Fri, 17 October 2014
We recently began exploring Lena Machado’s West Coast days, her work on Hollywood soundstages, and her marathon recording session with steel guitarist Dick McIntire on September 23, 1937 which yielded a whopping ten sides. Here are a few more classic recordings from that session…
“O Kalena Kai” is attributed to various different composers (depending on who you ask). And then there is also the issue of what comprises a complete version of the song with all of its verses. (See also our discussion of Lena’s recording of “Mauna Kea” for another song for which most of the verses have been forgotten.) Ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman and I discussed the issue at length once – a conversation during which I learned some hard lessons about what constitutes “research” in the internet age. Stillman sorts out the controversy about the origins of “O Kalena Kai” on her blog. You might flip over to that article while you enjoy listening to Auntie Lena sing this classic that is a favorite of falsetto singers because of its intervallic leaps from the dominant to tonic chord. Notice too how McIntire’s steel guitar mimics the falsetto singer and these leaps.
Attributed to Kanihomauole and appearing in the earliest edition of Charles E. King’s Hawaiian Melodies in 1916, “Uluwehi O Ka`ala” is a love song in the Hawaiian style. The reference to Ka`ala – the highest point on the island of O`ahu – is true Hawaiian-style metaphor for the lengths one will go to for love. Listen to Lena yodel on this number – a vocal technique that was not yet in common in Hawaiian music despite that it would be easy for falsetto singers to do. Popular country singer Jimmie Rodgers (“The Singing Brakeman”) released a series of yodeling records a few years earlier – a craze which sold an amazing half million copies (an outrageous number for that era in music). It is possible that McIntire, the record company, or even Lena herself decided to arrange this old Hawaiian song in the yodeling style to capitalize on the popularity of the style.
Composer John K. Almeida first recorded his composition “O Ko`u Aloha Ia `Oe” in May 1937. So Lena clearly wasted no time taking the same tune to her September 1937 sessions. In my research I have not found any personal relationship between the two composers (except that they shared the title of “Grand Marshal” in the Aloha Week Floral Parade in 1969). So it is impossible to know whether Almeida gave Machado his song to perform and record or if Lena merely heard it on the radio and decided it would fit her voice. But, indeed, it does fit, as does McIntire’s steel guitar work on this number.
Next time: More from the September 23, 1937 Machado/McIntire session including the first appearances on record of some then new Lena Machado compositions…