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I Am What I Am

About Roy Sakuma

Roy Sakuma Teaching a Class
Roy with Ohta San and Eddie Kamae

Roy Sakuma credits the ukulele, a song and inspirational mentors with helping him turn his young life around after being kicked out of high school.

In 1964, when he heard a hit song, “Sushi”, by the master ukulele virtuoso Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta, he sought him out and became an avid student. Roy wore out the frets of his ukulele, practicing eight to 10 hours a day. At the age of 16 he set out to become the best ukulele player in the world. Learning from Ohta-San opened up a whole new world for him. Soon Ohta San asked him to teach his classes while he went on tour in Japan. Roy immediately discovered that his true calling was not in performing but in teaching. When Ohta San encouraged his young protege to venture out on his own, he didn’t follow in Ohta San’s footsteps as a performing artist. Instead, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to teaching. Roy taught for Ohta-San and Kamaka Ukulele until he opened his first teaching studios, Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios in 1974.
Since then, he and Kathy have expanded their studios to four locations with a staff of 30 instructors, all whom are former students.

Photo of Roy and Kathy Sakuma

Kathy and Roy Sakuma

In 1970, as a City groundskeeper cleaning the bathrooms in Kapiolani Park, he dreamed of showcasing the versatility and virtuosity of the ukulele with a free concert in the park. The pursuit of his dream brought him to another friend and mentor, Moroni Medeiros at City Hall. With the help and guidance of Medeiros, Roy lined up the Hawaii International Ukulele Club and the City & County of Honolulu as sponsors for the first concert. With a lot of aloha from local musicians who began a tradition of performing free, Roy pulled together the first annual “Ukulele Festival” in 1971. Today,the Annual Ukulele Festival is by far the largest of its kind in the world, boasting crowds of thousands, and an ukulele orchestra of 800 students, mostly children and special guests from far-away places. In 2004, Roy and Kathy established a non-profit organization, Ukulele Festival Hawaii, to continue to promote and build public awareness of the ukulele as a solo instrument and to ensure that the annual ukulele festivals remain a free event.

As a record producers, Roy and Kathy have brought the beauty and versatility of the ukulele to a much wider audience. As well as featuring the ukulele, the Roy Sakuma Productions record label has become home to an eclectic collection of musical styles change.

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