LAHAINA — The Hawaiian music community lost a legendary guitarist and educator with the passing of Henry Kaleialoha Allen on Dec. 24, 2022.
Allen passed away at Maui Memorial Medical Center. He was 89. He is survived by his wife, Sherron, and children Shannon, Lanikai, Queenie and Aaron.
In recent years, Henry performed on cruise ships, worked with Hawaiian Entertainment Co. in Maryland and played at casinos and corporate luau events.
Aaron has started a Henry Kaleialoha Allen memorial campaign on GoFundMe that seeks to raise $10,000 “… in memory of Henry’s legacy to encourage the youth and next generation of Hawaiian children to learn and love music of their heritage and perpetuate the art of the Hawaiian steel guitar.”
“We launched the GoFundMe page to continue and finish his Hawaiian music learning books for ukulele and Hawaiian steel guitar. He had a passion to stimulate Hawaiian youth to learn to play music and share and be proud of their Native Hawaiian heritage,” Aaron explained.
Former West Maui County Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson Winer worked with Henry at Arts Education for Children Group Summer Music Camps, his Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festivals at Kaanapali Beach Hotel and on some music shows at Whalers Village.
She helped as a camp leader and worked with Sherron on some of the planning for the events.
“Henry always believed that the future of Hawaiian music, and particularly the survival of the steel guitar, depended on young musicians learning to love it as much as he did. He was critical in this role as a mentor, and he wrote music for the Hawaiian steel guitar that he often provided at no charge to schools and students. With Sherron’s help, he would apply for grants to help fund these events and many of the teaching materials that he would use in his classes,” Johnson Winer explained.
“He was not only a gifted performer but a patient teacher. What Henry brought to Hawaiian music and particularly the Hawaiian steel guitar was amazing. He helped many young students learn to actually read music, play the steel guitar and appreciate the history and importance of keeping these musical traditions alive. If you look at the hours he spent transcribing and putting the teaching materials together, you would understand why he had so little time for his performances. He sacrificed, along with Sherron, so much of his career to devote his time to teaching, writing music and perpetuating Hawaiian music so that it would live on after him.”
Aaron said music education was important to his father, because he saw many of this generation losing interest in Hawaiian music and learning to play and read music correctly.
“He wrote and could read music, which helped him in every genre of music. He could play any style of music as long as he had a music sheet or chart, giving him many opportunities other Hawaiian musicians who couldn’t read music did not have,” he added.
Among many other accolades, Henry was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts in 2015. The Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists and the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts also awarded him the title of Master Teacher.
Henry was born on June l, 1933, in Hilo, Hawaii, to Martha and Henry Allen. He was raised in Manoa Valley.
He was inspired to learn music by his great-grandfather, William Merseburgh, who was appointed by King Kamehameha III to serve as a band leader for the King’s Royal Band (now known as the Royal Hawaiian Band).
He entered the professional field of music at the age of 13. After graduating from McKinley High School in 1952, at 15, Henry played steel guitar with the Honolulu Policeman’s Glee Club and Gonzales Brothers Troupe. This soon led to him playing with Sterling Mossman, Barney Isaacs and Alfred Aholo Apaka at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
He left for Los Angeles to study music theory and harmony, and reading and writing music, but Alfred Apaka convinced Henry to return and perform in Waikiki’s thriving music scene with the Alec Kaeck Quartet, Richard Kauhi Quartet, Benny Sax Quartet and Martin Denny’s band.
He later landed in West Maui, playing for three years at the Lahaina Wharf.
In the 1970s, Henry produced dinner and dance music at three showrooms on Maui. In the years that followed, he launched the Hawaiian Music Institute and School of Music, founded Rainbow Records, wrote songs and recorded albums, published key books on Hawaiian music and songs that are used to educate students, and continued to perform on a busy schedule.
After being involved with entertainment productions on several cruise lines through the Hawaiian Islands, from 2012-15, he produced cultural programs of Hawaii and French Polynesia on the ships of Holland America Cruise Lines.
In a 2015 interview, Henry said he was grateful to be part of the “Golden Era” of Hawaii and the legendary artists.
“(Hawaii’s music scene has) been going in very different directions; has been doing so for some time. Not really professional anymore — when one does a recording in their garage, or online, what do you say? Is this listenable music? No finesse anymore; anything goes,” he said.
“I am thankful that I was a great part of the ‘Golden Era’ of Hawaii, when all of our real music legends had their own showrooms, each island’s hotels featured a great Hawaiian performer and did concerts, and the hotels hired them and paid them well for their talents.”
Aaron will remember his father as “soft spoken but a perfectionist when it came to music and playing. Kind and generous.”
Johnson Winer will remember Henry as a great friend.
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle people I’ve ever met, and together he and Sherron made the perfect couple. Sherron supported his efforts and was his most devoted fan,” she noted.
“I have almost all of Henry’s CDs and some of his teaching materials and music, which I treasure. The thing I remember most was when my husband Jim passed away, that Henry played some of Jim’s favorite music at his funeral at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery. Henry was not only someone I worked with, but he was a true friend who will forever remain in my heart and thoughts.”