Musician and philanthropist Henry Kapono is one of The Aloha State's most beloved treasures. From raising money for working musicians during the pandemic to inspiring the next generation of artists and spreading #PositiveVibes, Henry is on a mission. We sat down with the Hawaiian star (and our good friend) to hear more about the importance of giving back—and of sharing the unique spirit of the islands with the world.
The Henry Kapono Foundation is doing some really beautiful work. What was the impetus for you founding it?
(HK) My wife and I have always been active in the past in raising money and awareness for local non-profit organizations like Make-A-Wish® Hawaii, Keiki O Ka Aina and others we respect and believe in. We’ve also helped raise millions of dollars for disaster relief events over the years. So when a friend and business associate noticed what we have been doing for others and advised us to consider starting our own Foundation, this really resonated with us as it allowed us to have a say and fundraise on behalf of Hawaii's musicians and professional music industry.
As a follow-up, when was it founded, and how much has it changed and grown since then?
(HK) We started the Henry Kapono Foundation (HKF) in 2018. We gave out approximately $15,000 in community and music grants in 2019 and then grew considerably this year during this COVID-19 pandemic, giving out over $175,000 in Foodland gift cards to professional music families in need of basic essentials.
"Giving back" to future generations is really important to you. How do you feel that Music can best give back? How do you inspire your peers to do the same?
(K) Music is the universal language, and for me I choose to send positive messages through my songs. All artists are different. Working with younger artists gives me an idea of how they think, what they’re dreams are—and if I can inspire them to understand their gift and the journey moving forward then I know the community will be empowered by them and their music as well.
What are you most proud of that your Foundation has been able to contribute?
(HK) As soon as COVID-19 hit the world, we musicians lost our income overnight. All of our gigs were immediately cancelled or postponed indefinitely. We thought it would be a couple of months, but seven months later we’re still struggling through with no real end in sight.
We at the HKF knew how hard this would affect all musicians. We immediately jumped into gear to help our local music community. We partnered with the Kawakami Family and with support from Foodland supermarkets and together launched the "We Are Friends COVID-19 Basic Essentials Relief Program" for Hawaii's Music Community in need. Essentially, we provided $500 in Foodland gift cards to musicians in need, and with the support of our partners and the community here and across the sea we were able to give out $175,000. We are still accepting donations for this program at HenryKaponoFoundation.org.
Talk a bit about your “Songs of C&K” project that garnered a lot of accolades (which looks like it was so much fun!). How did that project come about? What about the project is most interesting to you?
(HK) In 2018 we partnered with First Hawaiian Bank to create a community music project as well as to help launch the Henry Kapono Foundation. It was a recording project that featured 10 of Hawaii's up-and-coming young artists covering popular Cecilio & Kapono songs. It was a great experience to work with First Hawaiian Bank and a joy to work with these young talented artists. They grew up listening to “my” music like Cecilio & Kapono, and it was an amazing experience to work with them and see how they interpreted our music. I was inspired to see the passion that each of these artists brought to the music. The rest is history.
Your #PositiveVibes really resonates for a lot of people. What can people do to stay positive in these uniquely challenging times?
(HK) First and foremost, we should all take the time to realize how fortunate we are and the good things all around us. Before COVID-19 we were all going, going, going with little time for family, friends and our surroundings. One silver lining of all this is that it has given us time to stop, reflect and recognize changes we need to make.
We need to see the positive value in everything and surround ourselves with and live it, so that when COVID-19 is under control or gone we can be ready to thrive. We need to realize that frequently the small things are the big things.
What types of programs are you currently doing for Hawaiian's keiki? How are you tweaking those based on the current social distancing constraints?
(HK) I love working with keiki, but as we know the conditions we’re experiencing now doesn’t allow us to be very active in the public. With that said, our children and family have been our priority. When things open up it’ll be a whole new world.
What is your vision for the Henry Kapono Foundation of the future?
(HK) To support our community and beloved Home in the Islands through Music and the Arts and by Giving with Aloha.
You have been a regular playing at Duke’s Waikiki on Sunday nights. Talk a little bit about what that experience is like, and what is your favorite thing about playing this iconic venue?
(HK) I have been performing at Duke’s Waikiki for 27 years. Back in the ‘90s, I met with the late Rob Thibeaut, a friend and one of the founders of Duke’s. He charmed me into working there. Although I was touring a lot, I thought about it and his vision was very intriguing. All these years later, I have a great relationship with the Duke’s ohana (family), and it is my most favorite place to perform—I call it my "Sunshine Revival." The Duke’s (TS Restaurants) people are the best in the restaurant business. They treat people and staff with genuine aloha. That’s important, and it makes me proud to be a part of their family.
I always had a vision to play somewhere where locals and visitors can enjoy each other’s company and create a friendship and that’s what Duke’s on Sunday is all about. It’s a happy place and there’s nothing like the feeling and seeing this come alive. It’s a beautiful thing.
If people could know just one thing about the culture of Hawaiian music (now and for the future!), what would you want to share?
(HK) “Aloha”... we need to malama (embrace and take care of) this unique spirit of the islands that we live in. There is nowhere in the world anything like this. We need to share it and teach it to the world, so we can all live together in harmony.
Anything else you’d like to share or promote?
(HK) I just released my first all-digital album called “Sunny Town,” available on all digital music platforms. The songs were written during this crazy COVID-19 pandemic time. I wanted to go back to the basics, keeping it lean and live, no tricks, no frills… simple, fun and organic. The songs are about growing up in the islands through changing times. Appreciating what you have, enjoying the little things that are actually the big things. The songs are full of love, hope and friendship...and all that good stuff!!!
We invite you to learn more about Henry’s mission (and to be a part of it) at www.HenryKapono.com. Aloha!