Benny Kalama

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Benny Kalama
Benny Kalama.jpg
Benny Kalama album cover art
Background information
Birth nameBenjamin Kapena Kalama
Also known asBenny Kalama
Ben Kalama
Born(1916-06-29)June 29, 1916
Kohala, Big island of Hawaii
DiedSeptember 21, 1999(1999-09-21) (aged 83)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Occupation(s)Live performer
Bass guitar
Steel guitar
Years active1930–1999
LabelsCord International
Universal Geffen
Hana Ola
Associated actsLeonard Red Hawk and the Waikikians
Alfred Apaka
Malcolm Beelby Orchestra
Don McDiarmid
Wally Lavque
Andry Bright

Benny Kalama (June 29, 1916 – September 21, 1999), born Benjamin Kapena Kalama in Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii, is an American singer with a honey-voiced falsetto. He is credited with discovering and nurturing Alfred Apaka,[1] and was part of several groups. Until the day Apaka died, Kalama was coaching and arranging music for him.


At Kalakaua Intermediate School in 1931, Benny began playing trombone in the band.[2] Upon graduation from McKinley High School where he played in the band, Kalama hooked up with Leonard "Red" Hawk[3] and the Waikikians. Kalama's ability to read music, rather than play by ear, got him hired by the more successful bands. It was Hawk who wrote the lyrics and music to the ubiquitous song [4]May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii. In 1938, Kalama played steel guitar substituting for Sam Kaʻapuni with the Malcolm Beelby Orchestra.[5]

Kalama worked with the Don McDiarmid Sr band at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Kewalo Inn and La Hula Rhumba on Lulalilo Street.[6] McDiarmid, along with Johnny Noble, had penned Hilo Hattie's signature tune When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop.[7] During this period of his career, Kalama worked with Alfred Apaka, George Kainapau, Alvin Isaacs Sr and Tommy Castro.

In between his participation with the McDiarmid band, Benny played with the Wally Lavque's[5] band, also at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He toured the mainland with the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders, appearing in movies and on recordings.

Benny Kalama was with Andy Bright's[8] band the years 1952–1955 at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki.

In 1955, he began working with Alfred Apaka in Las Vegas, followed by 15 years with[9] Henry Kaiser's Hawaiian Village. Kalama's arrangements are credited with helping Apaka's success.

On radio, Kalama was a director and arranger on KGU's Voice of Hawaii[5] program prior to bombing of Pearl Harbor. From 1952 onward, Kalama was musical director and arranger for[10] Hawaiʻi Calls.

Later years[edit]

Until before his death, Kalama played at the Halekulani's House Without a Key nightclub with Alan Akaka and Walter Moʻokini's Islanders,[1] and also as part of the stage band for the annual Steel Guitar Hoʻolauleʻa.


Benny Kalama[edit]

  • Hawaii's Golden Treasures (1996) CD 100 (Surfside)
  • Twilight in Hawaii w/Nina Kealiiwahamana (1996) CD 1008 (MIM)
  • Legends of Falsetto (2000) CD 35000 (Cord International)
  • He Is Hawaiian Music (2000) CD SLCD-7054 (Lehua)
  • Steel Guitar Magic (2000) CD 31000 (Mountain Apple)
  • My Isle of Golden Dreams (2003) CD 1233 (Cord International)
  • Around the World in 80 Shakes (2006) CD 93133 (Universal Geffen)

Ben Kalama's Islanders[edit]

  • How'd Ya Do / My Island (1954) promo single F2908 (Capitol)
  • Webley Edwards Presents Hawaii Calls at Twilight (1956) LP album T 582 (Capitol)
  • Hawaii Calls: Greatest Hits (1960) LP album ST 1339 (Capitol)
  • I Wish They Didn't Mean Goodbye / Forevermore (Lei Aloha, Lei Makame) w/Alfred Apaka (1960) promo single 9-31057 (Decca)
  • Hawaii Aloha w/Dona Klein (1979) LP album S 5361 (Chapel)
  • Lei of Stars (1998) comp single HOCD 31000 (Hana Ola)


The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts awarded Kalama the 1993 Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award[11] for his substantial contributions to the entertainment industry in Hawaii.


  1. ^ a b Tsai, Michael (2 July 2006). "Benny Kalama". Honolulu Advertiser.
  2. ^ Kuebeler, Glenn C (2007). Castalia, Cold Creek, And The Blue Hole, OH. Arcadia Publishing. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7385-5053-4.
  3. ^ Tsai, Michael (2 July 2006). "Leonard Red Hawk". Honolulu Advertiser.
  4. ^ "May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii". Square One. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Ruymar, Lorene (1986). The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and Its Great Hawaiian Musicians. Centerstream Publications. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-57424-021-4.
  6. ^ "Luncheon Menu from La Hula Rhumba – Honolulu, Hawaii". Arkiva Tropika. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  7. ^ "When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop". Huapala. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Reviews of New Pop Records". Billboard. Billboard (14 August 1954): 38.
  9. ^ "Henry J in Hawaiian Playground". Life. Life (2 December 1957): 87–92.
  10. ^ "Benny Kalama: 1916–1999". Hawaiian Music History. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  11. ^ "Na Hoku Hanohano Award". Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts. Archived from the original on 27 February 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2010. Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts

External links[edit]