Daniel John Ward – known to two generations of Honolulu dance club fans as DJ Daniel J – died Tuesday in his sleep at his residence in Kaneohe. He was 55.
In the 1980s, Daniel J introduced Honolulu into the then new electronic dance music genre of house music. He became the first DJ to convince
a local radio station (KIKI Hot I-94) that a mix show in nightclub style would be commercially feasible, with a show at the station in 1988.
Ward was born and raised in San Francisco. The club scene called him at a young age. Ward was 11 when he started DJing in a night club for all ages.
When he was 15 and earned $ 200 a night as a DJ, he left school. He eventually took the equivalent of the G.E.D. and continued his formal education at a community school. Six successful years later, in 1985, he came to Hawaii.
“I just broke up with my girlfriend, and my mother flew me to Hawaii for a vacation,” Ward Honolulu told Star-Bulletin staff writer Jason Genegabus in 2004. “My third day here I met Sonya Mendez.”
Mendez was the singer of Sonya and the Revolucion, at the time the house band of the Wave Waikiki. She introduced Ward to Jack Law, owner of the Wave Waikiki and Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. The law had introduced him
Hula is for an audition and hired him a few days later as resident DJ of the Wave.
Ward was the home DJ of the Wave for seven years and provided the soundtrack for “club kids” when that phenomenon occurred in Hawaii.
“Music was always first with
Daniel, “said Jack Law, who operated the Wave.
Dancer / choreographer Willow Chang, who worked alongside Ward at the Wave and danced at several of his major club events for Ward, described Ward as “our own electronic rat catcher.” Chang said, “He treated me in the best way as a family. As a woman – and someone who has worked in the scene of clubs, restaurants, music, dance and promotions – you can’t imagine how rare that is.”
Ward created an ‘underground’ dance evening in 1988 in Anna Bannanas, called ‘The Love Club’, with house music.
In 1992, Ward presented Honolulu’s first commercial rave event at Pink’s Garage, where he drew a room full of dancers to hear a DJ mix designed to produce euphoria.
In Pink’s Garage and Pink Cadillac, Ward produced “Dance Floor
Democracy ‘, the club mix show of Hawaii that is broadcast live for’ Sheriff Norm ‘Winter’s Radio Free Hawaii.
He was often DJ in the clubs Blue Zebra and After Dark of Honolulu in the nineties.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Ward worked with Love Fest Hawaii promoter Greg “G-Spot” Dehnert to produce “Phuture 2000” with Carl Cox on the Kakaako Waterfront,
Honolulu’s part of a worldwide concert that was broadcast on the BBC. The website of Ward says that 15,000 visitors were present at the Hawaii event.
For his 40th birthday, in 2004, Ward celebrated with a star
studded show on the Wave in 2004. He continued to headline DJ events until his death, with a show scheduled for Saturday at Surfer, the Bar, at the Turtle Bay Resort.
Famous nightclub promoter Matt Grimm, who produced Ward’s rave dance events in the 1990s, Ward recalled as “a unique soul that was truly driven and stimulated by its music.”
“He was the original pioneer
of house music in Hawaii, “Grimm continued. “He has literally touched so many lives with his DJs and events that it would be difficult to quantify – easily more than 100,000.”
“When almost everyone talks about Daniel J, they always mention his passion and how he was
always so positive and smiling. “
Survivors of Ward his son, ukulele virtuoso Zavior Amore Ward; mother, Anne Palmera Ward; brother, Steve Ward; and sister, Mary Ward Brady.
Ward’s life is celebrated from 2 p.m. until sunset Sunday at Barefoot Beach Cafe on 2699 Kalakaua Ave. near Queen’s Beach. Ward and other DJs often worked there on weekend afternoons.