Ukulele master Bill Tapia had died at age 103. Tapia died in his sleep today at his home in Westminster, California. Born January 1, 1908, he was just a month short of his 104th birthday. Cause of death is not yet known, but Tapia had been fighting failing health for a while.
Tapia had recently cancelled tours and plans to come to Hawaii to receive the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. Bill Tapia was known for his repertoire of Hawaiian, hapa haole and pop standards – most of which he had played for the first time when they were newly written hits more than 50 years ago.
Born and raised in Liliha, Tapia bought his first ukulele in 1915 from famed ukulele maker Manuel Nunes for 75-cents (“He wanted $1.50 but it was all the money I had”). Three years later he was playing for American soldiers; in 1918 he came up with a unique arrangement of “Stars and Stripes Forever” that was copied and adapted by generations of Hawaiian musicians.
This is a sad loss for many. Tapia continued to tour until earlier this year when his health began to fail him. Funeral arrangements have not been made yet.