Photos by Tor Johnson Photography
From the time he was a young boy growing up in Palolo Valley on Oahu, John Cruz knew he was destined to play music. Whether inside or outside the home, his earliest memories were filled with song. His Hawaiian grandmother had a beautiful voice and sang in church. His mom loved the Motown sound and had an extensive record collection. His dad played country music and taught John to perform live shows at a very young age. His brothers and sisters were all musically inclined and, along with numerous aunties, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends, they have surrounded John with the gift of music for his entire life.
Although John grew up in Hawaii, it wasn't until he moved to the East Coast in 1983 that he developed his own style as a singer songwriter. During his 12 years in the Northeast, John cut his musical teeth in subways, coffeehouses and bars in New York's Greenwich Village, as well as in the clubs and local haunts from Martha's Vineyard to the Boston area.
John returned to Hawaii in 1995 to help his brother Ernie record his album. At the time, Ernie was in the immensely popular band, the Ka'au Crater Boys. He invited John to play bass with them and to play his own songs during their shows. The exposure to large crowds gave John's music a substantial fan base before it was even recorded. When his first album, Acoustic Soul was released in 1996, it made an artistic and commercial impact like few other recordings in Hawaiian musical history. Acoustic Soul to date has sold over 150,000 copies in Hawaii alone. John produced the album himself and released it on his own label, Lilikoi Records. It spawned the radio hits "Shine On," "Sitting in Limbo" and "Island Style," which has become a local anthem known around the world.
In 2005, John added the Grammy Award to his list of honors. His original song "Jo Bo's Night" was featured on the compilation CD Slack Key Guitar Volume 2, which won the first Grammy ever awarded for Hawaiian music. Over the years, John has attracted some stellar fans: Jack Johnson, Jackson Browne, Eddie Vedder, Jimmy Buffett, Lisa Loeb, Trey Anastasio, Kelly Slater, Allison Krauss and Robert Plant and others have shown their support in various ways.
In October 2006, a documentary film on his life, "Made of Music - The Story of John Cruz," debuted at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu. A few weeks later, it was honored with the Aloha Visionary Filmmaker Award at the Molokai Film Festival. Jack Johnson, Jackson Browne, Kelly Slater and Jake Shimabukuro add color and insight to an already powerful story.
John's recent touring has included stops at Bluesfest in Australia, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Summerstage in New York's Central Park, Carnegie Hall and prominent national venues up and down both coasts. He played 14 shows at the prestigious SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival in Austin, Texas in March 2009, as one of the first Hawaiians ever invited to showcase there. John headlined four galas during Barack Obama's inauguration and recently performed for and met with the President during a visit to Hawaii.
When not on the road, John spends his time supporting cultural and educational projects. He often performs at schools, raising money for arts programs and encouraging kids to believe in themselves and follow their inspirations. He works with Guitars in the Classroom, helping kids all over the country to enrich their lives through music.
John has distinguished himself as one of the most talented artists that has ever come from Hawaii. He was named the Best Singer Songwriter by Hawaii Magazine in 2008. Honolulu Magazine named the album one of the "Top 25 Greatest Hawaii Albums of the New Century" in 2012. It delivers more of the warm, heartfelt melodies and passionate, soulful vocals that John's fans have grown to know and love.