Hawaiian Steel Guitar Legend, Tau Savea Moe, Dies at 95

Tau Savea Moe, who learned steel guitar from the instrument’s inventor and
brought Hawaiian music to dozens of countries starting in the 1920s, died
Thursday, June 24, in La’ie, Hawaii. He was 95.

Born in American Samoa in 1909 and raised in La’ie, Moe learned steel guitar in
the instrument’s infancy and played with Hawaiian legends like M.K. Moke, John
Almeida, and David Kaili, but was absent from Hawai’i’s music scene for most of
his life and was only rediscovered here during his old age. Tau with his wife, Rose and, later, their children, traveled the world from 1928
to 1970. They entertained throughout Europe and Asia, meeting heads of state and
working with legendary musicians including Josephine Baker, Tommy Dorsey and
Louis Armstrong.

Moe also helped at least 150 of his Jewish musician friends escape Germany and
Austria just before the height of Adolf Hitler’s reign by having them
impersonate groupies, relatives and stagehands. Once, he even sneaked a few
Jewish buddies over the border by hiding them in his car’s trunk among the folds
of his colorful stage costumes. "I wasn’t scared with anything," he said in a
recent interview, "Hitler didn’t know."

In February 2004, Debashish Bhattacharya, one of India’s top steel guitarists,
made a special point to meet Moe when in Hawaii for a performance. Moe had
taught Bhattacharya’s grandfather to play the steel guitar in 1932. Bhattacharya
was awed that he had been able to meet the person who had brought the steel
guitar to India.

[This obituary is reproduced by courtesy of the

Folk Alliance