Before Willie K. rocked the islands and Keali'i Reichel wooed and won Japan -- even before Don Ho sang of tiny bubbles -- there was Barney Isaacs (full name Alvin Kalanikau Isaacs Jr.). A diminutive man with a famous family name and an undeniable talent all his own, Isaacs enjoyed a long and illustrious career as Hawaii's "ambassador of steel guitar." He played with some of Hawaii's top musicians and is an example to Hawaiian musicians of today.
Isaacs was born in 1924. His father, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs Sr., was the bandleader for the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders, a very famous dance band that had a residency in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the very earliest days of Hawaiian tourism. Alvin Sr. made sure that Barney and all nine of his siblings had instruments put in their hands while they were practically still in the cradle. Three of the children -- Barney, Norman, and Atta -- developed a lifelong passion for music. This they indulged together, under the approving eye of their father. When Barney was 24, he joined his father's band and started his career as an international Hawaiian star. He toured all over, collaborated with many other Hawaiian musicians including Alfred Apaka and Gabby Pahinui, and recorded literally hundreds of pieces. Notable releases include Hawaiian Touch and the first two of the ubiquitous Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar compilations, which still can be found in any island record shop.
Isaacs was not just an artist though. He was also active in numerous other parts of the music scene. He enjoyed a permanent position on Hawai'i Calls (a popular local radio show) for 25 years. In the '50s, he became acquainted with the other side of the A&R desk, doing a stint in management at Waikiki Records. Isaacs was a beloved island artist who left behind a lasting legacy. There are few, if any, Hawaiian artists from the past 50 years who have not been affected or influenced in some way by his work.