By Mari Taketa
Henry Kapono ’67 sits on his lanai, smiling. “Today’s virtue is helpfulness,” he tells us over the summer. Like many of his 54,000-plus Facebook fans, we’re watching Kapono on his Facebook page, where he’s been posting regular videos about virtues before picking up an acoustic guitar and segueing gently into a song. He’s also uplifted the Punahou community, playing beloved hits from his lengthy musical career in a series of live, “backyard” concerts featured this past spring on the Punahou Alumni Facebook page, and at the School’s first-ever virtual Alumni Lu‘au in June.
“I always feel honored to support my alma mater,” says Kapono, whose daughter, Kaleo ’01 is a nurse at Queen’s Medical Center. “Everyone needed a relief from what was going on. There were front liners tuning in, and they were grateful for the inspiration of hope. It always makes me feel good to make others feel special. That’s always been my vision as a musician and as a human being – to bring people together sharing the same heart through music.”
Generosity. Love. Kindness. You watch Kapono, and you can’t help but smile back. “Helpfulness is doing useful things for others,” he’s telling us. “Things that make a difference, no matter how small.”
March was when Kapono morphed from a legendary icon of the Hawaiian music scene into a benefactor for the entire industry. Like him, musicians across Hawai‘i lost their gigs when the State’s emergency stay-at-home order closed hotels, attractions and in-restaurant dining. With support from Foodland, he laser-focused the mission of the Henry Kapono Foundation from supporting music and the arts to feeding unemployed musicians. On the foundation’s website, it showed that $175,000 in Foodland gift cards had been awarded to 350 musicians and their families. Another section of the website directed musicians to various sources of aid, as well as special promotions.
“It’s a feel-good thing,” Kapono says. “Musicians are so appreciative. It keeps you connected to the things you love.”
The way he sees it, the pandemic changed his life for the better. Before the pandemic, he was constantly thinking ahead to his next gig, whether he had to fly somewhere, what was on the itinerary once he got there. He was rarely home for dinner.
“Nowadays, I get up, I don’t have to rush anywhere. I’m free to think and see what’s next in the day,” he says. He’ll complete tasks for the foundation, work on his music and open a local company’s virtual meeting as a surprise guest (“Aloha, everybody! It’s Henry Kapono. How’s everybody doing?”) with an uplifting message and a song. Then, he says, “we have dinner with the family, and we all sit down and talk story. That’s been real nice.”
He never misses a chance to ask for support for Hawai‘i’s still-struggling musicians. Anyone could make a donation to henrykaponofoundation.org. And given the ongoing need, Lezlee Ka‘aihue, his wife, says they’re continuing to think of new ways to provide help.
On his lanai, a breeze blows his long hair across his face as Kapono picks up his guitar. “We are friends,” he sings. “Friends, friends.”