Gabby Pops Pahinui

Gabby “Pops” Pahinui
April 22, 1921 – October 13, 1980

The late Gabby “Pops” Pahinui is one of the great masters of Hawaiian vocal, slack key and steel guitar music.

A forefather of traditional modern day Hawaiian music, Gabby was a self-taught musician whose musical influences were the big band and jazz music that was brought to Hawaii to entertain tourists.

Gabby was born in Kaka’ako, Honolulu in 1921 with the given name of Charles Kapono Kahahawai, Jr.

His parents were struggling lei sellers. At the age of 6 (or 7) his parents gave him, his brother and one of his sisters away to be raised by another Hawaiian couple – Phillip and Emily Pahinui.

In those days it was common and accepted to give children to another family who could provide and offer more, Hawaiian style, they call it hanai. He was renamed “Philip Kunia Pahinui” by his hanai parents.

Gabby dropped out of school after the 5th grade selling newspapers and shining shoes to help his family. He also dived for coins which were thrown off docked ships by visiting tourist.

He was only 10 years old when he taught himself to play bass fiddle. He also learned to play jazz music on a borrowed guitar. Gabby’s hanai mom bought him his first guitar for around $10, a lot of money back then.

All the musicians around Gabby played Hawaiian music, so he began learning Hawaiian. He started enjoying and loving Hawaiian music listening and learning from old timers Sol Ho’opi’i, Eddie Bush, Andy Iona, and the Biltmore Trio.

By the age of 12 he was playing Hawaiian music earning extra money for cigarettes. The “infamous musician lifestyle”, At 13 Gabby started playing in bars, drinking, getting in trouble and going to jail.

Gabby learned quickly from the old-timers, gaining experience playing guitar, base guitar, and steel guitar. He learned ki ho’alu – slack key from Herman Keawe.

Gabby played professionally with many of the great bands and all of the great musicians of the time including such legends as Lena Machado, Alvin Isaacs, Barney Isaacs, Ray Kinney, George Kainapau, Peter Moon, Mahi Beamer, Sonny Chillingsworth, Eddie Kamae, Don Ho, and Kui Lee.