Danny “Kaniela” Kaleikini, the beloved “Ambassador of Aloha” known for his constant welcomes of “alooooooha” to audiences and friends, died early today (Jan. 6) at Saint Francis Hospice, where he had been hospitalized. He was 85.
In a career spanning more than five decades, including a 28-year stint at the fabled Kahala Hilton beachfront Hala Terrace, Kaleikini established a wide following, rendering Hawaiian, Tahitian and international melodies, becoming the first island entertainer to stage a Polynesian show outside of the Waikiki 96825 zip code. His five-year Kahala contract, beginning in 1967, was expanded to nearly 30 years until it was terminated on Dec. 31, 1994, when the hotel took on new owners.
Kaleikini was one of the golden baritones of his generation, who performed on the Hawaiian nose flute in his shows. His audiences were international in scope but he was a particular favorite with Japanese visitors, enabling him to make numerous Japan appearances.
Kaleikini was a proud product of Papakolea, a district where he attended Roosevelt High School, Kawananakoa Intermediate School (where he was student body president), and Royal Elementary school.
Before gaining fame at the Kahala, Kaleikini was mentored by band leader Ray Kinney and comic hula dancer and singer Hilo Hattie; the later encouraged him to always speak standard English, instead of pidgin, a blessing that led him to headline at the Hawaiian Village Hotel (now the Hilton) Tapa Room, succeeding Alfred Apaka following his death.
Kaleikini quickly learned the tricks of his trade, also studying Japanese so he could welcome his Nippon guests, and he was a savvy host, also welcoming his audiences in multiple languages, tagging on his “alooooooha.”
Survivors also include his wife, Jacqueline Wong, from whom he was separated; daughter Keikilani, and grandson Nicholas, with whom he Kaleikini often performed during his retirement. His companion in recent times has been Linda Wong.
Kaleikini also had a son, Danjacques, who died at age 29.
Services are pending.