Sat, 15 November 2014
Just a few more classics from Hawai`i’s Golden Voice from the forgotten broadcasts of Hawaii Calls as found only in the vaults of Ho`olohe Hou.
It is difficult to conceive that when Alfred Apaka performed “Bali Ha`i” on Hawaii Calls in the mid-1950s, it was not yet a Broadway classic, but still a relatively new tune. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific only hit Broadway in 1949. The duo wrote the song as the set piece for the musical as the song serves to describe an island that is spoken about – but never seen – since it is off-limits to anyone but the locals. So for the purposes of this show, the song is the place, and the place is nothing more than a magical song. Apaka lent his magic to it for this radio broadcast – encouraged to do so by host Webley Edwards after hearing him perform it during his then new engagement at the Hawaiian Village Hotel from which the show was broadcasting again that week. The song became so associated with Apaka that he recorded it a number of times – first for his Decca Records LP My Isle Of Golden Dreams, then again with the Hawaii Calls group on his Capitol Records LP entitled Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (which, for the record, was not a “hits” record at all, but brand new recordings never before released), and finally for his second LP of music from the Broadway stage entitled Some Enchanted Evening. (The latter remains out of print to this day and should not be confused with his other album of mostly show tunes, Broadway Wears A Lei.)
Another song long associated with Apaka is “Beyond The Reef” which he performs to perfection here with the assistance of Jules Ah See who offers up some simply hypnotic steel guitar work. Apaka recorded this earlier in the decade for Decca Records with the group led by steel guitarist Danny Stewart and which was later re-released after his passing on the LP entitled Hawaiian Favorites.
If you think you heard a version of “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” by Alfred Apaka with Hawaii Calls at Ho`olohe Hou previously, you are not mistaken. But the previous version was from a 1951 broadcast with a slightly different cast and in a slightly different arrangement than the version heard here with the 1957 cast which features Apaka’s own working group, the Hawaiian Village Serenaders, of which many members of the group were also regular Hawaii Calls cast members. (You might go back to the previous article on Apaka to compare the two different versions.) With lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Blaufuss, “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” was composed as the theme song for the 1940 film Lake Placid Serenade, a vehicle for Czech figure skating champion Vera Hruba Ralston. Apaka recorded the song earlier in the decade for Decca Records with the assistance of The Andrews Sisters and would record the song for the same label later in the decade for the album which took the name of this song as its title.
While Apaka served his first two years at the then new Hawaiian Village Hotel starring in its Tapa Room, by 1957 property owner (and Apaka fan) Henry J. Kaiser would erect on the site a huge geodesic dome with Apaka in mind. Kaiser had no doubt that Apaka – whose fan base around the world continued to grow by leaps and bounds – would draw ever larger crowds. He also believed that Apaka deserved a room whose acoustics were better suited to his voice – hence the concept of a geodesic dome. Apaka was to headline the new Symphony Polynesia show which would feature a larger orchestra than simply the Hawaiian Village Serenaders who offered a modern, yet still very local “Hawaiian” sound. While there is no known film of Symphony Polynesia, we can imagine what that show might have sounded like if we listen to Apaka’s last album, recorded in the dome with a larger orchestra under the direction of conductor/arranger Don Costa (at the time best known for his work with such famed pop singers as Frank Sinatra and the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme). The LP Hawaiian Village Nights was released posthumously, and only history can decided whether or not the large orchestra and the string arrangements suited Apaka’s more pop-oriented style.
Apaka was struck down in his prime by a heart attack on January 30, 1960 while playing handball. He was only 40 years old, and most appropriately he was buried with a microphone in his hands. But he left us a legacy of recordings that are proof that he may have been the greatest Hawaiian baritone of all time, and he helped put Hawai`i and Hawaii Calls squarely on the map despite that the latter was also cut down in its prime – the program seeing its end after 40 years, the same age as Apaka when he left us.
There is a great deal more Alfred Apaka material to be mined. We will revisit these classic recordings when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates Apaka’s birthday in March.
Next time: And now the other stars of Hawaii Calls shine…