Makaha Sons bass player John Koko dies at age 51

JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

HONOLULU (AP) — Vocalist and bass player of a longtime group that helped make Hawaiian music popular died Monday, his brother said.

John Koko of the Makaha Sons battled heart problems since childhood and was moving forward with plans for a heart transplant, said his older brother, Jerome Koko. He was 51.

"He was fun-loving. The fans around the world, they know," Jerome Koko said Tuesday. "He lit up everybody's life."

The Nanakuli native joined the Makaha Sons of Niihau in 1982. The group, which formed in 1976, has gone through several reorganizations. When John Koko entered the group, he joined brother Jerome, Moon Kauakahi and the world-famous Israel Kamakawiwoole, who died at age 38 in 1997 from complications associated with morbid obesity.

When Kamakawiwoole died, the group shortened its name to Makaha Sons.

Career highlights included three performances at New York City's Carnegie Hall and before President Bill Clinton, Jerome Koko recalled. Winning numerous Na Hoku Hanohano awards, they released more than 20 albums, including the compilation titled, "Heke Wale No — Only the Very Best of the Makaha Sons."

Koko's heart problems prevented him from pursuing dreams of playing baseball and football, his brother recalled. According to the group's website, his heart problems also prevented him from completing high school. He earned a GED diploma in 1999, an accomplishment he was proud of.

In the last six to eight months Koko started to show signs of fatigue on stage. "He was a fighter," his brother said. "After a while, you could see it on his face."

Because of his deteriorating health, plans were put on hold for upcoming performances in Argentina, Brazil and Germany, Jerome Koko said.

The family planned to meet Tuesday to discuss funeral plans. His survivors include his wife Tonia; sons John Jr., Jordon, Jerman and Jerry; and two grandchildren.