Maui falsetto legend Richard Ho‘opi‘i dies

‘Uncle Richard’ was half of the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers duo; he was 76

Richard Ho‘opi‘i is shown performing last year at a Kuhio Day event on Maui. The longtime Hawaiian falsetto singer died early Saturday morning at home in Kahakuloa. He was 76. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Longtime Hawaiian falsetto singer Richard Ho’opi’i died early Saturday morning at home in his beloved Kahakuloa. He was 76.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our dad, Richard Kealoha Ho’opi’i,” family members posted on a YouCaring website, which was launched before his death to help raise funds for medical expenses. “But we are rejoicing as he is no longer suffering and is in heaven with Jesus.”

Known as “Uncle Richard,” Ho’opi’i was admitted to a hospital on Nov. 29 after contracting pneumonia three days before an operation on Oahu. He spent two months in the hospital where doctors treated complications. Later, he was moved to Hospice Maui as a live-in patient.

On Feb. 12, he was moved home to Kahakuloa where he remained under hospice care.

“He’s home. He’s happy. He’s at peace now,” daughter Rozanne Ho’opi”i said at the time. “And that’s what he wanted. His wishes came true.”

Richard Ho‘opi‘i is shown in this photo from 2008. He died early Saturday at his home in Kahakuloa. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Family members reported he was talking, eating and happy to be home.

Ho’opi’i was born on March 15, 1941, and raised in the town of Kahakuloa, according to the National Endowment of the Arts. (He and his brother, Solomon, six years his elder, were National Heritage Fellows in 1996.) The boys learned ukulele at an early age under the tutelage of their father, Frank, a schoolteacher. Their mother, Abigail Lum Lung Ho’opi’i Kenolio, insisted that the family attend church on Sundays.

The brothers played together at family gatherings and performed in church, where they learned the Hawaiian hymns that would later influence their music and recordings.

In the 1970s, they formed the Ho’opi’i Brothers duo and began performing at concerts and hula festivals. They released their first album, “No Ka Oi,” in 1975.

The family said that “medical bills are adding up, and money is very tight” and started a fundraiser on YouCaring to help cover medical expenses. As of Saturday, family members had raised $4,515 of their $25,000 goal.

Solomon Ho’opi’i died in 2006.

Family members thanked everyone “for all the love and support throughout this journey of his illness.”

“Your prayers were felt tremendously,” they said.

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* Colleen Uechi can be reached at