Wed, 30 January 2013
Thomas Kihei Desha Brown was born January 30, 1925 into the very musical Brown family of Hilo, Hawai’i. His musical career began by singing with the famed Haili Choir of Hilo which spawned two groups: the Hilo Kalimas and the Hilo Hawaiians. With both of those groups - both family affairs including cousins Bunny and Buddy Brown - Kihei became best known for his beautiful falsetto voice.
Like many other Hawai’i artists of the 1950s and 60s who were making a splash beyond its borders - Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, Charles K.L. Davis, and George Kainapau come to mind - Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians were signed to a mainland recording contract with Decca Records. The upshot of such an arrangement is that while the recordings these artists made with such a prominent label received worldwide exposure, ironically very few of the records were shipped to the islands. So while you will find Hilo Hawaiians LPs in flea markets and swap meets across the U.S., you would be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find one in Hawai’i…
…Except for one. Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians made one album in 1960 for an organization - Hawaii Hosts - that promoted tourism in the wake of Hawai’i’s then recent statehood. Early pressings of “Honeymoon in Hawaii” were accompanied by tourist information and a 40-page booklet filled with pictures of “paradise.” The combination of music, images, and words were enough to send anybody to their nearest travel agent. The question is how was this recording distributed? Record stores? The tour company? It is a question worth pondering because there would seem to be more copies in circulation of this one recording from Hawai’i than any other. In any record store on the mainland U.S. - from Los Angeles to New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska - you will unearth not one, but several copies of this gem. Fortunately for all of us - through a labor of love - “Honeymoon in Hawai’i” is again available on a beautifully remastered CD. According to a Honolulu Magazine article, John Tsukano, Jr. personally financed the rerelease of this classic recording in honor of his father who had produced the original recording. After his father’s passing, John found the master tapes among his father’s things. And given that “Honeymoon in Hawaii” had recently been named one of the 50 all time greatest albums of Hawai’i by Honolulu Magazine, John knew that it was his obligation to the group and to his dad to bring the music back again for a new generation. The first song you hear - “Nani Waialeale” - is from one of many well worn and loved vinyl copies of the album I have amassed over the years. (I have so many copies that I could open my own record store and stock it with only this record.) The song features the steel guitar of Arthur Kaua.
“E Hilo Nani E” is from one of the Hilo Hawaiians’ two Decca Releases - “Memories of Hawaii” - and features Kihei Brown’s beautiful and lush falsetto. Both this and the other Decca LP - “The Splendor of the Islands” - remain out of print.
Like the two Decca Releases, the Hilo Kalima‘s “Your Musical Trip Around The Island of Hawaii“ (besides possibly winning the award for Hawai‘i LP With The Most Syllables In Its Title - I‘ll have to check on that!) also received distribution across the country and around the world. Hula Records - the oldest continuously operating record label in Hawai’i - frequently licensed its master tapes to other labels to further the distribution of Hawaiian music. Recordings by Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, Genoa Keawe, and the Hilo Kalmias - to name just a few - were licensed to London International Records. So you will find titles such as “Your Musical Trip“ with both a Hula and a London label. “Kona Hema” is taken from that LP and was so popular that it also appeared on the Hula Records compilation LP “Hawaiian Stars.” Notice the use of the ‘ukulele as the lead instrument here. This was a rather new concept in Hawaiian music which ushered in the 1960s - a trend led by such ‘ukulele wizards as Eddie Kamae and Jesse Kalima who felt that Hawaiian music did not necessarily require a steel guitar to be considered “Hawaiian.”
I can locate a half dozen Kihei Brown releases, but only one - “Honeymoon In Hawaii” - remains in print in any format. This is so very sad given Kihei’s talents and contribution to Hawai’i. But this also means you’ll be hearing more from Kihei Brown on Ho’olohe Hou, and soon…