Aaron Mahi / 1953-2024 Multifaceted musician inspired generations

Royal Hawaiian Band. Aaron Mahi. Star-Bulletin photo by Mike Tsukamoto on July 9, 1989.

John Berger Photo - Jay Larrin standing, Aaron Mahi seated (at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, December 2021, where they both received the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award).

FTR AARON MAHI - Aaron Mahi played bass for the Glee Club during the Royal Hawaiian Band concert at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand last Sunday. Honolulu Star-Bulletin Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell, 01-16-05

Aaron Mahi, a musician, composer, conductor, recording artist, kahu and bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band for 24 years, died Saturday. He was 70 and had been in declining health for several years.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi described Mahi as “a true legend in the world of music.”


“Aaron’s legacy as the bandmaster for the Royal Hawaiian Band for nearly a quarter of the century leaves an indelible mark on our community and our culture,” Blangiardi said Sunday morning in a news release.

Born — on July 9, 1953 — and raised in Honolulu, Aaron David Mahi gravitated to music at an early age. At 14 he received a mentored scholarship from the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. He graduated from Kameha­meha Schools in 1971 and continued his musical education at The Hartt School in Connecticut and with conductor Herbert Blomstedt at La Sierra University in California.

Mahi returned to Hawaii in the mid-1970s. He performed with the Windward Symphony Orchestra and recorded as a member of two Hawaiian music groups: Hui Aloha ‘Aina Tuahine and Kaimana.

In 1978 he was commissioned to write string arrangements for “Captain Cook, A Bicentennial Tribute 1778-1978,” an album commemorating the bicentennial arrival of Captain Cook.

The next year, Mahi joined the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra as a bassist and then began occasional performances as its conductor. In 1981, Honolulu Mayor Aileen Anderson appointed him bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band. He served as bandmaster for 24 years.

Mahi was the first Native Hawaiian to serve as bandmaster since Charles E. King retired in 1941. He was the only bandmaster other than Heinrich “Henri” Berger, the “Father” of the modern Royal Hawaiian Band, who was fluent in English, Hawaiian and German, and he was therefore able to read German-­language materials dating from Berger’s 43 years as bandmaster.

Mahi was an active conservator of the band’s Hawaiian legacy. He sought out lesser-known compositions by classic Hawaiian composers, used the piano scores of lost orchestrations to re-create them and continued the band’s tradition of touring outside Hawaii with tours of Europe and Japan, as well as to the mainland.

There was then considerable public backlash in 2004 when newly elected Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced that he would be replacing Mahi with a high school band teacher. Mahi’s last concert as bandmaster was Feb. 13, 2005.

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