Hawai'i music legend Arthur Lyman dead at 70
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
Arthur Lyman, a world-class musician who played four-mallet vibraphones where most played two, died Sunday night at St. Francis Medical Center-West's hospice in 'Ewa. He turned 70 on Feb. 2.
Lyman was known for "Yellow Bird," a tune that showcased his vibesmanship and bird calls. It stayed on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks, peaking at No. 4 in 1961, and was to become one of the signatures of the "exotic music" trend that originated in Hawai'i in the late 1950s and early '60s.
"I can say that musically Arthur was the best in the Islands and maybe the world," said his long-time friend and colleague, Martin Denny, who recorded
"Quiet Village" in 1959 with Lyman among the musicians aboard.
"He had a keen ear for music and a great imagination, and I would say that his success and exposure paralleled mine. There were debates on who came first, but as far as I'm concerned we did it together."
Lyman joined the group when he was about 21, said Denny, who regularly visited Lyman at the hospital.
"Martin would take Arthur out in the sunshine and give a private show," said fan and friend Ricky Ornellas, who also visited Lyman.
The musician was diagnosed with throat cancer last March, and chemotherapy left his throat parched and sore, said his daughter, Kapi'olani "Kappy" Lyman, who once sang in her father's act.
"I visited (dad) for several weeks and returned home last Saturday after getting him a room with a window," said Kappy Lyman, who lives in Sacramento. "He had been unable to make bird calls since March.
Harold Chang, a drummer and percussionist with Lyman for nearly 18 years, said "He was a one-of-a-kind talent who played beautiful music, whether it was Hawaiian, Japanese or classical."
John B. Kramer, the bassist and other surviving musician in his group, called him "a gifted musician with a lot of talent who lived a good life." Kramer played guitar on the "Yellow Bird" recording and Chang played bass.
Lyman's easygoing manner and musical prowess thrilled fans who saw him at the Shell Bar, Don the Beachcomber's and the old Canoe House, as well as in Mainland clubs. More recently he performed solo at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel and the Waialae Country Club.
He was married four times.
"He was a typical local boy who surfed and paddled canoe, and he was equally proud of his paddling medals as he was of his music," said Kappy.
A McKinley grad, Lyman was inducted into the school's Hall of Honor Nov. 16.
He also is survived by two sons, Arthur "Ditto" Jr. and Aaron; his wife, JoAnn Lyman; sister Tweetie Rabi; brother Bill; and seven grandchildren.
Hawaiian Memorial Park is handling arrangements, and funeral services are pending.