Johnny Ukulele

Biography by

Exotica cult favorite Johnny Ukulele was born John Ka'aihue in Kalani, Hawaii on November 8, 1901 -- the son of Prince Koeheo Ka'aihue, at 15 he signed on a band assembled to back surfing pioneer Duke…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Exotica cult favorite Johnny Ukulele was born John Ka'aihue in Kalani, Hawaii on November 8, 1901 -- the son of Prince Koeheo Ka'aihue, at 15 he signed on a band assembled to back surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku during his surfing demonstrations across the mainland U.S. When Kahanamoku returned to Hawaii, Ka'aihue remained stateside, touring the Midwest vaudeville circuit -- he was a particular favorite of Chicago's organized crime families, and according to the website www.spaceagepop.com, he stayed for free in hotels owned by Al Capone's brother Ralph. Ka'aihue also regularly appeared in competitive swimming meets against the likes of Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller before settling in St. Louis to begin a family, playing local clubs and operating an instructional school teaching Hawaiian music. Shortly after World War II ended he joined up with bandleader Harry Owens, remaining with his Royal Hawaiian Orchestra for 15 years, including a nine-year stint on CBS television's The Harry Owens Show -- during this time, Ka'aihue also adopted the stage name Johnny Ukulele. In addition to playing on a series of Owens' LPs, in 1958 he issued a solo effort, the Capitol label proto-lounge classic Favorite Selections by Johnny Ukulele -- three years later, he returned to Hawaii for the first time in nearly half a century, headlining a triumphant homecoming gig. When his children Mary and Norman became mainstays on the Las Vegas Strip with their Mary Kaye Trio, Ukulele migrated to Sin City himself, playing casino nightclubs throughout the 1960s -- at one point, his backing group included budding country-pop superstar Bobbie Gentry. He died in Hollywood in 1971.