Steel Trappings

On the Playlist

On the Playlist: John K. Almeida

December 1, 2022 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "ON THE PLAYLIST" features the musicians heard on the program's playlist. This month we feature singer, songwriter John K. Almeida!

John Kameaaloha Almeida is a Hawaiian composer, singer, musician, band leader, and recording artist. He was one of Hawai‘i's most prolific song writers, composing many Hawaiian language "standards" played today. He was a blind poet known as the "Dean of Hawaiian Music." Although he is not known for playing the steel guitar, his studio recordings and performing bands always featured the best Hawaiian steel guitar.

John K. Almeida was born on November 28, 1897 in Pauoa Valley, Oahu. He suffered from a defective eyesight from birth that later resulted in total blindness by age 10. As a child Johnny learned ancient Hawaiian chants from family members and traditional songs from the old folks in the community. He is musically self-taught.

John K. Almeida

At age 15 Almeida was active singing and playing the ‘ukulele in church choirs and he formed his own group called the "Wai‘anae Glee Club." The group performed mostly for church, community functions, parties and lu‘aus.

As word spread of Almeida's talents his reputation began to grow and he attracted larger audiences. His fame spread as he added his own compositions to his repertoire. In 1917 he sang at Queen Lili‘uokalani's funeral services at the Iolani Palace and at the Kawaiha‘o Church. A year later he sang for Prince Jonah Kalaniana‘ole and Princess Abigail Kawananakoa.

By age 25 he mastered the steel guitar, violin, bass, saxophone, piano and the mandolin! From 1922 to 1927 he was the chief musician on the Matson Line ships sailing between Hawai‘i and the West Coast, hiring musicians and scheduling their performance. In the 1930s Almeida was on Hawai‘i's radio airwaves as he hosted a popular Hawaiian music show on Honolulu's KGU Radio, the Hawai‘i Calls radio broadcast and later at radio KULA.

In his time, Almeida was the darling of Hawai‘i's music scene, composing poetic love songs in the Hawaiian language for an endless supply of female music admirers. Each song's poetry linked the object of his current attraction to one of Hawai‘i's beautiful pua, or flower. The true gist of each verse remained masked behind the traditional Hawaiian language device of "kaona," or hidden meaning.

Almeida was one of Hawai‘i's most prolific song writers, with more than 200 songs to his credit. He composed beautiful, poetic Hawaiian mele that continue to be sung today. They include "Noho Pai Pai," "Kanaka Wai Wai," "O‘ia," "Maile Swing," "Panini Pua Kea," "Green Rose Hula," "Ku‘uipo Pua Rose," "Lovely Haleakala Sunrise," "Beautiful Mahealani Moon," "O Kou Aloha Ia ‘Oe," "Lei Hinahina," "Roselani Blossoms," and many others.

Almeida played and recorded music with his own band called the Hawaiians, with The Lei Momi Sweethearts, Joe Keawe's Harmony Hawaiians, Julia Nui's Kama‘ainas, and Genoa Keawe and her Hula Maids, as well as other Hawaiian groups. He recorded on the Brunswick, Bell, 49th State, and Waikīkī labels.

He also taught music in his studio located on North King Street, Honolulu. He was a mentor and musical teacher to musicians such as Genoa Keawe, Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln, Joe Keawe, Jacob Maka, John Keawehawai‘i, and others. His hanai son Pua Almeida became a gifted bandleader, steel guitarist, and vocalist as well.

The steel guitarists who played and recorded with Johnny Almeida include Benny Rogers, Billy Hew Len, David Keli‘i, Pua Almeida, and many others.

On October 9, 1985 John K. Almeida died at age 87. In 1978 he was presented with a Na Hoku Hanohano Special Legacy Award, and in 1998 he was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.

The music of Johm K. Almeida will live forever and his legacy will continue in the songs that he wrote. Although he was blind he was musically self-taught and he taught others for most of his adult life. His formal education ended after the 6th grade but he was fluent in two languages. And although he could not read nor write, his poetry of the Hawaiian language and music composition show that he was a gifted prodigy.

Today fans seek out the songs and recordings of John K. Almeida. He continues to inspire musicians seeking to emulate his pure Hawaiian style. His music is now available on CD and online to a new generation of fans who can appreciate this innovative and unique Hawaiian musician!

On the Playlist of Hawaiian Steel: John K. Almeida

Song CD Album Publisher
Noho Paipai John K. Almeida / Johnny Almeida and his Hawaiians Cord International-Hana Ola Records
Maile Swing Hula Hawaiian Style / Genoa Keawe and her Hula Maids with Johnny Almeida on Mandolin Cord International-Hana Ola Records
Roselani Blossoms John K. Almeida / Johnny Almeida and his Hawaiians Cord International-Hana Ola Records
On the Beach at Waikīkī Hapa Haole Hula Classics / Johnny Almeida with Julia Nui's Kama‘ainas Cord International-Hana Ola Records

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival
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Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival
July 13, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST
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