Pahinui mourned in Hawaii and beyond

  • Photo by Chelle Pahinui In this undated photo, Cyril Pahinui plays guitar in Waipio Valley with Hiilawe waterfall behind him.

HILO — Tributes and condolences from music industry people and fans have poured in on social media since the death Saturday night of Hawaiian slack-key guitar master Cyril Pahinui.

The 68-year-old entertainer and teacher had been in declining health for a number of years and had been hospitalized since Feb. 16, 2016, at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu.


Pahinui learned to play guitar and ukulele at the knee of his father, the legendary Gabby “Pops” Pahinui, and honed his musical chops during the historic weekend-long jams at the family’s Bell Street home in Waimanalo, Oahu. He shared his knowledge, teaching countless musicians the art of slack key, formally and informally.

Pahinui spent a number of his later years in Hilo, teaching classes at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Connections Public Charter School, as well as Bishop Museum on Oahu.

“I love what I’m doing. I love to teach. For me, it’s time to pass on the culture and my knowledge of slack key,” Pahinui said in June 2015.

Pahinui won 19 Na Hoku Hanohano awards, and his music appeared on three Grammy-winning albums. He also received the prestigious Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 for perpetuating slack key through performance and teaching.

Patrick Landeza, the first mainland slack-key artist to win a Hoku, described Pahinui as “not only a teacher and mentor to me, he was my second dad.”

Folk music icon Arlo Guthrie said he told a Massachusetts audience about Pahinui on the night of his passing. Guthrie met Pahinui in the 1990s while filming the TV series “The Byrds of Paradise.”

“In the last scene of the last show aired on TV, he and I were filmed playing a song I had written, as Tim Busfield (the star of the show) went running off down the beach,” Guthrie recalled. “The following year, Cyril came to Massachusetts to help me record the same song for an album I was working on — ‘Mystic Journey.’

“… Cyril’s work is thankfully recorded and will be an important part of Hawaiian music history for a very long time. More than that, he was a good guy, a real friend and someone I admired.”

Pahinui also was remembered onstage in Waimea by fellow slack-key master Jeff Peterson.

“At the moment you passed (Saturday) night at 6 p.m. ‘Hawaii Aloha’ was being sung at the Kahilu Theatre Ukulele and Slack Key Festival with Led (Kaapana), Mike Kaawa, Jake (Shimabukuro), Sonny Lim, Nathan Aweau, and myself. We were just reminiscing about the great times we shared with you there!” Peterson noted.

Pahinui and his wife, Chelle, founded the annual Seattle Slack Key Festival. Ikaika Marzo of the Kalapana Awa Band said after Pahinui told him he plays like Kaapana and Marzo replied Kaapana is his uncle, Pahinui invited him to play the Seattle festival.

“Uncle Cyril has brought me out of the shadows and led me into the forefront of kiho‘alu (slack key). I am so thankful for his leadership in my musical career,” Marzo said.

Pahinui played in a multitude of slack-key tunings, including a C major tuning he learned from Gabby Pahinui’s music partner, Leland “Atta” Isaacs, and a ‘C Mauna Loa’ tuning taught him by “Pops.”

Kona bluesman Colin John, who learned slack key after moving to Hawaii, said he “will be forever honored and grateful” Pahinui taught him C Mauna Loa.

“He asked me, ‘So, boy…what tuning you know?’” John reminisced. “I told him I had been learning and practicing in the old-school taro patch tuning, to which he replied, ‘That’s for amateurs and beginners.’

“He then proceeded to show me the C Mauna Loa tuning — a much more musically sophisticated tuning — which I didn’t dare ask for him to show me more than once.”

Pahinui is survived by his wife, Chelle; daughters, Amber Pahinui-Stevens and Andrea Pahinui, Carrie McBurney Wright, Elizabeth MacDonald and Anne Shand; brothers, James “Bla” Pahinui and Phillip Pahinui; sisters, Madolyn and Margaret; and 19 grandchildren.


Services are pending.

Email John Burnett at

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