Story by Lynn Cook
Photos by Kyle Rothenborg
No shoes, no shirt, no worries. Alan Yoshioka, vice president of Hawai‘i’s Mecca of music, Harry’s Music Store in Kaimuki, laughs as he describes the late singer Don Ho standing at the counter barefoot looking for sheet music. “This has always been a comfortable family kind of store,” he says. Harry’s hasn’t changed much since those days in the 1960s. “As a matter of fact,” Alan says, “the only big change since my Uncle Harry moved in sixty-five years ago is that we doubled in size when we took over the space next door.” He points to the ceiling; squadrons of exposed wires hang where the dividing wall once stood.
Harry Yoshioka, born in 1909, played the trumpet and conducted the famed Hawaii Shochiku Orchestra in the 1940s. He’d wanted to open a shoe store but decided on a music store instead. To some of O‘ahu’s greatest musicians he was a “pay me when you can” kind of guy, and his warm, casual charm made Harry’s a venerable if threadbare institution.
Harry’s has always carried sheet music, recordings and instruments. Back in the day shoppers could put a record on a turntable and listen. If they liked it, they would buy it. If not, they put it back. Alan gestures to a shelf of open CD boxes. “Now they all come packaged, but I still keep personal copies so customers can hear what they are buying.”
Since the beginning the store has supported the ambitions of Hawai‘i’s young musicians: It supplies and repairs the instruments for Hawai‘i schools, and the tiny back rooms have been the site of lessons from Hawai‘i’s maestros. Grammy winner Daniel Ho taught guitar. Slack key master Keola Beamer paid his UH tuition teaching classical guitar. Steel guitarist Jerry Byrd gave lessons to visitors from New York and Japan.
Harry died in 1999. His nephew, Alan, who’s worked at the store since he was 10, now handles day-to-day operations, while Harry’s son, Emmett, is the president and a renowned conductor and musician. Alan describes Emmett and Uncle Harry as “It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey” kind of guys. “I can’t imagine what music in Hawai‘i would be without them.”