b. 31 December 1907, Hawaii. As a young man, Tapia began playing the ukulele, an instrument that was then enjoying considerable local popularity. In 1927, at the age of 19, he joined the Johnny Noble Orchestra, which played at the newly opened Royal Hawaiian Hotel, popularly known as ‘Waikiki’s Pink Palace’. As he developed into a virtuoso performer, Tapia attracted the attention of visiting musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, as well as showbusiness celebrities including film stars Clark Gable and Shirley Temple, and broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, reputedly giving the latter trio ukulele lessons. Later settling in the San Francisco area, Tapia continued to play throughout succeeding decades but did not attract much attention elsewhere.
Eventually, Tapia’s startling technical gifts, which were undiminished by age, began attracting wider attention, aided by the release in the early 00s of an award-winning documentary film, To You Sweetheart, Aloha, which traced his long life. In 2004, at the age of 96, he recorded his debut album and the following year was to be heard regularly in San Francisco, playing both solo gigs and as leader of a quartet with his ukulele leading a steel guitar, a Spanish guitar and a string bass. He also led another quartet comprising bass player Ruth Davies, drummer Akira Tana and the award-winning Hawaiian singer Mihana. The latter is the daughter of Irmgard Farden Aluli, and a member of the group Puamana.