Joseph Kekuku

Joseph Kekuku and the origin of the steel guitar

AIRED: 5/30/2017 | 00:02:35
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My name's AlyssaBeth Kahuini Kinilani Archambault, and my great-uncle is Joseph Kekuku - the inventor of the Hawaiian steel guitar. When Joseph was eleven years old he happened to be walking down a railroad track with his guitar and he picked up a metal bolt, and he made his way down the tracks and at some point the bolt hit the strings of the guitar and it made this sound that caught his ear... Following his accidental discovery, Joseph Kekuku spent hours in the metal shop at Kamehameha School perfecting a slide.

Adding steel strings to his guitar and raising them from the fretboard, he created an instrument that would travel the world.

He was only 11 years old, and that is pretty young to be so devoted to creating something new, that didn't exist. So when I hear the steel it brings back memories of my uncle. He worked to perfect that sound, then he taught it at Kamehameha Schools, and all the students there were taking the lessons and then they went home to their separate islands, and they taught it to those that were on the islands. So it really spread fast.

He mastered the Hawaiian steel guitar for seven years... and he taught his cousin Sam Nainoa how to play the steel guitar.

On a rare, self-issued recording, Sam Nainoa explains the origins of the Steel Guitar.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is uh Sam K.

Nainoa speaking, a real native. Since the origination of the Hawaiian guitar by my cousin Joseph Kekuku of La'ie, Oahu no one has ever come forward to explain the intricate working of this unique instrument. Here is the catch with the Hawaiian guitar: you have only one finger to reach out for your notes, which is the steel bar held in the palm of the left hand. I will now offer for your approval a medley of Hawaiian selections.