LARRY RAMOS / 1942-2014Isle native paved way for Asian music stars
By Wayne Harada / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Entertainer Larry Ramos, the Kauai native who was one of the lead singers for two of The Association’s biggest hits in the 1960s, died April 30 at a hospital in Clarkston, Wash. He had just celebrated his 72nd birthday on the Garden Island.
Ramos, born Hilario Ramos in Waimea on April 19, 1942, contributed his voice to the songs “Windy” and “Never My Love.” The band’s hybrid sound of folk and psychedelic rock, laced with romantic harmonies, often was described as “sunshine pop.”
“For his birthday, he told me he wanted to go back to Hawaii as his ‘farewell to the islands,’” said Guy Aoki, a former island resident who is Ramos’ unofficial biographer after meetings and interviews over the past year. “He flew back to Kauai on April 18 to celebrate his 72nd birthday the following day and made it to Hilo, but got sick and had to return home to Idaho.”
Ramos and his wife, Helene, also had an early 50th anniversary celebration in March, before their real anniversary in June, because he wasn’t certain he’d live that long, Aoki said. Ramos suffered a heart attack Aug. 31, 2011, and was in declining health.
As a child, Ramos played ukulele on “The Arthur Godfrey Show,” and played ukulele and sang in the 1950 film “Pagan Love Song,” starring Esther Williams. At 13, he performed in a national tour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King & I,” playing the crown prince of Thailand opposite Yul Brynner.
One of his ukes is on display at the Kauai Museum; another was relegated to a shelf in his mother’s double-wide trailer outside of Grangeville, Idaho, where Ramos had lived since 1995.
Ramos was Filipino with a blend of Chinese and Spanish, and his foray into mainstream entertainment in the ’50s and ’60s was at a time when brown faces were a rarity amid white performers. He took lighthearted hits about his appearance prior to joining the New Christy Minstrels, but worked at breaking down race barriers.
When he joined The Association, he largely played banjo and, like his fellow group members, sang leads as well as backup harmony.
“Ramos was subjected to racial barbs … and he had to confront suspicious whites when groups toured the South,” Aoki said. “He helped this country get used to someone who wasn’t white nor black but Asian with a brown face. He paved the way for future stars like Don Ho, Yvonne Elliman, Far East Movement and Bruno Mars.”
Ramos told Aoki in an interview, “I always dreamed of working with big stars — Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Julie Andrews — and I have!
“I’m just representing myself on stage. And if (that’s a positive representation for Asian-Americans), then more power to that,” Ramos said. “I’m not looking to be a star. I’d just like people to say, ‘He played and sang well and he did his job well.’”
Ramos left The Association in 1976 due to differences over the group’s music, but reunited with the surviving members of the combo in 1979 as its leader. His brother, Del Ramos, will take over leadership of The Association.
Among the group’s other hits over the decades were “Cherish,” “Along Comes Mary” and “One Too Many Mornings.” “Windy” remains eternally popular, featured in episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and CBS’ “Mike and Molly.”
When Ramos wanted to stage a pair of farewell concerts earlier this year, he chose Grangeville, Idaho, where he had never performed, with original members Jules Alexander and Jim Yester joining him last Feb. 24. (His wife is a Grangeville native.)
Ramos had Honolulu ties, too. The family lived on Oahu during World War II, and his father, Larry Ramos Sr., was a pool hall operator in Honolulu and Kakaako who taught him how to play “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” on the ukulele. After Pearl Harbor, the family returned to Kauai, where his father opened another pool hall in Kalaheo.
Along with his wife and brother, survivors include his son, Larry Ramos III; twin daughters, Tracy and Stacy; stepson, Terry; stepdaughter, Keli; mother, Patrocinia Ramos; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Services are planned for June 14 in Grangeville.
Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased