Ben Tawhiti Profile

Suzanne Ormsby and AudioCulture
17 Sep 2020

On disc, Ben Tawhiti is legendary for his stunning steel-guitar playing on the 1957 single ‘Haka Boogie’, which mixed te reo with rock’n’roll. But his career spanned seven decades and influenced countless other musicians. He began performing as a child at wartime dances, played at Auckland’s Orange Ballroom and the Māori Community Centre, and continued making music and mentoring others until his death in 2012.  

Ben was born in 1934 on Matakana Island, near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, one of four children brought up by their grandparents. They worked on the farm, milking cows, growing kumara, corn, pumpkins, and watermelon. There was no power on the island: electricity came from batteries and they cooked on open fires. Farm implements were horse-drawn, and the children rode to Kotukutuku Primary school in a covered wagon.

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Ben Tawhiti's Hawaiian band in the 2000s; he sits at the steel guitar. 
Photo credit: Yvonne Marsh
Ben Tawhiti and Buddy Wilson - Ten Guitars documentary, 1996.
Ben Tawhiti, 1990s. 
Photo credit: Suzanne Ormsby collection
Ben Tawhiti and Dennis Marsh hongi near the Auckland harbour bridge.
Photo credit: Yvonne Marsh
Dennis Marsh and Ben Tawhiti.
Photo credit: Yvonne Marsh collection
Ben Tawhiti – Whakarongo Mai (1:12 Records). Ben Tawhiti's final recording and his only solo recording to be released on vinyl. The soundtrack for Nova Paul's 2010 film This is Not Dying, it was packaged with a book of stills and essays about the film and Ben's soundtrack.
Millie Bradfield singing at the Gables, Herne Bay, Auckland; on guitar is Ben Tawhiti
Morgan Clarke's Haka Boogie from late 1957, featuring steel guitar from Ben Tawhiti (the Ben in Benny's Five). It was written by Lee Westbrook.
Bill Sevesi Group, Orange Ballroom, 1959-60: Joe Brandon third from left (saxophone), Ben Tawhiti first left (lead guitar), Bill Sevesi second left
Photo credit: Geoff Bolton Collection
Dennis Marsh band with Ben Tawhiti seated at front right.
Photo credit: Yvonne Marsh
Watch: Waka Huia Archives 23 Aug 2003 - Ben Tawhiti - Hawaiian steel guitar