Hawaiian Music Collection - Nawahi, Benjamin Keakahiawa "King": Performer Biography

Benjamin Keakahiawa Nawahi was born 1899 Honolulu. As a youth, Nawahi played for nickels and dimes in the park and was a contemporary of Sol Ho'opi'i, who was doing the same thing. He played with his older brother Joe's group on the liner S.S. Matsonia, then on Orpheum vaudeville circuit, U.S. mainland. He was a great showman (he'd play "Turkey in the Straw" on the steel guitar with his feet). Played hot jazz style on steel, also known as 'ukulele and mandolin virtuoso. Is known best for his recordings with The Red Devils, The Georgia Jumpers, and with his own group King Nawahi's Hawaiians. One of his first west coast groups, King Nawahi and the International Cowboys, included a young Roy Rogers, not yet famous. He had a successful music career on the west coast when he was suddenly stricken blind in 1935. Doctors could never determine why his blindness occurred but he didn't let it get him down and became a national hero in 1946 when he swam the 26-mile channel between Santa Catalina Island and San Pedro in 22 hours, following a ringing bell tied to a boat.
Ruymar, Lorene. The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and its Great Hawaiian Musicians. California: Center Stream Publishing. 1996. pg 103.