Wed, 12 November 2014
Because Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long tribute to Hawaii Calls next June on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, my goal this time around is simply to share as much music from the program as possible with enough information and historical context to aid listeners in the appreciation of it.
Of historical importance this time around is Alfred Apaka’s first performance on radio of “Goodnight Leilani E.” This is important for at least two reasons. The first is that the song was practically brand new – published only a year earlier by Jack Pitman (who also composed “Beyond The Reef,” among many other classics). It was first recorded for the composer’s own Pitman-Hawaiian Records label by Napua Stevens (who also debuted “Beyond The Reef” on record a year earlier), but as this record would only have distribution within Hawai`i’s island borders, Apaka’s performance would be the introduction of this new song to a worldwide audience. (The song would not see such exposure again until it was performed by Buddy Fo and The Invitations on their 1960 Liberty Records release The Invitations with Billy May and His Orchestra. which had both national and international distribution.) More importantly, this is our first indication that Apaka performed on the Hawaii Calls broadcasts not merely the songs he made famous on record for he never recorded “Goodnight Leilani E” or (for that matter) most of the songs he performed on the radio show. By unearthing the recordings of the live Hawaii Calls programs, then, we have found a treasure trove of Alfred Apaka songs that we might never have heard him sing before. We will hear more of Apaka from these broadcasts over the next few days.
I keep asserting that the early 1950 Hawaii Calls programs offered few breakout stars but relied more on the ensemble. But that ensemble was like a supernova of local Hawai`i talent. The male voices – including brothers Simeon and Andy Bright, John “Squeeze” Kamana, Frank “Mystery” Cockett, Bob Kauahikaua, Sam Kapu, and occasionally Bill Akamuhou – handled the instruments as well. (Simeon and Andy handled the dual rhythm guitars, Squeeze Kamana the `ukulele, Mystery Cockett the upright bass, and David Keli`i on steel guitar.) But there was also an all-important trio of ladies voices. The show went through numerous girls singers over the years, but during this period the trio was likely comprised of Miriam Punini McWayne, Lani Custino, and Annie Ayau. There was a fourth grande dame who was not as important to the cast for her singing talents (for she was extremely talented in that regard) as she was for her knowledge of music and all things Hawaiian, but specifically for helping maintain the show’s ever-growing library of Hawaiian songs (most of which she knew by heart) and helping ensure the accuracy of the use of the Hawaiian language for the entire cast. Because of her vast training and expertise Vicki I`i Rodrigues was practically the right hand of arranger/conductor Al Kealoha Perry, but you can also hear her voice here on the uptempo number in the middle of this set.
Sam Kapu and Alfred Apaka trade vocal leads on the next number… Most often known simply by the first line of the lyric, “The Winds From Over The Sea,” the song is actually titled “A Song To Hawai`i” and was composed by J.D. Redding nearly a half century before as it made its first appearance on record almost at the same time as the advent of the phonograph.
Finally, Alfred Apaka closes the show by leading the chorus in “Aloha `Oe,” which despite becoming Hawai`i’s traditional song of farewell, was actually composed by Queen Lili`uokalani strictly as a love song.
Such was a typical Hawaii Calls broadcast in the early 1950s. But the decade would be a time of evolution for the program. Cast members would depart, and new ones would soon arrive on the scene, and perhaps even the tempo would change...
Next time: About the new Hawaii Calls cast members… But first a day-long tribute to Alfred Apaka…