Hamada’s band still plays on

LIHU’E — More than 350 residents and visitors converged on the main stage at Kukui Grove Center Friday night to pay tribute to a man and members of his orchestra who have preserved big-band-era music for more than a half century.

Dickie Hamada and The Starlighters recently lost their founder and leader, as Dickie Hamada passed away earlier this month.

Crowds of people, mostly older folks, usually gather for nighttime shows on every third Friday of the month, because the big-band music made popular by the likes of Glenn Miller, Harry James and Artie Shaw, and the moving ballads of the 1960s, bring them back to their heyday.

But the crowd numbers swelled Friday night, and nearly all of the audience members stayed during the duration of the 90-minute event, held in honor of Hamada.

His brother, Danny Hamada, 67, of Waimea, who helped his brother start the band in the 1950s, promised Dickie Hamada’s legacy will live on.

“I promised him before he died that I would play this music until my last breath,” said Danny Hamada after the show. “We will continue.”

As a final salute, Danny Hamada performed a saxophone solo to one of his brother’s favorite songs, “My Way.” He drew a prolonged standing ovation when he finished.

Renditions of olds songs by singers Helen Ariola and Shannon Link also delighted the crowd.

Master of ceremonies and lead singer, Ray Domingo, wearing a lei and dapper in a black sequin shirt, dark slacks and shoes, heaped praise on Danny Hamada and his brother for their music.

Dickie Hamada, a master with a trumpet who played with The Starlighters nearly to the end, was remembered by some audience members for the joy he brought to them when he performed at their school proms and parties on Kaua’i in the mid-1950s and 1960s.

Although other bands popped up on Kaua’i whose members played the same type of music, Hamada was remembered as one who outlasted them all.

Friends and fans said he worked continuously, until his death, to perpetuate the big-band sound, something that is hardly heard elsewhere today outside of high school and college bands and orchestras.

A special video and DVD presentation at Friday’s gathering featured a performance by Dickie Hamada and members of his band, circa 1988.

Supported by a band that included the likes of David Yukimura, a professional entertainer and school band teacher and the brother of JoAnn Yukimura, a former mayor and outspoken member of the Kaua’i County Council, Dickie Hamada sang a ballad that seemingly touched women’s hearts.

Some gently tapped their feet to the beat, periodically closing their eyes and smiling, as if they were trying to recapture the special moment when they first heard the love song.

Nicole Morris, 12, of ‘Oma’o, the granddaughter of Danny Hamada and Leonard Morris, a retired Kaua’i Police Department detective, filmed the presentation, including the video show, for more than a hour.

“This is something that is special to me,” she said modestly. “It’s important.”

Leonard Morris said he has been a fan of Danny and Dickie Hamada for more than half a century, and didn’t want to miss the tribute to Dickie Hamada.

“I remembered him from the 50s,” said Morris, a 1954 Kaua’i High School graduate. “He started playing for the teens at dances outside the schools. Listening to this music brings back many memories.”

The evening had special meaning to him as well, as he was accompanied to the performance by Danny Hamada’s daughter, Daniele, who is married to his son, Patrick Morris.

Roy and Lona Running, residents at the Sun Village apartments behind Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihu’e, said they decided to attend the tribute because their friends wanted to attend.

The Runnings waited for them, even though they had not shown up by the start of the show.

That didn’t matter, because they wanted to hear music that was once a major part of their lives. “We like the music of the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s,” Roy Running said. “The bigband music was a part of our era. I still have Glenn Miller albums.”

In 1940, Miller and his orchestra recorded the big-band classic, “Tuxedo Junction,” and, during World War II, he recorded “American Patrol.”

Dan and Barbara Funamura, both in their late 60s and residents of Lihu’e, said they wanted to hear more of the music since moving from Koloa to Lihu’e a few years ago.

“I remember Dickie Hamada used to play at the high school,” said Barbara Funamura, who is a Kaua’i High School graduate and sister of former Kaua’i Police Department Chief Calvin Fujita. “Was he good? He was good. They didn’t have anybody else.”

Dan Funamura, who remembered hearing Dickie Hamada when he was attending Waimea High School years ago, said the music speaks to him, even though Hamada is gone.

“I don’t just like the music, I enjoy it,” he said. “And what could be better for a Friday night out. We have our plate-lunch dinner here (in front of the main stage at Kukui Grove Center), and we have this music.”

At 39 years of age, Lorna Chapman of Kapa’a was among the youngest who attended the show. Chapman said she saw the group last year, was enraptured, and had “been planning to come to this for a whole week.” What is the appeal?

“They play professionally,” she said.

Seated next to her was Blubird Remigio of ‘Ele’ele, who said she came to the show because “I just love this music. My grandchildren like this, too. They came too,” she said.

The event drew the likes of Maxine Correa, a long-time member of the Kaua’i County Council, and her husband, Jerry, a one-time political supporter of late Mayor Tony T. Kunimura.

Maxine Correa said the music is “good,” but came to the show for a more compelling reason. “He was a close friend,” she said.

Her daughter, Cynthia Edralin, used to sing with members of The Starlighters when she was younger.

“It was an emotional night for many people who knew him, because of Dickie’s passing,” Correa said.

Also in attendance was George Costa, a retired KPD lieutenant and former Kaua’i Police Commission member. Costa’s son is Ian Costa, county planning director.

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