Clyde "Kindy" Sproat
Hawaiian falsetto singer

"The Owl's Lullabye" sample 153 kB .AU

Clyde Sproat wrote of himself, "I was born on Kohala on the Big Island of Hawai'i, raised in Honokani Kiki, a valley two hours away from the end of the car road." Transportation to the valley was by mule pack train. His family lived in rural isolation and simplicity; Clyde still remembers how his mother played the banjo and sang with her children every night after supper.

"We sat on mats that were woven from the leaves of the pandanus treee and watched the reflection of the sun rising up the east wall of the valley, then dancing on the trees at the very top of the ridge before slowly fading out of sight. I sang my heart out. At that time I felt like we were singing the sun to sleep, so in the morning as he crept over the west ridge with his long shadowy legs, he would be warm and friendly and let us have another good day of swimming and fishing in the stream and doing all the things that little boys do in a day."

Later the family moved to Niuli'i, still on the Big Island, but closer to schools, churches, restaurants, and saloons where the little boy used to stop to listen to the master slack key guitar players of the time--John Akina, John Kama, Kalei Kalalia. In school his principal was also a master musician, and under his direction the children assembled every morning to sing the old Hawaiian songs and learn the meaning and history behind them. Although the young Clyde Sproat already knew some 400 songs from his family repertoire, his school experience turned him towards even greater appreciation of his historic Hawaiian heritage.

Clyde was learning another repertoire as well, the songs of the Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolos, of the nearby ranches. The island of Hawai'i to this day contains the largest ranches in the United States under single ownership. In Clyde's boyhood they were bustling with energy, large sparked by Mexican vaqueros who had been brought in during the late nineteenth century to help develop the new ranch economy. Along with their technical skills the Mexican ranchmen brought their musical traditions, especially that of singing with stringed instrumental accompaniment. As they began to make their homes in this new land, they taught tunes, instrument construction and hamonies to their new Hawaiian co-workers. Today their influence, once so radical, has become profoundly accepted into the mainstream of Hawaiian music. The idea of accompanying a song with a stringed instrument, perhaps once a guitar or a small Mexican folk guitar called jarana, has become the common convention of singing with a ukelele.

Now at the age of sixty, Clyde lives with his wife in a house he built near the valley where he was raised, still beyond the end of the road. His reputation often calls him away; he has sung at Carnegie Hall and the National Folk Festival. He is featured on a double tape recording of paniolo music published by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, in Honolulu. His exquisite falsetto, his astonishingly forceful and supple voice, his extensive repertoire, but perhaps most important, the depth and sincerity of this attachment to what he calls the old tradition, make him a true Hawaiian treasure.

Adapted from 1988 National Heritage Award program booklet.


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28 March 1996