He’ll put a distinctly Hawaiian twist on Christmas standards

Willie K will play a holiday show with his band Nov. 23 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Hawaiian musician Willie K will perform a holiday concert Nov. 23 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. (Debbie Kahaiali’i)

Hawaiian musician Willie K will perform a holiday concert Nov. 23 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. (Debbie Kahaiali’i)

The Hawaiian Hendrix is performing a holiday show in Edmonds.

Willie K, a leading Hawaiian musician, will put his spin on holiday standards such as “Jingle Bells” and “O Holy Night” on Nov. 23 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Willie K’s band and Edmonds’ own hula dancers, Halau Hula O Moani Mokihana, will join him on stage.

“It’s going to be something culturally differently,” Willie K, 59, said in a phone interview with The Daily Herald from his home in Wailuku, Maui. “The music is not the old Hawaiian music people are experiencing right now. It’s more deep.”

During his 27-year career, Willie K has won 19 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards — Hawaii’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards — including Christmas Album of the Year in 2000 and 2011. He also received a Grammy nomination in 2005 for Best Hawaiian Music Album with singer Amy Hanaialiai Gilliom.

Willie K, whose full name is William Kahaiali’i, has been praised for his command of many genres: blues, reggae, classic rock, opera, country and traditional Hawaiian music. His stage presence has been likened to that of Jimi Hendrix.

After a lung cancer diagnosis in 2018, Willie K has rediscovered his passion for music. He’s undergoing immunotherapy, a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight the cancer.

“I’m always happy when I show up on stage and my fans are out there in the audience,” he said. “It’s the fans that keep me alive and keep me driving.”

Willie K was born on Maui into a family of musicians. He played ukulele, xylophone, guitar and bass, and sang traditional Hawaiian music in a family act fronted by his father, Manu Kahaiali’i, a renowned jazz guitarist.

He credits his dad for inspiring him to master different styles of music.

“He taught me how to learn songs from different countries because you never know who’s going to show up” in the audience, he said.

Willie K’s career took off in 1992, when his debut album, “Kahaiali’i,” won album of the year and contemporary album of the year at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. He also was named male vocalist of the year and most promising artist of the year.

“Back then, everybody was still trying to click into the reggae music scene, which was huge,” he said. “I came along and started bringing all this Latin-flavored stuff. It was the perfect timing.”

Willie K won 15 more Hokus as a producer, solo artist and through collaborations with singer Amy Hãnaialiãi Gilliom and her brother, rocker Eric Gilliom. In 2012, he started an annual blues festival on Maui, where the likes of Steven Tyler, Mick Fleetwood and Alice Cooper have joined him on stage.

Willie K’s cancer diagnosis put his music on hold for a time. He returned to the stage after a prolonged hiatus with the encouragement of his family and an outpouring of support from his fans.

“Willie has been a true champion through all he has endured,” said his wife, Debbie Kahaiali’i. “He has stayed positive and truly enjoys performing for his fans. Performing is what keeps him alive. Fans tell him he is an inspiration for them while going through treatment or just everyday life.”

Halau Hula O Moani Mokihana, Edmonds’ hula dancers, have a family connection to the famous musician. The group, which performs and teaches hula dancing at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, was founded in 2002 by his brother and sister-in-law, Kalani and Cyndi Kahaiali’i, respectively.

Three dancers from the group will perform routines to two Christmas carols — “What Child Is This” and “Christmas Island” — and one traditional Hawaiian song, “Hi’ilawe.”

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

If you go

Willie K and the Warehouse Blues Band will perform a holiday show at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. Tickets are $34 to $69. Call 425-275-9595 or go to www.ec4arts.org for more.

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