Herb Ohta who also goes under the name Ohta-san, is probably more associated with the ukulele than any other individual. He has recorded an astounding number of albums since the 1960s and is the recipient of several awards, including some of the highest honors for Hawaiian musicians. His virtuosity is legendary and his prolific nature has resulted in him being an influence on just about every working professional ukulele player in the world. He is not only a musician, but a teacher and, even today, recording artists are eager to have Ohta-san make a guest appearance on their recordings.
Herb Ohta’s career as a musician began after he left the US Marine Corps in the 1960s. He recorded a song called “Sushi” under his performing name, Ohta-san, which quickly became a #1 hit on the island. From there, his career path was set. The late 20th and early 21st Centuries would see him release well over 100 albums with various labels. He also appeared frequently with other musicians and garnered a reputation as one of the finest ukulele players in the world. His music was a large part of the resurgence of Hawaiian music and culture in the 20th Century.
Ohta-san would end up receiving four Na Hoku Hanohano awards for his efforts in the music world. Those are only a few of his honors, however. He was also inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame museum and is named as a Ukulele Treasure by the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii. In 2006, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Artists. His influence on the world of Hawaiian music is beyond question and he continues to record new material today, his virtuosity and creativity only enhanced by his long years of experience.
While many musicians have been the recipients of awards, very few have been so good that they get their own instrument. The Kamaka Company manufactures a ukulele named after this prolific musician, called the "Ohta-san” model. Ohta-san has his own style, as well. Herb Ohta managed to bring the ukulele into consideration among many as a solo instrument, rather than as an accompanying instrument. His style of playing is full-bodied, with several different parts sometimes being executed at once. All of his performances exhibit flawless tone and he has managed, over the years, to record several different genres of music on the ukulele, including jazz.
Herb Ohta’s name is synonymous with the ukulele. There are no professional players who have not been influenced by his playing. It would be hard to deny that an artist so prolific could not influence most everyone in their genre. He is widely-regarded as one of the most accomplished living masters of the instrument. His son, Herb Ohta Jr. has also burst onto the scene and is regarded as one of the finest of the next generation of ukulele players. Ohta-san is far from retired, however, and his playing still continues to influence new players on the scene.