We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with international recording artist Herb Ohta, Jr., who is one of today’s most prolific ʻukulele masters. Below you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!
We’re very excited to present Herb Ohta, Jr. in the series. Influenced by Jazz, R&B, Latin and Brazilian music, as well as traditional Hawaiian sounds, he puts his stamp on Hawaiian music by pushing the limits of tone and technique on this beautiful instrument. The son of ʻukulele legend “Ohta-san,” he started playing at the age of three, and began teaching at the age of nine. Based in Honolulu, he shares the music of Hawaiʻi and the beauty of the ʻukulele with people around the world, performing concerts and conducting instructional workshops.
Herb’s recording debut was in 1990 on one of his father’s albums. Since then, he has appeared on over 50 recordings, with 15 Solo and 13 duet recordings to his credit. He has won seven Nā Hoku Hanohano Awards and four Hawaiʻi Music Awards. He has issued three nationally distributed releases in Japan and one in Taiwan. He has co-authored two ʻukulele instructional books with GRAMMY Award winner Daniel Ho, which were released in Japan and the United States, and has published a songbook of his arrangements in Korea.
As a special treat, Herb asked his good friend Jake Shimabukuro to join him for a medley of traditional Hawaiian songs. Shimabukuro, also a Honolulu native, is one of the most highly acclaimed ʻukulele players in the world, and has collaborated with many great musicians, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, and Amy Mills. He’s never forgotten his roots in Hawaiian music, though, and was kind enough to join Herb in his Homegrown concert.
By now, you’re ready to watch the concert. See it in the player below!
In the interview, we talked about Herb’s life and career, starting with the influence of his father, Herb Ohta, also known as Ohta-San. He revealed fascinating details of his dad’s teaching techniques, including making him practice the ʻukulele lying down on his back! Herb talked about King David Kālakaua naming the ʻukulele, and his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani writing songs associated with the instrument, suggesting the importance of the ʻukulele to Hawaiian identity. He also talked about the influence of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, the Hālau Hula movement, and other aspects of Hawaiian culture. He spoke about his own music, and the use of the ʻukulele to play both traditional Hawaiian music and other genres and styles. It was a fun and wide-ranging conversation, and you can watch it in the player below!
After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the interview at this link. You’ll also find them on YouTube, with the concert at this link, and the interview at this link.
If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Herb’s concert.
One of the musicians Herb recognizes as a major influence is Ledward Kaapana. Ledward played for us in the 2017 Homegrown concert series. Watch the Ledward Kaapana concert and interview at this link!
Gary Haleamau, a renowned slack-key guitar player and singer, played in AFC’s 2008 Homegrown Concert with his band. Watch Gary Haleamau’s concert at this link!
In the interview, Herb mentions the spread of the Hālau Hula as a marker of the growth of interest in Hawaiian culture. Unukupukupu, the traditional Hālau Hula (Hula School) of Hawaiʻi Community College, Hilo, Hawaiʻi, performed in AFC’s 2012 Homegrown Concert Series. Watch Unukupukupu’s concert at this link!
In 2013, Franklin Odo spoke about his book Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai’i. Find the video of Franklin Odo’s lecture, with other contextual information, here.
In the concert and interview, Herb talks about Queen Liliʻuokalani, who wrote two of the songs he played. She was an important figure in Hawai’ian cultural history, especially in the movement to preserve the Hawai’ian language. Read more about Queen Liliʻuokalani in this blog post at Folklife Today.
Queen Liliʻuokalani’s brother was King David Kalākaua. He was also crucial to preserving Hawai’ian traditional culture, especially mythology. Find out more about King David Kalākaua in this blog post at Folklife Today.
Essays and Guides
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.