Happy Birthday, Joe Keawe!

Joe Keawe is acknowledged as one of the legends of Hawaiian falsetto singing.  Yet, inexplicably, only about three of his dozens of singles recorded for the 49th State Records label in the 1940’s and 50’s have been remastered and reissued on CD.

I thought I would honor Uncle Joe by celebrating his September 10th birthday with you!  Check out this edition of Ho'olohe Hou to learn more about the life and music of one of my falsetto heroes!  (Listen carefully and you will also hear the mandolin playing of Joe’s mentor, Uncle Johnny Almeida.)

Recommended Listening:

A scant two or three of Joe Keawe’s 49th State singles have been reissued on CD through the remastering magic of Michael Cord and Hana Ola Records. 

However, Uncle Joe returned to the studio in 1977 – a mere 32 years after his first recording – to record his first and only full-length LP, and that beautiful recording has been reissued on CD.  Check out Hawai’i’s Falsetto Returns” on the GK Records label.





Na Ka Pueo

Joe Keawe

45 RPM Single

49th State

Kukuna O Ka La

Joe Keawe

45 RPM Single

49th State

Ho’okipa Paka

Joe Keawe

45 RPM Single

49th State

Pua Lilia

Joe Keawe

45 RPM Single

49th State

All above selections out of print.

If you would like to hear more of Joe Keawe's long out-of-print recordings, send me an e-mail at bill@hoolohehou.org.

Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_09-10-09_-_Joe_Keawe.MP3
Category:Falsetto -- posted at: 9:03pm EDT

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs - The Composer
Part One of this tribute focused on the 1940s recordings of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs and the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders on Bell Records.  Part Two provides a brief glimpse of the amazing love and respect the legends of Hawaiian music had and continue to have for Isaacs’ and his compositions - some humorous, some poignant, but all uniquely Hawaiian.

The program focuses on Isaacs’ numerous compositions performed by some of Hawai`i’s most well-loved artists - including some long forgotten names and voices.  I expect that these selections will bring back great memories for some of you and for others the realization that some of your favorite Hawaiian standards are, in fact, Alvin K. Isaacs compositions.  During this set, you will hear a selection from an extremely rare LP entitled “A Lei Of Songs From Sam” by Sam Kahalewai (which offers a pleasant surprise - Gabby Pahinui on steel guitar).  The set also includes long out of print recordings by Prince Kawohi, Fely Gabriel, Haunani Kahalewai, Ray Kinney, and one of Alvin’s talented sons, Norman.  (You will also hear another son, the exceedingly talented steel guitarist Barney Isaacs, backing the vocalists on several of these cuts as well.)

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the work of “Papa“ Isaacs.  Send your comments, suggestions, and requests to bill@hoolohehou.org.

Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_09-08-09_-_Alvin_Isaacs_Composer.MP3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 8:28am EDT

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs - The Musician
Today at Ho`olohe Hou we celebrate the birthday of one of the most important figures in the history of Hawaiian music: Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs.  “Papa” Isaacs’ contributions to Hawaiian music are incalculable - including the formation of one of the seminal Hawaiian music ensembles (the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders featuring the falsetto voices of Benny Kalama and George Kainapau and the unique steel guitar stylings of Tommy Castro), composing more than 300 songs in both English and Hawaiian (think “Nalani,” “Analani E,” and the comic “No Huhu”), and bringing into the world three more musical Isaacs (steel guitar great Barney Isaacs, slack key legend Atta Isaacs, and singer, bassist, and funnyman Norman Isaacs).

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs taught himself to play most string and wind instruments by the age of ten.  He formed an orchestra by the age of 13 - doubling on piano and mandolin - and composed the first of his more than 300 songs a year later.  (The first - “Kau`ionalani” - has been recorded countless times - most recently by Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom.)  During this period, this husky lad also excelled in sports.  As a freshman at McKinley High he became the first freshman in Hawai`i’s history to make the All-Star Scholastics football squad, and he did equally well in track, baseball, and swimming.

Alvin married his high school sweetheart, Julita Chung, in 1924.  To support the large family they planned (they eventually raised ten children), Alvin joined the Honolulu Police Department as a motorcycle patrolman.  But after a debilitating motorcycle accident on the HPD job which left him hospitalized for a year, he turned his full attention to music for income - and the Hawaiian music world hasn’t been the same since.

After the tragic accident, Alvin organized a group, the K.M.M. Syncopators, in 1929.  He formed several other groups after, including the original Royal Hawaiians (which often featured the great Ray Kinney) and The Islanders which enjoyed a long run at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  In 1935, he joined a band led by Harry Owens’ (who took over at the Royal), and Alvin was this group’s featured singer and comic hula dancer until 1940.

Alvin reorganized The Islanders in 1940 and they played at the Young Hotel Roof Garden until the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At the same time as his run at the Young Hotel, Alvin led another band - Alvin Kaleolani and The Royal Polynesians - who were the house band for the nationwide NBC program “The Voice Of Hawai`i.”   After the attack of December 7th, Alvin joined the U.S. Engineers and served as lieutenant of the guard at Punahou and took his troup of entertainers on the U.S.O. circuit.

In 1947, he assembled the aforementioned Royal Hawaiian Serenaders - an aggregation featuring Honolulu’s finest musicians of that era.  Benny Kalama had a beautiful voice, a way with an `ukulele, and a knack for arranging.  George Kainapau was Hawai`i’s premier falsetto singer.  And Tommy Castro was a well-regarded and oft-copied steel guitarist.  Along with Isaacs’ compositions, the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders were an unbeatable combination who made musical history at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel from 1947 until 1951.  They made numerous recordings for the then fledgling Bell Records label (under their own name and as accompanists for other singers) and they embarked on four mainland tours which broke attendance records at the leading west coast hotels.  It was this mainland exposure which helped introduce Alvin to Bing Crosby (who featured Alvin on his radio programs) and which led to work on Hollywood soundstages with Harry Owens.

A guiding principle that helped shape Alvin’s philosophy on life was his faith.  He was a lifelong member of the Mormon Church, and it was not uncommon for the Isaacs clan to spend evenings in family prayer.  Alvin was very active in his church, and it was while producing a talent show at his church that he conceived of the comedy classic “No Huhu.”  They were rehearsing a one-act skit featuring a Chinese-dialect comedian, and Alvin dreamed up the idea for the song and had it finished it only two hours.  “No Huhu” remains a staple of the Hawaiian comedy repertoire.  You may hear steel guiatarist Alan Akaka perform this with aplomb on Thursday evenings when performing with Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians, or you may catch Ocean Kaowili regaling audiences at Honey’s at Ko`olau with this number on Sunday afternoons.  (In an earlier time, two steel guitarists were known for their way with this song - Jules Ah See and Alvin’s son, Barney Isaacs.)

Part One of this tribute focuses on the 1940s recordings of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders on Bell Records.  Listen and discover the timeless sound Alvin and friends created that is still recognized as epitomical “Hawaiian music.”

The world lost Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs in 1984, but his memory lives on through his many compositions.  Part Two of this program will take a look at some legends of Hawaiian music and their take on Isaacs’ classic compositions.

I hope you enjoy this salue to “Papa Isaacs.“  Send your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and requests to bill@hoolohehou.org.

This program is dedicated to Jeff Au Hoy - one of “Papa” Isaacs' biggest fans.

Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_09-08-09_-_Alvin_Isaacs_Musician.MP3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 8:07am EDT