Thu, 27 November 2014
The most requested song on Hawaii Calls – at least, by people in love - was likely “Ke Kali Nei Au,” often referred to as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” The song was not heard as much outside of Hawai`i before 1959 as it was after 1959 – not because this was the year in which Hawai`i became a state, but because this was the year that national singing sensation Andy Williams released his version (which went to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), followed immediately by Elvis Presley’s version from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii.
But the title “Hawaiian Wedding Song” is a bit of a misrepresentation. Penned by prolific composer Charles E. King, the original Hawaiian lyric has nothing to do with marriage. King wrote the original “Ke Kali Nei Au” for a Hawaiian language opera, Prince of Hawai`i, which was first performed at the Liberty Theater in Honolulu on May 4, 1925 and whose cast included Ray Kinney (of Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room” fame) as the titular prince. The first recording of “Ke Kali Nei Au” – written as a duet for male and female – did not take place until three years later in a 1928 session for Columbia Records and featured soprano Helen Desha Beamer and baritone Samuel Kapu – the very same Sam Kapu who was with the Hawaii Calls cast almost from its inception in 1935 through the late 1950s (including its earliest LP records). But regardless of its origins or meaning, some of the most memorable versions of the song were waxed by the cast members of Hawaii Calls. (One must-hear recording is the version by Don Paishon and Nina Keali`iwahamana.) But I thought I would serve up a few very rare versions from the Hawaii Calls radio show which have likely not been heard since their original airing more than 50 years ago.
The first version is the one you thought you’d likely never hear – from Hawaii Calls’ two megastars of the 1950s, Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai. It is unlikely for a number of reasons. One is that Alfred and Haunani did not always appear on the program together. So the stars aligned – literally and figuratively – for this performance. But the other reason is that we are used to hearing Haunani sing in her low contralto, and Charles E. King wrote the female part of the duet on “Ke Kali Nei Au” pretty high – regardless of the key in which it is being performed. So this is one of those rare occasions when we hear Haunani reach into the highest stratosphere of her nearly three-and-a-half octave range for her mezzosoprano on this duet. And it is stunning. (Note that a version of the song by this duo was eventually released on the CD Memories of Hawaii Calls – Volume 2. But if you listen to both versions, the version you hear here is different from the one released on CD – making this a rarity indeed.)
I have said – as recently as the previous article in this series – that Sonny Nicholas did not have the star power of an Alfred Apaka or a Haunani Kahalewai and was often relegated to singing the show’s comic hula numbers (to which, fortunately, his voice was well suited). But, fortunately for us, here again Sonny was given the spotlight in a duet with lovely Lani Custino. The two never paired up in a recording studio – making this another rarity.
Finally, the version nobody would have imagined existed. In my humble opinion, this is the finest version of the song ever to be captured on tape. And, ironically, neither of the duet partners is a woman! Alfred Apaka once again takes the male vocal lead, but his partner taking the wahine part of the duet is none other than the legendary falsetto George Kainapau! In mining my Hawaii Calls archives, this was perhaps my greatest find. But this was not the first meeting of these two Hawaiian music icons on record. From the “Before They Were Famous” files, both Apaka and Kainapau performed at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room with Ray Kinney shortly after its opening in 1937 – nearly 20 years before this reunion – and they were captured together in the recording studio many times in that era (some of those sides heard here previously at Ho`olohe Hou). But adding still more to the lore of this recording, listen as host Webley Edwards announces the supporting vocalists on this number which includes cast member Sam Kapu who made the first recording of the song under the direction of its composer Charles E. King nearly 30 years earlier – bringing this set full circle.
As this was one of the most performed songs in Hawaii Calls’ history, in the future Ho`olohe Hou will explore still more renditions of this most popular duet by the rest of the cast.
Next time: A series of rare performances from the Hawaii Calls TV program by artists who never appeared on the radio show…