Sol Hoopii

Sol Hoopii (1902–1953) was a Native Hawaiian guitarist, claimed by many as the all-time best lap steel guitar virtuosoever, and he is one the most famous original Hawaiian steel guitarists.

Born Solomon Hoopii Ka’ai’ai, in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1902, he soon began playing ukulele, guitar and Hawaiian steel guitar, and made his debut with Johnny Noble and his Orchestra.

Together with some of his brothers he often performed on a Matson Lines ocean liner since 1919 (a more romantic tale tells about a embarcation as a stowaway) and eventually settled in San Francisco, ca. 1922.

By 1924, Hoopii had moved to Los Angeles, where he formed the Sol Hoopii Trio, with Glenwood Leslie and Lani McIntyre, including sometimes additional musicians, and he successfully performed in the local and then very popular Polynesian-themed night venues. His first recordings in 1925-28 featured often jazzy improvisation.

He recorded his best known material 1933 to 1938, as Sol Ho’op’ii’s “Novelty Trio”,”Novelty Quartette” and “Novelty Five” on Decca Records and Brunswick Records labels, like the famous “Hula Girl”, “Ten Tiny Toes”, and many more brilliant Hawaiian hula and hapa-haole songs penned by the best Hawaiian composers like Johnny Noble and Sol Bright.

Preferring the acoustic lap steel guitar, he switched to electric lap steel only around 1935 and developed an original tuning, in addition to the open A or open G tunings commonly in use at the time.

He very often applied bluesy and jazzy treatments to the “Tin Pan Alley” standards, as well as to Hawaiian classics.

His peculiar rhythmic, harmonic and melodic techniques influenced not only Hawaiian-styled musicians but also famed country and western swing steel guitarists, like Joaquin Murphy and Jerry Byrd.

Hoopii performed in a number of Hollywood “jazz” movies like His Jazz Bride, and later he was involved in the “exotic” movies craze, appearing notably in Bird of Paradise, Waikiki Wedding, and even some Charlie Chan mystery movies.

He also performed in the soundtrack for the Betty Boop cartoon Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle.

In 1938, Hoopii partially gave up his career to join the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

So he had few recordings and public appearances until his untimely death in Seattle on November 16, 1953, at the age of 51 of diabetes.

Sol Hoopii was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame and in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.

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