Just as the ever-changing diverse forces of nature that make up Maui, legendary Hawaiian musician, Willi K, shook the world with his diverse and almost unnatural musical abilities that surely surpassed the world before him.
Born William Awihilima Kahaiali’i, Uncle Willie K was from Lahaina, Maui, and was unfortunately diagnosed with lung cancer in January of 2018. He continued performing for the majority of his diagnosis because that’s where his heart and passion lived, performing and making the people of Hawai’i smile.
After a quiet and lengthy battle, Willie K quietly passed away at 59 years old with his family surrounding him in his Wailuku home on the night of May 18th.
Thousands of loving fans and friends stepped forward to share their respects and memories of Willi K on social media, including Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Kalani Pe’a, US Senator Brian Schatz, Governor David Ige, Mayor Michael Victorino, and more.
Looking back, Willie K blessed us with countless performances and years of beautiful and prodigious music. Born on the blues, he learned music from his father, Manu Kahaiali’i, who was a proud musician and blues lover. From there, Willie K expanded his passion for music by becoming familiar with more and more instruments, musical sounds, and various genres. His range of genres was unparalleled as he could switch from acoustic Hawaiian music, the blues, jazz, rock, reggae, country, Christmas music, and even opera.
Willie’s first album, Kahaiali‘i, was released in 1991. Winning the hearts and souls of those who heard his music, Willie K would come to take home over 15 Na Hokuhanohano awards throughout his career. But, his music did not stop there and would eventually cross the Pacific and reach the ears of those on the mainland. Willie K and Hawaiian artist, Amy Hanaiali’i, are known for creating amazing music together. The duo earned their 2004 album, Amy & Willie Live, a Grammy nomination for Best Hawaiian Music Album.
His performances are nothing short of captivating and powerful. Check out Willie K Live at Mulligan’s On the Blue, to experience what it was like being in the presence of such a strong musician. His music also lives on through his albums that have captured the diverse magic of who he was like Live at Hapa’s, Barefoot Natives, or Warehouse Blues. You can find all his albums as well as links to live performances on his website, williek.com.
“When you come to the Willie K experience you leave knowing who Willie K really is,” says Willie K himself,
and now, with Warehouse Blues—the long-awaited album that returns the Grammy nominee and winner of multiple prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano awards to his roots—those fortunate enough to bask in the glow of that experience will discover another side of this multi-talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and all-around riveting entertainer.
“Playing the blues makes me happy,” says Willie K, “and everybody loves it when I do.” (williek.com)
While he shared his unique passion for music with the world, he will always be our very own home-grown Maui boy. Willie K . . . mahalo, we will miss you, a hui hou!!