Thu, 27 November 2014
I have been transitioning from 1950s-era Hawaii Calls into the 1960s by introducing the new members of the ever-changing cast when I came across a tape from the previous era too precious to ignore. So with the kind indulgence of my readers for this “temporal shift,” I am compelled to back-up just a few years and present a gem of an episode of Hawaii Calls from an unknown date in 1957 which brings together the many stars – and supporting cast – of the program which hopefully you have already gotten to know a little by now through this nearly three-week long tribute to Hawaii Calls here at Ho`olohe Hou. And this episode is proof that – in the case of Hawaii Calls – the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts. (And the parts were already rock solid!)
The show opens with the sound of the waves and the chant of greeting, followed immediately by the fastest version of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s composition “`A`oia” that I have ever heard. Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song,” Haunani Kahalewai, takes the lead here with crystal-clear and crisp `olelo (a reference to her pronunciation of the Hawaiian language). She is joined by what host Webley Edwards refers to as the “High Trio,” meaning the ladies voices of sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana and Lani Custino along with Punini McWayne. (The third sister, Lahela Rodrigues, would not join the cast until a few years later – replacing Punini on her departure.) Listen here, too, to a fine example of Jules Ah See’s jazzy steel guitar style.
Next up, Alfred Apaka sings “Dreams of Old Hawaii,” a song composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre was one of the early international superstars of Hawaiian music. You may recall reading here at Ho`olohe Hou that he was the bandleader for nearly 15 years at the famed “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel in New York City from 1937 through 1951. What you may not recall is that McIntyre returned to Hawai`i several times throughout his Hawaiian Room tenure to recruit more talent for the show there, and one of his recruits was a then very young Alfred Apaka.
When writing about Sonny Nicholas previously, I mentioned two important things to know about him: That he was not considered a “star” of the radio program, and that he had a way with singing a comic hula number. Here both of these truisms are momentarily debunked as Sonny steps out in front of the rhythm section – which was his usual domain – to take the spotlight next to Haunani Kahalewai in a duet on “O Makalapua,” a song which honors Hawai`i’s beloved Queen Lili`uokalani, referencing her by her many nicknames (such as “Kamaka`eha" and “Makalapua”).
Now Alfred Apaka steps up to the microphone once again for a number largely associated with him, “Lovely Hula Girl.” The song was co-written by Jack Pitman (who also gave us such hapa-haole classics as “Beyond The Reef,” “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Goodnight, Leilani E,” and “Lani” which honors Hawaii Calls’ own Lani Custino) and Randy Oness (the bandleader who gave Apaka his first job in show business as the “boy singer” with Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiians).
After the reading of the air and water temperature – a staple of the program that audiences relied upon – and a steel guitar interlude from Jules Ah See (and, because there is no lyric here, you might not be able to tell the tune is “Aloha Sunset Land”), Haunani graces us with a song one last time. With the help of the “High Trio” once again, Haunani sings an old Hawaiian standard in waltz time, “Sweet Lei Mamo,”
I hope you agree that it was worth breaking the continuity of the timeline of our tribute to Hawaii Calls to step back a few years to hear this rare intact segment of the show featuring both of its superstars of that period – Haunani Kahalewai and Alfred Apaka – which likely has not been heard in the more than 50 years since it first aired.
But hearing the duet by Sonny and Haunani makes me long to hear more duets.
Next time: Three different pairs of voices team up for duets on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” – one of which you will not believe…