Mon, 24 November 2014
OK, so it was actually pronounced Boy-see. Once you have mastered that, you can work on his Hawaiian middle name for a while: Kaihiihikapuokalani, which is how Hawaii Calls host Webley Edwards referred to him, preferring to use the performers’ Hawaiian names. But if you’re struggling with it, you can simply refer to him as Boyce Rodrigues.
The son of a lady who joined the cast when the show debuted in 1935 – singer, composer, and show song librarian Vicki I`i Rodrigues – Boyce was, therefore, the brother of the show’s singing sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana (using a middle name, like her brother), Lani Custino (married to steel guitarist Joe Custino), and Lahela Rodrigues. Boyce was the last to the Hawaii Calls party – joining the cast in 1962. And like the rest of the Rodrigues’ `ohana, what a tremendous addition he was – jovial and ready to sing a comic hula, or using his baritone on a haunting love ballad. He was soon an audience favorite, catapulting him to stardom in showrooms across Waikiki – first with Hawaii Calls co-star Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, then headlining the same hotel’s Surf Room, followed by a double-duty stint at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, headlining at the hotel’s Pot ‘O Gold and co-starring with Hilo Hattie in her show in the Tapa Room. But he is best remembered for headlining at Primo Gardens at the Ilikai Hotel in 1970 as well as co-starring in sister Lani’s “Return to Paradise” production there. He also recorded a number of sides as part of the contract Webley Edwards forged with Capitol Records. I recall the first time I heard Boyce’s voice was on The Hawaii Calls Show LP (which aimed to recreate the live radio broadcast on record) in duet with sister, Nina, on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” (Only later did that duet strike me as ironically as Frank Sinatra’s duet with daughter Nancy on “Somethin’ Stupid.”)
Like his sisters, Boyce was with the radio broadcast until the bitter end in 1975. But I thought we would look at some performances from shortly after his arrival on the Hawaii Calls scene in 1962.
I have mentioned time and again how the Hawaii Calls show repeatedly recycled its somewhat limited repertoire. So while you previously heard Haunani Kahalewai sing the beautiful “Waipi`o,” here Boyce serves up the song once again. The song honors Irene Kahalelauokekoa Holloway and her home at Waipi`o near Ewa on the island of O`ahu. Because Mrs. Holloway was the daughter of John Papa I`i, the song has an immediate connection to the show and the singers. As Vicki I`i was a distant relative of John I`I, here the song is being sung by the composer’s relatives with Vicki’s son Boyce taking the lead vocal and her daughters Nina, Lani, and Lahela providing the backing harmonies.
I often marvel at how composers rooted far from the islands somehow managed to capture the essence of Hawai`i in songs that sound like they could have been composed while sitting on Waikiki Beach watching the sunset. The lovely waltz time “Honolulu Eyes” is just one of those songs. Published in 1921, the music was by a composer who went simply by the name Violinsky (which was the pseudonym of Sol Ginsberg), and the lyric was written by Howard Johnson of Waterbury, CT. Likely his only ever attempt at a Hawaiian song, Johnson was better known for “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” and “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.” Boyce’s vocal here exemplifies the haunting quality of which I wrote earlier, and Barney Isaacs’ steel guitar sets just the right mood.
Finally, the last number here typifies the cultural and historical gaffs host Webley Edwards often made in writing his scripts. He announces the song title as “Low Moon At Waikiki,” but he is only half-right. When sung in the original Hawaiian, it is a love song entitled “Pua Rose” but which is often affectionately referred to as “Dargie Hula” for composer Henry Kailima`i dedicated the song to a haole woman he referred to only as Mrs. Dargie. The song is only called “Low Moon” when performed as an instrumental. And here Edwards falls down on the job a second time. If the song sounded eerily familiar to Hawaii Calls audiences, it was likely because this was the song played by steel guitarists Jules Ah See, Barney Isaacs, and others as the “connecting tissue” (in radio, often called “bumpers”) between songs as Edwards read the script. Go back and listen to the previous snippets of the program I have published on this blog, and you will hear “Dargie Hula” on the steel guitar over and over and over again. The song became associated with Boyce, and so he ended up recording it on the second LP by his family led by their matriarch, Auntie Vickie Sings (which sadly is no longer in print but which we will likely hear from here at Ho`olohe Hou soon).
This rare audio of Boyce singing on the Hawaii Calls radio program is surely a treasure. But as we did with his sisters before him, it would be terrific if we could actually see Boyce the performer in action once again.
And we shall.
Next time: Boyce becomes one of the stars of the Hawaii Calls TV show…