One busy slacker |

One busy slacker

George Kahumoku Jr. (center), his son Keoki (left) and grandson Aaron will perform Friday night in Grass Valley.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

For George Kahumoku Jr., old habits die hard.

While growing up in south Kona, Hawaii, Kahumoku worked on his family’s farm, beginning at 4 a.m. daily.

Kahumoku still gets up that early – not to work on crops, but to answer several of the 300 e-mails he receives daily. It takes him about eight hours a day to correspond with fans and booking agents.

While Kahumoku considers himself an old farm boy at heart, he’s also a slack-key guitarist who has performed for 40 years, since he was 11.

Kahumoku is also busy teaching slack key, performing, recording, and studying for his master’s degree in education. For the past eight months, Kahumoku has divided his time between Santa Cruz and Hawaii.

Then there’s his on-the-road performances, which take up three weeks a month. Maintaining a full performance schedule, Kahumoku, 51, simultaneously taught at Lahainaluna High School in Maui (he’s now on sabbatical) and farmed (he won the Hawaii State All-Pork Award in 1992 and often speaks at Hawaiian agriculture conferences). As a certified organic farmer, Kahumoku grew coffee, herbal teas, herbs, avocados, guavas and macadamia nuts.

Kahumoku’s gigs have taken him throughout Asia, Europe, Australia and the United States. He has performed for the queen of England, the premier of China and the prince of Thailand. On Aug. 22, he will play the Lincoln Center in New York City.

But Kahumoku’s equally happy playing for students, such as the middle school attendees at his Julia Morgan School assembly in Oakland Monday.

“I would like to play more at schools,” said Kahumoku, who comes from a family of teachers. “Whoever invites us, we’ll go. We want to share our music and our culture.”

Kahumoku, his son Keoki and two grandchildren will appear Friday at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center. Kahumoku will be on vocals and guitar; his son plays guitar, ukulele and vocals. His girlfriend, Nancy Sweeney, will dance the hula.

Kahumoku’s son and grandchildren, who live in Hawaii, will join him on this part of the West Coast tour because it’s spring break on the island. Kahumoku will travel to Hawaii for a couple of dates in mid-April before returning to Santa Cruz to hit the books.

A week later, he will jump on a plane for a two-day trip to the University of Hawaii to receive an award for his book, “Hawaiian Life,” published last year.

Kahumoku doesn’t mind these often almost-weekly jaunts across the ocean.

“I miss Hawaii. I miss the ocean the most and swimming; gardening, too, in a different way,” Kahumoku said. “Over here, it’s always cold and rainy. In Hawaii it’s hot, so I garden at night.”

He considers himself fortunate that his work always takes him back home to Hawaii, while allowing him to perform in the continental United States and abroad.

Kahumoku, who attracts full houses, says slack key appeals to “guys in their 40s to 80s.”

“I think we’ve hit a window with the old hippies – slack heads, we call them,” he said with a laugh. “They like peaceful, soothing music.”

The young are also being won over as Kahumoku points out that his son teaches guitar and ukulele to as many as 600 students. Father and son frequently conduct daylong to weeklong workshops while they tour.

Kahumoku’s Web site ( is crammed with slack-key workshops, one of which will be at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday.

Since it’s hands-on for all levels, bring a guitar or ukulele. Kahumoku also suggests tape recorders as some of the material is complicated. The workshop is limited to 20 students.

WHAT: George Kahumoku Jr. and family in concert

WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: St. Joseph1s Cultural Center, 410 S. Church St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $14 at the door and $12 advance


Kahumoku1s playing garners awards

Hawaiian slack-key is an acoustic guitar technique characterized by single-finger plucking. Slack key incorporates Mexican and Spanish music with traditional Hawaiian chants.

3It1s not just plucking. It1s strumming, and you1re playing bass, rhythm and lead all on one guitar,² George Kahumoku Jr. said.

3We have a lot of fun with traditional stuff, family songs passed on from centuries, and contemporary songs,² he said.

Kahumoku has played slack key solo and with several ensembles, including with his brother Moses as the Kahumoku Brothers, and with Daniel Ho. He has performed on more than 40 recordings.

The longtime slack-key guitarist has picked up many awards, including the Hawaiian recording industry1s top Na Hoku Hanohano Award in 1979 for his work on hula master Auntie Edith Kanaka1ole1s album 3Hi1Ipoi I Ka OAina Aloha² and in 2000 for his album with Ho called 3Hymns of Hawaii.²

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