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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 13, 2006

'Uncle Don' still king of his Waikiki show

 •  Spirit of 76

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Don Ho is all smiles as his youngest son, Keali'i "K-Boy" Ho, 19, shares his spotlight, bringing a touch of reggae to the show.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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DON HO SHOW

7:30 p.m. Sundays and Thursdays (pre-show video from 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m.)

Hoku Hale Showroom, Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel

$52 for dinner, with seating at 6:30 p.m. $32 for cocktails only, with seating at 7:15 p.m.; kama'aina and military discounts available

923-3981

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The Don Ho show, one of Waikiki's longest-running, is aging gracefully with some new blood. A time-tested format provides a foundation that visitors still find appealing.

Ensconced at the Hoku Hale Showroom of the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, the Ho show continues to pack 'em in.

It's hard to figure. He's not the best crooner around; he mumbles, he does sing-alongs. No one seems to mind the peculiar rituals, the occasional forgotten lyrics or those odd phone connections with an off-stage aide. Or perhaps that's part of Ho's appeal he's one of a kind, a survivor, and a true Island character.

"Don Ho's name is synonymous with Hawai'i," said Ken Pelton, a visitor from Hanover, N.H., after the show on a Thursday night.

Larry and Diane Maggard of Orlando, Fla., are longtime fans, making an annual pilgrimage here to see Ho.

"We come once a year; this is our 28th trip," Larry Maggard said. "Hawai'i wouldn't be Hawai'i without Don Ho.

"He's still Mr. Tiny Bubbles. We've watched him and his kids grow up ... and we will be back next year in September to see Don again."

"I thought he was great," said Chari Kelly of Austin, Texas, at the show with husband, Adam Schramek. "I knew he sang 'Tiny Bubbles,' and when I think of Hawai'i, I think of Don Ho.

"I played a Don Ho record at my 16th birthday party. I remember 'Pearly Shells,' too and when he sang it in the show, I sang along."

Now 76, Ho has continued to inspire devotion for nearly 45 years.

He remains in charge: From a stationary perch behind his Hammond organ, he sits in a rattan queen's chair and reigns like a king, hauling up a parade of novice troupers as well as members of his seasoned 'ohana.

On the night we visited, he was clad in his trademark white: long-sleeved pullover sweater, trousers, visor atop his head shadowing rose-colored specs.

This is Don Ho, man, and as part of his tradition, he sings "Tiny Bubbles" twice early on and late "just in case somebody can't make it through the show ... and at the end, for anybody who can't remember." After making the comment, perhaps acknowledging his own memory lapses, he jokes, "That ain't funny anymore."

At one point in the show, all the kids in the audience are hauled up on stage. There's Mark, 13; and Doris, 13; and Jackson, 11; and Kulia, 11 (who turns out to be a granddaughter). The keiki are instructed to join "Uncle Don" in singing and miming a paddler while everyone sings "One Paddle, Two Paddle."

Then two by two, they give each other shell lei and exchange hugs. Some giggle, a couple are understandably shy. The bright faces reflect the usual rainbow of races that turn out for the Ho show.

When Keali'i "K-Boy" Ho, his youngest son at 19, took a stool beside his father and started singing while strumming guitar, Don Ho smiled broadly, all but dancing in his chair, especially when K-Boy tackled a reggae tune.

Video is a part of the Ho show: He screens about 30 minutes of nostalgic stuff before his appearance on stage and during a poignant "The Days of My Youth," in which a youthful Ho romps with a son.

Ho still acknowledges men and women in uniform and thanks them for their roles in keeping the country safe. After the show, these folks get a free cassette of Ho's music as a thank-you. It's yet another tradition that earns him hurrahs.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.