Kui Lee: A Great Hawaiian Singer

kuileehawaii.jpgIn my last post I mentioned that my favorite Elvis song was actually written by a Hawaiian singer, one Kui Lee.  That song was “I’ll Remember You,” one of the loveliest long songs I ever heard.   It made me realize that, though I have heard of Kui Lee, I knew very little about him.  I knew only that he was a Hawaiian of Chinese descent, that he had written the song I mentioned, and that he died young of cancer.  However, that was before the internet.  Today I searched for Kui Lee and learned much more about him.

Life can be tragic and unfair, and sometimes greatly talented people like Kui Lee die young, before they have completely made their mark on the world, before they have built their legend and established their fame.   Kui Lee was one of these.  Unfortunately, his songs and his music are not well known outside of Hawaiian music circles and that’s too bad. 

Kuiokalani Lee was his real name, and he was born in Shanghai, China on July 31, 1932.  His parents moved to Hawaii when he was five.  Since his parents were entertainers, he too entered the entertainment world of Hawaii.  He later went to New York where he met his wife, Nani Naone.  They had four children together before the Lees returned to Hawaii in the early 1960’s.  There he learned to sing and compose songs and started his own band, which played some of the famous nightspots of Hawaii, including the Waikiki Shell.  Kui wrote many songs that were made famous by other entertainers like Don Ho.   Kui entertained with his lovely wife until only a few weeks before his death by cancer, on December 3, 1966.  He was buried at sea off Waikiki on December 9, 1966.  He was only 34 years old.

If you can find an album of Kui Lee’s music, buy it.  His perhaps most famous song, sang by Elvis in his Hawaiian special in 1973, was “I’ll Remember You.”  The words are below.

I’ll Remember You – Words & music by Kui Lee
I’ll remember you
Long after this endless summer is gone
I’ll be lonely, oh so lonely
Living only to remember you
I’ll remember too
Your voice as soft as a warm summer breeze
Your sweet laughter mornings after
Every afternoon I’ll remember you
To your arms some day
I’ll return to stay ’til then
I will remember too
Every bright star we made wishes upon
Love me always promise always
You’ll remember too

Links to Kui Lee articles and information:

Kui Lee, One of the all-time Geniuses of Hawaii (article from Honolulu Star Bulletin)

The  Extraordinary Kui Lee (CD of his recordings)

Kui Lee Biography by Tony Wilds, All Music Guide


7 responses to “Kui Lee: A Great Hawaiian Singer

  1. I would like to buy a CD with the song”I’ll Remember You” where can I get it?

  2. Stephanie Perkins`

    I really would like the sheet music for this song by Kui Lee. Where can I get it?


    I love Kui Lee and his beautiful song.”.I’ll Remember You.”! I have told so many people about Kui Lee over the years so they would know who he is if they had never gone to Hawaii…..This Christmas we are all playing this beautiful song you can get on I Tunes.! December 30th 2012………orangecolorgirl@aol.com

  4. Before I knew who Kui Lee was, I surfed with him off the Lahaina,Maui breakwater for a millenial occurence of epic 8′ surf session for about 6 hours, afterward he introduced me to his family in the park by the courthouse in Lahaina, Nani, his beautiful wife, and two beautiful daughters he had with him that day…we shared so much in such a compact short time frame..I’ll never forget him..he was the epitomy of the Aloha Spirit as a brother and fellow surfer…truly touched my entire life with his spirit and his unforgettable songs…Tony Carlson

  5. Great personal story, Tony. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Has no one else noticed that the tune for the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah” is almost identical to the Kui Lee song, “Goin’ Home?”

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