Willie K aka William Awihilima Kahaiali’i, the Hawaiian Grammy Award-nominated singer, has died following a two year battle with cancer. Willie K is survived by his wife, Debbi Kahaial’i, as well as their four children, Karshaun, Max, Lycettiana and Antoinette.
According to a post on Willie K’s Instagram page, the singer died on the evening of May 18. He was first diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2018. A post on Willie K’s Facebook page in April 2019 saw the singer announce that he was undergoing immunotherapy.
In addition to his singing career, Willie K was the owner of Mau Tribe Productions. During his career, Willie K performed with luminaries such as Prince, Willie Nelson and Santana. Among his most popular songs was his rendition of “O Holy Night,” as well as the song, “Katchi Katchi Music Makawao.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Prior to His Death, Willie K Had Been in Good Spirits
The Instagram post announcing his sad death read in part, “We are sad to announce that Willie K has passed away on Monday night (May 18th) in his home in Wailuku surrounded by his ohana.” The post went on, “He was in positive spirits, doing okay, and he was looking forward to performing again. He then suddenly turned for the worse and lost his battle.” The tribute concluded by saying that a celebration of Willie K’s life will be announced at a later date.
2. Willie K’s Cancer Was Upgraded to Stage 4 in April 2019
A GoFundMe page had been set up to help Willie K’s family to pay for his cancer treatments. At the time of writing, the page has raised just over $100,000 of a $1,000,000 goal. The last update on that page came in April 2019.
Raenette Kahaialii wrote on the page that the singer’s cancer had been upgraded to Stage 4. Despite this, Kahaialii wrote:
Although Small Cell Lung Cancer is very aggressive, Willie continues to remain positive and optimistic about his condition and recovery. We appreciate anything you may offer whether financially or spiritually. Your prayers of strength and healing are greatly appreciated.
3. Willie K Said in a 2018 Interview That He Found it Hard to Be the Person in Need
Willie K said in a 2018 interview with Hawaii News Now that after a lifetime of giving back, one of the hardest parts about being sick was being the person in need. He said:
It’s hard to be the one in need, you know when you’re the one that’s always taking care of everybody else. I don’t know how to deal with that. That’s the one thing that’s bugging the hell out of me.
During that interview, Willie K said that he keeps telling his family when they get sad, “Stop thinking about stuff like that. That’s not how it works. Positive thinking don’t make you go drifting off. You see what the next step is, then you just keep marching man.”
4. Willie K Grew Up in a Music Family
In 2017, Willie K told Maui Time in an interview that he came from a musical family. His father was a renowned blues guitarist named, Manu Kahaiali’i while his mother was also a singer. In addition, Willie K was one of 13 children in the family. He said:
I come from a family of so many kids. When it came time to eat, you better ear you’ll get crusts of bread.
Willie K went on to say in the interview that he began performing with his father at the age of 8. He added that due to music being the family business, he never had a chance to “think outside of” music.
5. President Barack Obama Has Been Described as a Fan of Willie K’s
On Willie K’s website, President Barack Obama is described as being an “avowed fan.” The same biography quotes Prince as calling Willie K, a “funky motherf****r.”
In January 2017, Willie K performed from President Obama on the final night of his visit to the state. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser described the performance as being “hush-hush.”