The ‘Ukulele is the best-known Hawaiian instrument. In the 1950’s and 60’s all the bands had ‘ukulele players. Some of the great musicians that made the instrument very popular were: Eddie Kamae, Ohta-san, Lyle Ritz, Don Baduria, Sr., John Lukela, Jesse Kalima, Kahauanu Lake, and Peter Moon.
Today there is a renaissance of sorts, thanks to the popularity of the new generation of ‘ukulele players influencing the young people of Hawai‘i to pick up and learn to play; Troy Fernandez, Kelly-boy Delima, and Jake Shimabukuro. Herb Ohta, Jr. is just one breed of ‘ukulele players.
Herb’s interest in music was very evident at an early age. Herb’s grandmother taught him his first song on the ‘ukulele at the age of three. The song was “Happy Birthday.” His father, Ohta-San started his early instruction on the ‘ukulele and Herb continued to study music playing the viola in high school. Herb was also a member of The Honolulu Boys Choir, The Honolulu Children’s Opera Chorus, and The University High School Select Choir.
Herb continued to take formal lessons from his father until he was 12 years old, because he started to have other interest. After being inspired by listening to the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau and other local musicians at the age of 17, he became a devotee of Hawaiian music and the ‘ukulele. The ‘ukulele is in his genes and Hawaiian music is in his blood. Herb enjoys listening to all types of music, Classical, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Country, Hip-hop, Rap, Latin, Salsa, and Reggae. But Herb’s favorite songs to perform are anything Hawaiian and any types of ballads. He feels that Hawaiian songs and ballads bring out the natural purist sound of the instrument. Herb’s style is reminiscent of his father, but distinct and recognizable as his very own. There is a graceful “Nahenahe” quality that is very Hawaiian, reflecting the inspirations of ‘ukulele virtuoso’s Eddie Kamae and of course Ohta-San.
At 11 years old, Herb, Jr. began to teach for his father’s ‘ukulele school occasionally while his father traveled away from home for business. In 1992, Herb started his own ‘ukulele classes and gave lessons at Sonny D’s ‘Ukulele Shop in Waipahu, O‘ahu, Harry’s Music Store in Kaimuki, O‘ahu.
Teaching six days a week, Herb also finds time to compose new material, entertain at private and public functions, produce, and record. His recording debut was in 1990 on his father’s recording. Since then, Herb has recorded on over 50 recordings. With fourteen Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award nominations to his credit, he won a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for "ʻUkulele Nahenahe” in 2011, “Pure ʻUkulele” in 2013, and “’Ukulele Friends” in 2015. Herb is also four-time Hawai‘i Music Award Winner as well. Herb has released 3 national releases in Japan, 1 in Taiwan, and co-authored two ‘ukulele instructional books with Grammy Award artist Daniel Ho that was released in Japan and the United States. In 2015 Herb published a songbook of his arrangements in Korea.
As a teacher, composer, recording artist, entertainer, and producer, Herb Ohta, Jr. solidly establishes himself in the company of musicians who promote our Hawaiian instrument in the music landscape today. It is Herb’s goal to share the beauty of Hawai’i’s music, its culture, and the ‘ukulele to people all over the world. Herb has performed throughout the state of Hawai‘i and has traveled overseas to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, The United Kingdom, and the mainland USA.
Herb Ohta, Jr. is certainly a vanguard of his generation of ‘ukulele players, and he is well on his way to matching his father’s legacy.