History, art and culture

Polynesian Cultural Center Unveils Statue of Joseph Kekuku, Inventor of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) today paid a permanent tribute to a treasured part of Laie’s heritage with the unveiling of a statue in honor of Joseph Kekuku, inventor of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

The life-size bronze statue showing Kekuku seated and playing the steel guitar was revealed this morning at a ceremony attended by members of his family, PCC executives, and members of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association. The ceremony featured a special steel guitar performance in Kekuku’s memory.

“Joseph Kekuku carried the beautiful and distinctive sound of the steel guitar to people around the world, but his roots are here in Laie and we are honored to remember him and all he did for Hawaiian music with this wonderful statue,” said Alfred Grace, president & CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Born and raised in Laie, Kekuku (1874-1932) invented the sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar as a youth while studying at Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu. He left Hawaii as a young man and took the unique music of the steel guitar to vaudeville theaters and venues throughout the continental U.S.

His performing group, “Kekuku’s Hawaiian Quintet,” helped popularize Hawaiian music at a time when stories and images about Hawaii’s enchanting appeal were being read and seen by people nationwide, especially by travelers.

Beginning in 1919, Kekuku toured Europe for eight years with “The Bird of Paradise” show, performing before sell-out crowds throughout the continent.

Kekuku eventually settled in New Jersey, where he passed away in 1932 and is buried. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1993.

The Joseph Kekuku statue was created by Leroy Transfelt, a native Maori from New Zealand who once attended Brigham Young University – Hawaii. The statue is part of the new Hukilau Marketplace and prominently placed where all visitors entering the PCC will walk past it.Encompassing 119,000 square feet and located at the entrance to the PCC, the Marketplace features more than 40 retail, dining and activity providers, many of which have longstanding ties to Laie, the North Shore, and Polynesia. The Marketplace is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday with free parking and admission to the public.

Kekuku is the second person of note from Laie past to be honored with a statue at the Hukilau Marketplace. In February, a statue was unveiled of Hamana Kalili, credited as the originator of the shaka sign.

For more information or to make reservations, visit www.polynesia.com or call (800) 367-7060. In Hawaii, call 293-3333.

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