Led Kaapana

Guitar & ‘Ukulele Masters

Led Kaapana

Cover Photo: Marsha Forsythe

Led Kaapana

…friendly, generous, self-effacing, a little kolohe (rascally) and a flat out genius at just about any stringed instrument that can be finger-picked.”The Honolulu Advertiser

“…He’s an absolute genius on guitar, ukulele, steel guitar, autoharp … and he is still a humble giant…”
Keith Haugen , freelance writer, Honolulu

Led Kaapana’s mastery of stringed instruments, particularly slack key guitar, and his extraordinary baritone and leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) voices, have made him a musical legend. He has been thrilling audiences for more than 40 years. With easy-going style and kolohe (rascal) charm, he has built a loyal corps of Led Heads  from Brussels to his birthplace on the Big Island of Hawaii. Recognition by his peers earned Led 4 Grammy nominations in his own right and 2 wins on slack key compilations.  

Like so many Hawaiians, Led grew up in a musical family. In the tiny black sand bay village of Kalapana,  there were few distractions. “We didn’t have electricity, no television, not even much radio,” says Led. “So we entertained ourselves. You could go to any house and everybody was playing music.”

Often everybody was playing music at a backyard party, many of which lasted for days. “People played in shifts, taking over when somebody went to sleep,” Led recalls. “You’d fall asleep to the music, wake up….and the music was still playing. That was the best alarm clock I ever had!” 

It was at these family gatherings that Led learned to play in the old style, watching, listening, then imitating. Chief among his teachers were his mother, Mama Tina Kaapana, and his uncle Fred Punahoa.  “Even today when I play, I still picture all the `ohana (family) getting together and sharing their songs and their aloha.”

Although isolated, outside influences did creep into Kalapana. Like most kids his age, Led loved to rock and roll and also listened to country, jazz, and Latin music. When he’d sneak a riff from a guitar hit of the day, like Pipeline or Walk Don’t Run, into his music his dad would tease, “Hey, that’s not slack key!” But nobody ever stopped him, they just encouraged him to “play what you feel and play with aloha.”

As teenagers, Led and his twin brother Ned and cousin Dennis Pavao formed the Hui Ohana, one of the hottest groups of the 70s and 80s and now legendary among Hawaiian musicians. The 70s saw the blossoming of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and Hui Ohana was a key part of that return to traditional Hawaiian culture and music. Young Hawaii Plays Old Hawaii, the title of their first recording, was also their statement of purpose.

The group produced 14 best-selling albums and made countless hundreds of live appearances, proudly sharing Kalapana’s musical traditions.

Led later formed another trio, Ikona, releasing 6 albums with that group, including Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner, Jus’ Press. He has also released a number of solo albums, including two Na Hoku Hanohano Instrumental Album of the Year winners, Lima Wela and Black Sand. Ki Ho`alu, Hawaiian Slack Key,  Grandmaster Slack Key and Force of Nature (with Mike Kaawa) received Grammy nominations.

While recording for Dancing Cat Records, Led produced a number of solo projects, duets, and a project with Allison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and other  bluegrass legends called Waltz of the Wind. He has worked with Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, and many other Nashville notables. Back at home, he has shared his talents on recordings with most of Hawaii’s top talents, including Aunty Genoa Keawe, Barney Isaacs, The Ho`opi`i Brothers, Melveen Leed, the Pahinui Brothers, Amy Hanaiali`i, and countless others. In 2008, Led formed his own recording company, Jus’ Press Productions, and released his Force of Nature CD, with 12-string virtuoso Mike Kaawa. The album earned a Grammy nomination in 2009 and won Led and Mike the Favorite Entertainer Award at the 2009 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. That was followed up with Jus’ Cruzin’, an all autoharp CD, in 2014, Jus’ Press Vol. 2, which took the 2016 ‘Ukulele Album of the Year Hoku, and, most recently, Jus’ Bes’, released in late 2017, a remastered retrospective of some of Led’s all time greatest hits.

Led tours the US extensively and has also appeared in Belgium, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Tahiti.

When home in Hawaii, Led can be found on Saturday evenings at Honey’s at the Ko`olau Golf Course in Kaneohe, where local talent and visiting musicians from the four corners of the globe drop in to join the “back yard” party.


Tour Schedule

Fri, Sept 20, 2019, The Coffee Gallery Backstage, Altadena CA
8:00 PM

Masters of Hawaiian Music – with George Kahumoku Jr & Kawika Kahiapo

Fri, Jan 10, 2020, Cutting Room, New York NY
Presented by CEG Presents
7:30 PM

Wed, Jan 15, 2020, Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, Minneapolis MN
7:00 PM

Fri, Jan 24 and Sat, Jan 25, 2020, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Vienna VA
8:00 PM both nights



Past Tour Dates


Sat, June 29, 2019, Hawaii Kai Towne Center, Honolulu HI
Mele on the Marina Festival

Fri, July 12, 2019, Montana Folk Festival, Butte MT

Wed, July 17, 2019, The Triple Door, Seattle WA

Sat, July 20, 2019, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland OR

Wed, July 24, 2019, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, Santa Barbara CA

Fri, July 26, 2019, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica CA

Sun, July 28, 2019, Sweetwater Community Church, Bonita CA
Presented by AMSD Concerts

Sat, Aug 3, 2019, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas NV

Fri, Sept 6, 2019, North Carolina Folk Festival, Greensboro NC

2018 -With Mike Kaawa

Sun, Sept 30, 2018, The Triple Door, Seattle WA

Tues, Oct 2, 2018, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland OR

Fri, Oct 5, 2018, Sweetwater Union High School, National City CA
Presented by AMSD Concerts

Sun, Oct 7, 2018, Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix AZ

Wed, Oct 10, 2018, Miners Foundry Cultural Center, Nevada City CA

Thurs, Oct 11, 2018, 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley CA

Fri, Oct 12, 2018, The Palms Playhouse, Winters CA

Sat, Oct 13, 2018, Mildred Owen Concert Hall, Pacifica CA
Presented by Pacifica Performances

Sun, Oct 14, 2018, Montalvo Arts Center, Montalvo CA

2018 – Masters of Hawaiian Music: George Kahumoku Jr, Led Kaapana & Jeff Peterson

Sat, Feb 10 & Sun, Feb 11, 2018, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Vienna VA

Mon, Feb 12, 2018, WaR3House3, Swarthmore PA

Thurs, Feb 15, 2018, Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, Minneapolis MN

Fri, Feb 16, 2018, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago IL

Sun, Feb 18, 2018, Music Box Cleveland, Cleveland OH

Fri, Feb 23, 2018, Café Stritch, San Jose CA

Wed, Feb 28, 2018, The John G Shedd Institute, Eugene OR

Fri, Mar 2 & Sat, Mar 3, 2018, The Triple Door, Seattle WA

Tues, Mar 6, 2018, The Sofia, Sacramento CA

Thurs, Mar 8, 2018, Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz CA

Fri, Mar 9 & Sat, Mar 10, 2018, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas NV

Sun, Mar 11 & Mon, Mar 12, 2018, California Center for the Arts, Escondido CA

Thurs, Mar 15, 2018, Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix AZ

Fri, Mar 16, 2018, Irvine Barclay Theater, Irvine CA

Sat, Mar 17, 2018, Daniels Hall, Denver CO


Tues, July 11, 2017, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, Santa Barbara, CA

Sat, July 15, 2017, Sweetwater Union High School, San Diego, CA
presented by AMSD Concerts

Sun, July 16, 2017, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA

Wed, July 19, 2017, Don Quixote’s International Music Hall, Felton, CA

Thurs, July 20, 2017, Blue Note Napa, Napa, CA

Fri, July 21, 2017, The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA

I Kona

Maunaloa Slack Key

Na Lei O Hawaii