A Lifetime of Achievements… Maestro and Kahu Aaron David Mahi


Leinaʻala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

I wanted to share with you all this month the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts’ Highest Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to maestro and Kahu Aaron David Mahi. Growing up with Aaron and his ʻohana, I want to share his legacy, his story, and his prestigious award!

From humble beginnings, growing up on Hala Drive in Kalihi, a young Hawaiian rose to become a linguist, a composer, a kahu, and one of Hawaiʻi’s foremost conductors. Aaron was born on July 9, 1953, and from an early age, gravitated to music. At 14, he received a Honolulu Symphony Orchestra scholarship. Aaron graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1971 and the Connecticut’s Hart School of Music in 1975, and also studied at the Herbert Blomstedt Institute of Conducting in California. In 1976, he headlined as a jazz and rock bass guitarist for the Windward Symphony Orchestra.

As a member of Hui Aloha ʻĀina Tuahine, he focused on cultural perspectives in music sparked by the Hawaiian Renaissance of that time. In 1977, he joined the group Kaimana with Haunani Apoliona, Haunani Bernardino, and Eldon Akamine. In 1976, Aaron joined the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra as a bassist and conductor.

I am forever grateful to Mayor Eileen Anderson, for appointing Aaron bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band in 1981. He was the first Native Hawaiian bandmaster since Charles E. King in 1933. Aaron’s amazing tenure would continue for the next 24 years. Under his direction, highlights of the band included a seven-nation European tour in 1983. He was awarded the Golden Ring of Honor by the Association of German Musicians. Another milestone was Carnegie Hall concert in 1988. The Friends of the Royal Hawaiian Band released a record commemorating the concert for Aaron titled “The Royal Hawaiian Band Live at Carnegie Hall!”

Photo: Trustee Ahu Isa with Aaron Mahi and Toni Lee
Trustee Ahu Isa with Aaron Mahi and Toni Lee at the 2021 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Over the years, Aaron has participated in more than 20 recordings, performing and contributing to their success. He continues to chart new musical arrangements for the band and for Kamehameha Schools’ annual song contests.

His service to the community includes his work as a kahu. Aaron has served as the kahu of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and currently serves as head kahu of the Makiki Community of Christ Church (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Since 2009, Kahu Aaron Mahi as led the Hui Nohona cultural specialist team for the Partners in Development Foundation.

One definition of “mahi” means to cultivate, and Aaron Mahi has cultivated much in the music annals of Hawaiʻi. HOʻOMAIKAʻI e Aaron! We are so proud of you!

A hui hou, mālama, Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa.