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Clyde Halemaumau “Kindy” Sproat (1930-2008)

Clyde "Kindy" Sproat (1988 Photo courtesy of Tom Pich/National Endowment for the Arts)

Clyde "Kindy" Sproat (May 27, 2005 Photo courtesy of Tom Pich/National Endowment for the Arts)

Clyde Halemaumau “Kindy” Sproat, one of Hawaii’s most renowned falsetto singers and musicians, died Monday, Dec. 15 at his home. He was 78.

One of his last public appearances was in September at the 17th annual Clyde “Kindy” Sproat Falsetto and Storytelling Contest.

In 1988, Sproat received the National Endowment of the Arts’ National Heritage Award, which honors American folk artists for their contributions to the national cultural mosaic.

Photographer Tom Pich who met Sproat while working on the NEA National Heritage Fellows project said, “I know that he was a national treasure and only wish I had the opportunity to spend more time with his during my last visit to the island a couple of years ago.

My travels have given me the opportunity to meet many of our nations greatest people our “National Heritage Fellows.” In all our travel through life we can recognize when we are in the presence of someone special and in my life Kindy was one of those people. The short time I did have the privilege to spend with him, listening to his stories as a young boy to present will always be with me. The people of Hawaii and the world have lost a great soul.”

“He was a treasure chest of music, a real national treasure,” said John Keawe, fellow musician and long-time Sproat fan. “He knew so many songs that were passed on from his father and his father’s father.”

Sproat’s influence will live on through generations of younger musicians, Keawe said.

“We can keep that legacy going, but we won’t be able to replace him,” he said. “He was the voice of North Kohala. He didn’t even need a microphone.”

Keawe said Sproat was kind and generous to his fellow musicians.

“For me, he always made me feel good when he saw me,” Keawe said. “I’d see him at concerts and he’s always tell me ‘good boy, keep it up.'”

His loss was being felt across the Big Island.

“This is so sad. He was truly one of the great ones,” said Fanny Au Hoy, curator at Hulihee Palace. “He was fantastic, a great musician and always so willing to share his knowledge and willing to teach whoever wanted to learn.”

Sproat was born Nov. 21, 1930, in North Kohala and raised in the rural isolation of Honokane Iki, a valley two hours away from the end of the road. Transportation to the valley was by mule pack train. His father was part Hawaiian and worked on the Kohala Ditch Trail, maintaining the waterways that fed the sugar plantations of the early and middle 20th century.

From an early age, Sproat remembered how his Hawaiian mother played the banjo and sang to the children every night after supper.

“We sat on mats that were woven from the leaves of the pandanus tree and watched the reflection of the sun rising up the east wall of the valley, then dancing on the trees at the very top of the ridge before slowly fading out of sight. I sang my heart out. At that time I felt like we were singing the sun to sleep, so in the morning as he crept over the west ridge with his long, shadowy legs, he would be warm and friendly and let us have another good day of swimming and fishing in the stream and doing all the things that little boys do in a day.”

Later, the family moved to Niulii, still on Hawaii island, but closer to schools, churches, restaurants, and saloons, where Sproat liked to stop and listen to the master slack key guitar players of the time — John Akina, John Kama, and Kalei Kalalia.

“That sound and rhythm,” he said, “has haunted me all my growing years, and even until this day I listen for the old sweet rhythm of the old slack key. Slack key has changed considerably since I was a boy. Like the old-time slack key, the old-time folk songs of Hawaii have faded into the past. I love the old songs, so I hang onto them and sing them just as I heard them sung…. I had a special feeling for the old Hawaiian songs. The tunes haunted me. I sang, whistled, and hummed them constantly.”

Growing up, Sproat also learned to play the four-stringed ukulele and liked the straightforward accompaniment of the slack key guitar for his Hawaiian songs. He admired the songs of the paniolo, who worked on the ranches near where he lived. Along with their technical skills, the Mexican ranchmen also brought their musical traditions, especially that of singing with stringed instrumental accompaniment. And as they began to make their homes in Hawaii, they taught tunes, instrument construction, and harmonies to the Hawaiian workers.

Over the years, Sproat developed a repertoire of more than 400 songs. He has preserved the music that originated for the most part in the early twentieth century and reflected the changes in Hawaiian musical traditions from ancient chanted forms accompanied by percussion instruments to falsetto singing and Western melodic forms accompanied by the `ukulele and slack key guitar. He has performed at luaus, family gatherings, retirement homes, and community events, and in concerts.

“Singing to me,” he said, “is the feelings that I have locked up inside that have a need to come out pure and simple.”

Biography information from: www.mele.com

Big Island filmmaker Keith Nealy has a film in production on Sproat

One Response to “Clyde Halemaumau “Kindy” Sproat (1930-2008)”

  1. Deb says:

    you will always be remembered well…aloha friend

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