Ledward Kaapana

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Ledward Kaapana (born August 25, 1948) is a Hawaiian musician, best known for playing in the slack key guitar style. He also plays steel guitar, ukulele, autoharp and bass guitar, and is a baritone and falsetto vocalist.

Early life[edit]

Born on August 25, 1948,[1] Led grew up in a musical family living in the small black sand bay village of Kalapana (mostly destroyed by the 1986 volcanic eruption of Kilauea), where he states there were few distractions. "We didn't have electricity, not television, not even much radio, so we entertained ourselves. You could go to any house and everybody was playing music." At fourteen, he began performing professionally with his mother, Tina, and his uncle, the rarely recorded slack-key master Fred Punahoa.

Professional career[edit]

His professional breakthrough came a few years later, when he was a part of the Hui 'Ohana (means "Family Group"), with his twin brother, Nedward Kaapana, and his cousin, falsetto-great Dennis Pavao. Hui 'Ohana released fourteen albums, each of which was a commercial and critical success. Kaapana left the group eventually, then released six albums as the leader of another trio, I Kona, and performed with the Pahinui Brothers, Aunty Genoa Keawe, David Chun, Barney Isaacs and Uncle Joe Keawe.

His first solo album, Lima Wela (means "Hot Hands"), was released in 1983; the album won the Na Hoku Hanohano (means "Honored Stars") Award for "Instrumental Album of the Year" in 1984.[2] He released Simply Slack Key in 1988, and Led Live in 1994 on Dancing Cat Records. He has performed and recorded with acoustic lap-steel player Bob Brozman, and released several more albums on the Dancing Cat label from the late 1990s onward. One of the greatest living slack key masters, Ledward has deep roots in the older styles, using only index finger and thumb picks to combine traditional musical phrases, some modern influences, and spontaneous improvisation to create beautiful multipart arrangements that are simultaneously old and new.

Nashville great Chet Atkins was so impressed by Ledward's playing that he paid him the ultimate country music compliment by giving Ledward his guitar. Ledward has played at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., and made many tours of North America; his fans frequently refer to themselves as "Led Heads."

Kaapana ("Kah-ah-pah-nah") spells his name without using the modern ʻokina marking that is used to indicate a glottal stop for the proper pronunciation of certain Hawaiian words. Kaapana has said that his family has always spelled it without an ʻokina and he prefers the traditional spelling (not Kaʻapana.)


"Everything you play, every time you play, there's a mood, an energy. If you plug into it, the music just flows. Even in a simple song, there are so many different ways to play the melody, the rhythm, the harmony. It never stops if you stay open to it."[3]


He is one of the very few Hawaiian recording artists who has received Na Hoku Hanohano Awards from the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) for work as a member of three different recording entities—as a solo artist, as a member of Ledward Kaapana & I Kona, and as a member of Hui 'Ohana. Two of his solo albums, '"Ki Ho'alu: Hawaiian Slack Key" and "Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar" received Grammy Award nominations and appeared on the final ballot in the "Best Hawaiian Music Album" category.[4]

In 2011, he received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award.[5]


  1. ^ Berger, John (2008-08-22). "Slack-key master Ledward Kaapana (pronounced celebrates his 60th". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  2. ^ "Led Kaapana Discography". Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  3. ^ Slack Key Guitar Book
  4. ^ Maui News: Grammy nominations excite local artists
  5. ^ "2011 NEA National Heritage Fellow Ledward Kaapana". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 

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