Leonard Kwan

The Three Giants of Ki ho ‘alu (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar)

Leonard Kwan was born in 1931 andi is credited with making the first LP recordings of slack key instrumentals. He also helped authour a slack key instruction book and composed a mumber of guitar pieces that have remained popular for many, many years.

Born on O’ahu, Leonard studied music in high school and learned to play slack key guitar from various members of his family. He made his first record at the age of 26, called Hawaiian Chimes. He caught the eye of one Margaret Williams, of Tradewinds Records, who actually recorded him in her house. The result was a hit called “‘Opihi Moemoe,” which would become “his song” and a standard throughout the profession.

Kwan was also famous for sharing his musical knowledge with others. For many years, slack key tunings were closely held secrets of the artists and it wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s that artists started to share freely their tunings with others. He published a collection of his own tunings in 1975.

At about age 50, poor health forced Leonard to start slowing down and he stopped his active schedule of performances. But before he passed away he was persuaded to make a number of recordings, essentlally for the sake of history and posterity, to help keep this beautiful form of music before the public.

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