Dennis Pavao began his career as the lead vocal of the seminal group the Hui ‘Ohana. In addition to Pavao, Hui ‘Ohana included his cousins, the brothers Nedward (bass, ‘ukulele) and Ledward (lead guitar) Ka‘apana. In the early ‘70s the Hui ‘Ohana brought their music from their Kalapana home to Waikiki. A revival in Hawaiian music, sometimes called the Hawaiian Music Renaissance had begun. Young Hawaiians were rediscovering their music, culture and language. The Hui ‘Ohana had kept true to their roots, singing old-style Hawaiian songs; with Pavao’s high, pure falsetto and the Ka‘apanas’ unique instrumental styling they captured the spirit of the time.
In 1972 Hui ‘Ohana vaulted to the top of Hawaiian radio with their debut album Young Hawai‘i Plays Old Hawai‘i. The group went on to record a dozen albums in their career. Hui ‘Ohana disbanded in 1978 with each member focusing then on his own area of interest. But the name Hui ‘Ohana and the golden voice of Dennis Pavao would not be forgotten.
Pavao spent the next several years performing on the mainland and in Japan with several Hawaiian groups and at the Disney organization’s theme parks in Anaheim, Orlando and Tokyo. He maintained a large and admiring following throughout the years. In early 1986 he returned to Hawai‘i to begin work on his first solo album.
Ka Leo Ki‘eki‘e was released that same year, it was an instant hit. Hawai‘i once again embraced the golden voice of Dennis Pavao. Ka Leo Ki‘eki‘e earned Pavao the prestigious Nä Hökū Hanohano Male Vocalist of the Year honor.
Ka Leo Ki‘eki‘e was followed by Hawaiian Soul, which was named Best Traditional Album of 1989. Then came All Hawai‘i Stand Together, Wale Nö, and Sweet Leilani, each spaced a few years apart. Pavao had begun work on his sixth album that was to include performances by two of his children. In January 2002 he suddenly fell ill and died a week later. His sudden and unexpected death shocked music communities everywhere.
Pavao’s vocal range from his pure, high soaring falsetto to a deep, rich baritone was legendary. The younger generation of falsetto singers all credit Pavao as an influence. Many imitate his style, sing the same songs, but he was the original. His musical legacy residing in the wonderful recordings he has left will delight us for years to come.
Dennis Pavao is, and will always be “Hawai‘i’s Golden Voice of Falsetto.” His smooth, rich styling has set the standard for Hawaiian falsetto. Future generations of falsetto singers will be able to hear his legacy in recordings for he truly is “Ka Leo Ki‘eki‘e.”
Jacqueline “Skylark” Rossetti, 2003
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