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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, June 7, 2004

Augie Colon, 'grandfather of percussion,' dead at 76

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Augie Colon, percussionist and the voice behind the exotic, jungle sounds of Martin Denny's 1956 hit song, "Quiet Village," died Friday in Honolulu.

Augie Colon

He was 76.

"This marks the passing of a giant, as far as I'm concerned," Denny said last night of the talented, charismatic man who walked into his life nearly 50 years ago.

Phyllis Uilani Kaahanui, Colon's wife of 30 years, said Colon died at The Queen's Medical Center of complications from diabetes.

"He did it his way," she said.

He was joking with the nurses until the end, she said. His family was gathering at the hospital to be with him, but his son, August B. Lopaka Colon, had a performance that night with Cecilio and Kapono.

Lopaka, also a percussionist, wanted to cancel. His father said no, he wanted him to attend the concert.

"That was his last wish for Lopaka," Kaahanui said. "Lopaka did what he was supposed to do. When their father asked them to do something, my kids did it to the hilt."

Colon took his last breath shortly before Lopaka returned to the hospital.

Another son, Kaika Colon, an Army sergeant, is on his way back from Afghanistan, she said.

Colon is survived by a third son, John Kekoa Colon; by daughters Delores Verbanic, Yolanda Colon, Estrellita Ann Burley, Juanita Colon and Phyllis Colon; by h?nai daughters Tiffany Cureton and Kelsey Richardson; and by seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He and Kaahanui, his second wife, had been living on Moloka'i since 1979. Colon had stopped traveling so much for his music by that time and was able to spend much of his last years attending to the needs of his children and grandchildren, she said.

But he was still the "grandfather of percussion in Hawai'i," she said, and his music will live on through Lopaka, and, most likely, through Lopaka's daughter Imani, who at only a year old, is already a showman, she said.

Denny said Colon's good looks and showmanship made him a top performer.

Denny was performing at the Shell Bar in the Hawaiian Village when Colon, a tough, Kalihi kid who played bongos, asked to join in with the group.

"He had a lot of charisma," Denny said.

At first, the jazz band used Colon only when they did Latin tunes.

The jungle noises and bird calls, Denny said, were inspired by a group of frogs that hung out by a pool at the Shell and seemed to enjoy joining in with the music.

The band started trying out various nature calls one night as a gag, Denny said.

Colon, a boar hunter, knew all the bird calls, Denny said. He could purse his lips together and make a sound like a buzzing fly.

The exotic sounds added a new element to the music, and when Denny got a gold record for "Quiet Village," which incorporated them, Colon was part of the talent behind it.

"He contributed so much to my career just by being a part of it," Denny said.

Services for Colon are pending on O'ahu and Moloka'i.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.