Wi Wharekura, the last surviving member of the fabled, Howard Morrison Quartet, has died in Australia.
Wharekura, who lived on the Gold Coast, was a member when the quartet reached the peak of its success in the late 1950s.
They headlined many overseas acts, notably Chubby Checker and Gene Pitney, which toured the country, proving at least as popular as the NZ pop singer Johnny Devlin.
The Rotorua-based band earned lasting affection through its esprit de corps and heightened sense of fun as much as its singing and parodies of popular songs of the day.
In the pre-Beatles days, each member of the group was as well known by name as by the stage name under which they performed. The other members then were Morrison, Noel King and Jerry Merito.
Wi was a guitarist with the group who provided backing with his fine baritone voice. He was considered an expert in musical theory.
After starting in Maori concert parties, Wi became an original member of the quartet. Before this avocation, however, he went to Auckland Teacher’s Training College in pursuit of a teaching career.
There he completed half the course before returning to Rotorua to rejoin his friend Howard Morrison and enter NZ musical history.
The quartet registered high rankings with parodies of such songs as My Old Man’s a Dustman (My Old Man’s an All Black), the Battle of New Orleans (The Battle of Waikato) and Speedy Gonzales (Mori the Hori).
Hoki Mai/Pokare Kare Ana was one of their more popular and enduring hits, along with many LPs.
Though these days, their performances may be labelled as PC the group’s individual star quality made them household names throughout the land. They performed to packed houses and were particularly popular in provincial New Zealand.
It is closing in on 10 years this year since the group’s charismatic leader, Sir Howard Morrison, the only member recognised with an honour, died.
Wi Wharekura attended the tangi and performed on the paepae before the nationally televised funeral service at Ohinemutu on the Tametekapua marae,
Earlier this year Wi, who was involved in the racing industry before he went to Australia in the 1980s, celebrated his 80th birthday.
He was in full voice, according to reports, performing with the Koi Boys. Until recently when he developed a chest infection, he was also in good health.
In the early 2000s, Wi made sporadic appearances at HMQ reunions, when a variety of members performed, the most notable of whom were Toni Williams, Terry Morrison, Tai Eru and Howard Morrison Jnr, who is penning a book on the life of his father.
After a service at Gold Coast tomorrow, Sunday July 13, a service will be held in Rotorua.