From King Kalākaua to Elvis – New Bishop Museum Museum Exhibit


Honolulu (KHON2) – A new Bishop Museum exhibit called ‘Kaula Piko: The Source of Strings’ showcases the evolution of instruments including artifacts from Elvis and Johnny Cash.

Kaula Piko: The Source of Strings explores the lineage of Hawai‘i’s lasting contributions to world music. For this exhibit, Bishop Museum partnered with Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings to tell the story of the pioneering influence of Hawaiian musicians in both performance styles and the actual design and construction of instruments. “

These often little-known stories show how musicians, composers, and artisans from Hawai‘i influenced the design of stringed instruments and ultimately shaped the soundscape of today’s popular music,” says DeSoto Brown, Historian, Bishop Museum.

Kaula Piko displays rare and historical instruments associated with music’s most influential figures from Hawai‘i and beyond, ranging from King David Kalākaua to Mekia Kealakai to Johnny Cash. Numerous archival photos and illustrations from Bishop Museum’s collections are also on display, in addition to objects from private collectors. A large, eye-catching screen on one wall of the Long Gallery shows film clips of performers along with interviews and musical instruction clips; and a concise, large-format timeline illustrates the progression of Hawaiian music’s international spread. Families will even be able to try their hand at lap steel guitar at an interactive station.

Brown adds, “The electric guitar may not have ever come into existence if it weren’t for the pioneering young Hawaiian, Joseph Kekuku. In the 1890s, Kekuku invented what became known as the steel guitar. The political turmoil of Hawaiʻi in the 1890s, when the Kingdom was overthrown and Hawaiʻi was eventually made a Territory of the United States, was the backdrop for an extremely influential group of Hawaiian musicians and singers who performed in the United States and internationally. Kekuku’s acoustic steel guitar remained central to the sound of Hawaiian music, and was eventually electrified in the late 1920s to amplify its sound. As popular as this invention was, its more long-term effect was to lead to the development of the modern electric guitar in the 1930s.

Due to COVID-19, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Dinner fundraiser has been replaced with the first ever online fundraiser and virtual auction, E Ulu A Pa‘a, from Aug. 23-30. There will be some amazing items up for auction and anyone interested in continuing to support Bishop Museum’s mission can find out more at


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