawaii’s best-known jazz artist, Gabe Baltazar plays the saxophone, clarinet, flute, piano and oboe. His musical talent is evident on the nearly dozen studio albums that he has released or countless other appearances he makes with other artists.
14. Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler – 1988
Born in Honolulu, Bette Midler went on to have a successful career performing in Broadway plays before she began building up a successful solo music career. In a successful career spanning over fifty years, Bette Midler has completed the prestigious and immensely difficult EGOT, or Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony Award circuit. The four-piece win is considered by many to be the pinnacle of critical acclaim in entertainment. She has sold over thirty million albums world-wide and remains one of the best-selling artists in history.
15. Please Mr. DJ – Pamela Polland – 2007
Pamela Polland released three albums in the 60’s and 70’s and while her albums were not originally commercially successful, many of her songs have lived on as covers by other musicians. She has since remained relevant as a vocal coach and film scorer.
16. Perfect Day – Hoku – 2005
Known primarily for her song Perfect Day which was featured on the film Legally Blonde, Hoku is the daughter of entertainer Don Ho. She grew up unaware of her father’s massive fame and while her career could be characterized as a one-hit wonder, she continues to produce music and released an EP in 2019.
17. Star Eyes – Eddie Kamae – 1962
Ukulele virtuoso, singer-songwriter, composer and producer Eddie Kamae had a long career in Hawaiian music and was considered a centerpiece of the 70’s Hawaiian Renaissance.
18. Something About Your Love – Mason Jennings – 2008
Although he later made his career in Minneapolis, where his indie folk was more widely accepted, Jennings was born in Hawaii. Jennings recorded his first album on a four-track recorder in his living room with himself playing all the instruments. He has released more than a dozen studio albums and has toured widely through the US.
19. Four Leaf Clover – Abra Moore – 1997
Occasional actor and full-time musician Abra Moore has been nominated for a Grammy Award to go along with countless television and movie soundtrack appearances.
20. Sweet Lullabies – Melissa Rapp – 2019
Honolulu born and raised Melissa Rapp was classically educated on the piano at age five and went on to attend Stanford University. While their she was a member of a college a cappella group and later went on to release three studio albums.
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