Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Musician Tau Savea Moe, Odysseus of steel guitar, dead at 95

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tau Savea Moe, a 2004 Living Treasure and the Odysseus of Hawai'i's steel guitar scene, died Thursday. He was 95 years old.

Tau Savea Moe, a master of Hawai'i's steel guitar, performed along with his vocalist wife, Rose, in many countries in his youth.

Advertiser library photo • 2003

Moe, born in American Samoa in 1909 and raised in La'ie, learned steel guitar in the instrument's infancy and played with Hawaiian legends like M.K. Moke, John Almeida and David Kaili, but was absent from Hawai'i's music scene for most of his life and was only rediscovered here during his old age.

Much of the rest of the world got to know him much earlier.

The musician and his vocalist wife, Rose, traveled the world from 1928 to 1970, entertaining heads of state, raising their children and, in the late 1930s, sneaking their Jewish friends out of pre-war Germany using a travel pass provided by their admirer, Adolf Hitler.

They met Mahatma Ghandi and, while living in India during the war, were performing in East Berlin when the wall went up. They worked alongside many of the top Big Band entertainers of the 1940s and 1950s in Western Europe and Asia and traveled regularly in countries behind the Iron Curtain.

"It's the stuff you make movies of," said Ishmael Stagner, Hawaiian music historian and a former professor of Hawaiian Studies at BYU-Hawai'i. "Movies and movie sequels."

Stagner, formerly of La'ie, met Moe and his late wife, Rose, through their son, Lani. Lani, who was born in Japan, is now deceased.

The couple is survived by their daughter, Dorian Moe-Vineula, who was born in India, and by their nieces and nephews.

Lani's talk of childhood memories drew Stagner to question the Moes about their experiences, which they were at first shy about, but able to document with letters, documents, photographs and playbills pulled from an old steamer trunk the couple had carried on their travels.

When Rose died and Moe began growing frail, Stagner began working to get the couple recognized in Hawai'i. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i named Moe a "Living Treasure" in January.

A recording the couple made in 1989 with Bob Brozman, "Remembering the Songs of Our Youth," chronicled the couple's earlier music and sold worldwide.

Tau and Rose began the travels of their youth with a group managed by a French University professor called Mme. Riviere's Hawaiians, but later broke off on their own. They traveled in Asia, performing in Japan, China, the Philippines and many other countries before moving to Europe.

They became popular in Germany when Hitler took power, and met him through their performances and charity work, Stagner said. Hitler gave them a pass that allowed them to travel in and out of the country freely.

After they saw their landlords murdered by the Nazis, they began using the pass to smuggle Jewish friends to safety, he said.

Eventually they were forced to flee Germany themselves, and, when the war broke out, they worked their way across the Middle East in hopes of eventually finding passage back to Hawai'i.

That hope died when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and travel across the Pacific was restricted.

The couple settled in India until the war ended, then began traveling in Western and Eastern Europe.

Playbills show the couple performed with Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and Josephine Baker, among others, Stagner said.

At the insistence of their children, who wanted to know more about their Polynesian heritage, the family moved back to La'ie in 1970, Stagner said.

Moe's daughter, Dorian, said her father was well loved.

"He's gone to his final performance," she said. "And he went out a headliner."

Visitation will be 9:30 a.m. Thursday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sixth Ward Chapel. Services are at 10:30 a.m. Burial, with arrangements by Woolsey-Hosoi Mortuary Services, will follow in La'ie Cemetery.

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