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Born on New Year's Day, 1908, Bill "Tappy" Tapia was a diminutive, stylish man with a thick Hawai'ian Pidgin accent, an iridescent smile, and a flamboyant wardrobe. He radiated charisma on stage and off.
Bill taught himself to play the 'ukulele as a young child, and by age 10, the Honolulu native was playing a spirited interpretation of "Stars and Stripes Forever" for WWI troops stationed in Hawai'i. At age 12, he left school to help support the family by working in the Hawai'ian vaudeville circuit, where he became a huge hit playing 'ukulele behind his head. In 1927, Bill, at age 19, opened the Royal Hawaiian Hotel as a featured player in famed Hawai'ian bandleader and composer Johnny Noble's orchestra. He hung out with the well-known "beach boys" Duke and Sam Kahanamoku during his sun-kissed days, and became a fixture on the Waikiki music scene during the glamorous big band-filled evenings of the 1920's, 30's and early 40's. He has crossed paths with such musical luminaries as Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, King Bennie Nawahi, Sol Ho'opi'i, Andy Iona, Charlie Barnett, Billie Holiday, Alfred Apaka, and Elvis Presley.
Despite his long life, Bill did not record any music until 2004 when he put out his first CD at the age of 96. On March 23, 2004, he provided a detailed interview for the NAMM oral history collection about his impressive career and life in music. He recalled designing several instruments for many of his luthier friends as well as improvement and adjustments to the uke he had over the years.
He continued to perform and record at an advanced age, all the while remaining in vigorous health and driving a car until his 100th birthday when he began suffering eyesight problems. Bill died in his sleep on December 2, 2011 a month short of turning 104.