Fri, 28 November 2014
You have probably already read here previously how Hilo Hattie got her crazy name from the song of the same name composed by Don McDiarmid, Sr. (composer of such beloved comic hula songs as “My Wahine and Me” and “Sadie, The South Seas Lady”). While Clara was a fine singer and top-notch guitarist, such novelty songs as the “Hilo Hop” are the songs that made her famous. Here is yet another rare performance by Hilo Hattie of just such a tune – one with a sordid history.
The sheet music for “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya” credits the song to Royal Hawaiian Band leader and original Hawaii Calls orchestrator and conductor Harry Owens. But did he really write it? A tradition in the music publishing industry in Hawai`i – where previously someone would write a song without thinking to publish or even copyright it, allowing it to fall into unscrupulous hands – was that the few experts in publishing (the names Charles E. King, Johnny Noble, and Harry Owens were the big three) would assist songwriters in publishing and copyrighting their works in exchange for a co-writing credit (which would entitle them to a portion of the song’s royalties). There are literally hundreds of such songs with co-authorship cited as “…and Johnny Noble” or “…and Harry Owens” where the creative contribution by the name following the “and” remains forever in question. But what reason do we have to believe that Owens is not solely responsible for “Princess Poo-poo-ly?” A conflicting account by someone who says that the song was written “on the spot” at a party in Hale`iwa by party-goers Doug Renolds and Don McDiarmid (yes, the same McDiarmid who wrote “Hilo Hattie” and the litany of songs listed above). According to McDiramid’s son, Hula Records owner Don McDiarmid, Jr., Harry Owens published the song and was subsequently sued by Renolds who – in order to help Owens save face – sold his rights to the popular song for a hefty sum. McDiarmid apparently never attempted to claim co-authorship of the song.
We could dismiss the younger McDiarmid’s account as that of a proud son protecting his father’s legacy. But we could actually use the music itself to attempt to validate his assertion. Harry Owens is famous for such compositions as “Sweet Leilani,” “Hawaiian Hospitality,” “Hawaiian Paradise,” “Dancing Under The Stars,” and “Hawaii Calls” (the original theme song for early episodes of the Hawaii Calls radio show). All of these songs are ballads that show a flair for a romantic – not a single up-tempo or comic song among them. But, more than this, as you read here previously, during his tenure as bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Owens would not even allow such low-brow comic hulas as McDiarmid’s “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” to be performed at such a classy establishment. How could “Princess Poo-poo-ly” be the type of fare in which Owens would be interested or that could even come from his romantic balladeer’s pen? By contrast, “Princess Poo-poo-ly” is exactly like the songs for which McDiarmid was known – having the same rhythms and rhyme schemes as “Hilo Hattie” or “Sadie, The South Seas Lady.” If one who knew Hawaiian music were to hear the song and guess who composed it, one is highly likely to guess McDiarmid. It was simply his style.
So here is a theory: After Owens rejected the opportunity to perform “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” and it became both a critical and commercial success, might Owens have published “Princess Poo-poo-ly” in retaliation? We will never know. The true authorship of the song may forever remain in debate, but until further evidence comes to light, we can let our ears be judge and jury.
We will hear from Hilo Hattie again and again here at Ho`olohe Hou. Until we do, I hope you enjoyed watching her in this clip that has not been unearthed elsewhere for nearly 50 years and which may be the one of the only videos of this talented lady in action.