Tue, 18 November 2014
I began a tribute to one of the most distinctive voices in the history of Hawaii Calls, Sonny Halemano Nicholas, when it occurred to me that two tunes just weren’t enough. How about two more?…
As Web introduces the first number, we again hear the magic that he could weave with words – as he says himself, painting the picture “in color.” We can practically see the fictitious “Lani” before Sonny launches into the song written to honor her. The lovely song was written by Jack Pitman who is most well known for his “Beyond The Reef” (which was made famous by Bing Crosby in 1949) but who also composed such Hawaiian hapa-haole standards as “Goodnight Leilani E,” “Fish and Poi,” “Lovely Hula Girl,” and “The Sands of Waikiki.” Despite that he wrote songs with such a typically Hawaiian feel that continue to be beloved and performed by Hawaiian singers to this day, ironically Pitman was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. “Lani” is one of those novelty numbers perfectly suited to Sonny Nicholas’ mischievous and ever optimistic voice.
Every Hawaiian musician and hula dancer knows well the comic hula “Holoholo Ka`a.” While its intent is comedic, the poetry is deadly serious in its use of the songwriting technique known as kaona (layers of veiled meaning). While on its surface the song is about a joyride that may have gone awry, a closer inspection of the lyrics evinces the purpose for Jack and Jill climbing the hill. But the most revealing verse is rarely sung:
He mana`o ko`u i ke kani ko`ele / I worry about the clanking sound
Ua haki ka pilina a`o luna iho / Springs broken top to bottom
He la`i pono ke kaunu `ana / Passion calmed
He nanea mai ho`i kau / So delightful
Like most other performers, Sonny and the gang skip this verse which would require further explanation for most audiences. (Hawaii Calls was a family show, after all.) The song is often inaccurately credited to composed John Kamealoha Almeida but was, in fact, composed by Clarence Kinney. As the legend goes, Kinney composed the song but gave it to Almeida to settle a debt.
There are many, many more performances – credited and uncredited – by Sonny Halemano Nicholas. I hope these few tide you over until Ho`olohe Hou celebrates the 80th anniversary of Hawaii Calls in June 2015.
Next time: A look at the men behind the signature sound of Hawaii Calls – the steel guitar…
Sonny is pictured here with fellow Hawaii Calls cast member John Squeeze Kamana.