Kui Lee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Kui Lee
Birth nameKuiokalani Lee
Also known asKui Lee
Born(1932-07-31)July 31, 1932
Shanghai, Republic of China
DiedDecember 3, 1966(1966-12-03) (aged 34)
Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
GenresModern Hawaiian
Occupation(s)Singer, Songwriter
Years active1955 – 1966
LabelsPalm, Columbia, Music of Polynesia

Kuiokalani "Kui" Lee (July 31, 1932 – December 3, 1966) was a singer-songwriter, and the 1960s golden boy artist of Hawaii. Lee achieved international fame when Don Ho began performing and recording his compositions, with Ho promoting Lee as the songwriter for a new generation of Hawaiian music.


Lee was born in Shanghai, China. His entertainer parents Billy and Ethel Lee were of Scottish, Hawaiian and Chinese[which?] ancestry. Ethel died in 1936.[1] Kui's widowed father took him back to Hawaii when he was five years old and enrolled him in the Kamehameha Schools. He later graduated from Roosevelt High School.[2]

Lee worked as a knife dancer and choreographer in the Hawaiian Room of New York's Lexington Hotel.[3]

There he met and married singer-hula dancer Rose Frances Naone Leinani, known to everyone as Nani.[4] Nani returned to Hawaii with Kui and performed with him, as well as with Don Ho at Honey's. She also performed with Sterling Mossman, Tommy Sands, Sons of Hawaii and Zulu. Kui and Nani would have four children together - Wailana, Mahealani, Maile and Kimo

By 1961, he was working at Club Jetty in Nawiliwili, Kauai.[2] He later went to work at Honey's in Kaneohe, owned by Emily "Honey" Ho,[5] mother of Don. The connection would launch a symbiotic relationship between Don and Kui that transcended Kui's early death.[6] Recording Kui's songs made Don a star, and it was from Don's on-stage patter that most people learned of Kui Lee. Onstage, Don gave Kui full credit[7] for creating island music for a new generation.

Kui Lee only achieved fame for his musical compositions toward the very end of his life. The Extraordinary Kui Lee was the only album released during his lifetime.[7] Famous songs on that album included "I'll Remember You" (brought into even greater fame by Don Ho, Elvis Presley and Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau), "Days of my Youth" and "Ain't No Big Thing." All three became standards in Hawai'i.

Two other Hawaii entertainers, Lani Kai and Alex Kaeck, wrote and recorded a song in his honor, "A Man Called Hawaii (The Legend Of Kui Lee)," that was released as a 45-rpm single by Palm Records (Palm P-1030). A 30-second clip may be heard from the Hawaiian Music Collection, held by the University of Hawaii's Hawaiian Music Collection.[8]

Final days and death[edit]

Kui Lee had been battling lymph gland cancer[2] when he died at the Guadalajara Hospital in Tijuana on December 3, 1966,[1] at the age of 34. His ashes were scattered off Waikiki. In 1973, Elvis Presley gave the Aloha From Hawaii[9] concert which raised $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, which had been created shortly before the concert by Hawaii veteran newspaper columnist Eddie Sherman, to fund the cancer research going on at the University of Hawaii.

Kui's widow Nani Lee Meadows also died of cancer, on April 12, 2008.


  • The Extraordinary Kui Lee (2005) CD 719 (Sony)


  1. ^ a b "Kui Lee Memorial". Find A Grave. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Enomoto, Catherine Kekoa (15 May 1997). "We'll Remember You". Honolulu Star Bulletin.
  3. ^ "Samoan Fire Knife Dance". Media-HI, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2010. Media-HI, Inc
  4. ^ Shikina, Robert (14 April 2008). "Nani Lee Meadows 1931-2008". Honolulu Star Bulletin.
  5. ^ Fujimori, Leila (16 January 2003). "Honey Ho". Honolulu Star Bulletin.
  6. ^ "Islands Empire Ethnic Sounds, But It's the Uptempoed Beat That Counts". Billboard. Billroard (18 May 1968): 1–4.
  7. ^ a b Allen, Robert C (2004). Creating Hawaii Tourism. Bess Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-57306-206-0.
  8. ^ Audio clip from the Hawaiian Music Collection.
  9. ^ Hopkins, Jerry (2002). Elvis in Hawaii. Bess Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-57306-142-1.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]