Mourning the Passing of a Beloved Cultural Resource


It is with a humble heart that the ʻohana of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) mourns the passing of one of our own, Joseph Pekelo Kekipi Bright Recca.

Given the title of “kumu” for his historical and cultural contributions to the legacy of the organization, Joe Recca, affectionately referred to as “Uncle Joe,” served as our Waikīkī cultural historian and as a lamakū hoʻokipa (cultural resource) for NaHHA for 25 years. Uncle Joe was well known for his walking tours in Waikīkī, where the rich history of this wahi pana would come to life through the weaving of his moʻolelo.

In a March 2022 interview with NaHHA, Uncle Joe recalled his introduction into television and music as a student at Kamehameha Schools, where his then-choir master Daniel Akaka (who would go on to become a U.S. senator), escorted him on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show on NBC in the late 1950s.

In the 1960s, his vocal talent caught the attention of Haunani Kahalewai and he joined her Polynesian Review at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He would later go on to become a standing talent on the Hawaiʻi Calls radio show from 1972-1975 at the Moana Hotel, a live broadcast featured on 750 stations across the globe with millions of listeners worldwide.

In 1977, he released his first album A Child Of This Land. Uncle Joe also entertained with Tihati Productions for more than 30 years. His sweet, nahenahe voice took him throughout Hawaiʻi, the U.S. and abroad.

My time spent with Uncle Joe began in July 2011, a decade after his entertainment and musical career and well into his new kuleana as a cultural guide and historian.

Uncle Joe was a generational connector; existing at the huina – the intersection between the age of my parents and the bygone times of my grandparents. His stories would spark strong emotions of his love affair with the wahi pana of Waikīkī where he relived days of his childhood spent in its spouting waters. His enduring aloha for what was unseen was a gift he shared with residents and visitors alike.

Through him, I, too, was able to fall in love with Waikīkī. We did so many walks together over the years and although I had heard his stories hundreds of times, he always managed to stick in something new he had never mentioned before. Joe Recca never allowed me to stop learning. He exemplified strong values, carried himself with great aloha and always did what was pono. He was a mentor, a treasured kūpuna and most importantly, he was my friend.

The voice of Joe Recca and his connection with Waikīkī is one that will never be forgotten; he will forever be a part of the moʻolelo of this wahi pana. I will miss our walks together my dear friend, but know that in my heart, you are there…and we will always have Waikīkī.

“Walk with me, talk with me, Waikīkī.” – Joe Recca (Sep. 22, 1946 – Nov. 18, 2022)