LANI MOE / 1929-2002
Entertainer Lani Moe, with his family, performed Polynesian song and dance the world over for almost 50 years for audiences that included European royalty, Gandhi and Hitler.
better known worldwide
than at home
Vet, volunteer Mary Pfeiffer
By Leila Fujimori
He first took to the stage in 1934 at age 4 in Shanghai, China, and the manager signed him up to sing, dance and play the ukulele, wearing a top hat and tailcoat.
Lani Moe, born to Tau and Rose Moe, learned to play ukulele at age 3 and first took to the stage at age 4.
At age 6, Maurice Chevalier selected Moe, billed as "Baby Lani Moe," to do a tap number in one of his Parisian shows.
The child star grew into a multitalented entertainer and artist.
Moe, who resided in Laie, died Saturday at the age of 73.
Born on the road to entertainers Tau and Rose Moe on July 13, 1929, in Kyoto, Japan, Lani was destined for the stage.
"He was always imitating people backstage," said his sister Dorian Moe-Vineula, and one night just got pushed onstage.
Lani began playing the ukulele at age 3 and became adept at a variety of string instruments.
When Lani got older, he became the family's lead singer.
"He had a beautiful voice, basically a balladeer and a crooner, something like Alfred Apaka," said Ishmael Stagner, a Hawaiian music historian.
The family performed in Paris at the Moulin Rouge and at the Casino in Monte Carlo.
Despite their success abroad, few in Hawaii have heard of Moe and his talented family, who were among the first to bring Polynesian music and dance to the world.
"The Moes just simply entertained to a different public and were not known at home," said Stagner, who is trying to get recognition by the state Legislature and the governor for the family.
The Moes' lives were the stuff of movies.
When living in pre-World War II Germany, Lani was the champion money-raiser for German children's charities and rode with Hitler in his Mercedes-Benz. During a performance in Germany, the family, who had helped Jewish friends, was tipped off that the Gestapo was in the audience waiting for them. After the show, the family fled the country, eventually ending up in India.
"Their next gig was in Japan, but then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the family had to stay in India," Stagner said.
Tau insisted that if his two children wanted to perform onstage, they must learn everything backstage, and Lani excelled in choreography and set and costume design.
On the road, the children had private tutors who traveled with them. Lani learned French, German, Spanish, Hungarian and Hindi.
Lani also mastered classical dance and performed with several European dance companies.
"We were the first Polynesian group as an act that did Polynesian at the beginning, ending with modern dance and acrobatics," Moe-Vinuela said. "I think we were a little too far ahead of our time. I go to Waikiki and they're doing all this now."
Upon the family's return to Hawaii in 1982, Lani taught dance at Brigham Young University-Hawaii until his death.
Moe is survived by his father and sister.
Services will be held 10 to 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Eighth Ward, Laie North Stake. Visitation from 9 a.m. Burial 11:30 a.m. at Laie Cemetery.
BACK TO TOP