Fri, 12 December 2014
By now you know the stars of Hawaii Calls – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani, Haunani Kahalewai, Sonny Kamahele. And by now you should also be able to recognize their voices in a split second. Wouldn’t it be great if they got together and made a Christmas album? It would, and they did!
Released in 1962, A Merry Hawaiian Christmas featured these voices as well as the voice of then recent addition to the cast of the weekly radio show, Don Paishon (who would soon after making this recording head to the mainland for a lengthy stay at the 1964 New York World’s Fair with the group led by Sterling Mossman). But as with all of the other Hawaii Calls material, there are certain curiosities and mysteries surrounding this record.
First, the steel guitarist on many of these cuts almost certainly sounds like longtime Hawaii Calls steeler Jules Ah See who tragically passed away in 1960 at the age of 36. But A Merry Hawaiian Christmas was released two years later in 1962. It is possible that cuts that feature Jules were recorded years earlier but only released as part of this collection. But it is also possible that the steel guitarist was an Ah See acolyte who played very much like Jules. There were few of these during that era, and the one that comes to mind – Mel Abe – never performed or recorded with the Hawaii Calls group. Jules’ friend Barney Isaacs was the only steady Hawaii Calls steel guitarist after Jules’ passing, but while Jules could mimic almost any other player including Barney, Barney was not known to be able to copy Jules style so accurately. For now, this will remain a mystery.
Second, the first copy of this album I ever located – the cover of which is seen here – had only ten songs. Decades later I would locate another copy with a different cover which contained a dozen songs. This was my first experience with “abridged” albums. In the era of the LP, a record label would often trot out previously released albums and re-release them with fewer songs at a lower price since cutting songs meant paying fewer royalties to the songwriters. I was very happy to find an original copy of the album and hear these two “lost” songs which really do belong in this collection. Over the years, I have seen numerous different releases of the album on two different record labels – Capitol Records, which originally released the LP, and Hula Records, which currently owns the rights to all things related to Hawaii Calls – with as many as a half-dozen different variations on the cover art.
Ultimately, however, Hawaii Calls was about music, and the music on A Merry Hawaiian Christmas is simply beautiful. Show creator and host Webley Edwards once remarked that if a Hawaiian sings “Jingle Bells,” it becomes a Hawaiian song. And, to an extent, he is right. Listen as Haunani Kahalewai (with help from our mystery steel guitarist) regales us with a version of “White Christmas” rivaled only by Rosemary Clooney’s, Nina Keali`iwahamana leads the men and women of the cast in an a capella rendition of “What Child Is This,” and Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani leads us in worship with “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”
You can still find A Merry Hawaiian Christmas for purchase in MP3 format from iTunes and Amazon.com. But you won’t recognize the cover. A heartfelt mahalo to Hula Records who re-released the complete and unabridged album in the digital era with all 12 original songs. Because of my love of Hawaii Calls and their importance in spreading Hawaiian music and the aloha spirit around the world for nearly 40 years, naturally A Merry Hawaiian Christmas merits a spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.
As with the other clips from Hawaii Calls, hearing some simply makes me want to hear more.
Next time: More from #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Direct download: 14_Christmas_-_Hawaii_Calls_-_A_Merry_Hawaiian_Christmas_Part_1.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:03am EST