Sat, 29 November 2014
By now everyone who loves Hawaiian music knows and loves Danny Kaleikini. He has been a force on the Hawaiian entertainment scene for more than 60 years – first appearing at the Waikiki Sands in 1952 and only recently wrapping up his tenure as the emcee/star of the show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel which bowed in 1967 and was one of the longest running shows in Hawai`i (as well as – anecdotally – one of the most lucrative contracts ever in the history of local Hawai`i entertainment). (The running joke is that if Don Ho owned half of Hawai`i, Danny Kaleikini owned the other half.) Finally, for his efforts in spreading goodwill and his tireless fundraising for the most worthy of causes, the State of Hawai`i named Kaleikini “Hawai`i’s Ambassador of Aloha.” Who knows what such a position entails, but for Danny, it probably just means being himself. In the words of one of his most famous songs, a Roy Sakuma tune with which he opened his Kahala Hilton shows in the 1980s…
I am what I am
I’ll be what I’ll be
Look, can’t you see
That it’s me, all of me
It was probably Danny’s second professional engagement that brought him to the attention of Hawaii Calls boss Webley Edwards – in the mid-1950s when he was appearing with cast member Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Top of the Isle. Who knows if it was Haunani who recommended Danny to Edwards or if Danny’s growing reputation simply reached the Hawaii Calls set? The earliest appearances I have heard by Danny on the Hawaii Calls program date to 1957. Here are a few selections from that era – some of the earliest of his work (dating to a year before his debut on record, the 1958 Hawaii Calls LP Hula Island Favorites).
You may recall my speaking of host Webley Edwards’ affliction about not always announcing the singer before – or even after – their performances. As Danny was not yet a star of Hawaii Calls in this period, he is considered simply a member of the chorus and performs uncredited here to open this 1957 episode with “Ka Moa`e.” The Hawaiian word for “tradewind,” the “moa`e” in question here has taken somebody’s love away and the singer longs for when the winds will blow her back toward home. It is a love song rife with kaona (veiled poetic meanings), but we do not get the full story as Danny and the chorus only sing a handful of the songs nearly dozen verses. The fast tempo also belies the lyric’s more intimate nature.
Danny follows that up with the hula staple “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii.” The song, which tells of longing for a town on the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawai`i, was introduced at a canoe race in Kona on the 4th of July, 1933. You may recall discussing composer/publisher Johnny Noble and the dispute over who really wrote “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya.” A rival composer’s son, Don McDiarmid, Jr., claims that his father composed that song with friend Doug Renolds and that Noble merely stole it and published it as his own. In a similar story from years earlier, the composers of “Grass Shack,” Bill Cogswell and Tommy Harrison, asked Noble to publish their song, and Noble completely rewrote the music and affixed his name to the co-writing credit. This makes the early publishing industry in Hawai`i sound even more dubious until we add that Noble turned over rights to the song’s future royalties for a $500 advance from San Francisco publisher Sherman, Clay & Co. and gave sole composing credit to Cogwell and Harrison. We cannot possibly know all of these years later if there was a similar dispute between Cogswell, Harrison, and Noble as there was between Renolds and Noble that may have led to such an arrangement, but it would appear that the “right” prevailed in the end.
Danny would remain with the show until its demise in 1975 and would even become the show’s emcee when Webley Edwards fell ill in 1974. But like so many other stars of the radio program in that era, Danny never appeared on the TV version. But we will hear from Danny Kaleikini again when we take a look at Hawaii Calls in the 1970s…
Next time: The rising star of Hawaii Calls also becomes it host and emcee…