Bill Tapia marks 99 years with music, stories

‘Ukulele legend Bill Tapia will celebrate his 99th birthday with two nights of performances in downtown Honolulu. Tapia will show off his jazz chops and reminisce about his musical career and pre-WWII Hawai‘i on Thursday, Jan. 25 and Friday, Jan. 26 at the rRed Elephant (1144 Bethel St.). Tapia got his first ‘ukulele 92 years ago, and hasn’t stopped playing since. “The ‘ukulele is a powerful instrument… It’s been so important to me, it’s like a friend,” he said in recent interview with the Houston Chronicle. “It hardly leaves my hands.”

Tapia has played with Charlie Barnet, Billy Holiday, Fats Waller, Bing Crosby, and — during his days in Hawai‘i— led a big band and worked with prominent musicians like Sol Hoopi‘i and Johnny Noble. And he marvels that he’s lasted this long. “To tell you the truth I don’t even know how I’m living because I didn’t have an easy life,” Tapia recently told the Redding Record Searchlight. “They took me out of school when I was 12 and half years old… so I worked in vaudeville. I worked all the time until now.”

Tickets are $27.50 and available by calling (808) 550-8457 or by visiting

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