Kiwi music legend Bill Sevesi has passed away aged 92 after a colourful life filled with ukulele and Hawaiian shirts.

The Tongan-born songwriter and steel guitarist composed more than 200 songs over his career which spanned six decades and he helped to popularise Hawaiian style music in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

And last year, Sevesi was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and received a standing ovation.

Upon receiving the accolade, he said: "Now I am 92 years old, legs are getting weak, eyes are getting dim, but I've still got my mind to put me on an ocean of music."

Dance band legend Bill Sevesi at his home in Mt Albert, Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell
Dance band legend Bill Sevesi at his home in Mt Albert, Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell

After news of his death started to trickle through New Zealand's musical community, tributes started to flow.

AudioCulture said Sevesi was unforgettable to all who met him and was generous, witty, shrewd and "most of all deeply musical".

"He was a man for whom family and community were paramount, but it was music that enabled him to make a vast contribution. For 15 years his bands held court at the Orange Ballroom on Newton Road, Auckland, where the dances introduced countless couples. He nurtured a long line of talented musicians, among them Ronnie Sundin, the Yandall Sisters and Annie Crummer.

Bill Sevesi and his Islanders. Photo / File
Bill Sevesi and his Islanders. Photo / File

"Active in music well into his 90s, besides his many recordings, Bill's lasting legacy will perhaps be the effort he put into getting ukulele into classrooms, nurturing generations still to come."

Morrinsville Ukulele Group said in a post on Facebook that it was Sevesi's dream that every child in New Zealand would play the ukulele.

"Well I think that his dream was realised in a big way. And garnered a lot of adults playing ukulele making Aotearoa arguably the ukulele capital of the world."

Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra thanked him for all he did to encourage ukulele playing in schools all over Aotearoa and steel guitar all over the world.

Head of the Pacific Music Awards, Petrina Togi-Sa'ena, said Sevesi was the "most amazing person and I was so very lucky to have known him.


"A true legend amongst us and one of the kindest, most positive, special people of the world."