Imua Garza, Cruz's brother-in-law (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Well-known local musician Ernie Cruz Jr. died Tuesday after getting into trouble in the water off Sandy Beach, his family confirmed. He was 56.
The death rocked Hawaii's music community, who remembered Cruz as a man with a big heart who influenced a generation of local musicians.
"It's definitely a shock to the family and ohana and Hawaii," said Imua Garza, Cruz's brother-in-law. "He was such a legend.
Lifeguards pulled Cruz from waters about 100 yards off Sandy's Beach around 2:30 p.m. It's unclear how Cruz got into trouble in the water.
Garza says Cruz "loved his awa, his friends, his ohana, music, (and) just anyone he crossed paths with everyone loved him."
Cruz shot to fame in Hawaii's music scene in the early 1990s as one half of the popular duo, the Ka'au Crater Boys. He influenced a generation of musicians, including ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.
"I grew up with their music," Shimabukuro said. "He and Troy Fernadndez when they were the Ka'au Crater Boys, he was a phenomenal musician. For me, that was like the Beatles releasing a new album. You know, it's like you couldn't wait to hear what they will come up with next."
Singer/songwriter Del Beazley says he shared the stage with Cruz many times.
"His heart was with his people," Beazley said. "He was very strong in the Hawaiian movement. I'm going to miss his laughter and his smile and the way he would greet everyone like 'hey brah, heyyy brah.'"
Beazley also worked with Cruz as a stevedore down at Honolulu Harbor.
On Tuesday night, his co-workers shut down all operations on the waterfront for one hour to remember their beloved brother.
"Braddah Ernie, I know where you stay, brah," said Beqazley. "So you fly and watch over us, guide our hands, our hearts and our people, brah. I love you."
Cruz once told Hawaii News Now that it was playing five nights a week and being consumed by the bar scene that spurred him to take a break and re-assess what music meant to him.
"I wasn't really taking care of myself again and kind of respecting the music," he said. "So I had to take a break."
In 2001, Cruz released a solo album, "Portraits," which got critical reviews and earned him two Na Hoku Hanohano awards.
On social media Tuesday, Cruz's fans shared their memories of the musician and their condolences for his family.
"Prayers and thoughts to the Cruz ohana and all of us who have been touched by his music," wrote one fan.
Another wrote, "Ernie Cruz Jr., you were an inspiration to many a musician."