COURTESY DON HO COLLECTION
"Don Ho: My Music, My Life" is elaborately illustrated, including photographs from his own collection. Ho is shown with his children Kea, left, Hoku, Kaimana and Keali'i.
Ho’s life and times make his book soar
Timing is everything. This look at the life and times of the late Don Ho proves the point. Ho began recording his memoirs in 2006, then talked at length with author Jerry Hopkins in the spring of 2007. Their final conversation was on Thursday, April 12, less than two days before he died.
"Don Ho: My Music, My Life"
Don Ho and Jerry Hopkins (Watermark Publishing)
In bookstores tomorrow
If Ho had waited any longer to start on his autobiography, or if Hopkins had come into the picture any later, this colorful book would not exist.
Instead, "Don Ho" is a welcome companion to two other recent coffee table-style books on iconic island celebrities, Rick Carroll's biography of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "IZ: Voice of the People," and Tom Moffatt's autobiography, "The Showman of the Pacific," by Moffatt and Hopkins.
Carroll's book is a conventional biography that draws on a wide range of sources and research; Moffatt and Hopkins offer Moffatt's perspective on his life. Hopkins takes a third approach with "Don Ho," an "oral history" project that consists almost entirely of transcripts of interviews with Ho and people who knew him. The latter include the Ho family, four of the five original members of the Aliis, and longtime friends such as Larry Mehau, Eddie Sherman and Cha Thompson.
The inclusion of people who refused to participate in efforts by other authors makes this book a milestone, and a must-buy for anyone interested in Ho or his impact on modern Hawaiian entertainment. It is also -- like the IZ and Moffatt books -- lavishly illustrated with photographs and other memorabilia from Ho's archives.
COURTESY DON HO COLLECTION
Don Ho with Elvis Presley.
The most interesting sections cover the early years -- growing up poor in Kakaako, moving from place to place, settling in Kaneohe, then boarding at Kamehameha School. The stories are fascinating and show how and why Ho became the leader and world-class entertainer he was.
Most of the history from 1964 on has been covered many times over the years, but the first-hand descriptions of Ho's decades as a Hawaiian superstar are entertaining as well.
At times, however, the straight-from-the-tape-recorder concept falls short. For instance, Ed Brown, Ho's business partner of 26 years, is quoted as saying that the subject of Ho's break-up with the original Aliis in 1969 "continues to give me angst, as I know they believe it was my idea, and it wasn't." But Brown goes on to say that if Don had stayed with the Aliis he would have been at best "a great lounge act" -- suggesting that it was in Ho's best interest to go solo. Hopkins apparently didn't follow up with Brown or Ho on the break-up, nor did he ask any of the Aliis for their perspective.
The circumstances of Ho "inheriting" Jim Nabors' dancers and orchestra at the end of 1981 -- a move that left the Aliis and the other members of Ho's Market Place show to fend for themselves -- also rated a comment or two from someone.
Carroll included some surprisingly significant "warts" in his biographical portrait of IZ, but the only person who says anything critical of Don Ho in this book is Ho himself. He speaks several times of his regret at not having spent more time with his parents, his first wife and his children while he was "exploding in the business," and also for not being present when his daughter, Hoku, was born in 1982. As always, Ho's frankness and honesty touches the heart.
A definitive, thoroughly researched, third-person biography of Don Ho will eventually be written, but even when it is, this "oral history" will still be a fascinating memento of a life well spent.