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Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Leonard Kwan's song "Opihi Moemoe" stands as one of
the greatest slack-key compositions ever. Leonard Ke'ala
Kwan Jr. said his father "had a gift and a power from God.
He was nahenahe -- gen-tle and soulful."

Music legend
Leonard Kwan gave
Hawaiian slack-key
to the world

More obituaries

By Brett Alexander-Estes

Leonard Ke'ala Kwan, a slack-key master who with the late Gabby Pahinui and the late Sonny Chillingworth inspired generations of musicians around the world, died Sunday in his sleep.

"He was my best friend," said slack-key guitarist Ray Kane.

Kwan's composition "Opihi Moemoe" is considered the gold standard of slack-key artistry. For a jazz musician, a composition of equal stature would be Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," said Milton Lau, a producer and promoter of Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

Kwan, 68, gave Hawaiian slack-key music to the world, Lau said.

He was the first slack key guitar player to publicly share his slack key tunings by compiling the first slack key guitar instruction book.

He was born in Honolulu in 1931. He made his first record, "Hawaiian Chimes," in 1957. In 1960 he recorded "Slack Key," the first all-instrumental slack-key album, which featured "Opihi Moemoe".

In 1989 Kwan began recording for George Winston's Dancing Cat Records. He made two albums for the label, the last of which will be released in September. "Recording and knowing Leonard was the greatest opportunity and privilege imaginable,"Winston said. "I could never express what a joy and an inspiration and an education it was and is."

Illness cut short Kwan's performing career, but Lau and Winston coaxed him into occasional appearances, said Ben Churchill, Dancing Cat vice president.

Although Kwan's accomplishments were far-reaching, "he was a very humble person," said Lau.

Kwan and his music will be celebrated at the 18th Annual Bankoh Kihoalu, a slack-key festival starting at 2:00 p.m. Sunday at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Kwan is survived by three sons, Leonard Ke'ala Jr., Kenneth and Kevin-Lee; a brother, the Rev. Melvin Kwan; a sister, Mildred Jeremiah; and seven grandchildren.

Services will be Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. at Diamond Head Memorial Park Chapel. Aloha attire.

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