Tue, 2 December 2014
You likely read here previously that after sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues, Boyce was the last member of the musical Rodrigues family (whose matriarch, Vicki I`i, was with the show’s cast from its inauguration on July 3, 1935 until 1951 when daughter Lani largely replaced her) to arrive on the set of Hawaii Calls – joining the cast in 1962. But he would stay until the show’s untimely demise in 1975. It would not be long before he would be an audience favorite, catapulting him to stardom in showrooms across Waikiki. During the period when these Hawaii Calls shows were taped in the early 1970s, Boyce would also be headlining at Primo Gardens at the Ilikai Hotel and co-starring in sister Lani’s “Return to Paradise” production there. But a few years later, he would buy a property in the 1600 block of Ala Moana Boulevard and open Watertown – a place that would become the Green Lantern of its generation, the place where all of the other entertainers would go to hang out after their Waikiki gig was over for the night, the result a perpetual all-night jam session featuring Hawai`i’s most famous musicians. Like the rest of the Rodrigues’ `ohana, Boyce was a tremendous addition to the Hawaii Calls cast – jovial and ready to sing a comic hula, or using his baritone on a haunting love ballad. Here we listen to him do a little of both.
Boyce opens this set with “Hula `Oni `Oni E.” (“`Oni” means “to wiggle.”) I have said time and again that some of the best comic hapa-haole songs were composed by songwriters with no ties to Hawai`i. This song – a favorite among hula dancers – was composed by Cliff Bernal and Joaquin Cambria whose only other composition on record seems to be the “Rhumba Havana.” Boyce is joined by his singing sisters here for a family affair, and there is a brief, but rollicking steel guitar solo by Barney Isaacs.
I have mentioned already the issue of limited repertoire on this program – with songs being recycled from time to time. You may recall hearing Alfred Apaka sing “Dreams of Old Hawaii” when Ho`olohe Hou examined Hawaii Calls in the 1950s. The song was composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre gave Apaka one of his early breaks when he recruited a still young Alfred to star in McIntyre’s show at the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. But with Apaka gone now, Boyce would step up and sing the song that once belonged to Hawaii Calls’ former boy singer.
Finally, Boyce gives us a song that would be the title of his then forthcoming album, “Happy Me.” When we spoke of Ed Kenney’s performance of “Pearly Shells,” I noted that while ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tatar believed that song to be one of the most successful adaptations of a Hawaiian song into English, I disagreed because the resulting English song doesn’t tell even remotely the same story as the Hawaiian original. If we are looking for a better example of an adaptation of a Hawaiian song into English, it might be “Happy Me” which like the original, “Laupahoehoe Hula” by Irmgard Aluli, tells the story of a young Hawaiian man and the simple pleasures he finds in everyday life in Hawai`i. Ironically, the English versions of “Pearly Shells” and “Happy Me” were both written by Leon Pober (who also wrote “Tiny Bubbles” which is not an adaptation of any song).
We will hear more from Boyce as we continue our look at Hawaii Calls in the 1970s.
Next time: A look at a long-time Hawaii Calls cast member who only took center stage in the 1970s…