William Awihilima Kahaialii, a popular Hawaiian musician known as Willie K who garnered numerous accolades during a five-decade music career, died in Maui on May 18 after battling lung cancer for more than two years. He was 59 years old.
One of Hawaii's most decorated musicians with 19 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (the Aloha State's version of the Grammy Awards), Willie K's music spanned a multitude of genres, from blues and jazz to rock and reggae.
He often appeared at Hawaii festivals and concerts, including the annual Aloha Festival and Ukulele Festival Hawaii. He also regularly played at the Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, and for several years he hosted and performed at the Willie K Blues Festival on Maui which drew acts such as Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top. In 2015, he appeared in an episode of the CNN show "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown."
"Thank you to EVERYONE for all the love, support and prayers you have given," a message posted on the musician's Facebook page May 19 said. "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."
Kahaialii announced he was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2018, but continued to perform while undergoing treatment. His condition worsened in early 2020, and several scheduled shows were postponed or canceled.
Kahaialii was raised in a family of musicians on Maui, and began performing at 8 years old with his father, Hawaiian jazz guitarist Manu Kahaialii.