EMILY HO / 1912-2003

Honey Ho, shown in an undated photo, enjoyed the success of her son, famed singer Don Ho, and Don's daughter, pop star Hoku.

‘Honey’ held talented
Ho family together

Gladys Brandt
More obituaries

By Leila Fujimori

Many fans of Don Ho found their best link to Hawaii's most famous star was his mother, Emily "Honey" Ho.

"So many women, old and young, they couldn't get next to him, so they got next to her," said daughter Doris Castro.

They kept in touch for years by letters and phone, and even visited, Castro said.

"She loved everybody."

Honey Ho died at age 90 from natural causes shortly before midnight Tuesday at Castle Medical Center.

Ho's bar, Honey's Cafe in Kaneohe, a popular neighborhood watering hole from the 1940s to the '60s, was where Don Ho's career got its start.

After he left the U.S. Air Force, Don took over the business in 1960 and started booking singers and musicians, eventually singing and playing the organ himself.

But he never forgot his humble beginning and his beloved mother.

"Whenever I had my own place, I named it after my mother," said Ho, including his first Waikiki spot on Liliuokalani and Kalakaua avenues, called Honey's Waikiki.

"Honey's was synonymous with Don," said Benny Chong, one of the original members of the Aliis, the band with which he performed. "Wherever Don went, the room he played was always Honey's."

"She was a great cook, a good, fun person, always happy, always greeted me with a smile," Chong said.

Born Emily Leimaile Silva on July 18, 1912, in Honolulu, she grew up poor in Kakaako.

"She was the hardest worker I've ever seen," Don Ho said. "I owe her a lot. I always would follow behind her and emulate her."

In 1939, Honey and James Ho bought the Kaneohe business, which included a tiny house where they raised their six children.

Castro described her mother as the one who ran things, while her father was the happy-go-lucky type.

"She was the heart of everything," she said. "She ran the business, took care of the family. She was the rock. She held everything together. She was tough. She was loving."

Business for Honey's Cafe boomed in the wartime years, and the Hos used their earnings to send Don and his brothers to Kamehameha Schools.

"If it wasn't for her, Don wouldn't have gotten as far as he did," Castro said. "It was through her understanding, her love.

"He looked up to and admired her," she said. "He trusted her and her judgment."

But Castro said Don was not treated any differently from his siblings.

"She mothered everyone," Castro said, including friends Don would bring home from Kamehameha Schools on the weekends.

Ho said he grew up surrounded by music, including pop tunes from the bar's jukebox, as well as the music his mother sang from the 1920s.

Although the bar then did not have live music, after quitting time everyone sang and played the guitar and ukulele.

"She used to sing to my dad when she was mad at him," said Ho, 72. "Mom liked the music she grew up with, songs from the mainland."

Whenever she came to see Don, he would call her onstage to sing her favorite tunes with him.

She is also survived by brother Manuel Silva Jr., daughter Keala Ho Dwyer, son Ben Ho, 29 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

Ordenstein's Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary is handling services, which are pending.

E-mail to City Desk


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