Tom Moffatt, a titan in Hawaii’s entertainment industry whose name is synonymous with big acts and who got his start as the first radio DJ to bring rock to Hawaii’s airwaves, has died, his production company's operations manager and vice president confirmed. He was 85.
The concert promoter, entrepreneur and celebrity in his own right (who went simply by “Uncle Tom”) made his name in the islands in 1957, when he brought Elvis Presley to perform before thousands of adoring fans.
But he certainly didn’t stop there.
Over his six-decade career, Moffatt was behind many of Hawaii’s must-see acts – from the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix to Elton John, Bruno Mars and Frank Sinatra.
In 1997, it was A Tom Moffatt Production that packed the 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium – twice – for icon Michael Jackson.
And Moffatt was the brainchild behind Hawaii’s answer to Woodstock – the Sunshine Festivals in Diamond Head Crater. Tens of thousands came out for the events in the 1970s, which were held on New Year’s Day and featured the likes of Santana, the Grateful Dead and Cecilio & Kapono.
"Tom Moffatt was a master at getting exposure for his performers and for the music," said friend and former colleague Don Robbs. "He had no comparison with anybody else."
Among Moffatt’s proudest accomplishments: Producing the award-winning recording of Keola and Kapono Beamer’s “Honolulu City Lights.” It was Moffatt’s first album for his Paradise Records, and was released in 1978 to critical acclaim.
The album, whose title song has become ubiquitous in the islands – especially around the holidays – garnered six Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, including song and album of the year.
In an interview Tuesday, Keola Beamer called Moffatt "an extraordinary human being" who lived "an extraordinary life."
"He really created an era in island music through his innovation, his concerts, showrooms in Waikiki," he said. "He really reinforced the renaissance of Hawaiian music through his contributions to the industry."
Moffatt could have easily let his successes go to his head. But he didn’t.
Friends, colleagues, celebrities and strangers described Moffatt as affable, approachable, funny and honest.
“People usually hate promoters,” radio personality Harry B. Soria Jr. told HONOLULU magazine. “But Moffatt doesn’t have that stigma. Everybody trusts him and he’s always warm and positive.”
An early start in radio
Moffatt grew up in a small Michigan town and moved to Hawaii to attend college. At the University of Hawaii, he first studied law before gravitating toward theatre while also clinching his first job in radio. He eventually quit to work full-time.
Shortly thereafter, during the Korean War, Moffatt was drafted. He’d spend his enlisted time in the U.S. Army at Tripler Army Medical Center, where he largely produced in-hospital radio shows.
Off duty, he continued to work at KGU and KIKI.
After the war, Moffatt was hired at a new radio station – KPOI. As one of the original “poi boys,” he played top 40 hits for Hawaii’s youth and rubbed shoulders with musicians.
It was during his early career that Moffatt landed his first big celebrity get: Elvis. Thousands of screaming fans attended and Moffatt would bring Elvis back to Hawaii several more times.
In an interview with Hawaii News Now nearly a decade ago, Moffatt said that first Elvis show was among the most exciting he’d ever put on. “I remember he did ‘Hound Dog’ and then everybody’s screaming. He jumped off the stage, got on his knees with his guitar … and the place went bananas.”
A lifetime of achievements
Moffatt would go on to bring scores of big names into the islands. In addition to top music performers, he attracted high-interest shows, including Disney on Ice and the Shanghai Circus.
In 2002, Moffatt was also behind what was at the time the fastest sellout of the Blaisdell Arena. In just two hours, residents snapped up all 8,710 tickets for a World Wrestling Entertainment event featuring Hawaii native Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
"He was really the last of any era," said DJ Bart DaSilva, of KKOL radio. "A very special human being of a very special time who was a catalyst to make it that much more special."
Moffatt’s long list of accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed in the community.
He got a Na Hoku Hanohano lifetime achievement award in 2002, was named by HONOLULU magazine as among the 100 most influential people in Honolulu in 2005, was nominated to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009, and in 2014, the city proclaimed a “Tom Moffatt Day” in honor of the 50-year anniversary of his first show at the Blaisdell Center.
And while Moffatt never finished his bachelor’s degree, the University of Hawaii spotlighted his accomplishments last year with an honorary doctoral degree.
“In addition to his work in promoting Hawaii to the world,” the University of Hawaii wrote, in announcing the honor, “Moffatt has also been a dedicated supporter of local entertainers. From the Brothers Cazimero May Day concerts to Brown Bags to Stardom talent contest, Moffatt has helped to nurture and promote homegrown talent.”
Moffatt often said that he continued to work well past retirement age because he loved what he did. “It’s an adventure each day,” he told Hawaii News Now. “Don’t take it too seriously, that’s always been my motto. I like my career.”
That love for his work was evident on the airwaves every Saturday on Moffatt’s Kool Gold radio show, “Uncle Tom’s Rock and Roll Drive-in.”
In 2014, Moffatt told Midweek that radio was in his bones — and it’s still what he loved the most. “It’s just fun,” he said.
Services for Moffatt are pending. He's survived by wife Esther, son Troy, and a brother and sister.