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About James Wilder "Kimo" McVay
Kimo Wilder McVay (1927–2001) was a musician turned talent manager, who successfully promoted Hawaiian entertainment acts. McVay promoted and managed acts such as teenage heart throb Robin Luke, Don Ho, John Rowles, comic Andy Bumatai, Keolo and Kapono Beamer, ventroliquist Freddie Morris, magician John Hirokawa and many others.
Kimo Wilder McVay was born September 16, 1927 in Washington, DC. His father was Navy Captain Charles Butler McVay III. His mother was Hawaii heiress Kinau Wilder (1902–1992), great-granddaughter of pioneering missionary physician and politician Gerrit Parmele Judd, and granddaughter of shipping magnate Samuel Garner Wilder. One of his many cousins on his mother's side was George R. Carter (1866–1933), the Territorial Governor of Hawaii.
It was possibly the clearing of his father's name that gave Kimo Wilder McVay the most personal satisfaction. His father was found guilty of negligence in 1945 and committed suicide as a result. Kimo spent his adult life on a quest to clear the record. Half a century later, the United States Congress passed action exhonerating the senior McVay.
He was managing Hirokawa when he died on June 29, 2001.
High school student Robin Luke was appearing in a 1958 Punahou School music program when McVay saw the potential of this fresh-faced teenager. McVay hooked Luke up with Bob Bertram of the Hawaii-based Bertram International Studio where they recorded Susie Darlin' about Luke's kid sister. McVay went on to promote the song with local deejays and TV stations, helping to make the song a national hit.
Duke Kahanamoku and Don Ho
Kimo was a friend and manager to Duke Kahanamoku. The Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship was developed by Kimo McVay in 1965, in part to help publicize the newly opened Duke Kahanamoku's nightclub McVay operated in the International Market Place in Waikiki. In the early 1960's, Kimo accompanied Duke Kahanamoku to see the up-and-coming Don Ho at Honey's in Kaneohe. It was a magic moment that brought Don to Duke's Waikiki nightclub as a springboard to international fame for Ho and his band The Aliis. With Don on stage hoisting a mai tai glass and encouraging the crowd to "Suck 'em up, everybody!", the promotional "Suck 'em Up"-themed mai tai glasses became souvenirs among Don Ho fandom. It was McVay who in 1967 talked Don Ho into recording the song Tiny Bubbles, written by Leon Pober, Ho's signature tune.
McVay lined up Maori artist John Rowles as Duke's in-residence act to follow Ho's tenure at the nightclub. Rowles had already made his United States debut the same year at the Flamingo Las Vegas, following Ho's booking at that venue. When Rowles was the in-residence act at Duke's, McVay placed copies of Rowles' hit single Cheryl Moana Marie into invitations for the opening of Al Lopaka as a fill in act for Rowles. Under McVay's management, Rowles would become the headliner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Monarch Room.
Na Hoku Hanohano Award
The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts awarded McVay the 1999 Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award for his substantial contributions to the entertainment industry in Hawaii.
Kimo Wilder McVay, was a long-time Hawai'i entrepreneur and talent manager who was as colorful as his clients.
McVay was born in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16, 1927.
For nearly five decades, he managed an A-list of entertainers, including Don Ho, who gained international acclaim at McVay's Duke Kahanamoku's nightclub at the International Market Place.
His stable also included Tavana, the former star of a Polynesian revue at the Sheraton Moana Hotel; John Rowles, the Maori singer who headlined at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Monarch Room; Keola and Kapono Beamer, the brother act whose "Honolulu City Lights" became an anthem for all homesick Islanders; Andy Bumatai, one of Hawai'i's breakout stand-up comics; and Freddie Morris, the late singer-ventriloquist.
At the time of his death, McVay was managing magician John Hirokawa, the headliner of "Magic of Polynesia" at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel.
Ho said McVay "was an unforgettable character."
"They don't make it like him anymore," Ho said. "He was a one-of-a-kind. He would do things nobody else would do. He'd always remember people's birthdays. He was a good guy, who had a lot of hard times."
Ho recalled the time McVay brought Duke Kahanamoku to see him at Honey's in Waikiki, which led to the launching of Ho's career at the old Duke's nightclub. "It was a chance encounter that led to our early success, and you gotta know where you came from, you cannot forget that."
Bumatai likened McVay's entrepreneurial skills to those of the late manager of Elvis Presley, Col. Tom Parker. "I'm not sure any one of us would have gotten any attention without him making noise," Bumatai said. "He invented spin — before they gave it a name — and a little bit of Hawai'i dies with his passing. He was from another era; as Don Ho once told me, when I was griping about Kimo: 'Kimo is a phase.' He moved on to someone else. But he worked hard for everyone."
McVay's career had been a roller-coaster ride of alternating highs and lows. Client relationships would sour, but he had the tenacity to seek out another act. In a changing Waikiki, he managed to be a survivor, because of an unending source of goofy ideas.
When he needed a gimmick, he put on the Roach Bowl at Blaisdell Arena, conducting cockroach races as if they were horse races, hitching the event to client Bumatai's rising star. When ventriloquist Morris was replacing a traditional dummy doll with a dark-skinned Polynesian version, McVay dubbed the new blockhead Moku Kahana, after Duke Kahanamoku, the father of Hawaiian surfing who had been a long-time friend and for whom the nightclub was named.
The entertainment community relished his inventive surprise-filled opening-night parties and outrageous birthday gifts, which could be a bejeweled toilet plunger with a witty note attached.
"They just don't make 'em like him anymore," said Tom Moffatt, veteran show producer and radio personality and a long-time friend of McVay.
McVay was as much of a celebrity as some of his clients and he also had several aliases — Knuckles McVay, when he manned the keyboards in St. Patrick's Day celebrations at the old Columbia Inn on Kapi'olani Boulevard, and the Baron of Waikiki, when he briefly operated a lounge bearing that pseudonym at the Reef Hotel.
He was an old-school publicity wizard, who put a buzz on any activity he engineered. His heyday was the Hawai'i of the1960s and '70s, when he operated the old Duke Kahanamoku's nightclub where folks lined up to applaud and cheer an upstart young Hawaiian talent named Don Ho, backed by The Aliis, amid a celebrity clientele hoisting mai tai glasses emblazoned with "Suck 'em Up," which became collector's items and take-home souvenirs.
McVay was the master of hyperbole and a genius at promotion in a time when entertainment ruled along the Kalakaua Avenue strip. He dubbed the Beamers as "Hawai'i's Youngest Legends" and tagged Bumatai as "Hawai'i's First Stand-Up Comic."
Although he often quarreled with his clients, he succeeded in putting them on the map. He became obsolete when showrooms started to close, but he downsized accordingly, seeking refuge with smaller acts performing in lounges.
McVay had a keen eye and a sharp ear for discovering talent. Early in his management career, he plucked then-Punahou School student Robin Luke, who had written and recorded a song about his little sister, entitled "Susie Darlin'," and got local deejays and TV stations to air the song and expose the tune. Result: "Susie Darlin'" became a Top 10 hit nationally and gave Luke — and Hawai'i — 15 minutes of fame.
He was born in Washington, D.C., and was the son of the late Kinau Wilder, a grand dame of Island theater and a prominent figure in Island society, and the controversial Capt. Charles Butler McVay III, who was the commanding officer in 1945 when the USS Indianapolis was struck by a Japanese torpedo, causing the ship to sink about 600 miles southwest of Guam after ferrying an atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian. Only 316 of the Indy's crew of 1,196 survived in shark-infested waters and Capt. McVay was found guilty of negligence, ultimately committing suicide.
Kimo McVay's life-long efforts to clear the name of his father finally happened last year, when the commander was cleared of guilt through congressional action, 55 years after the incident.
"It doesn't really change history, but it certainly will let the world know that my father was innocent and will give some comfort to the survivors themselves," McVay said after the exoneration.
For his unflagging dedication and contributions to show business, McVay in 1999 earned a Lifetime Achievement Na Hoku Hanohano Award from the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts. Though not a recording artist or active musician, his contributions in talent management, publicity, promotion and bookings were recognized.