Brothers Richard and Solomon Ho'opi'i are winners of the National Heritage Award for their preservation of a form of native Hawaiian singing that is known as "leo ki'eki'e." The style features men singing in a high falsetto. Photos of the generously proportioned Ho'opi'i Brothers belie the sweet nature of their singing voices, which are often described as angelic.
Solomon Ho'opi'i and his younger brother Richard, who were both born in the 1940s, grew up in Kahakuloa, a village on Maui. They were surrounded by a very traditional and music-loving family, with both parents playing a strong part in developing the brothers' regard for traditional music. Their mother was involved in church activities and sang many of the hymns, while their father was a music instructor. The village's elders, known as the Kupuna, passed on many of the songs that the brothers still sing today. The Ho'opi'i Brothers put out their first recording, No Ka 'Oi, in 1976, and they continued to record for the next quarter of a century. The Mountain Apple Company released Ho'omau, their first release in CD form, in 2000.
They maintain that their singing ability is a God-given gift, and they make sure that a prayer precedes each of their vocal performances. Their music often features the accompaniment of a ukulele, and sometimes even a Western yodel, an example of which can be heard on "Hawaiian Cowboy." Their award-winning singing has been featured in a number of documentaries and movies, and has taken the brothers to such events as the Hawaiian State Folklife Festival and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
In addition to recording, Richard Ho'opi'i instructs groups of both senior citizens and school children in the history of native Hawaiian music, as well as in the art of the ukulele. He is a recipient of the Na Hoku Hanohano Award. The brothers were honored with a Folk Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1996. ~ Linda Seida