Who Was Don Ho and What Was He Famous For?

Don Ho was a popular traditional pop musician, singer, and entertainer in America. He became known due to his famous song “Tiny Bubbles.” In addition to that, he was also popular due to his laid-back, aloha style, which made him an island tourist attraction in Hawaii for about four decades. However, before Don Ho worked as a musician, he first served in the United States Air Force right after he graduated from the University of Hawaii.

Some of us probably grew up hearing his songs and dancing to them during events in schools or in a Hawaiian-themed party. If you are looking into learning more about him, read on as we’re going to talk about Don Ho and his popularity.

Early Life

It was on August 13, 1930, when Donald Tai Loy Ho was born in the Honolulu neighborhood of Kaka’ako. He grew up in Winward Oahu with his mother, Emily Leimaile Silva or Honey, and his father, James Ah You Puao Ho.

He attended the Kamehameha Schools, where he graduated in 1949. After that, he went to Springfield College in 1950 through a football scholarship. However, he eventually decided to drop out of school and go back home. He then earned a Bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Hawaii in 1953.

Military Service

Don Ho joined the US Air Force in 1954. He spent his training at Columbus AFB in Mississippi. There, he spent time flying C-97s with the Military Air Transport Service. After his training there, he moved to Travis AFB in California. While he was there, he went to the local city of Concord, where he bought an electronic keyboard in one of the music stores. According to Don Ho, that was the moment when his passion for music started.

While he was serving in the military in 1951, he got married to his high school sweetheart, Melva May Kolokea. They had six kids and were married for 48 years until his wife died in 1999. During those times, he traveled from one state to another with his whole family. However, one day, he was called home to help his mother with their family business, which was a bar named Honey’s. In 1959, Don Ho decided to leave the US Air Force due to the failing health of his mother.

Don Ho in 2001

Music Career

When Don Ho returned to his hometown, he started singing at their bar. The place eventually became a hot spot for the local entertainment and the growing customers from the Kaneohe Marine Base servicemen.

In 1963, Honey’s was moved to Waikiki. When the bar became successful there, Don Ho was asked by Kimo Wilder McVay, a promoter, to play at a nightclub named Duke’s. It was owned by Duke Kahanamoku. Don Ho accepted, and that was the time when he got the attention of the officials from a record company.

Don Ho was originally signed to Reprised Records. His first album was released in 1965, and it was titled “Don Ho Show.” After that, he started playing at luxurious places in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and New York City. His second album was out in 1996 titled “Don Ho-Again!”, which charted at the start of the year.

“Tiny Bubbles,” which was his most popular song, was released in the fall of 1966. The song charted on both pop and easy listening charts. This hit caused his following album with the same title to be included in the Top 200 for around a year. Don Ho also composed another hit song which was titled “Pearly Shells.” The Aliis was Don Ho’s backing group from 1964 to 1969, featuring Benny Ching, Al Akana, Joe Mundo, Rudy Aquino, and Manny Lagodlagod.

In the beginning, Don Ho was contracted to Reprised Records. In 1965, his debut album was introduced with the title “Don Ho Show,” and he started to play at high-end places in New York City, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe. His second album was released in 1966, which was a live compilation called “Don Ho – Again!”. This album was charted in the early part of the year.

Later on, Don Ho appeared as a guest in some TV series, including Charlie’s Angels, McCloud, The Brady Bunch, and Fantasy Island. In the late 1960s, his album sales peaked, and he landed a TV series on ABC from 1976 to 1977. It was called “The Don Ho Show,” which was a variety program that aired every weekday morning.

Don Ho also loved to work with his kids. He worked with them onstage, backstage, and even with his business. He taught them many things about the entertainment business. In fact, in 2000, his daughter Hoku had a show with him in Waikiki. Then after that, she started to become a popular recording artist in her own right.

Illness and Death

Don Ho continued his career and became more popular. However, when 1995 came, his health started to decline after suffering a mild stroke. Aside from that, he also experienced other illnesses, which led to cardiomegaly or an enlarged heart.

In 2005, he was detected with cardiomyopathy and had pacemaker implantation. He also underwent heart surgery in Thailand in the same year. His own blood-derived stem cells were inoculated into his heart. He told everyone that he was feeling better after the surgery was done.

However, when 2006 came, Don Ho suffered a cardiac arrest. After a year, he suffered heart failure and died in Waikiki. Don Ho’s remains were cremated, and the ashes were dispersed to the sea.


Most of us probably know Don Ho’s most popular song, Tiny Bubbles. Maybe you’ve also sang and danced to it when you were younger. It is also still being played today at parties and events. There are lots of versions from different artists too. But of course, no one will beat the original version of the song. Don Ho certainly was one of the most popular Hawaiian entertainers. We hope this helped you learn more about Don Ho and his popularity.