Moe Keale (1939-2002) was a ukulele great and a huge influence on the exposure of mainland audiences to Hawaiian culture. He was an actor, a musician, a tradesperson and an entrepreneur whose roots were firmly in the Hawaiian Islands. He was among the few full-blooded Hawaiians remaining in the 20th Century, and he grew up speaking Hawaiian in the household. He was a native of Niihau, but most of his childhood was spent on the island of Oahu. Over the years, his many talents would see him become known around the world, both for his music and his acting. He was an uncle to famous Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwoole.
The television show Hawaii Five-O did a lot to bring awareness of the islands to a broader population. During that long-running show’s final season, Keale played the popular character “Truck”, and became a regular on the show. He got the acting job right on the set; he was employed as an electrician for the show, one of his many talents. Music, however, would eventually become what he was best known for and his ukulele playing would land him among the top players of the instrument in the world.
Moe Keale stated playing very early, by the age of four. He was a virtuoso player and his musical heritage was very much a part of his upbringing. He would end up being a part of the Sons of Hawaii, a performing group that endured from 1969 until 1970. Keale’s love of Hawaiian music would last throughout his life, however, with him recording solo albums and becoming a deejay. He released three solo albums, starting with South Sea Island Magic. His second album was Aloha is a Part of Me, A Part of You and his final musical offering was Imagine.
Eventually, Keale became an entrepreneur, running a massage-based health salon in one of the largest resorts on Waikiki. He continued performing throughout his life, eventually dying in 2002 in the midst of a performance at the Sheraton Waikiki of a massive heart attack. It was not the first he suffered and he had dedicated much time toward providing the islands with better medical resources. He helped raise in excess of $200,000 to have portable defibrillators added to the arsenal of life-saving medical devices on the island, which had not been readily available before. He was posthumously given the honor of having an award named in his memory by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts.
Moe Keale’s work remains very influential in Hawaiian music, as does his commitment to the people and the culture of the islands. His nephew, Israel Kamakawiwoole, was a renowned ukulele master in his own right, as was Keale. His acting work continued until the 1990s, with his appearance in Picture Bride, a movie about Japanese Hawaiians. He appeared on numerous different television shows, including Hawaiian-themed shows such as Magnum, P.I. and Big Hawaii. He was one of Hawaii’s most important ambassadors of culture and music.