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Paul Kuehn

photo of Paul Kuehn

Paul sings and is the drummer for the Hi Hopes.  He was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father. A blind, autistic musical and calendar savant, Paul has perfect pitch, an extraordinary baritone voice, and an encyclopedic knowledge of 50’s, 60’s and 70’s popular music. Paul’s talent inspired the formation of the Hi Hopes and Hope University (now Hope Center for the Arts).

Shortly after his birth in Osaka, Japan on Feb 25th, 1952, Paul’s family moved to the US. The first indication of his musical talent appeared when, still a toddler, Paul would beat time on the fireplace screen while he and his dad sat by the fire listening to music. His dad encouraged his musical development by buying a tiny pair of bongos, and later by getting him drum lessons with a Mr. Bill Wilson (a member of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra). Bill also taught drums to Desi Arnez, Jr.

Bill had frequent jam sessions at his house, to which he invited Paul. At these sessions Paul would play along on percussion and sing songs by Harry Belafonte, Tito Puente and Xavier Cougat.

From a very young age, Paul began listening to music any chance he got – radio, records, tape recordings. He would spend hours playing and singing along with recordings by Les Baxter, Cal Tjader, Dave Brubeck and many others, while his sister, Roxanne flipped records for him. His family apparently had very wide ranging tastes in music, from opera to Sinatra, but his heart really belonged to the Rock and Roll of that era – and still does.

In 1969, he was attending Hope School in Anaheim, California (a public high school serving students with special needs). It was there that, during a music class, teacher Doris Walker discovered for herself Paul’s unique abilities. Thinking out loud, Doris said, “Now what key was that in.” Paul, usually silent, replied from the back of the room, “Key of Bb, Mrs Walker.” She realized that there was much more to this quiet young man then readily appeared.

Doris began to build a musical group around Paul. That group became the Hi Hopes. When the band members became too old to attend high school (age 22 for special needs kids), Doris formed Hope University (now Hope Center for the Arts). The band became a phenomenon, playing all over the US, all due to Paul’s incredible talent.

Besides being a musical savant, Paul is a calendar savant who can recall the dates of many events. His sister Roxanne writes:

“He could tell us when songs were released on the radio, birthdays, dates for memorable occasions (and not-so-memorable occasions) and days of the week for just about any date. Paul could always tell you what time it was with great accuracy.  We figured out that he used the whistles at the Naval Air Station and the sounds of the buses that stopped near our home in Seal Beach along with time announcements from the radio.  I used to think he counted minutes in his head all the time in the background. These quirky skills were later explained to us when Paul was diagnosed as autistic.”

He has an especially acute memory when it comes to musical events.

On his down time, Paul either naps at the drop of his head or listens to his headphone radio. K-EARTH (oldies) is his favorite station. He’s done this since he was a toddler, so he has an encyclopedia’s worth of pop music history in his head. Paul cannot multiply 10×10, yet when given the title of a song from the 50‘s, 60‘s or 70’s, and sometimes the 80’s or 90’s, he can tell you who did it, what year, what key it was in, who did the remakes – and in what key they were in. He usually knows the chord changes, as well.

Paul’s voice has been compared to famous voices like those of Mel Torme, Nat King Cole or Tony Bennett.  He can usually learn a part in a few takes; learning lyrics takes slightly longer.