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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 9, 2006

Francis Ho'okano, 67, 'vibes' virtuoso

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Francis Ho'okano, a well-known vibraphone player and mentor who performed with such local entertainers as Herb "Ohta-san" Ohta, Gabe Baltazar, Al Harrington and Brickwood Galuteria, died March 27 at his home. He was 67.

"He was a loyal and dedicated friend who was very sensitive about his music," Ohta said. Ho'okano and Ohta recorded together, and played together in the 1960s and '70s in venues such as the New Otani Kaimana Beach, Sheraton Moana and Imperial Hawai'i hotels and other Waikiki night spots.

"Dad's passion was Latin jazz," said Friston Ho'okano, Francis' eldest son. "But he has an extensive background in contemporary Hawaiian music."

Noel Okimoto, who learned to play the vibes with help from Ho'okano, said Ho'okano was "a founding father" of the instrument.

"I was 12 or 13, playing with one of the many regulars who were with the Ebbtides (a party and convention band)," Okimoto said. "Francis was a regular, too, and he was so kind and patient when I started getting interested in the vibraphone. I would stay on stage with him; he would show me stuff. He was the first vibes mentor I ever had, and he was a wonderful player, too, in any style of music."

Saxophonist Baltazar, who also played music with Ho'okano, said, "Francis loved jam sessions and parties. He'd call and all the guys around town would come and have a good time, usually on a Sunday or a holiday afternoon. He'd spearhead the whole thing."

Ho'okano had been respected by his musical peers since the 1950s, Baltazar said.

Imaikalani Young, a longtime friend and fellow entertainer, said Ho'okano was all about perfection. "He always believed in getting the best and doing the best, so he got the best vibes, the best marimbas, the best anything he used," Young said. "He was always a performer who wanted to play everything right, too, down to the proper chord changes and the right words. Whenever we played together, he always voiced that (desire) to do the right notes and sing the right words."

Ho'okano also was extremely versatile, said Young, "good at all kinds of songs, from ballads to Latin to swing to Hawaiian."

"He was a curmudgeon; everybody loved him," said Michael J. Largarticha, president of the Musicians Association of Hawai'i, Local 677, of which Ho'okana was a member for decades. "He lived the world on his own terms and took full responsibility. What I'll always remember is him coming down the hall with his vibes, his mallets in hand, playing anything and everything. He always was part of our parties."

Ho'okano was diagnosed with liver cancer last December and halted live performances.

"The doctor gave him six months to a year to survive," Friston Ho'okano said. "He did not want any radical treatment. He wanted to continue to live day to day in a healthy way."

Ho'okano was born on March 30, 1938, in Kahalu'u. Ho'okano died in his sleep at his Kunia home, with his wife, Francine, at his side.

Survivors include another son, Damon; brother William "Pili" Ho'okano, sister Margaret Cruz and three grandchildren.

A service will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 29 at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery in Kane'ohe.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.