Sun, 7 September 2014
When last we discussed the music of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, we discussed “Papa” the musician – the new sound he heard in his head and how he realized it with what is now considered to be a “supergroup” known as the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders (comprised of now legendary George Kainapau’s falsetto, Tommy Castro’s unique steel guitar playing, and the falsetto voice and forward-thinking arrangements of Benny Kalama). But we cannot forsake Alvin Isaacs the prolific composer whose songs – both the Hawaiian-language and hapa-haole (English-language songs about Hawaiian themes) – have stood the test of time. In this segment we listen to a few of Papa’s songs that have become classics but which were recorded by his contemporaries in Hawaiian music from the 1950s and 60s. You are a bound to hear a voice you haven’t heard in a very long time (or may perhaps be hearing for the first time), and you will no doubt hear a song Isaacs wrote and mutter aloud, “I love that song… I had no idea he wrote that!”
First, the quintessential version of perhaps the most often performed and recorded Alvin Isaacs’ composition by Hawai`i’s most famous voice. Alfred Apaka sings “Nalani” which he recorded in June 1947 with a group led by Randy Oness and featuring Pua Almeida on steel guitar. During the middle of the last century – for a variety of reasons – “Nalani” may have been the most recognizable Hawaiian song across the country and around the world. We will explore the long and storied history of “Nalani” here at Ho`olohe Hou soon.
Singer, dancer, bandleader, and actor Ernest Kawohilani – known professionally as “Prince Kawohi” – is probably best known for his long affiliation on stage and TV screen with the orchestra led by Harry Owens – giving him national exposure. Here the “Prince” delivers one of Alvin’s least recorded compositions, “Uina Uina.” Recorded in Los Angeles in 1955 when Hollywood was a hotbed of the finest ex-patriot local musicians from Honolulu, the session likely included musicians who worked together regularly on stage and in the local clubs at the time including Sam Koki, Sonny Kamahele, Sam Kaapuni, Harry Baty, Pua Almeida, and almost certainly Danny Stewart on the steel guitar.
“Ho`omalimali” means “to flatter.” And the lively and humorous “Ho`omalimali E” is sung here by Fely Gabriel – a “vibrant, wriggling package of dynamite from Alohaland” according to the program from the 1964 New York World’s Fair where she appeared with the Hawai`i delegation led by Sterling Mossman. Gabriel had a long career in both California and Hawai`i – including appearing in Alfred Apaka’s show at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. The selection is from a Waikiki Records compilation LP. Gabriel sings here in front of a band led by Alvin’s son, Barney Isaacs, on steel guitar (a sound which graced many a recording of his father’s songs) and which includes other son, Norman Isaacs, on the bass and – whoa! – Gabby Pahinui on guitar. As I am always eager to meet the living legends of Hawaiian music, I feel very fortunate to have recently made Fely Gabriel’s acquaintance. Hopefully I will be able to share more about her life and career with you soon.
Known as “Hawaii’s First Lady Of Song” for her voice boasting a more than three-octave range and which was heard around the world every week for years on the famed Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts, Haunani Kahalewai soothes the savage beast with “Moon Of The Southern Seas” from the 1960 Capitol Records LP of the same name. Haunani’s Capitol-era recordings featured musicians from the Hawaii Calls radio program (arranged by Benny Kalama), so most of her output during this period features Jules Ah See on steel guitar. But Jules passed away earlier in 1960 when this LP was released. For these sessions, you hear Jules’ great friend, Barney Isaacs, once again on steel guitar.
Next time: More Alvin Isaacs’ compositions by some of Hawai`i’s finest voices…