Hawaiian music legend Willie K dies after lengthy cancer battle

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 5:32 PM HST
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WAILUKU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has lost music legend Willie K.

Born William Awihilima Kahaiali’i, many simply knew him as “Uncle Willie.” His fans grew to love him as Willie K.

According to his loved ones, Willie K died peacefully late Monday night at his home in Wailuku after enduring a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was surrounded by his ohana when he passed.

He was 59 years old.

“Thank you to EVERYONE for all the love, support and prayers you have given,” his loved ones said, in a post on his Facebook early Tuesday. “Although he was in positive spirits and doing OK, he was looking forward to performing again. He then suddenly turned for the worse and lost his battle.”

Thank you to EVERYONE for all the love, support and prayers you have given. We are sad to announce that Willie K has...

Posted by Willie K. on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Willie announced he was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2018. In the months that followed, he kept his promise to his fans to continue entertaining crowds despite intense treatment.

In February, he was hospitalized for pneumonia, which further complicated his health.

In recent months, Willie’s team announced a number of performances at Blue Note Hawaii and other community events were postponed or canceled after he said in late January that his cancer was terminal.

The singer, guitarist and all-around eclectic musician won 19 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards during his expansive music career. Some of his honors included several album of the year awards, Male Vocalist of the Year in 1992 and 2010, and Most Promising Artist. Several albums he partnered with Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom on also secured their place in the Hoku Awards hall of fame.

Willie was an expert in varying genres of music from Hawaiian to the blues, to jazz, rock, reggae and more.

Some of his hit songs included “You Ku’uipo,” “Katchi Katchi Music Makawao,” and many more.

When Hawaii News Now spoke with him in early February, his spirits was high and his sense of humor was intact.

“Every show I get is sold out now ... Iʻm like, ‘Wow, this is going crazy. Whatʻs the big deal?’ I didn’t want to say it, but I never knew I had to die to get all the guests to show up!” he joked.

Willie was born on Maui where he learned many styles of music at an early age, but he has long insisted that blues has been his first love.

He’s shared that love with audiences in Hawaii and across the ocean, entertaining crowds with aloha and a smile.

“Praise God, praise Jesus, he will always take care of you," Willie said in a video on Facebook in January.

Details on a memorial service are pending.

This story will be updated.

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