Aunty Genoa Conquers The Internet

On October 31, 2007, the Keawe `ohana celebrated the birthday of their mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother, Genoa Keawe, in a very public way – with a celebration concert hosted by the Pakele Live concert series at the Ala Moana Hotel. The all-star concert went seemingly forever (although it was probably only three hours) and featured such Genoa Keawe acolytes as Kawika Trask, Ainsley Halemanu, Jeff Teves, sisters Ethylyne and Mona Teves, Nickie Hines, and Melveen Leed. It also featured Aunty Genoa’s band of nearly 20 years with son Gary Aiko, niece Momi Kahawaiola`a, granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman, and their friend-as-close-as-family Alan Akaka. Of course, such a celebration would not be proper unless the guest of honor herself took the mic. And when she finally did, with the opening strains of “Paoakalani,” Genoa Keawe had officially conquered every recording and performance medium in the history of entertainment: From the 78 rpm record through the 45 rpm record and eventually the long-playing (or LP) record, from the open reel tape to the 8-track tape to the cassette tape, television and film (we didn’t even talk about her appearances on The Lucky Luck Show or her film soundtrack work), to such digital media as the CD and the MP3, and – because Pakele Live was broadcast live around the world via the Internet – the World Wide Web, by her 89th birthday – and a career spanning more than 60 years – Genoa Keawe had officially done it all. 

And so she could leave this life knowing there was nothing left to conquer. 

As emcee Billy V says in announcing the birthday girl, fans around the world were waiting with bated breath for a glimpse at and listen to the First Lady of Hawaiian Music. So that you have some context for how ardent a Genoa Keawe fan can be, it was 1am on the East Coast where I was await her appearance, 5am in Great Britain where – yes! – they were waiting for her there too. And she delivered. Although you only hear an excerpt from her set here, the highlight here is “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae,” on which Gary Aiko duets with Melveen Leed – until, that is, Melveen no longer can reach those high notes and turns over the reins to Aunty Genoa who can not only still hit “G” above “high C,” but hold it for eight beats at the slowest of tempos. And then there is the closing number, her signature song, the song every audience expects, the song with which we opened this tribute a week ago, “`Alika,” on which Aunty Genoa is joined again by Melveen Leed and her granddaughter, Pomaika`i. 

Emcee Billy V doesn’t need to tell us that the crowd is on its feet. Never did Aunty Genoa perform that this didn’t happen. But the poignant moment comes when somebody – perhaps even someone on stage – says loudly for the microphones to pick up for all the world to hear, “God bless you, Aunty Genoa.” And it resounded in such a way that it was as if the entire Hawaiian music-loving world said it in unison. I hope she heard it. And I pray she believed it. 

God bless you, Aunty Genoa. We love you, aunty. And we always will.


In loving remembrance of Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe

(October 31, 1918 -- February 25, 2008)


Direct download: 16_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:49pm EDT

Precious Meetings With Aunty Genoa

By now you likely already know that at Ho`olohe Hou, when we say “Precious Meetings,” we mean those rare moments on stage or in a recording studio when two artists that would seldom (perhaps never before or since) be captured together on tape create a historically important moment on record. For Hawai`i’s musicians who also happen to be fans of Aunty Genoa, these meetings were equally precious for them as they were for us, the listener. Here are four such “Precious Meetings” between Aunty Genoa and the current generation of Hawaiian music artists. 

Teresa Bright is known for blurring the lines between past and present in her presentation of Hawaiian music (both as a solo artist and with former partner Steve Maii). On her 1994 release, Painted Tradition (her second solo album after her departure from Maii), Bright took liberties with songs by (Aunty Genoa’s mentor) John Kameaaloha Almeida and Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. But she played it relatively straight in her duet with Aunty Genoa on her friend Lena Machado’s “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi.” As she did in the earliest part of her career with Uncle Johnny on the 49th State Records releases, Aunty Genoa is content to sing back-up for Teresa. And one of those magic moments on record was the happy result. 

Aunty Genoa does not necessarily sing back-up again but, rather, a harmony part of her choosing on “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” with the group Pali from their 2004 CD In Harmony. The group is named for its leader, multi-instrumentalist Pali Ka`aihue who created the Pakele Live concert series, the first Hawaiian music program broadcast around the world live via the Internet. This likely would have been Aunty Genoa’s last ever recording, and a 2007 appearance at Pakele Live – in honor of her 89th birthday – would be one of Aunty Genoa’s last public appearances. 

Zanuck Kapala Lindsey has led numerous groups over the last twenty or more years – each propelling the evolution of Hawaiian music a little farther and faster than the last. In the 1990s “Z” (as he is affectionately known) combined old Hawaiian songs with the swing revival craze to create the fictitiously named Hula Joe & The Hutjumpers. A mash-up that might be described as Lani McIntire-era Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room meets Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the group’s eponymously titled CD (the 1999 release their one and only before “Z” and group evolved yet again) was a wild success. And with the group’s help, Aunty Genoa reprised Don McDiarmid’s composition “Do The Hula” which Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians had recorded nearly 50 years earlier for 49th State Records. 

Finally, in 2004 then 20-year-old female falsetto phenom Raiatea Helm invited Aunty Genoa into the studio to duet with her on the Johnny Noble classic “Hu`i E.” This is a true duet in that Raiatea and Aunty Genoa are equals here – trading verses and harmonizing with each other on the ha`ina verse. This “Precious Meeting” is the most precious of all of these to me personally since I know how much Aunty Genoa means to Rai, and despite that she is her own woman and her own artist, one cannot help but hear Rai honoring Aunty Genoa in every note she sings. “She’s inspired me,” Helm told MidWeek in 2005. “She’s a great icon of Hawaiian music and, as a woman, a great role model.” Raiatea is also good friends with the other young lioness of Hawaiian falsetto, Aunty Genoa’s granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman – making the whole affair even that much more special. 

I am proud and honored to say that I had my share of “Precious Meetings” with Aunty Genoa too. Every time I visited the Waikiki Beach Marriott – where Aunty Genoa held court every Thursday evening from the early 1990s until her passing in 2008 – I was most humbly called to the stage where I could fulfill my life’s greatest wish – over and over again – to sing with Aunty Genoa. I don’t know if my favorite occasion was July 3, 2003 when I honored Aunty Genoa by singing for her the first song she ever recorded, “Maile Swing” (which she sang with me), or September 15, 2005 when I sang for her “Ku`u Makamaka,” the mele inoa (or “name song”) written in her honor by her good friend Malia Craver and which had only been recorded by such good friends of Aunty Genoa’s as Peter Ahia and Violet Pahu Liliko`i. Or perhaps it was neither of these as many of those evenings sitting beside her (relieving Auntie Momi for an extended break while assuming her coveted rhythm guitar chair), not only did the experience never get old, never did I cease to have a fog come over me in Auntie Genoa’s presence. Being raised in New Jersey, if I had chosen to idolize Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, I still would not have had the opportunity to take the stage next to either of them. But this is Hawaiian music and – more specifically – this is who Auntie Genoa was. She shared the stage with performers from around the world, and she did not audition you beforehand. She trusted that you would not embarrass her, and so that haze that comes over us all in that situation is boundless energy channeled into calling up from memory all of the right words and correct chords while still remembering to smile. Aunty Genoa would have forgiven bad chords and wrong lyrics, but she would never have forgiven you for not smiling. No, she would have eventually. 

Next time: Celebrating Auntie Genoa’s 89th birthday with one of her final public appearances as she conquers the last performance medium: the Internet… 


Direct download: 13_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Precious Meetings -- posted at: 5:44am EDT

Genoa Keawe – Still Singing For The Hula

It is potentially dangerous to say that Auntie Genoa’s next two CDs follow the same template as all of her previous full-length recordings going all the way back to 1965’s Party Hulas. Because this somehow sounds like a bad thing. It’s not. Auntie Genoa continued to play her critically important role in Hawaiian music. It was the role of people like Richard Kauhi and Lena Machado to revolutionize and push the boundaries of Hawaiian music. It was Auntie Genoa’s role to ground Hawaiian music firmly in tradition. That does not mean that she would not perform a song from outside of her comfortable milieu. But even when Auntie Genoa would sing such an unexpected number as “You Are So Beautiful” (made popular by Joe Cocker) or Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” it was still somehow uniquely Hawaiian.

What was unusual about In The Hula Style and Hula Hou was that they were recorded in Hawai`i but produced by Japan’s Yasuhiko Ariga. This no doubt requires some explanation… Yasu is an ardent fan of Hawaiian music. In 1987, he began importing the finest musicians, singers, and hula dancers from Hawai`i to perform in some of the finest Hawaiian productions Japan has ever known. He has since branched out to take these shows around the world and – most interestingly – to the mainland U.S. in a series of concerts at famed Carnegie Hall in the 2000s. And at some point in between, U`ilani Productions, Inc. (as Yasu’s production company is known) began producing recordings of Hawaiian music – first of legends like Genoa Keawe, and later by Japanese superstars of Hawaiian music such as George Matsushita (recorded in Hawai`i with local Hawai`i musicians) – primarily for distribution in Japan. This is why you will find different versions of the same U’ilani Productions CD with different cover art and different copyright dates: One would be the original Japanese edition, and the other the U.S. release. (This explains my confusion when so many sources cite Aunty Genoa’s In The Hula Style as being released in 1990 despite that the copy in my collection is copyrighted in 1996. This also solves the mystery behind my confusion of why Hula Hou – which appeared to me based on copyright dates to be released first, but which was in reality released second – had the “hou” (which means “again”) in its title. It was, in fact, the follow-up to In The Hula Style, and so the “hou” means “encore.”

In The Hula Style and Hula Hou feature Aunty Genoa’s working group of the 1990s – largely the same group that was with her until the very end of her career in 2008. It included such mainstays of Genoa’s groups throughout the decades as her friend, Violet Pahu Liliko`i, on bass, her niece, Momi Kahawaiola`a, on rhythm guitar, and her son, Gary Aiko, with his silky-smooth baritone voice, but with the addition of steel guitarist Alan Akaka. (Gary would replace Auntie Violet on bass when she passed away in 2001.) While the others may have been around longer, Akaka became the anchor of this incarnation of Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians because he was a chameleon of the steel guitar who could mimic the styles of Aunty Genoa’s previous steel guitarists – from Benny Rogers to Joe Custino to Herbert Hanawahine – while retaining a style uniquely his own. Akaka is considered the finest steel guitarist in Hawai`i of the last 30 years, and that is evidenced on this recording. Listen again to the clips from Party Hulas or By Request and here how the legacies of Rogers and Custino live on in the steel bar and fingerpicks wielded by Akaka on these two dozen cuts.

In speaking of Aunty Genoa and her music (and, for that matter, numerous other artists who perform in a similar style as her), I have not in the entire history of Ho`olohe Hou used the term chalangalang. And that’s because at various points in the history of Hawaiian music the term has been considered somehow derogatory. It does not appear in George S. Kanahele’s Hawaiian Music and Musicians or in the newer edition of the same edited by John Berger, but that does not necessarily delegitimize it as an ethnomusicological term (especially in the absence of any more acceptable official term). But when it was in common use, chalangalang meant a style of Hawaiian music featuring swing-type rhythms suitable for the hula and a particular instrumentation – specifically the combination of rhythm guitar (played on a flat top acoustic or archtop electric guitar) and `ukulele (sometimes more than one at a time) – which when strummed in the hula rhythm produces a sound not unlike the name of the style when said aloud (making “chalangalang” one of the few onomatopoeia in Hawaiian music). I have never understood why the term was considered offensive even when it was in more common use – most musicians preferring the term “hula music” – but I raise the issue now because these two CDs were not merely quintessential examples of chalangalang-style Hawaiian music, but Aunty Genoa was still performing and recording this style of music during the 1990s when almost no other Hawaiian music artist was. Therefore, in the mind of this writer, these two recordings bridge a gap in the story arc in the history of Hawaiian music and made it acceptable for musicians to make this style of music in the future. And by the 2000s this music was being heard again in profuseness throughout Hawai`i.

In this set you hear selections from these two CDs including a composition by Aunty Genoa’s mentor, John Kameaaloha Almeida (“Kapi`olani Paka”), a song by John Keawehawai`i, father of singer/comedienne Karen Keawehawai`i (“My Yellow Ginger Lei”), two from falsetto singers who also happened to be songwriters (Danny Kua`ana’s hula standard “He U`i” and Bill Ali`iloa Lincoln’s “Pua `Iliahi”), and, finally, a composition by one of Aunty Genoa’s long time musical associates, Vicki I`i Rodrigues (“KHBC”). I have offered up these tunes in low-resolution MP3 format with the hope that you will invest in In The Hula Style and Hula Hou in the much higher quality CDs which remain in print and available for purchase.

Not merely a footnote to this story, but Hula Hou garnered Aunty Genoa her first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Female Vocalist of The Year at the 1995 ceremonies. (Some argue that this is her second Hōkū Award, having taken home the Sidney Grayson Award – the Hōkū’s first iteration of its Lifetime Achievement Award – in 1980. But technically the award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1995 was Aunty Genoa’s first Hōkū Award for a specific recording work as opposed to a body of work.) Another Genoa Keawe recording garnered a Hōkū the same year, but the award went to the CD’s producer, Don McDiarmid, Jr., for compiling the anthology Hana Hou! – Volume 1 featuring selections culled from Aunty Genoa’s two Hula Records releases, Party Hulas and Luau Hulas.

Sadly, Hula Hou would be Aunty Genoa’s last recording sessions for a full-length album. But she would return to the studio a few more times for guest appearances on recordings by other artists.

Next time: A new generation of musicians in Hawai`i honor Aunty Genoa by inviting her into the studio with them…


Direct download: 12_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:49pm EDT

OOPs - Sing Along With Auntie Genoa Keawe

If Aunty Genoa entered the new decade with the delightful Hula – Volume One, surely fans must have posed the question… What happened to Hula – Volume Two? While there was never a follow-up album by precisely that title, I would argue that some of her fans think they own it regardless. 

In 1992 Aunty Genoa went back into Commercial Recording in Kaka`ako for a series of shorter recordings – still then available only on cassette tape – with some (but not all) of the members of her regular working group of that era – including John Lino at the piano, Violet Pahu Liliko`i on bass, and Peter Ahia on guitar. The result was a dozen more classic tracks which were released as three cassette tapes of only four tracks each. But why? Because Side One of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa singing four of the songs, and side two of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa not singing the same four songs. Crazy, huh? 

Crazy like a fox! These twelve songs across three cassettes represent Genoa Keawe’s ingenious entrée into the world of karaoke. All the rage at the time, karaoke, a neologism formed by combining the Japanese kara (meaning “empty”) and ōkesutora (meaning orchestra"), is a form of entertainment in which ordinary citizens (i.e. not professional singers) try their hand (or vocal cords) at singing popular favorites to recordings of those songs with the original vocal track removed. Later versions of the karaoke machine, invented in the 1970s but which only took off when restaurants and bars purchased these in droves to fulfill the 90s crazy, played the vocal-less audio track while simultaneously flashing the lyrics to the songs on a screen (a la the “bouncing ball” from conductor Mitch Miller’s Sing Along With Mitch television program of the early 1960s). But this would not be possible until karaoke machines transitioned from the cassette to the CD which could handle other kinds of data besides music. 

But Aunty Genoa likely had a far more important mission in mind when she conceived of Sing Along With Auntie Genoa Keawe. With this series of cassette releases, she could teach a new generation of Hawaiians to sing Hawaiian songs and sing them correctly. All one needed to do was follow the lyrics inside the cassette’s “j-card” (the technical term for a cassette’s liner notes since removing them from the cassette box reveals that they are folded into the shape of a “J” to fit inside the bend-able case) and listen – carefully – to Aunty Genoa’s impeccable pronunciation. (This is a concept that dates back to the Music Minus One series of the 1950s on which legendary jazz musicians created recordings with and without the lead singer or instrumentalist in order for budding Frank Sinatras and Charlie Parkers to cut their teeth in the privacy of their own garages and basements.) 

There were three cassettes in the series, but if we were to take just Side One of each of these and put them into a single release, for most Genoa Keawe fans this was Hula – Volume Two – the logical follow-up in style and substance to Hula – Volume One. But whether you think of them as one recording or three, they qualify for “OOPs” status (an “OOP” being a treasured “Out of Print” recording that we believe it is a mistake to keep out of circulation) for any number of reasons: 

  • The recordings feature 10 songs Aunty Genoa had never recorded previously and never again since.

  • Aunty Genoa performed “Maile Swing” for a second time on record. (It was the first song she ever recorded more than 45 years earlier when she debuted on 49th State Records.)

  • It featured Auntie Violet Liliko`i singing her signature song, “Piha Hau`oli.”

  • It was the last appearance of Peter Ahia on record before his untimely passing the following year.  

When speaking of “OOPs,” I often say that it is not a qualification of an “OOPs” that the recording be old. There are many fairly recent recordings that are for whatever reason no longer available. Aunty Genoa’s karaoke cassettes were only released in 1992 – barely 20 years ago – but are out of print nonetheless. Interestingly, these fairly recent recordings are so rare that the only references to them on the Internet point back to previous editions of Ho`olohe Hou. 

While only a low-resolution MP3 copy of even lower-resolution cassette tapes, I hope you enjoy these rare recordings of Aunty Genoa and group performing “Ke Ala O Ka Rose,” “Wahiikaahuula,” and “Aloha Ka Manini.” 

Next time: Aunty Genoa celebrates her Diamond Jubilee by entering the digital era with her first two CD releases – produced (most curiously) by a Japanese production company…


Direct download: 11_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:OOPs (Out Of Prints) -- posted at: 6:58pm EDT

Genoa Keawe – Hula – Volume One

Aunty Genoa ushered in the 90s with a most unusual recording that represents the happy collision of all of the previous eras in her career. The 1940s are represented by her reunion with steel guitarist Henry Kaalekahi (who recorded with her on any number of her 49th State Records singles), her longtime collaborator Violet Pahu Liliko`i on guitar, and the addition to her regular working group of her niece, Momi Kahawaiola`a (who also first recorded for 49th State – her first record being the first ever recording of the hapa-haole classic “Hukilau”). The 1970s are represented by her return to the studios of Commercial Recording in Kaka`ako, as well as by her sons, Gary and Sam Aiko, who performed with their mother at the Aloha Grill throughout that decade. And the 1960s are represented by… A completely different group altogether? The Paradise Serenaders were a popular vocal group of the 1960s with two full-length LPs under their belts. And here group founder Lawaina Mokulehua handles the piano chores for Aunty Genoa while the voice of the Paradise Serenaders, Billy Gonsalves, manages yet another rhythm guitar. There are no other events on record of Aunty Genoa performing with Aunty Lawaina and Uncle Billy – making this yet another rare delight in the Genoa Keawe catalog. 

While Aunty Genoa allows sons Sam and Gary to take the vocal lead on six of the twelve selections on the album, this set is focused – as it should be this week – on her performances. We first hear Aunty Genoa on Clarence Kinney’s composition about a crazy car ride rife with double-entendre, “Holoholo Ka`a” (taken at perhaps the most relaxed tempo the tune has ever been taken on record). We then hear her tackle a relatively new composition at the time, the still seldom performed “Pauoa Hula” from the pen of Kaipo Hale. And the set closes with Aunty Genoa reprising a hula standard from her Party Hulas days, “Hula O Makee.” 

I am so pleased to report that Hula – Volume One is still available for purchase – digitally remastered and re-released on CD courtesy of GK Records where Aunty Genoa’s legacy is lovingly preserved and perpetuated by her son, Eric, and granddaughter, Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman. It is among my favorite Genoa Keawe recordings, and I hope the sampler I offered here – despite that you are listening to low-resolution MP3s made from my original cassette copy – entices you to run out and pick up a copy of this classic of Hawaiian music. In fact, you don’t have to run out. You may be able to find it from the comfort of your easy chair and have it delivered right to your door… 

The mystery that lingers, of course, is… What ever happened to Hula – Volume Two?

Next time: Aunty Genoa enters the 1990s by capitalizing (in the best possible way) on the latest craze of the era…


Direct download: 10_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:44am EDT

OOPs – Ka`alaea

The 1980s were the most difficult period for me to obtain Hawaiian music around my suburban Philadelphia home. Our local music retailers no longer stocked a “Hawaiian” section because they would invariably get stuck with the inventory. Moreover, Hawaiian music artists were printing new releases in smaller and smaller quantities because they were caught in the middle of the “format wars” that began on the mainland. The compact disc (or CD) was introduced in 1982, and the marketing around it marked the death knell for the long-playing vinyl record (LP). But almost nobody owned the still very expensive CD player, and there were very few titles yet available on the new format. Hawaiian music artists were stuck: Should they produce LPs or CDs of their latest release? Some opted to do neither and released their new albums solely on cassette tape which at the time didn’t seem threatened by the format debate. The problem is that – in case you have never heard this – the cassette was developed by Norelco in the 1960s strictly as a medium for taking dictation. The cassette’s limitations for realistically conveying music were never overcome. Children of the 80s likely have hundreds of cassettes in a bag or a box in our attics, basements, or garages. Take one out and listen to it, and then compare it to a CD or MP3 of the same music. The difference is not that a CD or MP3 is so much better. It is that the cassette was never decent-sounding in the first place. 

(And if you’re curious about why this is universally true, a physical recording medium like a record or tape relies on a number of physical realities to recreate sound perfectly, and these factors are never truly attainable within the constraints of time and expense. Magnetic tape such as a cassette is the most sensitive medium of all. It largely relies on three factors to reproduce sound with any quality worthy of your home hi-fi system. The first two are the width of the tape and the speed of the tape. The wider the tape, the more content it can hold. Recording studios might use tape up to 2” wide. The retail cassette you purchase is 1/8”, but because it plays in two directions (unlike studio tape which only runs in one direction), one side of a cassette only occupies 1/16” of a cassette. The relationship between tape width and sound quality is exponential: If you double the width of the tape, the sound quality quadruples. So taking into account tape width alone, the tape used in the studio will sound 1,024 times better than the cassette tape you can purchase. Tape speed is another exponential relationship: Double the speed, quadruple the quality. Studio tape recorders typically run at 15 ips (or “inches per second”). A cassette runs at 1 7/8 ips. So the speed of the tape in the studio will result in 64 times better sound than a cassette. When we multiply the factors of width and speed, a cassette is likely to sound 65,536 times worse than what actually happened in the studio. But I have not even discussed the third factor: Alignment of the tape machine head with the tape running past it. Alignment is the most critical factor because it is highly unlikely that the alignment of your head with the cassette you purchased will ever be the same as the alignment of the head of the manufacturer’s duplicating machine. Finally, a fourth nail in the cassette’s coffin: Cassette tapes are duplicated at hundreds of times the actual speed we listen to them at. Since speed is a factor in sound quality, when we purchase a cassette and play it at home, we are actually playing it hundreds of times slower than it was duplicated. I can’t even do the math in my head anymore…) 

And this is why my copy of Genoa Keawe’s Ka`alaea – a cassette-only release – sounds terrible, and still more terrible with each passing year since the other factor that a physical medium like the cassette lacks is durability. 

In the mid-80s I had heard that a new album by Genoa Keawe had come out, but I could not find it. And just as quickly as it arrived on store shelves, it was out of print. Hence Ka`alaea receives my dubious “OOPs” moniker – not because it was a mistake, but because it is out of print (OOP). 

It was not until the 90s and the advent of the Internet that I got a hot lead. An Internet search (this predated Google, and I cannot recall what search engine was then at my disposal) revealed a copy in the Liliha Public Library in Honolulu (very near what has since become one of my favorite breakfast spots, Liliha Bakery, home of their patented “coco puff,” and what the hell was I talking about anyway?…). I rang up a Hawaiian music-loving friend whom I had also met on the Internet (on a Usenet newsgroup forum called who agreed to a ridiculous plan: He would check the cassette out of the library in Liliha, mail it to me so that I could make a copy of it, and I would mail it back as quickly as possible, and he would return it to the library before we had even incurred any overdue fines. And it worked! It is a low-resolution MP3 copy of that low-quality cassette copy of a low-quality cassette original that you are listening to now. (And my friend, by the way, asked for nothing in return for his efforts except the joy of knowing that the completeness of my Genoa Keawe music collection remained intact.)

I recently spoke with Aunty Genoa’s son, Eric, about this elusive recording. And it proved so elusive that he had to research it a little himself. What we know is that the project was co-produced by Bob Nelson (Aunty Genoa’s dear friend and composer of the classic “Hanalei Moon”) and the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (whose name escapes us all). The project was conceived to honor the Chinese Centennial in Hawai`i. And the title song, “Ka’alaea,” was written by Bob Nelson. 

From the “Don’t Believe Everything You Read” department, several seemingly reliable sources – including Aunty Genoa’s Honolulu Advertiser obituary – indicate that the recording was made in 1960. Preposterous! The cassette was not popular as a portable music medium until the 1970s, and prerecorded cassettes were not available for purchase until the 1980s. (Prior to that the 8-track prevailed as the portable music medium.) Eric confirmed with Bob Nelson that this was a 1980s production. 

I always very specifically list the criteria I use when dubbing (no cassette pun intended) a recording an “OOPs.” And I only need one good criterion. But I have two: 

  • On Ka`alaea, Aunty Genoa recorded nine songs that had not recorded previously and never recorded again. These are the only versions of these songs by Aunty Genoa.

  • Aunty Genoa utilized a group of musicians with whom she was not performing live during this period and with which she had not recorded previously and never recorded again: Benny Kalama on `ukulele, Sonny Kamahele on guitar, Barney Isaacs on steel guitar, and son, Gary on bass. 

The group alone makes this a once-in-a-lifetime event of a meeting of Hawaiian music legends. (Benny, Sonny, Barney, and even Gary had all shared a stage before as all were members of the Hawaii Calls orchestra and its weekly radio broadcasts. But they had never been joined by Aunty Genoa.) I inquired about this group and why Aunty Genoa chose to record with them on this one and only occasion. Eric responded that these were her good friends with whom she had desired to make a record but simply never had the opportunity previously. 

As for the song selection, you hear Aunty Genoa and her friends performing Bob Nelson’s “Ka`alaea,” a new version of “Hanauma” (which she had recorded more than 30 years earlier for the 49th State Record company), Alvin Isaacs “Ahea No Ho`i La,” and a duet with son Gary on a then still relatively new composition, “Ka Wai Lehua A`ala Ka Honua” from the pen of kumu hula Kawaikapuokalani Hewett. If it sounds like Sonny Kamahele may be struggling with the rhythm on this last number, you’re probably right. Kaipo Asing, who performed with Uncle Sonny for many years, often speaks about Sonny’s roots in the swing era of Hawaiian music. And so he always wanted to swing everything! You could get Uncle Sonny to do a modern song like Dennis Kamakahi’s “Koke`e,” but he would say, “But we’re going to swing it!” And Uncle Sonny would proceed to swing a seemingly unswingable song. Here it sounds as if he is trying to swing “Ka Wai Lehua…,” but the rest of the group is keeping him in check. But it is clearly an unnatural rhythm for him. Regardless, it is a treat to hear Aunty Genoa perform a modern song in her classic style. 

I am not a rich man, but as you can tell by the lengths I went to (or, more appropriately, urged a friend I had never met face to face to go to on my behalf) to get any copy of this recording, if the master tapes could be located, I would be willing to fund the remaster and rerelease of Ka`alaea so that a new generation of Hawaiian music fans could enjoy this recording that I have held so dear. The recording quality notwithstanding, I hope you, too, have enjoyed this rare glimpse into 1980s-era Genoa Keawe and her reunion with long-time friends in a recording studio that yielded what I consider to be one of her finest moments on record. 

Next time: Aunty Genoa transitions from the 80s to the 90s with another fine moment on record – one which you will thankfully be able to find on CD…


Direct download: 08_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:59pm EDT

Live Genoa (Part 2)

This is a story in two parts, and I suppose we find out together how the story ends… 

And now, without further ado, here is our superstar of Hawai`i, Genoa Keawe herself… 

  • Val Kepilino, Emcee, Aloha Grill 

If I were to write the liner notes for the recording you are currently listening to, that would be the sum total of it – quoting directly from songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Val Kepilino who was the bass player – and, more often than not – the emcee for Genoa Keawe’s band of the 1970s. Because this line says it all. Unlike the other live recording of Aunty Genoa which feels somehow unnaturally un-live, this live recording portrays the real Genoa Keawe. 

This is Genoa Keawe herself. 

But there are no liner notes for this recording. No cover. And no retail store. This is – plain and simple – a bootleg. And Aunty Genoa would not have been pleased. 

In 1969, Francis Brown (no relation to the Brown `ohana of Hawai`i) won the Pennsylvania Lottery – at that time, a cool million dollars (or, in 2014 dollars, $6,485,858.31). Affectionately known as “Brownie,” he was a haole with the heart of a Hawaiian who loved Hawaiian music and who also just happened to play and teach the steel guitar. One has a lot of options when suddenly the beneficiary of such luck. Brownie decided to pack up and take his wife to Hawai`i for a seemingly indefinite stay. Fortunately for us, one of the things he packed was a portable open reel tape recorder, and this would be no small feat in that era since “portable tape recorder” meant something almost as large as a valise and just as heavy as one, to boot, since it would have a hard, protective case (and two detachable speakers) – the entire bundle at least an 18” X 18” cube and weighing as much as 25 pounds. I know. I am using one as a foot rest as I write this. 

Being a steel guitarist himself, Brownie’s aim – besides luxuriating in the sun on Waikīkī Beach with an endless stream of Mai Tais served directly to his chaise lounge since tipping would no longer be an issue – was to seek out all of the great steel guitarists he had only heard on LP records, perhaps get to know them, and capture them live with the not-so-portable gear. (This is not unlike what went down in March 1947 when saxophonist and amateur recordist Dean Benedetti went – with an even larger recorder in tow – to hear the great Charlie Parker during his extended run at the Hi-De-Ho in Los Angeles.) Such massive amounts of equipment cannot be concealed, nor do I think Brownie would have dared try. Rather, every time he went to a music venue, he directly sought the band’s permission to record, and when granted (which, in those days, it typically was as ideals about copyright and intellectual property had not yet matured as perhaps they have by now), Brownie would typically pick the table closest to the steel guitarist – resulting in a lot of steel guitar-intensive recordings but which, with a little modern equalization, can still be made listenable. 

Surprisingly, Brownie and his wife, Celia, did not make Hawai`i their permanent home. They did eventually return to their suburban Philadelphia home. My father’s lessons were long over, and he was already a professional working steel guitarist himself with his own hula floor show. But he and Brownie remained friends, and so the teacher ultimately bequeathed to his prized pupil the tapes he made on his extended vacation. And the current, future, and permanent home of these tapes is now the Ho`olohe Hou archives in which I am sitting. Many did not weather the ravages of time. My father – perhaps not fully understanding the historic and cultural treasure trove bestowed upon him – for many years stored the tapes under less than ideal conditions – from our garage to our attic to my grandparents’ largely outdoor shed. So when I received the tapes, few survived in any usable condition – leaving me with nothing more than box after box with scribbling on it promising of the delights within but an essentially blank tape. 

But nearly two hours of tape from the Aloha Grill joyously survived. Featuring the same working group that Aunty Genoa kept throughout the 1970s and which you heard previously in an excerpt from the professionally recorded Aloha To Aloha Grill - Val Kepilino on bass, John Lino on piano, Herbert Hanawahine on steel guitar, and the voices and `ukulele of Pua Rogers and Peter Ahia – the live recording Brownie made captures much of what the official live release did not. There was no editing – just a complete, unexpurgated performance. There are no fade-ins and fade-outs – just enthusiastic crowd chatter, sing-alongs, uproarious applause, and shouts of “hana hou.” There remains the witty banter Aunty Genoa exchanged with her band members (such as the seemingly endless ha`ina verses of “`Ahuili” when Aunty Genoa sings “How’s your lili?” and Peter responds first “Fat!” and then on the next go ‘round “It’s teriffic!”) There’s the kolohe. (Nobody – and certainly not the dignified Aunty Genoa – could sing the variation on the ha`ina verse of “`Ahulili” knowing that a tape recorder was running. “Ding-dong bell,” “doggy in the well…” Hawaiians understand the references, and thus it shall remain.) There are the dedications to friends, tourists, or the bowling team that just walked in. You can hear the guest performances which that evening included falsetto singer Lani Shon and composer/singer Maddy Lam (who graced the audience with both her voice and hula). You can hear Aunty Genoa make the audience part of the show (beckoning “Come up here and dance, Mrs. Kaleikini,” a reference to Ruby Kaleikini of Waianae for those who knew her). You can hear the smile and the wink. 

While Aunty Genoa previously gave us an album that was presumably live, this amateur recording by a visiting tourist is life itself. 

But it is surprising that Brownie got out of Aloha Grill with both microphones unscathed. For while he no doubt requested permission to record that fateful evening, the question is permission from whom? Aunty Genoa greatly frowned upon unofficial recordings – not merely because capturing music for free was often a surrogate for actually buying the LPs the artists worked so hard to create and which were their livelihood, and not merely because of “union rules” (although those are the rules since union musicians are supposed to be paid for every different medium in which the performance is captured and rebroadcast). She frowned upon the practice of live recording because it is disruptive to the artists – putting them on guard, killing the relaxed atmosphere on stage – and disruptive to the audience (“Careful! Don’t trip on that cord.”). I have been in the audience at the Waikiki Marriott when Aunty Genoa has respectfully and tactfully explained to a patron why they absolutely must turn off their camcorder or (more recently) iPhone – because the musicians’ union has made it the artists’ responsibility to police such matters in the absence of a union official, and not policing it could result in fines and penalties for the musician (with no commensurate repercussions for the offending audience member). Brownie had somebody’s permission to record that evening. But I highly suspect it was not Aunty Genoa’s or the tape recorder would not have run nearly as long and her performance would not have been nearly as relaxed or candid. 

A previous version of this article ended with my stating that I was fairly certain that tūtū would disapprove of sharing a bootleg recording of her performance. And yet I shared it anyway. I added that if it were the grievous error in judgment I myself believed it to be, the Keawe `ohana would let me know respectfully, tactfully, and lovingly. And they did. It is with tremendous humility that I remove this recording at the request of my friends – along with offering them my sincerest apologies.  

When I said at the outset that we’d find out together how the story ends, now you know what I meant. If you were one of the few to have heard this precious clip before it was removed, you know how lucky you were. 

Me ke aloha pumehana, 

~ Bill Wynne


Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:12pm EDT

Live Genoa (Part 1)

This is a story in two parts, and it is only fair that each part have its day in the sun… 

Bethel Street at night is a relatively lonely looking street. Not too much seems to be going on except for at the far end of the block, close to Beretania Street, there is usually a line of people waiting patiently to go into a tiny little place called the Aloha Bar and Grill. Tonight, there seems to be a longer line, and the groups of people clustered around the entrance seems to be thicker, all trying to be a part of the action within. It is the farewell night not only for Aunty Genoa and Her Hawaiians, but also for Bob and Nancy Teruya, the owners of the place. It seems progress has caught up with this old bar and grill, and it will soon be torn down to make way for some big new building. 

The room inside is jampacked with bodies, and no one minds the heat or the discomfort of being wedged in tight. There’s lots of familiar faces of old kamaaina families, and lots of new faces of malihinis who heard of “this really neat place that has authentic Hawaiian music…” Auntie Genoa and Her Hawaiians are singing all the old favorites, and, as the night goes on, surprise guests from the audience come up and perform for her. The stage is very small, but somehow, there always seems to be room up there… So beautiful and so sad… like the closing of another era. 

  • Billie Ann Sabala, An End of an Era: Auntie Genoa Bids Downtown A Fond Farewell 

It reads like a “human interest” article from the tabloid magazine found in the center of a Sunday newspaper. Or perhaps more like an obituary for an era rather than for a person. What it does not read like are the liner notes to a new album. But in any case, it is a familiar story in the history of Hawai`i and its music. Hawaiian Hut. Club Pago Pago. Na Kupuna Nights at the Moana Surfrider. Polynesian Palace. The Blue Dolphin Room of the Outrigger Hotel. The Tapa Room of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Duke’s at International Marketplace. And now the International Marketplace itself. Aku Bone. Big Country Bar & Grill just last year. And – as recently as last month – Corner Kitchen. In Hawai`i, the demise of each venue – whether because of a change in direction by management or as a result of the wrecking ball that signals so-called progress – is more often than not another toll in the death knell of Hawaiian music. 

And in many cases – at least those in recent years – this is also a sad form of self-fulfilling prophecy. While once the closure of a formerly popular nightspot meant that the music died with it, today the decision to offer Hawaiian music at a restaurant or club almost assuredly dooms that venue to financial failure. This is why you are more likely to hear Tito Berinobis lead a salsa band at the Sheraton Waikiki than to hear a steel guitar there. In recent years different venues have handled the issue – the need to strike some acceptable balance between pleasing their tourist patrons with the desire to remain true to tradition while possibly teaching tourists about Hawaiian culture – differently. The Waikiki Beach Marriott handled it by moving the music from the easy-to-access first floor lobby bar – where every passerby might hear and discover Hawaiian music – to the harder-to-find third floor pool area. The Halekulani Hotel – once known for hosting the legends of Hawaiian music – simply began telling the musicians to “turn it down,” a little bit at a time, more and more, until eventually only those within 20 feet of the stage could hear (and even then with great difficulty). 

It was literally just last month that Hawai`i’s musicians – such luminaries as Hoku Zuttermeister, Maunalua, Waipuna, and Nā Hoa – convened to hold a “thank you” concert for Mitch and Patty – former proprietors of Corner Kitchen in Kapahulu, abutting Waikiki on its Diamond Head corner, where one could hear Hawaiian music seven nights a week for nearly three years. Corner Kitchen had a magic formula: a menu filled with the utmost creative Pan-Asian delicacies that well represented Hawai`i’s multiethnic heritage made fresh by a well-trained chef, a bar stocked with the top shelf offered at reasonable prices, friendly but not oversolicitous service, and the hottest acts in Hawaiian music that you would pay handsomely to hear at a concert venue but which here didn’t even merit a cover charge. It had become the go-to place for my family on our visits, but according to my hypothesis, even this winning formula had to fail. It simply had to. And the hypothesis – and I apologize that I cannot distill it in any fewer words – is that typically tourists do not want to hear Hawaiian music, those that do are reluctant to leave Waikiki to find it, and the locals who love Hawaiian music take for granted tonight (when their favorite artist is performing but when they have had the proverbial long, hard day at the office) that it will still be there next week. Until it isn’t any more. 

That was not the fate of the Aloha Grill after all. Its fate was truly predicated on progress. Like Corner Kitchen, the Aloha Grill was a good idea executed nearly flawlessly. It was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what fans of Hawaiian music can relate to is that, regardless of the reasons, losing Corner Kitchen now must have been like losing Aloha Grill 35 years ago. There was usually “a line of people waiting to go in,” and they were there largely to hear Hawaiian music. Where would they go now? Corner Kitchen’s clientele is still trying to navigate that harsh reality. 

And I have not yet even begun to talk about the musicians. Not only do they share with the owners and the fans all of the emotions that are wrapped up in this loss, but they may not allow themselves time to mourn while they are pounding the streets trying to find the next venue willing to take a chance on Hawaiian music in order to keep their micro-economies whole. At the end of the day, a steel guitarist or a falsetto singer has to eat. 

Aunty Genoa may have been thinking these things when Aloha Grill announced its closing, but still somehow she had the presence of mind to arrange for a remote recording session. Maybe she wanted to capture not merely the sound of her band of that moment (which had only been captured on record once previously, on her no longer available album All Time Hula Favorites), but also that band in the supercharged atmosphere of the venue that had so far best loved her in by then what was more than a 30-year career. That, after all, is what live albums are all about – elevating an artist to greater musical heights when propelled by the Primo-soaked encouragement of their ardent fans, and this is even more true in a smallish venue like Aloha Grill where the artists can practically touch the fans from the stage and where the two rub elbows on their ten-minute breaks once per hour (and Aunty Genoa always did and taught her musicians to do the same as they were not merely the hired help but, in her view, the hosts of a giant party – helping ensure the band would be asked back the following week). But maybe this wasn’t the case at all. Perhaps she had no desire to make a live album at all. Perhaps this was her way of memorializing a venue she loved and the owners/friends who gave her the opportunity. Or perhaps arranging for a live recording was merely Aunty Genoa’s way to mourn. 

On April 28, 1979, a remote recording crew made the cramped Aloha Grill a little more cramped still when it joined Aunty Genoa and band to do a live album on the Aloha Grill’s last night of operation. This should have been a magical night with the potential energy to result in what could have been the finest recording of Genoa’s career. But the potential never quite becomes as kinetic on record as perhaps it was in person. Maybe there was a melancholy pervading that room. Genoa and her bands always exuded the utmost professionalism, and that is no less true on Aloha To Aloha Grill. What the live recording lacks is life. Perhaps it is an editing problem. The fade-ins and fade-outs between the songs remove the essence of a Genoa Keawe performance – specifically, the witty banter she exchanged between herself and the audience or her band members, her “talk story” about the song she is about to sing, her greeting of friends, family, and every Hawaiian music luminary that walks into the room, and the natural kolohe way about her – often displayed with nothing more than a smile. Perhaps it is because it is an audio medium and Aunty Genoa’s performances are highly visual – always bedecked in the finest designer aloha wear (a trait shared to this day by her granddaughter, performer Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman), the gentlemen in white pants, white shoes, and matching aloha shirts in the brightest hues, and, of course, an impromptu hula from the crowd, a band member, or – on a particularly lucky evening for the audience – even Aunty Genoa. Or perhaps the album lacks the numerous guest performances – every Hawaiian musician in the audience getting pulled on stage for a song and invariably a hana hou and, when the crowd approves, maybe even more – that made every Genoa Keawe performance – regardless of the venue – a party where somehow she made every audience member feel like the guest of honor. We know there were guest appearances that evening. Sabala references them in her liner notes, and she should know: She was there, serving as assistant recording engineer. 

None of that magic was captured on Aloha to Aloha Grill. 

Perhaps I’m spoiled. Perhaps this recording falls flat for me personally because I was in the room dozens of times to hear Aunty Genoa and her group live, and I know what magic prevailed on every occasion. Frankly, it was a different magic every time. Because it was spontaneous. The set list was always different, the guest list ever rotating. This live recording lacks spontaneity even though fans know that April 28, 1979 was as spontaneous an event as Genoa ever presided over. The album simply failed to capture that. 

It is not that I do not recommend this album. On the contrary. It is a critically important document in the story arc of Aunty Genoa’s career. The band made no discernible mistakes. (Professionals rarely do.) And it is worth the price of admission to hear one of son Sam Aiko’s few golden-throated appearances on record (caressing such songs as “E Ku`u Morning Dew” and “Canadian Girl”) or to hear bass player Aunty Pahu Liliko`i romp through her signature tune (“Piha Hau`oli”). No, if you are a fan of Aunty Genoa and her style of music, you definitely have to own this album, which thankfully she recorded on her own GK Records label and which she ensured saw the light of day again in the digital era on CD. 

Still, this recording may not be the “live” album fans hoped for. And this means that new generations of Genoa Keawe fans will never know exactly how it went down at the Aloha Grill when Aunty Genoa held court there. But, actually, they can and they will if I have anything to say about it. 

Next time: Part 2 of the story in which your blogger – thanks to his archives – produces an artifact that fills in the essential gap in Aunty Genoa’s career and reproduces the Aloha Grill experience exactly as fans experienced it more than 40 years ago… 


Direct download: 05_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:14am EDT

OOPs – All Time Hula Favorites

As you likely already know, at Ho`olohe Hou an “OOPs” is not a mistake. In fact, it is just the opposite (because we speak our own language here). An “OOPs” is a very important recording of high quality that may be culturally or historically important but which is inexplicably no longer commercially available. “OOPs” is our short-hand for “Out of Prints” – those recordings that cannot be obtained in any modern format. They are the musical equivalent of the tree in the old “tree falling in the woods” analogy: There are plenty of us in the great big forest of Hawaiian music forest waiting to hear, but there is no sound forthcoming. 

Such is the case with the first (of what are regrettably many) Genoa Keawe “OOPs.” In 1974, Genoa Keawe went into the studio with her then current working group – Val Kepilino on bass, John Lino on piano, Herbert Hanawahine on steel guitar, and the voices and `ukulele of Pua Rogers and Peter Ahia – to produce a record some consider a classic. All Time Hula Favorites featured more of what Aunty Genoa specialized in – as the title implies (as did many of her titles previously), music for the hula. What is conspicuous about this LP, however, is that while Aunty Genoa had years earlier started her own record company, GK Records, she and her group recorded this album for rival Poki Records. Perhaps GK Records was dormant through this period. Or perhaps Aunty Genoa was so busy with performing and touring that she could not wear the many hats that GK Records required of her. But whatever the reason, All Time Hula Favorites appeared on Poki for a brief shining moment on vinyl LP and has not appeared since. (Forget about CDs and MP3s for the moment. I do not even recall this album ever being released on an 8-track or cassette tape!) 

Whenever we discuss “OOPs” here, I carefully elucidate the criteria I have used when affixing the moniker. And there are four very good reasons (even though I only ever need one good reason) why All Time Hula Favorites qualifies: 

  • It is one of only two commercial recordings which feature Aunty Genoa’s performing group of this period with whom she worked for nearly a decade. (We will discuss the other in a forthcoming article.) So it is one of the few documents of the sound you would have heard if seeing Genoa perform live in the 1970s

  • The LP features Aunty Genoa performing songs she never recorded on any other label before or since including several hapa-haole (or English language) songs she would rarely perform anywhere.

  • It is one of only a handful of recordings featuring steel guitar great Herbert Hanawahine. (There are, in fact, fewer than a half-dozen.)

  • It is one of only three recordings of Aunty Genoa’s protégé Peter Ahia.

The record is considered so essential by some collectors that as of this writing there is currently a copy on eBay listed for $95. 

Ho`olohe Hou lovea a good mystery. So until we discover why Aunty Genoa temporarily abandoned her own label (she did not record for GK Records for another five years in 1979) for a competitor, enjoy two of my favorite selections from this forgotten out-of-print classic: “Panini Puakea” (composed by Genoa Keawe’s mentor of years earlier, Uncle Johnny Almeida) and “Paliakamoa” (from the pen of falsetto singer and hula master Bill Ali`iloa Lincoln). 

Next time: Aunty Genoa – already more than 30 years into her music career – finally resolves to wax a live recording, but the occasion for which it was intended was a bittersweet one…


Direct download: 04_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:OOPs (Out Of Prints) -- posted at: 7:59pm EDT

Aunty Genoa – “Woodstock” Hawaiian Style

On August 16, 1970, in the remote town of Hana (anyone who has ever been knows how difficult it is to get there) on the island of Maui, Hawaiian music offered up its first large-scale music festival. Featuring such popular artists of the moment as Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and the Sons of Hawai`i, Sonny Chillingworth, Palani Vaughan, Kihei Brown, the Farden sisters, Leina`ala Haili, hula master `Iolani Luahine and chanter Ka`upena Wong, and – of course – Genoa Keawe, the Ho`olaule`a O Hana (or Hana Music Festival) was captured for posterity in the PBS documentary film Hawai`i Pono`i. It was a sight to behold – hundreds of appreciative fans making the trek to this remote town to hear the artists they rarely have an opportunity to hear (because the musicians were based on O`ahu and played the clubs in and around Honolulu). It looked like a sunnier, happier Woodstock, and both were held in the most unlikely of locations. But surely the Hana event lacked the scale of the New York state event that brought so many artists to rock-and-roll stardom. 

A more Woodstock-like concert event would take place nearly four years later on May 19, 1974 at Paniolo Park in Waimea on the island of Hawai`i. The event still could not match the scale of the sheer numbers of Woodstock, but the location was easier to access than Hana, and so the event drew thousands. It was even more like Woodstock still in that music fans had to contend with winds, rains, and mud as the price of admission to hear Hawaiian music legends and for the glory of saying “I was there.” The Waimea Music Festival featured some of the same artists as the previous event in Hana including Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Genoa Keawe, but with the addition of then up-and-comers Dennis Kamakahi and a group that raised as many eyebrows as it garnered new fans to the Hawaiian music genre: The Sunday Manoa. 

Even the name of the group was unlike anything that had come before it – a seemingly meaningless combination of English and Hawaiian words but which clearly had meaning to these young men (paving the way to similarly confusing group names as Kipapa Rush Band). But it was their music that set them apart. Multi-instrumentalist Peter Moon – a young master of the slack key guitar and `ukulele, but who brought to the Hawaiian music palate such interesting new sounds as the tiple and requinta – had been looking for a sound for many years with a number of different combinations of musicians. But he found pure magic – and similarly forward-thinking blokes equally interested in revolutionizing Hawaiian music – in a pair of brothers – Robert and Roland Cazimero. Together the irreconcilable force of The Sunday Manoa was a blessing in disguise which most conspicuously gifted Hawaiian music to a new generation of fans who may have lost interest in their history and culture – by cleverly and tastefully combining past and present, tradition and radical innovation – and almost single-handedly (or six-handedly) lit the spark that would become the inferno that has since come to be known as the “Hawaiian Music Renaissance.” They did it by combining every influence they had ever heard – from Hawaiian chant to chamber classical to the Rolling Stones – into a uniquely Hawaiian idiom. But while it all seems so tame now 40 years later, The Sunday Manoa were controversial in their time. Like the Richard Kauhis and Kahauanu Lakes that came before them, The Sunday Manoa deliberately experimented within the boundaries of tradition (and some would argue stepping over the line, and others still might say altogether erasing it), and the young men took heat for it both publicly and privately – publicly from the critics of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser, and privately from such guiding forces as Hawaiian cultural expert Alice Namakelua who supported the boys while trying to reign them in at the same time. You might say the group weathered the criticism like your typical fan weathered the Waimea Music Festival – the mud forever in their minds as they trudged forth with their next innovation, even after the untimely demise of the all-too-short-lived Sunday Manoa and their too few three albums, even as they split into the two new aggregations which with exponentially greater force would continue to rattle the foundations of Hawaiian music – The Peter Moon Band and The Brothers Cazimero. 

What does any of this matter in the scheme of our story about Genoa Keawe? Aunty Genoa would not take her working group of that period to Hawai`i island with her for the festival in Waimea – perhaps because they could not get away from home for so long, perhaps because of the expense, or perhaps because there was a bounty of fine musicians awaiting her on her arrival. Instead, she would perform with whatever groups might already be there. Who knows if this was prearranged or if – in the Hawaiian style – she got off the plane, made the drive to Paniolo Park, got out of the car, and exclaimed, “Who’s going to back me up now, boys?” Either way, she ended up with a backing group that would create a whole new sound for and with her, the past and the future meeting literally and figuratively on stage for a brief shining moment and making magic. And fortunately for the Hawaiian music loving world, that magic would be captured on tape by Panini Records (the record label home of many of the festival’s artists), and so we can forever enjoy the unlikely pairing of Genoa Keawe with The Sunday Manoa. 

When Ho`olohe Hou was a radio program, I featured an occasional segment I called “Precious Meetings.” In my mind, this moniker is appropriate for those rare moments on stage or in a recording studio when two artists that would seldom (perhaps never before or since) be captured together on tape and a historically important moment resulted. I think of such pairings as Nina Keali`iwahamana and Bill Kaiwa or Marlene Sai with Buddy Fo and The Invitations. The last time this blog offered such a pairing was January 2013 when Maunalua (a group which in its time should be considered as earth-shatteringly innovative as The Sunday Manoa) took their mentor Leina`ala Haili into the studio. The pairing of Aunty Genoa with Robert, Roland, and Peter prompts me to revive this segment for this unlikely combination of artists did result – like the unlikely combination of chocolate and peanut butter (mahalo e H.B. Reese) – in the quintessential “Precious Meeting.” 

In this segment you hear Robert on bass, Roland on guitar, Peter on slack key guitar (although he had a barrage of instruments on hand that day in Waimea, including a banjo), and – a bonus “Precious Meeting” within a “Precious Meeting” – a little boost from Atta Isaacs on a second slack key guitar – all in the service of lifting Aunty Genoa to even greater heights and potentially (albeit unintentionally) presenting the then already 30-year veteran of the Hawaiian music scene to a new generation of listeners. Here this unlikely combination offers up the lengthy medley of “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” and “Mauna Loa.” It is not merely one of my favorite musical moments on record. It is in this writer’s opinion one of the most historically important moments in the history of Hawaiian music. 

The Waimea Music Festival would spawn numerous large-scale festivals like it or even bigger, better ones – including festivals dedicated to each native instrument of Hawai`i (an `ukulele festival has been running for nearly 40 years, steel guitar festivals have sprung up – everywhere from Honolulu to Joliet, Illinois to Winchester, Indiana to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and more recently Maui and – as recently as this week – Denver, Colorado – sponsored by the steel guitar preservation associations, and long-running annual slack key festivals including one on Maui and another on O`ahu named in honor of Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs) as well as festivals anchored by a particular artist or record label (Tropical Music’s “Tropical Bash” became the Makaha Sons’ “Take A Walk In The Country,” there was Peter Moon’s wildly successful “Kanikapila” series named for the record label he started in the post-Sunday Manoa era, and now a new festival every August in Waimanalo organized primarily by Gabby’s, son Cyril). But one can argue that none of these would have been possible if not for the Waimea Music Festival just over 40 years ago, and one might unravel the tradition even further to a muddy day in Hana in 1970.

Next time: Aunty Genoa inexplicably makes a temporary departure from the record label she owns and operates to wax an album for a competitor label…


Direct download: 03_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Precious Meetings -- posted at: 6:58pm EDT

Genoa Keawe – Record Producer

You have already read that after her separation from Hula Records, the entrepreneurial Genoa Keawe – with a little funding help from some good friends who truly believed in her – went into the record business for herself. Thus Genoa Keawe Records (or, as the label logo reads, simply “GK”) was born. Aunty Genoa was practically a one-woman corporation – serving in every role from distributor to bookkeeper. But the most important hat she would wear would be that of A&R (artists and repertoire) and producer – giving several up-and-coming artists and some deserving old-timers the opportunity to make their mark on the Hawaiian music scene on record. Unlike other record companies which focused on quantity – churning out as many records as humanly possible in a year in order to maximize revenue – GK Records focused on quality – producing very few records throughout its history, but focusing on artists with broad and lasting appeal and songs to match. As such, like Aunty Genoa’s first two LPs for her own label, pretty much everything else she produced for her own label was an instant classic – recordings which can still be found in Hawaiian music collections to this day on glorious-sounding digitally remastered CDs. Here are just a few songs from these beloved recordings. 

Perhaps the best loved of all of the GK Records output – arguably even more than Aunty Genoa’s own recordings – may be Peter Sings… by Peter Ahia. A member of Aunty Genoa’s working band of that period and a young man she was grooming for his own stardom, Peter did leave an indelible mark on the Hawaiian music scene with his light and airy tenor voice that simply floated across the room. With good looks to match the voice, Peter was a sensation. Sadly, his life would be cut short, but not before leaving us this classic of Hawaiian music found in nearly every thorough collection. With Peter on this recording you hear most of the members of Genoa’s regular working group including John Lino on piano, Val Kepilino on bass, and the too seldom heard Herbert Hanawahine on the steel guitar. I chose a Val Kepilino composition, “Mele O Lana`i,” to share because it is favorite of one of Hawai`i’s youngest up-and-coming artists who only just happens to be Aunty Genoa’s great-granddaughter. This is for you, Mālie Lyman. 

A great friend of Aunty Genoa’s until the end, Kealoha Kalama cut one sole classic LP for GK Records. Simply entitled Kealoha Kalama & Her Hawaiian Echoes, the group was comprised of founders Peter Mendiola and Arthur Hew Len, Larry Ah Sing, and – once again – steel guitarist Herbert Hanawahine. (The group predates the addition of Kalama who was originally their featured hula dancer before she was their featured singer.) The selections on the album are perfect for the hula – which is only fitting as Kalama is now recognized as one of Hawai`i’s great hula artists and teachers. Here she sings Lena Machado’s composition “Pua Mamane,” the origins of which you read about previously at Ho`olohe Hou. 

Some of those up-and-coming artists Genoa felt should have the opportunity to be heard on record also just happened to be her sons. Gary, Sam, and Eddie – known on their recording debut as The Aiko Brothers – laid down the tracks for the recording that would be the biggest departure for GK Records as it did not feature music for the hula. The aptly titled Hawaii Now featured the boys’ vocal harmonies on a number of originals by then neophyte on the Hawaiian music scene, Gordon Broad, as well as their unique take on a movie theme (“I Am Hawaii”), one contemporary song from Hawai`i (Kui Lee’s “The Days Of My Youth”), and another contemporary selection from a songwriter who would soon relocate from his mainland home and make his mark on Hawaiian music (“Goin’ Out Of My Head” by Teddy Randazzo, a former teen idol who would come to Hawai`i and produce iconic albums for the Beamer Brothers and Marlene Sai). The brothers Aiko even give us an interesting read on the usually very serious “Old Man River” arranged a la Count Basie. But the only traditional Hawaiian song the gentlemen tackled was Charles E. King’s “Leilehua” heard here. The liner notes (written by the Honolulu Advertiser’s Wayne Harada) referred to the Aikos as “hip Hawaiians” offering up “a hybrid of contemporary kanaka.” But the experiment was not entirely successful. The sons’ vocals rivaled the best vocal groups in Hawai`i (such as The Invitations or The Surfers) or anywhere, for that matter, but the arrangements simply did not stand the test of time. It is likely for this reason Hawaii Now is one of the few GK Records titles which has not been rereleased in the CD era. 

One of Aunty Genoa’s fellow artists going back to the 49th State Records days, Joe Keawe (no relation) returned to the recording studio at Genoa’s urging after a nearly two decade absence for the 1977 GK Records release appropriately titled “Hawaii’s Falsetto” Joe Keawe Returns. Featuring all hula standards – just like the records they waxed in the 49th State days – including three from the pen of Lena Machado, Joe Keawe Returns is another invaluable addition to any Hawaiian music collection. It also features some outstanding musicians too rarely heard on record including “Little Joe” Kekauoha (formerly of Lena Machado’s group) on percussion, Jake Holck on guitar, Jesse Kalima on `ukulele, Genoa’s son, Sam Aiko, on bass, and Hawaii Calls steel guitar legend David Keli`i (one of the recordings Keli`i made in the modern era, so his steel can really be heard well here). Uncle Joe and the gang perform a Hawaiian favorite, “Kaimana Hila,” a song that dates back to the earliest edition of the Charles E. King songbook but the melody for which has been altered over the years to sound nothing like the original song sheet. (The alterations are often credited to Andy Cummings.) 

Again, if you’re wondering why we’re listening to these recordings from my scratchy old LPs in low resolution 128 kbps MP3s, it’s my subversive way of encouraging you to run out and pick up these recordings in digitally remastered CD format. (Click on the link to any of the album titles above for purchasing information from You deserve to hear these beautiful tracks in all of their hi-fi splendor. While Ho`olohe Hou often shares music gratis, this is usually in cases where the music is no longer commercially available and there are few other means of finding and hearing it. But GK Records lives on and has gone to the effort of remastering its catalog for a new generation of listeners to enjoy, and we should support those efforts whenever possible. Mahalo! 

Next time: Aunty Genoa briefly puts down her bookkeeper’s pen, picks up a microphone, and gets captured live on record for the first time – with a most unlikely backing group…


Direct download: 02_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:58am EDT

GK Records for GK Records

Genoa Keawe’s relationship with Hula Records was short-lived because she realized back then what is still true today. Simply put, the one who fares least well financially in the record business is the one whose creative blood, sweat, and tears is critical to that process: The artist. But Aunty Genoa possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, and so she believed that she could run an entire record business herself. As it turns out, she was right.

In 1966, with the help of tourists who became Aunty Genoa’s great friends, Phil and Edith Helsley, she started Genoa Keawe Records. And from the start, as she related to journalist Lynn Cook shortly before her passing, Aunty Genoa was the producer, distributor, bookkeeper, and head of public relations. And with her taxi driving experience, she used to joke, she didn’t mind delivering a weighty case of vinyl LPs personally. Genoa went on to produce several up-and-coming artists in the world of Hawaiian music as well as some veterans deserving of being heard again, but her first two recordings on her own label were of her own music. And these first two Genoa Keawe LPs on the GK Records label have also become classics.

The same “super group” that participated in the Hula Records sessions were on hand again for the sessions at Commercial Recording Studios at 333 Cooke Street in the Kaka`ako section of Honolulu. With engineering wunderkind Bob Lang (of so many sessions yielding innumerable unforgettable and historically important recordings, as well as the weekly Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts for more years than one can count) at the mixing console, Genoa was joined by her friends Violet Pahu Liliko`i on bass, Vicki I`i Rodrigues on guitar, Pauline Kekahuna on the second guitar (she is still considered one of the great rhythm guitarists in the history of Hawaiian music), the legendary Benny Rogers on steel guitar, and – at the second sessions – relief steel guitarist Joe Custino (of Hawaii Calls fame). (It is still unclear why Benny sat out some of the sessions for the second LP.) Together this group laid down an additional two dozen classic tracks as a companion to the previous two dozen classics from the Hula Records sessions – resulting in the LPs entitled Hulas of Hawaii and By Request. Despite that the music Genoa and crew would make on her own label was of the same caliber – and staunch traditionalism – of their previous efforts, the artists at Neiman Advertising added to the appeal – and, dare, I say, class – of the proceedings with a new kind of album cover for that period. The latter LP, in particular, sees Genoa in an aqua and gold brocade holoku – the likes of which I had not seen before and have not seen since – and bedecked in about 100 pounds of precious Ni`ihau shell leis. “Class” with a capital “C.”

I thought I would share with you just a few of my personal favorites from Aunty Genoa’s GK Records years…

“Mana`o No`u `Ia `Oe” was composed by Danny Kua`ana, an `ukulele player, falsetto singer, and bandleader who spent most of his career on the West Coast (but who did – as you may recall from reading here – a brief stint at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room in New York City in the 1940s with the group led by Lani McIntire). He composed the lovely but rarely heard song for his daughter. To date, the song has only been recorded three times: once by the composer, once by Aunty Genoa, and most recently by Na Hoa’s Ikaika Blackburn.

Often misattributed to Genoa’s mentor, John Kamealoha Almeida, “E Ku`ulei, E Ku`uipo” was, in fact, composed by Kalei Kaluna. The sultry song seems to be the only written by Kaluna, and yet it is one beloved and oft performed and recorded by generations of Hawaiian musicians. The English verses are not a translation of the Hawaiian (they rarely are), so the listener will need to piece together this short-but-sweet love story. Although the song is usually taken at a somewhat snappier tempo, here Aunty Genoa delivers the song like a bawdy backroom ballad – like a secret only you and she will ever know.

“Moku O Keawe” is another of those songs that is often misattributed to the wrong composer. In this case, falsetto legend and prolific composer Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln usually receives the credit. But Uncle Bill only wrote the music at the urging of a composer friend, Mary Kawena Puku`i, who brought him the words of this song that is so old that its original melody had long been forgotten. It was, in fact, written by Emalia Kaihumua, a hula dancer in the court of King Kalākaua during his reign. “Moku O Keawe” is the Hawaiians’ affectionate name for the island of Hawai`i (so called for its ancient chief, Keawe, and often erroneously referred to as the “Big Island”). There is an entire sub-genre of Hawaiian songs about being homesick for Hawai`i when one is far away. This might be the earliest of those. Composed when Emalia was away from home on the mainland in the 1890s, she compares Hawai`i to places she visited and clearly prefers home as evidenced by such assertions as “`Ike I ke hau ho`opua kea `ili” (“See the snow that bleaches the skin”).

“Lae Lae” might be the Hawaiian poetic equivalent of “tra-la-la” (or perhaps Sinatra’s “shoo-bee-doo-bee-doo”). Or perhaps – in some cases – “lae lae” beckons the listener to fill-in-the-blanks or read-between-the-lines. Composer Bina Mossman used all of the kaona (layers of meaning and metaphor) in her composer’s toolkit to craft this classic song which carries on the tradition of allowing the protagonists to remain anonymous – referring to them instead as flowers.

If you’re wondering why we’re listening to these recordings from my scratchy old LPs in low resolution 128 kbps MP3s, it’s my subversive way of encouraging you to run out and pick up these two recordings (Hulas of Hawaii and By Request) in digital remastered CD format. You deserve to hear these beautiful tracks in all of their hi-fi splendor just as Aunty Genoa and engineer Bob Lang intended us to. And, besides which, Aunty Genoa was a businesswoman, and that business lives on and cannot continue to live on unless we support it – ensuring that GK Records will be able to share Aunty Genoa’s music for generations upon generations to come.

As a somewhat bittersweet epitaph to the GK Records story, after 32 years at the same location Commercial Recording Studios at 333 Cooke Street in Kaka`ako (where these iconic recordings were made) would lose its lease and close its doors in 1997. On October 31st. Aunty Genoa’s birthday.

Next time: The performer steps out from behind the microphone and becomes a record producer…


Direct download: 01_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:01pm EDT

Genoa Keawe Hulas and Hulas Again

With the demise of 49th State Records, Genoa Keawe needed a new musical home. By this time Aunty Genoa had the wherewithal to produce her own recordings – all, that is, but the funding. But in 1965, local entrepreneur and burgeoning record producer Don McDiarmid, Jr. came calling and enlisted Aunty Genoa to record for his up-and-coming Hula Records label.  

Hula Records claims to be the oldest continuously operating record label in Hawai`i. With all due respect, while this may be technically true, it is somewhat disingenuous. Three generations of McDiarmids have made a go at the record business in Hawai`i, but the first attempt was anything but successful. The elder Don McDiarmid (composer of such famous hapa-haole songs as “Little Brown Gal,” “My Wahine and Me,” and “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop”) produced an album of eight songs on four 78rpm shellac discs in 1947 for the first incarnation of Hula Records. But fewer than 200 of these 78rpm disc sets made it to stores because the fragile shellac broke in transit. (Whoops!) Another Hula Records release was not offered until more than a decade later.  

The premise for the new Hula Records was the same as for the old Hula Records: Recordings intended for the hula, which continued to grow in popularity. There was no better choice to record some of the earliest records for this label’s revival than Aunty Genoa since she had run her own hula studio and knew the needs of the hula dancer. She stuck to “the standards” – the songs that dancers are called upon to dance in public on a moment’s notice to this day nearly 50 years later. The two records that Aunty Genoa recorded for Hula Records – Party Hulas and Luau Hulas – have been continuously in print since their mid-1960s releases, even through every change in technology and format. I have seen or owned copies of Party Hulas in every format from the LP record to the open reel tape to the 8-track tape to the cassette tape to the CD and now the MP3. In fact, Party Hulas has been deemed so representative of traditional Hawaiian music that Hula had even licensed the masters for release in other countries to such esteemed labels as London Records (better known for being the label home of the Rolling Stones). 

John Berger’s recent edition of Hawaiian Music & Musicians refers to the aggregation involved in making these recordings as a “super group.” That is true, and at the same time it is also a gross understatement. Aunty Genoa brought together four of Hawai`i’s finest musicians in their own right for these two albums. They also just happened to be four of her great friends as well. Violet Pahu Liliko`i was a multi-instrumentalist with a lovely voice, but on these recordings she plays the upright bass. Composer and song-archivist Vicki I`i Rodrigues – already a Hula Records recording artist by that point – handles the first rhythm guitar. Pauline Kekahuna – who led her own group, the Hau`oli Girls, and her own hula studio and who ultimately co-founded the esteemed Merrie Monarch Hula Festival – has the second rhythm guitar chair – a guitar style that is still being emulated today as it is perfect for the hula. (The rhythm guitar provides nearly all of the rhythmic foundation for the hula since the typical Hawaiian band does not employ a drummer.) Aunty Genoa handles the chores on the `ukulele. And the legendary Benny Rogers plays the steel guitar. Benny was Genoa’s “go to” steel guitarist both in live performance and on the 49th State Records releases. (You heard Benny on some – but not all – of the 49th State Records releases featured on Ho’olohe Hou in the past few days.) The “sound” that this group created remains the template for hula music and for every next generation of traditional Hawaiian music groups to this day.  

One other important note for those not previously indoctrinated in the finer points of the hula… The hula is an interpretation of the mele (song lyrics). This is why you have never seen anyone dance hula to an instrumental song. Hula Records and Aunty Genoa believed the same thing: That if the music were really intended for the hula, no matter how talented the musicians in the studio, they don’t get a solo. Because what is the hula dancer supposed to do while Benny Rogers is taking his steel guitar solo? (Go back and listen to Aunty Genoa’s recordings on the 49th State Records label posted over the last few days. Notice anything? Not one instrumental solo. These are vocal recordings from start to finish.) 

Because these two Hula Records recordings remain in print as CDs and MP3s, I encourage you to own both of them if you do not already. But to honor this period in Aunty Genoa’s career, I have offered up three of my favorites from these two albums.  

The set opens with “Hola `Epae” – also known as “The Five O’Clock Hula.” This mele speaks of the gentleman who paid a visit to his lover at the appointed hour – only to discover that someone else had beaten him to it. The song opens with an iconic lick from Benny Rogers’ steel guitar. That intro is still used today by different slack key and steel guitar artists, but the riff remains of undetermined origins. During the period when “Hola `Epae” was recorded, the riff was being used simultaneously by Benny Rogers and slack key guitarist Sonny Chillingworth. Others have attributed the lick to steel guitarist Jules Ah See. But some say the interesting, almost R&B-like riff goes back more than a decade earlier to a steel guitarist far ahead of his time, Jacob Keli`ikoa.  

“Ku`u Lei Hoku” is one of a handful songs for which Aunty Genoa is known – those signature songs which, along with “`Alika” and “I Ali`i No `Oe,” Aunty Genoa could not get off a stage without singing. In fact, I will throw “I Ali`i No `Oe” into this set for good measure.  

Next time: The entrepreneurial Genoa Keawe goes into the record business for herself…


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-28-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_5.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 12:28pm EDT

Genoa Keawe - Hidden Treasures

We have been discussing the beginnings of Genoa Keawe’s recording career and the more than 140 sides she released for 49th State Records. If, like me, you have spent a lifetime trying to track down all of these records for your own collection, there is one complication: Aunty Genoa was not the featured artist on most of these records. Once she was established as an artist in her own right and was leading her own groups both on record and in live performances, Uncle Johnny Almeida enlisted Aunty Genoa’s groups to serve as the studio musicians who would back other singers on their recordings. If you were rifling through the record bins, the name of the featured artist would be on the top line of the credits in a more prominent font, while Aunty Genoa’s name would appear below in an almost unreadable font. And her groups went by different names depending on what type of music they were serving up on that session. For recordings of traditional Hawaiian music, her group might be called Genoa Keawe and Her Hula Maids. But when performing Tahitian or Samoan tunes, the same group might suddenly become Genoa Keawe’s Polynesians. Or perhaps not the exact same group. For these purposes, think of Genoa Keawe as the contractor – bringing just the right musicians for each song and each session (or, in a worst case, the musicians who happened to be available that day). Regardless, Aunty Genoa only worked with the finest – as you will hear on these sides.  

Aunty Genoa’s groups were frequent contributors to the recordings of composer, hula master, and falsetto singer John Pi`ilani Watkins who opens and closes this set. Possibly the most distinctive falsetto voice of all time, Watkins first performs a William Ellis mele, “Hula O Makee,” a song about the ship known as the Makee which has run aground in Kapa`a, Kaua`i. As explained here previously, in Hawaiian poetry, a spade is rarely a spade, and, so, a ship is rarely a ship. In Hawaiian song, a ship is often a metaphor for a lover with a special someone at every port. In this case, the Makee is a woman who has deserted her lover, the ship Malulani which is in hot pursuit. (There is so much kaona in this song – so many clever turns of phrase and double-entendre – that it warrants its own Ho’olohe Hou article.) You can hear Aunty Genoa singing lead on the repeats of each verse. And while I cannot identify the entire band, that is beyond a shadow of a doubt the distinctive steel guitar of none other than Benny Rogers.  

Aunty Genoa’s mentor, Uncle Johnny Almeida, sings his own composition “Ho`oluana.” A love song in the typical jazzy Almeida style, you can hear Aunty Genoa again singing lead on the repeat of each verse. As mentioned previously, Genoa’s groups backed other musicians on the 49th State label in numerous guises. She led Genoa Keawe’s Hula Maids for the first side of this single with Uncle Johnny. But flip it over, and suddenly the group was Genoa Keawe’s Polynesians backing Chief Joseph Solotoa on the Samoan standard “Tele I`a O Le Sami.” While other versions of “Ho’oluana” sung by Uncle Johnny or his hānai son, Pua, remain in print, the version with Genoa Keawe’s group is not available on CD or MP3. 

The next curiosity is a real treasure – the meeting of three female voices which would all become legendary. Another favorite among falsetto singers, “Kalamaula” – written by Emma Dudoit for a Moloka`i homestead – is here sung by a trio comprised of Aunty Genoa, Aunty Agnes Malabey Weisbarth, and Naughty Abbie. This gem is also out of print. Do not be fooled. If you seek it out, you may believe you have found it. But the 49th State Records version of “Kalamaula” by Aunty Genoa which remains available is from a later LP – entitled Among My Hawaiian Souvenirs – on the same label – not the single heard here. (It is not the same version, the same group, or even the same tempo.) 

There are few recordings from this period by hula master George Naope – making his version of the hapa-haole (a category of song in which Hawaiian sentiment is expressed in the English language) song “Ku`u Ipo” performed with Aunty Genoa’s group yet another treasure. Because hapa-haole songs are sung in English, you’ll understand this love song immediately. “Ku`u Ipo” means “my sweetheart” and is a popular Hawaiian name or often simply an affectionate nickname. This recording also remains unavailable in any format. 

We close the set with a John Pi`ilani Watkins original composition, “Aloha Wau Ia `Oe” sung by the composer with another group led by Aunty Genoa. This interesting lyric is not strictly hapa-haole as it may include as many Hawaiian phrases as English ones. This song has become a favorite of many subsequent generations of Hawai`i’s musicians with recordings ranging from Kaleo O Kalani’s Rachel Asebido in the 1980s to Natalie Ai Kamau`u in the 2000s. And I have even had the privilege of hearing Na Palapalai perform it live one lovely evening at the not yet forgotten Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace.  

Thus concludes our look at Aunty Genoa’s 49th State Records period. There are many more singles from this era in her career, but I am going to save a few as there will be many more celebrations of Aunty Genoa’s life and career. But what comes next?

Next time: Aunty makes a huge technological leap in her transition to an even more forward-looking record label…


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-27-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_4.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:56am EDT

Genoa Keawe - More of the 49th State Years

In an earlier post I discussed the creation of 49th State Records and Genoa Keawe’s earliest recordings for that label. The label did well, and with more than 140 singles to her credit, Aunty Genoa’s importance to the label’s success cannot be underestimated. Here are a few more of her recordings from that era – nearly a half-hour of classics of the Hawaiian repertoire as only Aunty Genoa could perform them.  

“Hanauma” – a classic writing collaboration from Mary Kawena Pukui and Maddy Lam – extols the beauty of the Hanauma Bay area of the east end of O`ahu.  

“Marcelle Vahine” is not a Hawaiian standard but, rather, a Tahitian one. The verses are done in more of the Tahitian style with percussion accompaniment, but the choruses take on more of the Hawaiian style – complete with steel guitar and piano, instruments you would not typically hear used in the Tahitian aparima style. As mentioned previously, Aunty Genoa telephoned me when these songs were originally broadcast as part of my radio program, and this was one of those songs she had not even remembered ever recording. She considered hearing it again a precious memory almost lost forever. Aunty Genoa’s version of “Marcelle Vahine” remains out of print – not yet available on CD or MP3.  

A favorite among Hawaiian falsetto singers, the George Huddy composition “Nawiliwili” speaks of the beauty and history of the harbor of the same name on the island of Kaua`i. Like many songs which speak of one of the islands or an area/district of an island, the lyric references that district’s most distinct geographic feature (typically, a mountain – in this case, Ha`upu) and its most famous flower (mokihana, the flower representing the island of Kaua`i). 

“Fireman’s Hula” – sometimes referred to by its Hawaiian title, “Hula O Ka Hui Ka`awai” – is another favorite of falsetto singers because of its huge intervallic leaps in the melody – fun for Hawaiian-style yodeling, sometimes referred to as ha`i. (Aunty Genoa’s singing in the upper registers is not unlike the male falsetto, but music scholars debate whether or not the technique is the same for women as for men – some refusing to refer to the female head voice as “falsetto.” Most Hawaiian singers do not make this distinction and would likely refer to Aunty Genoa, Linda Dela Cruz, or even some of today’s favorites – such as Kehau Tamure and Iwalani Ho’omanawanui Apo of the group Kuini – as “female falsettos.”) The song speaks of the many attributes of the fireman. But given what we discussed in an earlier blog post about kaona – the hidden layers of meaning in Hawaiian mele – I’ll leave it to you to decide which of the firemen’s “skills” composer Matilda Kauwe was referring to… And, again, Aunty Genoa’s version of “Fireman’s Hula” is out of print.  

“Do The Hula” is the most prescient selection in this set as it was written by Don McDiarmid, founder of Hula Records, the label with which Aunty Genoa would continue her career after the demise of 49th State Records. It is also a song she reprised more than 40 years later in a duet with Zanuck Lindsey’s acclaimed Hawaiian swing group, Hula Joe and the Hutjumpers. (You may hear this collaboration on a future edition of Ho’olohe Hou.) But Aunty Genoa’s 49th State Records version of “Do The Hula” is also out of print.  

“Ku’u Ipo Onaona” is another offering from prolific composer Maddy Lam (see “Hanauma” above). It is a love song Hawaiian style as only they can speak of love, with such lyrics as: 

`O `oe no ka`u i mana`o ai lā / You are always on my mind 

 He mea nui `oe na ka pu`uwai lā / You overwhelm my heart 

 Hau`oli au i kou leo nahenahe / Your gentle voice gives me pleasure 

 Kou leo me ke aloha / Your voice of love 

Aunty Genoa’s version of this song is also no longer available on CD or MP3.  

“Kaloaloa” is another clever song from the pen of John Pi’ilani Watkins (see “Mahalo E Hilo Hanakahi in a previous post).  The song speaks of the area around Honolulu International Airport – referring to the runway lights as kaimana (diamonds). But the song also speaks of the approach of a loved one. Might a lover be returning home? And this, too, is the Hawaiian style of composing: If your love arrives home safely, sing praises to the airport!  

“Anahola” is perhaps the rarest song offered up in this set – not only because Aunty Genoa’s recording is (again, sadly) out of print, but also because it is a song that has been recorded by few artists since (except for Kawai Cockett). The song makes reference to homestead land on the island of Kaua`i. But the song speaks of locations in the Anahola district – Kalalea, a prominent hill overlooking Anahola, and Konanae, a nearby hole created – as the legend goes – when a spear was hurled at a hill. Again I ask you – in the spirt of kaona – was composer Jeremiah Kaialoa speaking of places… or people?  

Finally, Aunty Genoa sings of “Nani Waialeale,” the mountain that is the signature geographic feature of the island of Kaua`i. Composer Dan Pokipala wrote of what is not only Kaua`i’s highest peak, but also one of the wettest places on earth. And, with that, I will let you let your mind wander once again…  

Next time: More from Aunty Genoa on 49th State Records…


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-26-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_3.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 6:18pm EDT

Young Genoa’s Humble Beginnings

Genoa Keawe’s career began with a dare. Young Genoa was known to run home from school at lunch to hear Johnny Almeida’s program on KGMB radio. One day Uncle Johnny asked listeners to come down to the station and sing a song. Genoa took him up on that offer and ran down to the station and sang “For You A Lei” – dedicating it to her niece, Momi B. (who would go on to become an entertainer in her own right, first with the famous “Bee Sisters,” the group that debuted “The Hukilau Song” on record). Genoa sang, and as the expression goes, a star was born. Johnny asked her back to the show over and over again and eventually made Genoa a permanent member of his group. 

At about this same time, George Ching – a record store owner with an entrepreneurial spirit and an ear for good music – decided that he was going to have to start supplying the store with new recordings himself to meet the demand for Hawaiian music from the servicemen returning home to the mainland who desired musical keepsakes of their stay. Ching would have to become a record producer. He enlisted John Almeida as the musical director, arranger, and – of course – talent recruiter for the fledgling label. With so much talk of Hawai’i becoming the 49th state in the union, the forward-looking Ching named the label 49th State Records. The label would be long defunct by the time Hawai’i became, in fact, the 50th state.  

In 1946, Genoa recorded the first of nearly 140 singles for 49th State. I own more than 100 of these sides, and I am going to serve up a few of these over the next few installments at Ho’olohe Hou. Some have been remastered for the digital era by Michael Cord for his Hana Ola Records label since Cord purchased the entire 49th State Records catalog, and so many Genoa Keawe sides remain in print. But not all of them. As recording and playback technology evolved rapidly in the 1950s, Ching frequently repackaged the original 78rpm singles and released them again – first as 45rpm singles and single “booklets” with four or five discs to a package, and then as 10” long playing records with four songs to the side (eight per disc), and then finally again as 12” LPs. Cord has focused on remastering and rereleasing the LPs. This means that there are numerous 49th State singles that have not yet seen the light of day as a CD or MP3. I am going to give new life to some of those out of print recordings from Aunty Genoa over the next few articles. 

This set opens with Genoa’s first 49th State release – which is also the first ever recording of a now classic Johnny Almeida composition. “Maile Swing” refers to a beloved poetically as the maile vine. Many Hawaiian mele (song lyric) utilize nature – and, in particular, flowers – as references to lovers and loved ones. The maile is a vine that twists around the other wildlife on which it grows. So it is a popular metaphor for two people who become tangled up in each other (so to speak). Almeida also uses a popular poetic technique among the Hawaiian haku mele (composers) – the inclusion of foreign words in the Hawaiian lyric. He writes:  

Sweet and lovely / Sweet and lovely

Ke onaona o ka maile / Is the fragrance of the maile

Ho’oipo ke `ala ho`oheno / A delightful scent 

Sure i ka pili poli / That clings to the bosom

Finally, it is not merely by accident that Uncle Johnny referred to “swing” in the title. Not only does the song swing and sway in a jazzy style, but it also borrows its unusual chord structure from the jazz idiom. While much Hawaiian music up to this point was of the hula ku’i form (a simple, somewhat repetitive style intended primarily for the hula with a repeating verse and a “vamp” to signal the coming of the next verse), Almeida here employs an unusual bridge to tremendous and startling effect – transitioning from the tonic G to Eb. One might say that “Maile Swing” marked the coming of an exciting new, swinging era of Hawaiian music.  

Genoa then offers us “Mahalo E Hilo Hanakahi” from the pen of falsetto singer, composer, and hula master John Pi`ilani Watkins (who would himself become a popular 49th State Records recording artist). At first blush, the song seems to extol the virtues of the town of Hilo on the east side of Hawai`i island (often erroneously referred to as the “Big Island”). But listen to the poetry – referring to “aloha poina`ole” (unforgettable welcome), “me ke aloha o ka makamaka” (friendly and loving people), and “me ka maile `ala onaona / po`ina `ole ia” (the fragrant maile / unforgettable). This could be a song about Hilo’s hospitality, or it could be a song about… Well, I will leave it to your imagination and to the Hawaiian linguistic experts. (For assistance in your interpretation, revisit the poetic symbolism of the maile used in the previous song.) 

Like Johnny Almeida, Lena Machado was known for incorporating jazz, blues, Latin, and other idioms into her Hawaiian compositions and arrangements. A popular Hawaiian entertainer – one of the first to do around the world tours – Lena would get melancholy away from home, away from family, away from her husband, Luciano, whom she adored. She and Lu called each other “Ei Nei,” a contraction of “E Ia Nei,” meaning “You, there” but which has come to mean “my darling.” On these tours, Lena would experience many sleepless nights (as evidenced in her other compositions such as “Aloha Nō). The melancholy she experienced in the wee small hours resulted in songs which in any other idiom would be called the blues.  

As evening shadows fall 

I hear your sweet melody 

It brings back fond memories of you 

“Ei Nei” is the Hawaiian blues not only in lyric content, but also in chord structure. There are few other examples of Hawaiian song in which the bridge ends with a sliding dominant chord (in this case, F7 – F#7 – F7). In a few years’ time, that riff would become a staple of the doo-wop playbook. Here Aunty Genoa gives us Lena Machado’s classic “Ei Nei” – a recording that remains out of print.  

Also known as “The Stevedore Hula,” “Kipikoa” – a Bina Mossman composition – pays homage to the skill and prowess of the dockworkers. But what does she mean by “skill?” This is but one of so many Hawaiian songs which employ the clever poetic technique known as kaona, multiple layers of hidden meanings and double-entendres worthy of a Shakespearean sonnet. For example, “lulu lima” literally means “shake hands” but is often taken to mean something even friendlier. But especially revealing is the line “ha`awi ke aloha  me ka `eha koni / me ka Hawaiian hospitality” (“giving aloha until it hurts / with Hawaiian hospitality”). I must stop for I fear I have already said too much… But notice again how – like Uncle Johnny before her – Auntie Bina utilizes English words in the Hawaiian lyric. Aunty Genoa’s version of “Kipikoa” is a classic, but sadly it, too, remains out of print.  

Next time: More rare Genoa Keawe on 49th State Records as we continue to explore the earliest part of her music career…

Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-26-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_2.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 11:19am EDT

The Godmother of All Hawaiian Music

What can you say about Genoa Keawe? The lady with the Italian name and the sweet Hawaiian heart and the voice to match? If you don’t already know about her, then you don’t know Hawaiian music. Anybody who has performed Hawaiian music in the last 60 years credits Aunty Genoa with inspiring them. She was not the first Hawaiian voice I heard when I was growing up. But I quickly understood that she was the best I had ever heard or would ever hear. And so Genoa Keawe became my raison d’etre. 

When I wrote about Myra English recently, I talked about the many parties at the homes of our Hawaiian friends – despite that we were 5,000 miles away from Hawai’i. (Hawaiians will be Hawaiians wherever they are, and I, for one, and am thankful for it.) At those all-nighters, records were spun, and everybody sang along. When Party Hulas fell from its perch atop the spindle on the record changer, that was when the party truly began, and it was how I learned all of the Hawaiian “standards.” Aunty Genoa only picked the best songs – the songs that would pierce straight through to the hearts of the old-timers – and she sang them with meticulous Hawaiian pronunciation. Could one have a better teacher of Hawaiian music than Genoa Keawe?  

And then there is the voice…. Ah, yes, the voice – the voice of an angel, or, no, really, a one-woman heavenly host commanding that you will listen and you will love Hawaiian music if she has anything to say about it. “As long as I’m alive, Hawaiian music will still be alive,” she was captured saying to KCCN’s Brickwood Galuteria. But she was only half correct. I wonder if she realized how many fires she lit, how many acolytes she bred – literally and figuratively – who would make sure that nobody could ever forsake Hawaiian music or forget her?  

For the first 30 years of my life, Genoa Keawe was a voice and an image on an album cover that graced – and continues to grace – my walls. But then one miraculous evening – October 5, 2000 (one does not forget such critical moments) – on the occasion of my first visit to Hawai’i, I went to the Waikiki Beach Marriott in the hope of catching a glimpse of my hero – my idol – and maybe an autograph. But something far more pivotal and life-altering occurred. Her son, Gary, told her that I was in the audience and that he had heard me sing, and he encouraged her to call me up to the stage. I sang – as well as one can under those circumstances, like one is singing to save their life or is auditioning for God – and apparently I passed the test. I am certain that I forgot some lyrics and hit some bad notes. But Aunty Genoa lived up to the things I had read and heard about her. “The foundation of all Hawaiian music is great love. If you are glowing with love, then you are playing and singing the songs right,” Aunty Genoa once said. She must have seen or heard that love in me. What she did not know was that the love was spawned by her. 

Thus began a friendship that endured until Aunty Genoa’s passing on February 25, 2008. Sure, I saw her over and over again at the Marriott on Thursday evenings – where she held court for over a decade for standing room only crowds, often in torrential rain storms, even as she was privately suffering with the illness to which she ultimately succumbed. But I also saw her in private life – at the parties hosted by her contemporaries, often in honor of their milestone birthdays. When there was a guest artist or if her granddaughter, Pomaika’i Keawe Lyman, took the stage for a while, Aunty Genoa would take a seat next to me – quietly encouraging me, holding my hand, asking me why I hadn’t moved to Hawai’i yet, why I hadn’t released a CD, or cracking kolohe and risking that everyone knew that I was not paying attention to the stage (one of her biggest pet peeves). All of my heroes were getting up there in years. They lived through their trials. Aunty Genoa would be the first to tell you that being a professional musician wasn’t easy, and being a woman in that industry harder still. But she would also tell you that to survive it you need to have the heart of a child and believe in a power larger than you. Her humor and her tremendous unwavering faith were the cornerstones of her craft.  

The last time we spoke was Sunday, November 4, 2007. (Like I said, you don’t forget such moments.) I hosted a radio program by the same name as this blog, Ho’olohe Hou. And I put together a three-hour program in honor of her 89th birthday earlier that week on October 31st. (You celebrate Halloween. I celebrate Genoa Keawe’s birthday.) About 20 minutes into the show, I received an email with a subject line in all capital letters: “CALL ME RIGHT NOW.” The email contained an “808” telephone number. I dialed, and Aunty Genoa’s son, Kaleo, picked up. He said, “Somebody wants to talk to you.” And he put Tūtū on the phone. By this time I had known her for so long and felt so close to her that I began calling her “Tūtū” (“grandma”) like her myriad grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. And Tūtū chatted with me for about an hour and a half. She asked to speak to me because she was dialed into the radio program, and after the first few songs played, she had a flood of memories that she was compelled to share, and she wanted to share them with me. With each next song that played, Aunty Genoa would remind me who wrote the song, how she came to learn or fall in love with the song, and who was singing and playing with her on the recording session. And then sometimes she simply couldn’t – couldn’t remember the details at all. It is a long journey from 1947 to 2007, and nobody could blame Tūtū for letting a few of the details escape after a more than 60 year career. But with each record that did not bring back a memory, she would ask, “Where did you ever find this?” And I explained to her that I was sitting in a room that at that moment was a shrine to her – a sea of hundreds of 78s, 45s, LPs, open reel tapes, and assorted live recordings of undetermined origin (what one might call “bootlegs,” of which she would surely not approve, but you could not lie to Tūtū). And she thanked me for giving her back memories of moments she had not up to that point recalled having lived in the first place. And it was then that I think she understood what I had been telling her since the first night we met – that I was her biggest fan, and that she had been my raison d’etre. When she said “Thanks, boy” and hung up the phone, she probably knew that it would be the last time we would ever speak. But I didn’t. I was devastated at her passing, and I am still devastated every time I think of her. As if she were really my Tūtū. 

On the occasion of what would have been her 96th birthday, I would like to share with you what I shared with Aunty Genoa that evening in November 2007. I have taken the original three-hour Ho’olohe Hou broadcast and edited it into segments – a few of which I will share every day. Because Genoa Keawe is not someone to be remembered for a moment or even a day or a week. Genoa Keawe was and remains the heart and soul of Hawaiian music. If you don’t love her and what she stood for, I enthusiastically recommend a visit to a cardiologist. 

Next time: Aunty Genoa makes a humble debut and begins to make her mark on the Hawaiian music profession…


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-25-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_1.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:19am EDT

Lena’s Legacy Lives

Discussing Lena Machado’s life and music, three themes emerge loud and clear. One is that she was one of the great voices in all time in Hawaiian music. Another is that she is one of the most prolific and important composers in Hawaiian music history. And the third – the one that perhaps gets lost in the shuffle between the first two – is how forward-thinking Lena was about the presentation of Hawaiian music. She loved to experiment with sounds (such as instrumentation), tempo and rhythm, and arrangement. In so doing, she opened a door for future generations of Hawaiian music artists to similarly “experiment” but – if following Lena’s example – in a way that moves the Hawaiian music tradition forward respectfully without altogether abandoning what at its very core makes Hawaiian music “Hawaiian.” Of course, in her time, as you have read Lena took her “lumps” from audiences, critics, the previous generation, and even her own family for going too far too fast. Lena took the criticism gracefully – confident in herself, and confident that if Hawaiian music were to remain popular and relevant to the next generation, it has to evolve with ever-changing styles and tastes. So I thought we would close this tribute to Lena Machado with three more recent recordings of her compositions by artists who – like Lena – have consciously chosen to push the envelope and push a button or two in order to push on the boundaries of the still – after these many years – rigid definitions of Hawaiian music.

The set opens with an artist largely known for her contributions to the slack key and steel guitar idioms – one of the few women to focus on either. But in a departure from her typically traditional Hawaiian music recordings, Owana Salazar went into the studio in 2004 to create the highly praised Hula Jazz which, while not the first melding of jazz and Hawaiian music, is certainly one of the most successful. Perhaps this is because – like Lena before her – Owana pushes as the boundaries gently and lovingly with one eye and one foot firmly planted in her Hawaiian roots. She achieved this blend by bringing together some of Hawai`i’s finest jazz musicians – Kit Ebersbach on piano, Steve Jones on bass, and Noel Okimoto on drums and vibes – with three of Hawai`i’s finest steel guitarists – Alan Akaka, Casey Olsen, and Greg Sardinha. She then carefully selected songs which lent themselves to this blending of styles and cultures – including two by Lena Machado, of which you hear “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi” performed here. The intro relies on some very tight and intricately arranged interplay between the players, after which they are permitted to stretch out as if they were in a smoky jazz club in Greenwich Village in 1955. Okimoto goes lightly on the brushes, and Olsen’s steel sits out until the instrumental solo, then comping Ebersbach’s piano until Jones’ bass solo in the bridge, after which Ebersbach and Olsen trade two bars at a time. As you listen, you can feel Machado’s approval and almost imagine the lady herself taking the lead vocal.

Zanuck Kapala Lindsey has led a number of groups over the last two decades that have deliberately aimed to move the Hawaiian music tradition forward. He has led Hula Joe & The Hutjumpers, Ho`omalie, and, most recently, Kapala – all of which have combined every musical influence its members have ever encountered in support of solely Hawaiian compositions to create somehow a cohesive whole. In this case, Ho`omalie gives Machado’s “Pohai Ke Aloha” a rhythm-and-blues treatment that is more reminiscent of a church in New Orleans than Kawaiaha`o. I have written here previously that the idea of kaona (or hidden meanings) in Hawaiian music may not necessarily be restricted to lyric content. Often the musical arrangement carries with its own intentional or unintentional kaona – a funeral dirge being performed as an uptempo number or a joyous song of love and contentment being performed at the tempo of a dirge. But “Z” and band take this notion perhaps to its further extreme. If “Pohai Ke Aloha” is a song of love, joy, and respect for a family and their home, Ho`omalie has effectively belied the song’s true lyric content by concocting an arrangement that sets a tone somewhere between midnight “sneakin’ around” rendezvous and the soundtrack for a bawdy striptease. Which do we believe? Students of Hawaiian language, music, and hula will tell you that the power resides first with the word. Z and company have done nothing here to dilute the all-powerful message of love and joy in Lena’s lyric. If anything, with this arrangement they have made the casual passer-by stand up and take notice of Machado’s important message. The question most will ask is if this was accomplished with respect? And my only answer to that question is that respect lies in the ears and hearts of the listener.

Finally, unlike Owana Salazar who comes primarily from traditional Hawaiian music but who decided to dabble in jazz, Keahi Conjugacion is primarily a jazzer who made a brief and most interesting foray into Hawaiian music. Coming from a family of music superstars – her brothers are multi-instrumentalist Brother Noland and kumu hula, composer, and falsetto legend Tony Conjugacion, her aunt is singer Elaine Ako Spencer, and her uncle is singer, pianist, and composer Sam Ako – it would only be natural that Keahi would follow suit. More importantly, Keahi comes from a family of boundary-pushers and risk-takers – Noland one of the first to combine the Hawaiian and reggae genres, and Tony having dabbled in everything from Broadway to the blending of traditional Hawaiian chant and hip-hop. It has always been obvious that the Great American Songbook is Keahi’s first love, and her voice is suited to the songs of Cole Porter and the Gershwins. But in the same year Owana would make her foray into jazz, Keahi would make her foray into Hawaiian – surprisingly, the two to achieve similar results. Here Keahi lovingly caresses the lyric to “Ei Nei” – which Auntie Lena composed for beloved husband, Lu – with the help of her husband, Dan Del Negro, and he percussion of Buddy Fo (whom you previously heard lend his Latin rhythms to The Invitations version of Machado’s “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha”).

There are countless other examples of Lena’s compositions being performed by a new generation of artists from Hawai`i. But these songs and stories will have to wait until we celebrate Lena’s birthday again next year. In just one week we have celebrated Lena Machado’s birthday by recounting her music career in 15 articles – more than 18,000 words (or 30+ pages) of text – bolstered by 46 songs – more than two hours of music – making this tribute the most thorough in the history of Ho`olohe Hou. And why not? Since discovering Hawaiian music as a child more than 40 years ago, Lena has been one of the most influential artists in my own development as a musician, and it is no statistical coincidence that I perform more songs written by her than those of any other composer. I never met Lena Machado, but I love her, and now that you know a little more about her, I hope you love her too.

Next time: We begin a week-long tribute to Lena’s friend – and my good friend, too – Aunty Genoa Keawe…


Direct download: 03_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:32pm EDT

Still More from the Lena Machado Songbook

Following up on those popular Lena Machado compositions which she never recorded herself, here are still a few more as recorded by some once popular singers whose voices may have been forgotten by all but the most ardent fans of Hawaiian music.

Although widely recorded as back-up singer (often unidentified and uncredited) but stepping up to the microphone as the leader in a recording studio only once, Wainani Kaneali`i was once one of the most recognizable voices in Hawaiian entertainment. On her only solo release, the mid-1960s Songs of the Pacific on Sounds of Hawaii Records, Wainani lives up to the album’s title by offering up selections in Hawaiian, Fijian, Samoan, and Tahitian. She is joined here by the voices of Lydia Wong and Iwalani Kahalewai (for whom Wainani returned the favor by providing backing vocals for Iwalani’s An Hawaiian Happening during this same period for the same label). The slack key guitar is provided by none other than Atta Isaacs. The performance is perfection Hawaiian style, but alas the one pitfall is that the album’s producers credit the writing of a Lena Machado song to nobody in particular but rather to “Public Domain.” Indeed, Machado wrote “Nuku O Nu`uanu” for – as related by her hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta – her many delightful and thought-provoking trips to the windy Pali Lookout (now that it is accessible by highway, a popular tourist attraction for its views of the windward side of O`ahu and the towns of Kailua and Kane`ohe). Interestingly, only as an afterthought does Motta reference the (what to me, at least, are very clear) intimate underpinnings of the song as only Machado can write them. While Motta claims this is a song about a place first and about people second, the opposite would appear to be truer. Before it was guarded heavily by park rangers, the Pali Lookout was a popular spot for a late-night romantic rendezvous. This would more readily explain such poetic references as “ka makani hu`e kapa” (“the garment-lifting wind”) which reveals “ka waiho a Mōkapu” (“Mōkapu spread out below”). We look no further than the title for kaona (or Hawaiian-style use of metaphor): “Nuku” can mean “beak,” “snout,” or “tip.”

Like many, for the longest time I assumed that “Pōhai Ke Aloha” (which means “surrounded by love”) was a love song written by a man for a woman. Not so. It would be more appropriately described as Lena’s love song for a family. You have read here previously that early in her career Lena was a featured singer with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and although she would eventually leave over a dispute with bandmaster Frank Vierra, the beginning of her association with the band years earlier under then bandmaster Mekia Kealaka`i was a wonderful time for her. Despite her very tumultuous and pubic separation from the band, Lena continued to look upon Kealaka`i fondly as mentor and friend, and he saw her as a daughter. Lena composed “Pōhai Ke Aloha” in honor of Kealaka`i, his wife, and his son and their home in the `Ewa Beach area of O`ahu. When the home was built, three hau trees were planted in the front yard. The trees grew to different heights – which, in Lena’s poetic mind, symbolized the three members of the Kealaka`i `ohana (or family). She references the trees in the second verse as “Kamanui, Kamalani, Kamaiki” – one for the father, one for the mother, and one for the son. It is this sentimentality that has confused many listeners – and performers – into believing that “Pōhai Ke Aloha” was written by Kealaka`i as a eulogy for his wife. But, as hānai daughter Motta so eloquently puts it, the song is “one of the best examples of Aunty Lena’s ability to personalize the emotions she describes.” The version of the song you hear now is probably the earliest version I heard as it was one of the first real Hawaiian music LPs that could be found in my home. And from the time I first heard the Hula Records release Beautiful Kauai by Kawai Cockett, Uncle Kawai became a huge inspiration to me. I am proud and honored to have befriended the Cockett family – his wife, Kamala, and son, Ha`aheo – and I dedicate to them with my aloha the song I learned from their beloved husband and father – a song that reminds me of the triumvirate power and beauty of inseparable father, mother, and son that I can know vicariously through them.

The “kiele” is the gardenia flower. And it is presumed that Auntie Lena wrote “Lei Kiele” – like “Ei Nei” an “Aloha Nō” – for her beloved husband, Luciano, for it conveys many of the same sentiments as these other two mele (or songs) about whom the inspiration is more clear. It is one of Lena’s more unusual compositions in that it was one of the few she wrote in 3/4 (or waltz) time. Another of Lena’s least performed and recorded songs, few know that she even wrote it because the few times it has appeared on record, the artists have not credited Machado as the composer. This is especially surprising in the case of the artist you hear here for Marcella Kalua took singing lessons from Lena in the 1960s – just before this album, Girl From Papakolea, was released on the Makaha Records label. (It is not too surprising, however, since it has been common practice for record companies to credit the fewest composers possible – affixing the dreaded “Traditional” and “Public Domain” labels to as many songs as possible in order to pay the least royalties and maximize profits. On the LP in question, there are 10 songs, and the producers credit only three with composers – the other seven labeled “Traditional.” Yet I can name the composers of six of the other seven composers without any further research.) The then very young Marcella recorded Girl From Papakolea with the venerable Sons of Hawai`i which in this incarnation was Norman Isaacs (Alvin’s son) on bass, Atta Isaacs (another of Alvin’s sons) on slack key guitar, Bobby Larrison on guitars, `ukulele and vocals, David “Feets” Rogers on steel guitar (the signature sound of the Sons), and their leader, Eddie Kamae, on `ukulele and vocals. (This is the same incarnation of the group that had just earlier recorded This Is Eddie Kamae, which Ho`olohe Hou will examine in its series on 12 Hawaiian Music LPs That Forever Changed My Life.)

And, a bonus… Despite that this segment is focused on Lena’s compositions that she never got around to recording herself, she did, of course, record “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” twice over her career. But the version here – by Buddy Fo and The Invitations – is worthy of hearing since – for my money, at least – it comes closer than any other version to the arrangement Lena might have heard in her head. Buddy and crew bring all of Lena’s favorite Latin influences together in this one brief moment on record – the heavily percussive arrangement in mambo rhythm reminiscent of the dance bands led by Prez Prado, Xavier Cugat, and Tito Puente. While Fo is best remembers as leader of the five-part vocal group, The Invitations, this recording reminds us that Fo was first an in demand percussionist.

Next time: We close our tribute to Lena Machado with a look at her lasting legacy – her compositions performed by today’s shining stars in Hawaiian music…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]



Direct download: 02_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:17am EDT

More from the Lena Machado Songbook

Lena Machado composed songs that she never had the opportunity to record. Thankfully, Lena’s compositions are among the most recorded and performed in the history of Hawaiian music. Here are just a few of the songs Lena never got to record performed by some of Hawai`i’s most beloved artists – some of which, I suspect, you may not have heard in a very long time (if ever). 

I have already written – probably several times now, at the risk of redundancy – that falsetto singers favor singing songs written by other falsetto singers because a falsetto singer knows how to write a melody that shows off that vocal style and all of its various features. So it is a delight to hear Lena’s composition “Pua Mamane” sung by falsetto legend Linda Dela Cruz with the Halekulani Girls (Alice Fredlund on guitar and Sybil Andrews on bass) from their Tradewinds Records release Twilight At Halekulani (which is another treasure which can be found in any thorough Hawaiian music collection). Many believe (to this day) that “Pua Mamane” is a romantic love song. And the confusion is easily understandable according to Hawaiian composer and cultural expert Kīhei de Silva who served as Hawaiian language orthographer for Songbird of Hawai`i, the book about Lena Machado’s life and music. According to de Silva, the spectacular mamane blossom is often used as a poetic metaphor for “high rank, youthful beauty, or intense physical appeal.” But, in fact, the song – one of Lena’s earliest, copyrighted in 1930 – speaks of the sights in and around Wai`ale`ale on the island of Kaua`i where Lena was born but which she did not visit for the first time until she was in her teens (having been hānai – or adopted – to friends of her parents on O`ahu). Once Lena got to know her birth family, one of her favorite past times was pheasant hunting in the mountains with her Uncle Bob (her father’s brother whose wife would use the pheasant feathers to craft precious lei hulu, or feather lei). “Pua Mamane” speaks of the sights Lena took in from the heights of those many pleasant hikes, and the mamane in question was actually her oldest brother, William, whom she considered the head of the family. (Now listen to the first line of the third verse and enjoy its poetry. Lena writes “`O ka piko Wai`ale`ale” which literally means “from the summit of Wai`ale`ale.” But “piko” also means “head,” and “Wai`ale`ale” is the surname Lena’s family took for their roots in this area of Kaua`i. So with this clever and loving line, Lena was also paying homage to “the head of the Wai`ale`ale family.”)

“Ho`ohaehae” holds the distinction of being the song Lena composed that is most often performed but least recorded. Every performer of Hawaiian songs knows this song, but few have taken it into the recording studio. Why, one has to wonder? I conjecture it is because of all of Auntie Lena’s songs which demonstrate her mastery of artfully discussing love and love-making without any graphic references whatsoever, “Ho`ohaehae” is that one song in which composer Machado lets loose all inhibitions – and the audience’s – and simply tells it like it is. The song’s title simply means “enticing” or “teasing” and is a reference to someone making eyes at another. And that’s all we can really say about the song that the lyric doesn’t already explicitly state – so much so that de Silva does not even bother to annotate the original lyric in Songbird of Hawai`i. Another curiosity about the song is that few realize Lena wrote it. It made its first appearance on record in the mid-1960s by entertainer Myrtle K. Hilo on her debut LP The Singing Cab Driver (for she really was) on Makaha Records. But this is not Auntie Myrtle’s fault by any means since she appropriately identified Machado as the composer right on the back cover of the LP. If the sound of this recording seems familiar, perhaps it is because these sessions were arranged for Auntie Myrtle by the same arranger who worked on Lena’s last album: Benny Saks. Hence the piano and steel guitar-intensive arrangement. And the steel guitar here is wielded by the same gentleman who played steel on Lena’s last session: Billy Hew Len. 

From an album that shockingly remains out of print, Indebted To You by Tony Lindsey and Friends on Hula Records, Tony takes the lead on Auntie Lena’s romantic “Aloha Nō.” This song - like “Ei Nei”dates to Lena’s frequent trips back and forth to San Francisco in 1949. Lena found the nights alone without her husband of 25 years, Luciano, the most difficult, and from such loneliness sprung these classics. But Lena and Lu did share a telephone call as often as possible, and so “Aloha Nō” speaks of how these chats calmed her down in the hope of finding sleep. Like “Ho`ohaehae,” “Aloha Nō” has been too rarely recorded (and I have struggled to understand why). I tried to give this song new life when I performed it in a medley with “Ho`onanea” at The Willows for the Pakele Live concert series on July 10, 2011.

Of the many meanings of the Hawaiian word “none,” the two which seem most diametrically opposed are “teasing” and “nagging.” Orthographer Kīhei de Silva leans toward “nagging” for when you take all of the verses of “None Hula” holistically, the general theme seems to be why are you still nagging me if I am already here in your embrace? From the 1960s Makaha Records LP Ka `Aina `O Hawai`i, slack key guitar legend Sonny Chillingworth takes the lead vocal. And although the other session personnel are not listed, Hawaiian music fans with keen ears (and a lot of listening hours under their belts) can be certain that the backing vocals are offered by the popular trio of Lani, Nina, and Lahela – the singing Rodrigues sisters and daughters of Hawaiian composer, performer, and archivist Vicki I`i Rodrigues. (The same vocal trio became popular – and instantly recognizable – from their weekly appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio broadcast.) A curiosity of Sonny’s recording – and, frankly, every recording I have ever heard – of “None Hula” is that nobody sings the last verse as Lena wrote it. Many (but not all) Hawaiian songs end by repeating the first line of the first verse, and that is what Sonny sings here. But in Lena’s copyrighted version she actually closes the song by repeating the second line of the first verse.

But there are still more gems from Lena Machado’s pen that we have not covered.   

Next time: A few more of Lena’s compositions you’ve not yet heard here performed by some of Hawai`i’s forgotten voices…


Direct download: 01_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:10pm EDT

Everything Old Is Brand New (Again)…

Continuing our look at Lena Machado’s final recordings, I have compiled this segment in such a manner that allows us to compare the 1962 versions of some of Lena’s originals with versions of the same songs from her 1930s sessions.

Lena’s 1962 version of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is nothing like her first recording of the song that she cut with Dick McIntire’s Harmony Hawaiians nearly 25 years earlier on September 23, 1937. In fact, the later version is more like what we had expected the earlier version to sound like since Lena wrote the song inspired by the Latin rhythms of such artists of that period as Xavier Cugat, Prez Prado, and Tito Puente. The McIntire-led group completely abandoned all Latin rhythms and influences, but the 1962 group - with guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and arranged by Benny Saks who also handled the piano and vibes chores – comes closer to the Latin feel with the galloping tempo and heavy percussion. Unlike the earlier version on which Lena sings every verse, the newer arrangement relies only on the men’s voices to handle the repeats of each verse.

Perhaps “Kauoha Mai” is Lena’s most well-known and enduring composition because it is the only one of her original songs she recorded three times throughout her career – in 1935 with Sol Ho`opi`i, again in 1937 with Dick McIntire, and finally with the 1962 group. The three arrangements vary little from each other with the notable exception of tempo. Lena and the boys take the 1962 version at about the same tempo as the 1935 version with Ho`opi`i – or what Sinatra referred to as “the tempo of the heartbeat” – while the 1937 version with McIntire was taken at a much peppier clip which, when held up side by side with either of the other two versions, is so fast as to feel almost like double-time. Another notable difference is that on the 1962 version Lena uses the verses she had previously reserved for a steel guitar solo to instead provide her English translation of the Hawaiian. One can only wonder about her intentions since an English translation of any Hawaiian-language song cannot convey the kaona ­(or multiple layers of meaning and metaphor) intrinsically embedded in the original Hawaiian. As linguists know, some concepts simply cannot be translated, and Lena’s spoken translation here is most literal and does not begin to speak to the artfulness of her songwriting.

But the most notable difference is that Lena sings a verse of “Kauoha Mai” in her 1962 recording which she deliberately omits – without plausible explanation – from both the 1935 and 1937 versions:

Ha`ina kau hana / Thus ends my song

Ke aloha`ole eā / Of your cheating ways

E ho`opulu a`e nei / They leave my eyelashes

I ku`u lihilihi eā / Damp with tears

Although we discussed the origins of the song here previously, Hawaiian composer and cultural expert Kīhei de Silva more closely examined the song’s closing line – which is also the song’s title – to attempt to discover what Lena really meant by “kauoha mai `eā.” It is often understood to mean “come out of there” – a command issued when the singer discovers her lover locked behind closed doors in the embrace of another. Or it could imply that the singer was deliberately set-up to discover the illicit affair – that the line should be attributed to the cheater who locks himself up with one woman and then tells the other woman to “come over” for the purpose of getting caught, a quick and easy end to a relationship no longer desired.

Lena debuted “Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe” on record in 1935 with the group led by Sol Ho`opi`i that also yielded her first recording of “Kauoha Mai.” We discussed the earlier version and the origins of the song previously, and there is little difference – save for tempo – between the 1935 and 1962 versions.

The 1962 version of “Ho`onanea” again emulates the then very popular sound of a jazz quintet led by George Shearing which relied heavily on the interplay between guitar and piano or vibes. You may recall our discussion of the centerpiece of this composition: To add to the harmonic tension of the song, Lena replaces the expected dominant seventh (V7) chord with an augmented chord. It is important to understand that unique construction of an augmented triad allows those three notes to be played in different positions on a guitar or piano and still have an inversion of the same chord. (As we move up the guitar every four frets, the top note of the augmented chord in the previous position becomes the bottom note of the augmented chord in the next position, the middle note of the augmented triad in the previous position becomes the top note of the augmented chord in the next position, etc. This is true no matter how many times you move this chord around.) This is a unique feature of the augmented chord which is not shared by any other chord triad, and so it is one guitarists take advantage of all the time – especially steel guitarists who can simply slide their bar easily from an augmented chord in one position to the same augmented chord in the next position for dramatic effect. Nowhere in the 1935 recording – made in Hollywood with a group led by steel guitarist Sol Ho`opi`i – does Ho`opi`i take advantage of this feature, but steel guitarist Billy Hew Len does on the 1962 recording – starting as early as the second bar of his solo introduction and repeating this technique again in his solos later.

You read the story behind “Ho`onanea” here previously. What I did not tell you is that by the time of the 1962 recording, Lena had failed to renew her copyright for the song and was in danger of losing it. Because the copyright had expired, Lena had to obtain copyright all over again, and in order to do this, the newly submitted song had to be different from the original. So Lena changed only the last line:

E ake inu wai a ka manu / I long to drink deeply of love


E ake e pili me ku`u manu / I long to be close to my beloved

This is an interesting change given that the Hawaiian language conveys a sense of time not merely though tense (or how we use verbs to denote a location in time – past, present, or future, complete or incomplete, etc.) but also through aspect (in which the larger fabric of time is conveyed through context – what else has been said or not said – or tone of voice). The earlier version of the lyric – “E ake inu wai a ka manu” – conveys possibility of a love that is yet to be shared. But the later version – “E ake e pili me ku`u manu” – can convey either possibility or improbability depending on context. With this in mind, Kīhei de Silva gives us an interesting perspective of the song: The change in lyric is likely a reflection of the passing of Lena’s husband, Luciano, five years earlier in 1957. This is no longer the same kind of longing Lena felt when she was away on her long tours and Luciano remained at home. This may likely be the longing that stems from more permanent loss and, therefore, which is arguably even more keenly realized. Hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta refers to the 1962 version as more mature:

When you listen to the 1935 and 1962 recordings of the song, the first version is light and lively, like it’s about two young people on the beach who are dancing and having a good time. But the second version sounds like a heavy love song; it is much more romantic and mature, much more expressive of a deeply moving experience… It evolved into something more personal.

Motta goes on to say that copyright and the 1962 recording session notwithstanding, Lena rarely sang the new version of the lyric. If the song – and the new lyric – are truly about her beloved Luciano, then I conjecture that Lena did not sing the new lyric because it was meant only for her and Lu.

And, so, we close our look at Lena Machado’s recording career by comparing one of her final recordings to one of her earliest recordings of the same song.

Despite the popularity of these recordings and finally attaining an agent for the first time in her career, tragedy would bring Lena’s career to an abrupt end. In October 1965, Lena accidentally crashed her car into a tree in Po`ipū on Kaua`i on her way to her new home in Koloa. Her injuries were so extensive that she was flown to Honolulu for the best possible care, but despite exhaustive reconstructive surgery, Lena was left paralyzed in her left arm and blind in her left eye. Now add a pre-existing heart condition, and Lena would not return to the stage for years – not until 1969 when she moved to Kailua, Kona on the island of Hawai`i and performed at Kona’s King Kamehameha Hotel. But it would not be long before a heart attack sent Lena back to O`ahu and Queen’s Hospital and eventually confinement at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation Center. It is widely acknowledged that “professional entertainer in Hawai`i” is not a career path that results in a safety net or nest egg of any kind. Lena exhausted all of her insurance policies and sold anything of value – including her house – to stay ahead of her medical expenses. To help defray the mounting medical bills, on December 17, 1973 Lena’s friend, Genoa Keawe, produced an all-star fundraiser. Lena was naturally moved, but so, too, were her doctors who reflected on Lena’s contributions – to Hawai`i at large but also, on a more personal level, to these doctors’ schools and churches – and they waived the rest of their medical fees – freeing Lena’s mind of this overwhelming burden.

Lena Machado passed away on January 22, 1974 in her room at Hale Nani. But she left a lasting legacy of an enviable singing voice and style (emulated still today by such young female singers in Hawai`i as Raiatea Helm) and a seemingly endless catalog of compositions just perfect for budding falsetto singers. She also forged a songwriting style that can be seen in new compositions by Robert Cazimero, Taupouri Tangaro and Kekuhi Kealiikanakaole, and Puakea Nogelmeier.

Next time: A few of Lena’s compositions you’ve not yet heard here performed by some of Hawai`i’s greatest voices…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.

The songs from the 1962 sessions have been digitally remastered and rereleased by Cord International/Hana Ola Records as Lena Machado – Hawaiian Songbird, the cover of which is pictured here and which is available both as a CD and MP3 download from most major music retailers.]




Direct download: 11_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:58am EDT

Everything Old Is Brand New (Sort Of)…

Continuing our look at Lena Machado’s final recordings with guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and the piano and vibes of arranger Benny Saks, I have compiled this segment in such a manner that allows us to compare the 1962 versions of some of Lena’s originals with versions of the same songs from her late 1940s sessions. 

You have already read that Lena debuted her “Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” on record in an April 22, 1949 session in Hollywood with a band that included such future Hawaiian music legends as Andy Cummings and Danny Kua`ana and which featured Bernie Ka`ai Lewis on the steel guitar. Lena tackled her song again with her new group during the 1962 sessions and arrived at a surprisingly familiar result – relying (as the first version did) on the Latin rhythms that Lena so loved and which pervaded her arrangements over the years and featuring (as the first version did) the interplay between the steel guitar and the vibes. In fact, the usually far-more-imaginative Saks even copped the “cha cha cha” ending from the original 1949 version. However, most importantly, Lena’s voice has lost none of its luster in 13 years - still singing “Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” in the same key as ever. You can read more about Lena’s inspiration for the song – about the dangers of desiring to grow up too fast – here. 

The May 4, 1949 session in Hollywood gave us the first recording of Lena’s beloved “Ei Nei” which she composed for her husband, Luciano, inspired by long, lonely nights apart when Lena was on one of her many tours. Again, the 1962 version differs little from the 1949 version – right down to the opening arpeggio from the vibes. However, arranger Saks does incorporate a new sound not yet prominent when the 1949 recordings were waxed: the “do-do-do-do-do” male backing vocals that had become the hallmark of doo-wop. Saks even has the boys sing one of the bridges – just like in the earlier version. The most notable difference: Lena has dropped the key on this one a whole tone from the earlier A to G. But her voice is still glorious. Flip over to this earlier post to hear the subtle differences between this and the earlier 1949 version. 

“U’i Lani” bowed on wax in 1947 and was first recorded with a group led by steel guitarist and arranger Tommy Castro in Hollywood during a November 6, 1947 session. Lena has subtly dropped the key from C on the earlier version one-and-a-half steps to A for the 1962 version. Arranged in the style of jazz’s George Shearing Quintet still so popular during this period, listen to the exchanges between the vibes and steel guitar in the 1962 version heard here. Interestingly, while Saks does not deliberately appear to be a copycat, he is repeatedly paying homage to earlier Machado recordings – opening this version of “U`i Lani” with an a capella section from the male voices just as Cummings arranged an a capella intro for the earlier version of “Ei Nei.”In the most notable twist, Lena for some reason decided to close the 1962 version with the English language verse as opposed to reprising one of the Hawaiian-language verses as she did on the 1947 version. As discussed here earlier, Lena wrote this lullaby-like melody to celebrate the birth of her friends’ first child. 

The same May 4, 1949 session that gave us the earlier version of “Ei Nei” also yielded the first version of “Holo Wa`apa.” The steel guitar is front and center on the 1962 version. But the major difference between the versions is the rhythmic feel – the 1962 version in strict swing time while the 1949 version was taken somewhere between a Latin feel and the traditional `olapa hula rhythm. Notice also the addition of some backing vocals in the English language as the boys interject “in a canoe… just me and you.” (But as you read here earlier, the song is about so much more than a canoe ride.) The original 1949 version opens with a rare early appearance of slack key guitar on record (by a still unidentified guitarist), whereas the 1962 version opens with the steel guitar. But here is the kicker: A board fade! Although not discussed previously, while Lena performed music for the hula in her live performances, it is clear from all of Lena’s recordings – going back to the very earliest – that she was not recording music for the hula. How do we know this? Because all of her recordings include instrumental solos to feature her stellar musicians, and since the hula is an interpretive dance - the motions of the hands mirroring the lyric – the hula dancer cannot continue to dance when nobody is singing. If we did not understand that Lena’s recordings were not “hula music” previously, the board fade out is the dead give-away since if the song never ends, neither can the dancer. 

Next time: Lena Machado’s recording and songwriting career comes full circle when the 1962 recording sessions reprise compositions she first recorded more than 25 years earlier…


Direct download: 10_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 6:57pm EDT

The Songbird Chirps One More Once

The 1950s had Lena making exhaustive tours of the mainland U.S. including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco,  New York (including an engagement at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room), Miami, Atlantic City, and even the Florida Keys. In between tours she held court at a number of Waikiki hotspots such as the Niumalu Hotel (now the site of the Hilton Hawaiian Village), the Biltmore Hotel (today the Hyatt Regency), and the famed Waikiki Lau Yee Chai (now the Ambassador Hotel). Her working group included members of Pua Almeida’s working group (including Billy Hew Len on steel guitar and Kalakaua Aylett on rhythm guitar), Prince Aila on upright bass, and her longtime band mate at this point, “Little Joe” Kekauoha on `ukulele. Ever the entrepreneur, Lena – with the help and investment of other local business people – also opened Club Pago Pago, a still fondly remembered night club on Beretania Street (where now, sadly, stands a parking garage). Her working musicians at this venue included regular members of Andy Cummings’ working group (including Gabby Pahinui on steel guitar and Joe Diamond on bass). Oh, how fans might long for any recording of Lena from this era with these fine musicians. But, alas, there is none (that we know of). 

In fact, the next time Lena would step foot in a recording studio would also be the last. With guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and the piano and vibes of arranger Benny Saks, a 1962 session led to Lena’s final recordings and her first and only full-length album since the advent of the LP, Hawaii’s Songbird. After years of performing these songs live – the 1962 sessions are Lena’s first in her career to feature only her original compositions – Lena and band could finally realize these songs on record as she wished them to be heard. The equally forward-thinking Saks was eager to take Hawaiian music into the next decade – a new sound in Hawaiian music that Saks would perfect through the 1960s, arranging for such artists as Marlene Sai, Leina`ala Haili, Kai Davis, Billy Gonsalves and the Paradise Serenaders, and Frank and Cathy Kawelo – but Hawaiian Songbird was one of his earliest opportunities (along with a 1961 album he arranged for Pua Almeida) to try on some of his then still new ideas. 

I would love to share with you all of the recordings from the 1962 sessions. But let’s begin with those compositions of Auntie Lena’s that we have not yet heard since despite that she recorded most of these songs at least once earlier in her career, regrettably I do not have the earlier recordings in my archives.  

One of Lena’s earliest jobs as a child was a lei seller, and for those of you not indoctrinated into the joys of urban Honolulu living, today – just as 100 years ago – the heart of the lei-making industry in Honolulu is Chinatown. And it was there that Lena found many of her earliest lessons in life and love as well as her introduction to the nuances of the Hawaiian language. So Lena always held a spot in her heart for her lei-making friends and calabash aunties and uncles. A generation later, the sons and daughters of the lei makers with whom Lena had associated decided that they wanted to branch out and expand their businesses by adding fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish. Thus the famed Hōlau Market was born. (The photograph of Hōlau Market you see here also graces the wall of my master bedroom.) According to composer and Hawaiian cultural expert Kīhei de Silva, no Hawaiian dictionary reveals such a word as “hōlau.” He conjectures it is a contraction of “ho`olau” which means “to leaf out” or “to gather in large numbers” – a name for a business which, as de Silva puts it, has “positive connotations.” The market owners – remembering Lena fondly and being well aware of her success in entertainment – asked her to compose a song to honor the new market, and her “Hōlau” was the result. The song is an interesting study in Hawaiian composing and performing style. Many who hear “Hōlau” but who do not fully understand the Hawaiian language believe “Hōlau” to be a love song, and Lena’s performance might bely the true meaning of the song – singing it as she might sing any love song. As hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta put it, unknowing audiences pick up on such bits and pieces of phrases as “he nani i ka maka” (“so splendid to the eyes”) or “`ono a ka pu`u” (“that the palate craves”) and mistakenly believe – as is the case with so many Hawaiian songs – that the composer is employing the poetic technique of kaona (or layers of meaning concealed in metaphor) utilizing the delicacies of the dinner table as a veiled reference to “delicacies of another kind.” But “Holau” is not a love song and should be taken solely at face value. And this is the mistake so common among those attempting to translate or perform a Hawaiian song. Simply put, just because kaona is a poetic technique prevalent in Hawaiian song form does not necessarily mean that kaona is used in the writing of every song. Sometimes a fish is just a fish. And before I forget to mention it, listen to the interplay of Saks’ piano and Hew Len’s steel guitar on “Hōlau” – a sound that follows the template forged by the then very popular San Francisco-based George Shearing Quintet. 

Lena loved the island of Hawai`i (sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Big Island”), of which she was known to say, “Where else in God’s creation can you find so much to admire?” So she visited and performed on Hawai`i often throughout her career. A joyous 1946 tour of the island prompted Lena to write “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi.” Hānai daughter Motta describes the song perfectly: 

Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi is like a postcard put to words and music. It describes the beauty of nature that surrounds the Hilo district of Hawai`i island: the Lehua blossoms of Pana`ewa, the sunrise and misty showers, the cloud-wreathed heights of Maunakea, the rainbow that arches over the waterfall at Waianuenue, and the waving palms of Mokuola.  

Like “Kamalani O Keaukaha” before it, “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi” is still another “thank you” for the people of this island and their hospitality. 

We have already discussed here that Lena’s songs were well-researched or based on real-life events. Such is the case of her poignant composition simply entitled “Mom.” During World War II, Lena’s fans would approach her after her performances, and the conversations would naturally often turn to their sons off at war, the letters they would write home, and the contrition in their words. These moms would share these letters with Lena, and she noticed that many of them closed with some variant of the prayer “God, please keep my mom under your loving care.” Lena built “Mom” around these letters and the prayer they universally seemed to hold. But she went a step further. Lena showed early versions of the song to soldiers’ mothers she had befriended to ensure that it rang true with them. This makes “Mom” Lena’s only collaboration with her fans – important research for a songwriter like Lena who cared about such matters and who you may recall was not a mom herself. But she was a daughter, and “Mom” was composed while her hānai mom, Mrs. Loo Pan, was dying of cancer. Lena’s relationship with her mother was tenuous from the earliest days because of their mismatched priorities – Lena wanting to be a singer while her mother wanted her to be a teacher. Still, it is likely that Lena had Mrs. Loo Pan at the forefront of her mind while composing the song. Finally, so that the meaning of this song so very important to Lena would not be misunderstood, note that it is one of the few of her compositions (along with “Ei Nei”) that she wrote in the English language. 

Lena had been friends with hula master Sally Wood Nalua`i from their very earliest days. They ended up touring together through the 1930s and 40s, and in their later professional years, they were each other’s first call – Sally calling on Lena when the hula troupe needed musicians, and Lena calling on Sally when a performance needed dancers. A mele inoa (or “name song” honoring someone) is usually conceived of by a composer as a gift for the song’s subject (or their parents in the case of a newborn). “Moanike`alaonapuamakahikina” is most unusual in that Sally as much as commissioned the song from Lena – being friends so long and being so comfortable around each other than Sally simply told Lena that she wondered what her Hawaiian name would sound like in song. And Lena obliged her friend with what has become one of her most beloved and enduring compositions. Because the song would not be a “gift” in the surprise sense, as with the mothers with whom Lena collaborated on “Mom,” the forthright Lena discussed with Sally what she might write about her to ensure that the song met her friend’s expectations (without, I suppose, embarrassing her). My favorite verse: 

Na ka mahina mālamalama / The light of the moon 

I hō`ike mai / Has shown 

`O `oe nō ku`u pua / That you are the flower 

Kau umauma / Placed on my heart 

Nobody but nobody could string together the Hawaiian language so succinctly and meaningfully as Auntie Lena. And there was name built into Sally’s Hawaiian name too – which means “wafting is the fragrance of flowers in the east.” 

Next time: Lena Machado’s 1962 recording sessions revisits her compositions she first recorded thirteen years earlier in 1949…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]



Direct download: 09_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 6:12am EDT

Lena – More New Compositions

Continuing our examination of Lena Machado’s 1949 recording sessions for Columbia Records with a group led by Andy Cummings and which included falsetto singer and `ukulele player Danny Kua`ana and steel guitarist Bernie Ka`ai Lewis… Lena chose five “covers” and three of her own compositions for these sessions. This time around we focus on her originals. 

You are already well aware of Machado’s many accomplishments – as a performer and songwriter, of course, but also as a broadcast pioneer and an early advocate for women’s rights. Those who knew Lena say that she was ever dignified in every aspect of her life. Lena composed ““Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” (sometimes called “Hupe Kole”) for the most uncharacteristically undignified moment of her young life. Like so many girls who desire to grow up more quickly, when Lena was twelve or thirteen she began asking for the trappings of adult woman couture. She didn’t receive these until her sixteenth birthday, but she wasted no trying all of it on with the notion of debuting the new Lena at a street fair. Lena put on the corset, long dress with petticoat, stockings, and high-heels and made for the fair on the streetcar. But despite the admonishment of the conductor, poor Lena couldn’t sit down in that get-up! To spare herself further embarrassment, she got off the streetcar and walked the long walk to the fair. But it was not long before Lena’s feet were killing her in those heels. She persevered because she was enjoying the admiring looks from potential suitors. But eventually it was all too much – hat falling to one side, the heat and the walk taking its toll on her hair, sweat dripping… And so she gave up and walked home – barefoot, since her feel were so swollen the shoes wouldn’t go back on. Upon her arrival at home, seeing Lena in her disheveled condition, her hanai mom, Mrs. Loo Pan, scolded, “Auē, hūpēkole kaikamahine – trying to act like a grown-up lady when you’re only a runny-nosed kid!” Lena waited 25 years to write down the tale, long enough for it to have a happy ending: 

A nui a`e he wahine u`i (I have become a beautiful woman!) 

Interestingly, although the lyric content does not call for it, the group takes “Ku`u Wa Li`ili’i” with a Latin feel – much like the arrangement we would have expected for the earlier recording of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha.” From this recording it is clear that Lena’s fascination with Cuban and Puerto Rican music has not yet waned, and “Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” marks one of the earliest – if not the first – use of Latin rhythms on a Hawaiian song on record. 

You will no doubt understand “Ei Nei,” one of the few songs Lena ever wrote in English. “Ei nei” is a contraction of “e ia nei” which might be translated as “you, there,” and it has since come to be a term of endearment like “My darling.” But Lena did not mean just any “darling” for she did not call just anybody “ei nei.” The song was for her husband, Luciano, for “ei nei” was their pet name for each other. We know that she wrote the song for Lu since in the song sheet “Ei Nei” is capitalized which signifies formal direct address – as if “Ei Nei” were actually Lu’s name. Hānai daughter Motta previously explained the effect of night on Lena and her songwriting: It was the time of day when the light and the growing silence made Lena pensive, and this was when her songwriting was most fruitful. Although Lena was at home when she wrote it, the song harkens to any of her many tours when she and Lu were separated for long periods of time. Lu could have been sitting right next to her at the time, but still Lena writes, “There’ll be no one in your place, Ei Nei.” I have heard the song sung incorrectly often – in fact, nearly all the time – since Lena’s recordings of the song do not make clear the real words of the opening line. Most sing “Aloha wau iā `oe” (“I love you”), but that is not what Lena wrote. She wrote “Haroha wau iā `oe” – “haroha” the Māori equivalent of the Hawaiian “aloha” – to honor Lena and Lu’s great friends, Herbert and Dorothy Hano, restaurant owners they befriended while on tour in San Francisco. Dorothy, who was of Māori descent, would always greet the Machados with a cheerful “Haroha!” But I am fairly certain that I have never heard anybody who performs this song sing “haroha” – not even Lena, who would often sing in such a manner as masque certain sounds in order to keep the inside jokes inside. Only written in 1948 (a year before these sessions), this marks the first recording of this now oft-performed classic. 

“Holo Wa`apa” – one of Machado’s numbers to this day, especially for falsetto singers – means “canoe ride.” But is it really about a canoe ride? Sure, Auntie Lena uses Hawaiian poetic technique to full effect here, but the song both is and is not about an actual canoe ride that Lena took with none other than famed beach boy Duke Kahanamoku. Accordind to Lena’s hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, in her Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena, Lena used the exhilarating in writing the song. Lena said she found trying to help Duke and the boys steer the canoe “like holding on to a racing horse. (This would explain the line “Kohu Mine ku`u lio holo nui” – “Just as if I were riding a horse.”) This experience is also where she would have heard such terms as “port hard” which she also worked into the lyric. Kihei de Silva refers to the Motta-Machado translation of the song as “deceptively simple” – with nary a reference to the intimate kaona (or veiled poetic meaning) of the song. This may be because when Lena created a hula for her song and taught it to her dancers, the dance she taught them was strictly about a canoe ride, and that’s all. You had to be a Hawaiian or speak the Hawaiian language very well to know that Lena might be singing about something else – lines such as:

I mua a i hope pa`a ke kūlana (Row forward then back, steady as she goes) 

Mea`ole nā ale I ka luli mālie (Feel the gentle swaying of the waves) 


Kūpaianaha ē ka hana a nā ale (I could feel the workings of the waves) 

The artfulness in the writing of “Holo Wa`apa” justifies Motta’s assertion that “Aunty Lena knew how to celebrate Hawaiian sexuality without being crude or obvious.” 

The arrangement for this recording of “Holo Wa`apa” opens surprisingly with slack key guitar. Not only is slack key on wax a fairly new concept (Gabby Pahinui is credited with making the first slack key recording only two years earlier in 1947), we cannot know which of the session personnel – Andy Cummings? Danny Kua`ana? Bernie Ka`ai? – is the slack key player heard here. 

Finally, to round out the set I throw in one more cover – the last remaining tune from the 1949 sessions. “Olu O Pu`ulani” is often credited to Helen Lindsey Parker (who wrote, among numerous other favorites among Hawaiians, the venerable “`Akaka Falls” which Lena covered in her 1937 sessions with Dick McIntire). In a long standing Hawaiian tradition, Parker composed “Olu O Pu`ulani” to honor the birth of a child. 

It would be thirteen years before Lena steps foot into the recording studio again – and for the last time. 

Next time: Lena Machado in the 1950s and a first listen to her final recordings…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.] 


Direct download: 08_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:42pm EDT

Lena and the West Coast All-Stars

The 1950s recording sessions to which Lena’s hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, makes reference in Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena likely actually took place on the brink of the turn of the decade between April and May 1949. Still under contract to Columbia Records, Machado turned out eight sides not with her touring band but, rather, with the finest Hawaiian musicians in Los Angeles at the time – Hawai`i expats who came to the mainland throughout the 1930s and 40s to take advantage of Hollywood’s craze with all things Hawaiian during this period. 

The group with which Lena recorded this time around was billed as Andy Cummings’ Hawaiian Serenaders. Based on both discographical information and our astute ears, we know that session personnel included falsetto singer and `ukulele player Danny Kua`ana (formerly with Lani McIntire at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room in New York City just a few years earlier) and steel guitarist Bernie Ka`ai Lewis (who remained on the West Coast for most of his career, working on the soundtrack for Blue Hawaii and finishing his career as the staff arranger for The Flip Wilson Show). Kua`ana’s falsetto can be heard in the vocal backing group as well as trading verses with Lena on certain numbers at these sessions, and Ka`ai had a distinctive, jazzy approach to the steel guitar which time and certain steel aficionados have treated unkindly and potentially unfairly – the criticisms ranging from the mundane (“sounds too West Coast” or “doesn’t sound Hawaiian enough”) to the downright nasty (“schmaltz”). Regardless, because of his distinctive sound on the instrument, we can definitely finger Ka`ai as having played on these sessions. Kua`ana and Ka`ai had a musical association that began years earlier and which was consummated in the recording studio the first time in 1945 in Los Angeles for Capital Records (which yielded about a dozen classic sides released as the 78 rpm album booklet Holiday In Hawaii) and again in 1947 in New York City (the results of which were less essential since they were waxed for a budget record label in the wake of an American Federation of Musicians strike against record companies and which yielded noisy recordings pressed on cheap vinyl in order to maximize the label’s profits). What remains unclear is Cummings’ role – if any – in the proceedings since he does not appear to have a prior recording or performing relationship with Kua`ana or Ka`ai. Many believe that Andy’s is one of the recognizable voices in the backing vocal trio. (Listen to the bridge of “E Ku`u Lei, My Darling,” and tell me that is not Cummings singing lead in the trio.) But was he also the leader or arranger? And why was Cummings – who was not an expat – in Los Angeles for these sessions? Such are the mysteries surrounding these recordings. But the sessions did yield more Machado magic including the first ever recordings of three Machado originals and covers of a pair of Danny Kua`ana songs which have also become staples of the Hawaiian repertoire. Let’s begin with a few of the covers… 

An unidentified vibraphonist opens the proceedings with an arpeggio leading into the Danny Kua`ana composition “E Ku`u Lei, My Darling,” a song the composer first recorded a few years earlier with his partner, Bernie Ka`ai (and which appears on their aforementioned set Holiday In Hawaii). We not yet really get to assess Ka`ai’s steel playing since the vibes take the solo instrumental chorus. But we do hear Cummings and Kua`ana in the backing vocal trio on the bridge. Interestingly, there appear to be women’s voices in the backing vocal groups, but no other ladies besides Machado are identified as participating in this April 22, 1949 session at Columbia Records’ studios in Hollywood. 

A session a few weeks later on May 4, 1949 with the same personnel gives us a reading of David Nape’s “Old Plantation.” The male vocal trio opens the number followed again by a chorus of ladies voices. (Again, it is easily possible to distinguish a female voice from a male voice singing falsetto. So we again seem to have an unidentified trio of ladies providing backing vocals.) Mary Jane Montano wrote the lyrics for this song about the elegant estate of Curtis and Victoria Ward at the corner of King and Ward Streets (the site of what is now the Neal Blaisdell Center). David Nape contributed the music which should be considered – like Nape’s other compositions (“Pua Mohala,” “Ku`u Ipo,” “Ku`u I`ini”) – advanced for the period in which it was written. (According to one copy of the sheet music, “Old Plantation” was copyrighted in 1906.). The primary song form of that period was hula ku`i – in which a single chord structure and melody are repeated over and over again (without a bridge or chorus) strictly in the service of supporting the lyric content. (This song form was – and continues to be – the primary song form for accompanying the hula, and the name of the form is simply translated as “to string together a hula.”) But Nape was writing a more complicated song form which deviated from the I-IV-V chord structure and repetitive melody to more meandering melodies and unexpected harmonic shifts. “Old Plantation” has at least three distinct sections – each having its own melody and unique chord structure which does not play upon or borrow from the other two. The middle section, in particular, demonstrates that Nape was thinking about other song forms that were not native to Hawai`i – one of the earliest Hawaiian songs to venture into a related key center in the bridge (in this case meandering from the tonic – here, the key of G – to its relative minor – Em – and then to the dominant – D.) And, in an interesting twist to the arrangement, the male vocal trio – led by Cummings – takes the lead on the chorus while the single female voice of Auntie Lena harmonizes with the men. 

Although many sources cite “My De-De” as traditional (publishing speak meaning that the song is so old that the rightful composer cannot possibly be known), it did not require too much effort on my part to correct this fallacy. The song should properly be credited to Bert Carlson and Johnny Noble who copyrighted the song. (My 1935 copy of Johnny Noble’s Collection of Ancient & Modern Hulas lists on its inside front cover additional song folios available from Miller Music Corporation of New York, NY – one of these being “My De-De” which is credited to “Carlson-Noble.”) Danny Kua`ana takes a solo vocal on the bridge, and Ka`ai takes a steel guitar solo – a single-string chorus followed by some lovely chord melody – which nobody can accuse of being “schmaltz.” This entire affair is simply lovely – right down to the vocal harmonies that close the number. 

Kua`ana and Ka`ai are jointly credited for composing the beautiful “My Sweet Gardenia Lei” – a number in the typical hapa-haole style (or songs which extol the unique beauty of Hawai`i and its people but sung in the English language). Here Mr. Ka`ai uses his steel to create a sort of counterpoint for Lena’s vocal lead, and later his half-chorus solo is much too short for him to stretch out. (Listen for Ka`ai to play a nifty arpeggiated diminished run in the closing seconds of the tune that is so quick and so precise that he gives no hint that he is playing a steel guitar.) And Kua`ana takes the liberty of a lead vocal on the bridge of the song he wrote. 

These sides – originally issued as 78 rpm single discs – were reissued a decade later in the LP era on the Harmony label, the Columbia Records budget line. And this is the impetus for another new theme at Ho`olohe Hou which I will simply title “Cover Judging.” You may recall in our discussion of the lost Mona Joy LP that the album was filled with beautiful – and exceedingly authentic – Hawaiian music but that most fans of Hawaiian music who “know better” would likely pass it over based on the cover which featured not a picture of the artist but, rather, a dancer in traditional Tahitian dress. The same is true of the reissue of these Lena Machado sides on LP – the cover of which you see here and which again features Tahitian dancers – not Hawaiian. In this era it is widely acknowledge that “cheesecake” covers – featuring scantily-clad women – sold all kinds of records from jazz to classical, but such covers in many cases belied the serious music inside. Those who passed up this record because of its cover may never know the treasures that lay beneath the cardboard and which continue to live on in the grooves. I will continue to bring you many more such treasured recordings potentially passed over because of the human tendency to judge a book – or record – by its cover. 

Next time: More from the 1949 sessions on Columbia – and introducing three new original Lena Machado compositions…


Direct download: 07_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Cover Judging -- posted at: 6:32am EDT

Lena In The 1940s

After spending most of the 1930s on the West Coast – working the clubs and hotels around Los Angeles and consulting on Hawai`i-themed Hollywood productions – Lena returned to Honolulu just before the outbreak of World War II. During the war years she committed herself to entertaining servicemen on O`ahu and the neighbor islands. She also returned to radio station KGU – where she got her start – where she hosted her own weekly radio show from 1943 to 1946 – a show broadcast around the world. Lena’s radio program house band included steel guitarist Sam Ka`eo, Lani Sang and Roy Ah Mook Sang on guitars, George Pokini on bass, Sonny Nicholas on guitar, “Little Joe” Kekauoha on `ukulele, and Edith Na`auao (Lena’s niece) on piano.

Now this is where oral histories fail us from time to time – or, at least, let us agree that writing down an oral history does not make it a written history if so much time has elapsed before the writing. In exploring Machado’s life and work, I have repeatedly cited one essential volume on the subject: Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena written by Lena’s hanai daughter Pi`olani Motta. While Machado was groundbreaking – both musically and in terms of advancing women’s rights – not everything she did could possibly be a first. That is the romanticizing that is a natural by-product of oral histories. In the book Motta claims that with the 1940s radio program Lena “became the first woman in the United States to host her own radio show.” While radio historians disagree about which woman was the very first to host a radio program, there are numerous possibilities which predate Lena’s stint at KGU by more than two decades. But the likely real first was Eunice Randall, a 19-year-old who read stories to children two nights a week on Boston’s radio station 1XE, earning her the title of “The Story Lady.” (The likely second woman in radio was New Jersey’s Bertha Brainard who by 1921 was hosting “Broadcasting Broadway” – a program of theater reviews and rushes for upcoming shows on Newark’s WJZ radio.)

In fact, such is the nature of research in general: Once we begin to corroborate – or dispel – oral histories, the mythologies begin to unravel like a souvenir lei gone all mamae with time. In her account of Machado’s recording activity during this period, Motta offers up several verifiable inaccuracies. She states that Lena “last recorded in 1940 on Decca Records with Dick McInyre and his Harmony Hawaiians.” But you already know that according to the Decca Records discography, there was only one such session which paired Machado and McIntire on September 23, 1937. Motta goes on to state that “During the early and mid-‘50s, a series of recording and convention contracts took Aunty Lena on extended tours of the continental United States…” The tours no doubt took place, but recording could not have been the impetus for Lena’s travel in the 1950s because well-documented discographies indicates that she did not record between 1949 (in Hollywood) and 1962 (in Honolulu). And the discographies notwithstanding, if Lena had participated in any recording session throughout that decade, surely one or more of those recordings would have materialized by now.

But this is not an attack on oral histories – an essential part of an ethnographer’s toolkit. It is simply a reminder to put oral histories in context and to confirm and corroborate whenever possible with a different kind of data from another source.

According to Motta, the band with which Lena would next record would be led by Danny Kua`ana and Bernie Ka`ai Lewis. This is yet another mythology that has been espoused even by record collectors and Hawaiian music historians. But it is verifiably inaccurate. While Machado would eventually wax sides with Kua`ana and Ka`ai, her next sessions were with a different – and historically important – aggregation. For the record (pun intended), Lena’s next foray into a recording studio during this period would not be for more than a decade after the September 23, 1937 session. During another stay in Hollywood in 1947, now under contract to Columbia Records Lena cut four sides on November 5 and another four on November 6 with a group led by steel guitarist Tommy Castro (of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room) and which included Joseph “Steppy” de Rego. Castro even arranged these sides. Regrettably, the seemingly exhaustive Ho`olohe Hou archives have been exhausted since I can only locate two of these eight sides. (But rest assured that I have calls and emails out to a half-dozen collectors from Hawai`i to the U.K. to obtain these sides for our examination and historical completeness.) But it is well worth listening to the two sides to which we have access – one the first recording of a then-recently-written Lena Machado original.

Like the song “Mauna Kea” recently discussed here, “Na Ka Pueo” is another Hawaiian song about a ship – this one called the Pueo. And like the ship in “Mauna Kea,” the Pueo is actually a not-so-veiled poetic reference to a lover who is likely to be unfaithful. “Na Ka Pueo” pre-admonishes the lover to be faithful, saying “Malama iho `oe ke aloha / Kuleana no`u e hiki aku au” (“Take care of my love / Your responsibility until I return”).

Lena’s husband, Luciano, was a detective with the Honolulu Police Department. Later in his career Uncle Lu befriended a new recruit, William Sheather, and over time Sheather and his wife, Sophie, became good friends of the Machados – visiting each other’s homes for food, fun, and hospitality Hawaiian style. The Hawaiian songwriter will often compose a song to celebrate the birth of a child to family or friends. And so Lena wrote “U`ilani” for the Sheather’s first born, Donni U`ilani Sheather. “U`ilani” is an interest springboard for discussion about Lena’s approach to songwriting. According to hanai daughter Pi`olani Motta, it was important for Lena to empathize with the subjects of her songs. Motta writes:

Aunty Lena had an amazing talent for concentrating on her subject – for becoming what she was writing about. I think this is especially true in a song like “U`ilani” because of Aunty Lena’s inability to have children of her own… When her parents brought her over to visit, Aunty Lena paid close to attention to the way they interacted: father, mother, and daughter. The song “U`ilani” was inspired by this careful observation – by Aunty Lena’s ability to put herself into the shoes of these loving parents and to address U`ilani as if the darling little girl were Aunty’s own gift “from heaven above.”

This explains the English-language lyric in the out chorus: “U`ilani, my own…” And that is the value of oral histories.

Next time: More of Lena Machado’s 1940s Columbia sides – with still a new and different band…



[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]



Direct download: 06_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:57pm EDT

Lena Unveils More New Songs

We have been exploring Lena Machado’s life in the 1930s – much of it spent in Los Angeles after a professional run in back home (with Royal Hawaiian Band leader Frank Vierra). Her time in and around Hollywood resulted in two recording sessions – the latter of which (with a group led by steel guitarist Dick McIntire) resulted in the release of ten sides, three of these compositions from Lena’s own pen, two never recorded before. Let’s listen to the debut recordings of what have since become classics of the Hawaiian repertoire. 

Most curiously, “Ho`oipo Hula” (often referred to simply as “Ipo Hula”), Lena’s most oft performed and recorded composition, is the only one of her original songs not to appear in the book about her life, Songbird of Hawai`i (written by her hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, with help from composer and Hawaiian cultural specialist Kihei de Silva). Perhaps this is because it is assumed that this is the Lena Machado composition that every Hawaiian music fan and musician already knows. Fortunately, it is the one I know best as it is one that I have been performing regularly for over 25 years. It is a love story that takes place on my favorite part of the island of O`ahu, the windward side and the Ko`olau mountains. Lena writes, “He wehi a he lei o ke onaona” – “A song and a lei of fragrance.” While a lei is a wreath of flowers worn around the neck and among the precious of gifts a Hawaiian can bestow (attendant with all of its sacrosanct rituals and ceremonies for the giving, wearing, and disposing of afterward), because of its important symbolism to Hawaiians the lei is also a metaphor for a precious someone – someone whom you might desire to be as close to you as a lei could be to your body. She goes on to mention “ka wehi a ka ua” or “the adornment of the rain” – rain typically being a Hawaiian metaphor for love-making. And we know that there was some difficulty in the lovers being together when Aunty Lena writes “`Owau ho`okahi ke none nei / I neia hana nui a ke aloha” (“I alone would take the trouble / To make so much love”), but we know that the effort was worth it when she closes with “Lei pili a kaua / Hana kupaianaha” (“The lei that belongs to us – an extraordinary affair indeed”).  

A huge fan of Latin music and its rhythms and instrumentation, Lena wished to acknowledge the popularity of such Latin artists as Xavier Cugat and Tito Puente – and dances like the rhumba and mambo – during this period in Hollywood. According to hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta, Aunty Lena viewed Latin music as rhythm and joy and sincerely desired “to celebrate the way that two different cultures could respect and enjoy each other.” So she decided to write a song tinged with the Latin feel and rhythms but utilizing her typically Hawaiian poetic technique. “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is one of the most scandalous notions the thoroughly modern Machado ever came up with. She pictured a flirtatious young woman with a feather boa – the titular “baby” – dancing to these Latin rhythms, and she used the kaona (or veiled meanings) of the boa as a metaphor for… (You know… Some things I have to leave up to the reader and their imagination. After all, that is what Hawaiian kaona is all about!) And, for good measure, Lena threw in “hot cha cha” where the Hawaiian songwriter might usually say instead “`ea, `ea” as a nod to Cugat and his many recordings for the cha-cha. Make no mistake: Lena knew that she was pushing the boundaries of the Hawaiian music tradition again with this song. But according to Motta, Aunty Lena used to say, “…as long as your foundation is Hawaiian, your ribbons and frills can go wherever you want them to go. But be sure that what you say in your words and your heart is Hawaiian.” The trendsetting Machado paved the way for every Hawaiian music artist that came after her – not only in incorporating Latin rhythms into the Hawaiian music idiom (a template that would be followed a few years hence by such artists as Jesse Kalima, Richard Kauhi, Buddy Fo, and arranger Benny Saks), but in introducing the newfound freedom to experiment with colors, sounds, and textures that had not previously been part of the fabric of Hawaiian music. The debate between tradition and evolution in Hawaiian music continues to be waged today, but it was Lena Machado who liberated the Hawaiian musician to try new things as long as their heart was in the right place. 

What is circumspect about this first recording of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is that despite conceiving of the song as a response to Latin rhythms and instrumentation and likely performing the song that way live since writing it a few years before, the arrangement here is strictly in the swing meter of the hula. One can only conjecture why Lena eschewed the sound and feel that she herself believed should go with this lyric (and vice-versa), but it is highly likely that either McIntire or the record company A&R guy did not believe that Lena’s concept for this song was “Hawaiian enough” and would likely confuse the radio and record markets. It would not be until years later that Lena would realize her vision of what her unique song should sound like in a recording with a completely different group. 

“Kauoha Mai” (misprinted on the record label as “Kaneohe Mai”) is the Machado composition that she had recorded previously – about three years prior with a group led by steel guitar great Andy Iona. While artists do revisit their songs periodically throughout the years and put a new spin on them, it is unclear why Lena would record the same song twice in such a short period of time. Except for the tempo, the 1937 arrangement with McIntire is almost identical to the 1940 arrangement with Iona – right down to the tag ending. (For more information about “Kauoha Mai” and to hear the earlier recording with Andy Iona, see this previous post on an earlier period in Lena Machado’s recording career.) 

This recording session does not mark the end of Lena’s stay on the West Coast. On the contrary, Lena received the most auspicious offer from San Francisco Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi to lead a Hawaiian group at the 1939 World’s Fair. Lena dubbed her group the “Hawaiian Strollers” because they had no permanent location at the fair. But when fair organizers realized that Lena and the Strollers were drawing more than a thousand visitors a day, they extended their original six-month contract to the full duration of the World’s Fair – three years! – and built them a Hawaiian-themed pavilion. 

Next time: It would be ten years before Lena would step into a recording studio again… 


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]


Direct download: 05_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:38am EDT

Shaka, Zulu!

Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi was born in Rainbow Falls, Hilo, on the island of Hawai`i, on October 17, 1937.  He was three-quarters Hawaiian and one-quarter English (courtesy of a grandfather from Michigan). Explaining his unusual nickname, his mother assured an interviewer that she sent her son off to school with his hair neatly combed but that it would become disheveled at football practice. Since he and his teammates were studying the Zulu – a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa – in a social studies class, his buddies likened Gilbert’s hair to that of these African natives. They nicknamed him “Zulu” – a moniker which he stuck with (or one of several variants such as “Zoulou,” which he claimed was the French Tahitian spelling) throughout his career. 

Zulu and his family moved to Honolulu where he became one of the noted Waikiki beach boys – giving surfing lessons and outrigger canoe rides to tourists. There are conflicting accounts of Zulu’s schooling – several indicating that he attended the prestigious Kamehameha Schools, and others stating that he attended Saint Louis School in Kaimuki but dropped out after the 10th grade and worked in construction before serving four years in the U.S. Coast Guard. But formal schooling anywhere likely would not have changed Zulu’s destiny. A natural musician and comedian, Zulu and his buddies formed a group called “Zulu and The Polynesians” which performed at parties for “all of the food they could eat.”  Later he formed a Polynesian revue which toured Japan and entertained on cruise ships. 

Throughout the 1960s Zulu’s entertainment career unfolded slowly but carefully. He appeared in numerous Hollywood productions based in Hawai`i, starting with the Hawaiian Eye TV show in 1959, followed by the films Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Diamond Head (1962), Rampage (1963), and Hawaii (1966). He also worked as disc jockey at radio station KHVH and was appearing nightly at a club called Honey’s in Kane`ohe – a breeding ground for a raft of future superstars in Hawaiian entertainment, recruited by the owner’s son, a still then virtually unknown Don Ho. When Ho hit the big time and moved his act to Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace in Waikiki, Zulu started another band, "Zulu and the Seven Sons of Hawaii," which – despite that Zulu could sing in five languages – performed primarily Hawaiian music. 

Zulu’s big break finally came in 1968 when he went to a cattle call audition for a new CBS detective series to be filmed in Hawai`i and quite unexpectedly landed the role of Kono Kalakaua on Hawaii Five-0. The role was perfect for the large and occasionally acerbic Hawaiian who could say more with a look or a head butt than with words. But it was – at least, anecdotally – words he would exchange often with series star Jack Lord that got Zulu fired from Five-O in 1972 after only four seasons.   

Zulu continued appearing in films and television shows such as Magnum, P.I., Charlie’s Angels, Midnight Special, The Glen Campbell Show, The Brian Keith Show, and Roger That. But it didn’t matter how much film or television work rolled Zulu’s way. Hawaii Five-0 was Zulu’s launch pad into a successful career as a showroom headliner – singer, comedian, or both – in and around Honolulu which included first a stint at Duke Kahanamoku’s (after his former boss Ho’s departure) and then an unprecedented (except, perhaps, for Ho) five-year, $2.5 million contract with the C’est Si Bon Showroom in the Pagoda Hotel & Restaurant. 

I thought it would be interesting to revisit the earliest part of Zulu’s career and his start at Honey’s in Kane`ohe with Don Ho in the early 1960s. Precious little tape from those evenings remains. But in 1962 – long before Don or Zulu would become famous – Hula Records’ owner Donald “Flip” McDiarmid II heard about the magic that was happening in Kane`ohe every night at Honey’s and went over there one evening with a portable tape recorder to capture part of the magic of an evening at Honey’s exactly as it happened. The material recorded that evening was eventually released on the Hula Records label under the title Waikiki Swings despite that the recording was of subpar sound quality. It sounded like what it was – a “bootleg.” I spoke to Flip in his home shortly before his passing in 2010, and this tape was one of the topics I broached. According to Flip, he had taken the recorder in to capture some of the magic so that he could review it to see if he had an album in the making in order to offer a deal to the participants in the band at Honey’s. If the deal had come to fruition, Flip would have returned with a professional remote recording crew and made an “album.” No such deal ever came to fruition. Don held out for a national deal – which came after his show moved to Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace in Waikiki just a year or two later. However, according to others familiar with the situation, there was no such deal in the making; the recording was a bootleg – and pure and simple – and when Don released his first two live albums nationwide for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label in 1965, Hula Records released the bootleg from Honey’s in 1966 to capitalize on Don’s burgeoning success. Making the accusation even worse, some involved with the performance captured that evening claim that they were never paid when Waikiki Swings was released. (And, the icing on the cake is that the recording was made nowhere near Waikiki!) 

Regardless of McDiarmid’s motivations, nobody can deny that he captured an important moment in Hawaiian music history – including a pre-fame Zulu Kauhi. In this set you hear Zulu lead the Honey’s pack first on the comic “Coed Song” and then a romp through Charles E. King’s “Ne`ene`e Mai A Pili.” But you’re hearing something else as well. You should be able to hear some other future legends in the mix: Assisting Zulu here are Kui Lee (the high voice in the vocal group), the voice and guitar of Sonny Chillingworth, and the voice and `ukulele of Alvin Okami (now best known as the proprietor of the KoAloha `Ukulele company). 

To close the set, a rarity… Zulu reunited with his old boss for The Don Ho Show, Ho’s short-lived mid-day half-hour television variety program for ABC in 1976-77. From an episode of this program you hear Zulu sing “`Ukulele Lady.” 

After a series of legal and health woes, Zulu passed away on May 3, 2004 at the age of 66. He will always be remembered as the wise-cracking, face-stuffing Kono Kalakaua. But I thought we would take this opportunity to remember the exciting stage presence and the beautiful voice that Zulu possessed – perhaps the greater of his gifts than his acting talents. 


Although there are many wonderful pictures of Zulu in circulation, I chose instead this amazing caricature by artist and Hawaii Five-O fan Josh Pincus. Visit Josh’s website for more of his amazing creations.


Direct download: Zulu_Kauhi.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 8:36pm EDT

Machado and McIntire Revisited

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…


Direct download: 04_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:12pm EDT

Lena Machado’s Second Life in Film

Perhaps still stinging from the situation she left behind with the Royal Hawaiian Band and its director, Frank Vierra, Lena remained on the West Coast through the late 1930s. She continued to perform at night in the hotels and clubs in and around Hollywood. But Lena’s days were occupied in a new and exciting way. 

In 1938 Lena was hired by her friend, Charles Clark, to chaperone his daughter, Mamo Clark, the Hawai`i-born actress who starred opposite Clark Gable in MGM’s remake of Mutiny On The Bounty. (The need for a chaperone is curious since Mamo was 21 years old when the film was released. So she must have been at least 18 years old while it was being filmed. But I digress…) This meant that Lena spent a considerable amount of time on the Hollywood soundstage where filming was taking place. The outspoken Machado offered technical advice on everything from costuming to dance sequences – advice that she felt would help ensure the cultural accuracy of the film. Her advice was largely valued and acted upon – allowing Lena to parlay this unofficial role into paid technical advising engagements on such films as Bobby Breen’s Hawaii Calls, Waikiki, and (nearly 25 years later) Blue Hawaii. 

But Lena still made time to return to the recording studio on September 23, 1937 with a group led by steel guitarist Dick McIntire. The one-day marathon session produced a whopping ten sides – more than any other session Lena had done up to that point. The sides were recorded for Decca Records to which McIntire was under contract during this period. So it is likely that for Lena these recordings were a “work for hire” – subcontracted by McIntire as the “girl singer” – as opposed to her own separate contract for such a limited number of sides. Regardless of the circumstances or who-was-working-for-whom, the combination of Machado’s voice and McIntire’s technical prowess on the steel resulted in priceless additions to the Hawaiian music discography. The selections were mostly compositions by other songwriters with only three Machado originals thrown in for good measure. We begin our examination of this recording session with the “covers.” 

The writing of “Hu`i E” is credited to Lydia Kekuewa with help from publisher Johnny Noble. The song appears in Noble’s early folio Royal Collection of Hawaiian Songs first published in 1929. Noble, an accomplished musician and bandleader who is credited for being among the very first to incorporate jazz elements into Hawaiian music, was also instrumental in helping native Hawaiian composers publish – and be paid for the use of – their original songs. But the addition of “Hu`i E” to Noble’s folio – and crediting it to Kekuewa – is curious to say the least since the song would appear to be based on the hui (or chorus) of a much earlier song entitled “He `Iniki” composed by the Royal Hawaiian Band’s bandmaster Henri Berger and which appears in the same Noble folio as “Hu`i E” only a few pages later. (That the connection between these two songs has not been drawn by any serious researcher continues to baffle me.) Regardless of whom we credit the song to, it is performed to perfection here – at breakneck speed – with Lena trading choruses with rollicking steel solos by McIntire. It is the way I have always heard the song in my head: Despite that the Noble folio indicates that the tempo should be moderato (or around 100 BPMs, or “beats per minute”), Lena and Dick take the tune vivacissimo (or around 160 BPMs). I have never seen vivacissimo used on any Hawaiian song folio, but I do appreciate the irony of discussing Hawaiian music using Latin terminologies. To bring us back to the Hawaiian, “hu`i e, hu`i koni” means “an ache, a throbbing ache” of the heart. So we can appreciate too that the tempo here becomes a musical metaphor for a heart racing in the heat of passion. 

A favorite among falsetto singers for its intervallic leaps and notes held long and high in dramatic waltz-time tempo, “Akaka Falls” is most often credited to Helen Lindsey Parker of Hawai`i island (often referred to erroneously as “the Big Island”). The falls that are the subject of the song are about 10 miles north of Hilo on the composer’s home island and are so named for the legend of `Akaka who is said to have leapt to his death from this spot over the guilt of having two lovers. Lena gives us one of the finest ever recorded versions of this Hawaiian classic. Performed in the key of A, listen to Lena effortlessly reach the high F# in every chorus. 

Although also the name of a mountain on the island of Hawai`i, the “Mauna Kea” referred to in the song is a ship, and in Hawaiian song craft, a ship is usually a not-so-veiled reference to someone who likes to keep a different lover in every port. And so this is yet another love song Hawaiian style which uses the poetic technique of kaona (multiple layers of veiled meanings and metaphors) to discuss romantic dalliances. There is a kaona of musical arrangement, too: One might expect a song with such sensual underpinnings to be taken (like “Hu`i E”) at a faster tempo, but in the Hawaiian tradition often such songs are performed at excruciatingly slow tempos to further obscure the true meaning of the lyrics. Not often enough performed or recorded, “Mauna Kea” – like so many Hawaiian songs – has more verses than you will ever hear performed or recorded. Lena only sings two of the known 16 verses (but there are probably more), so she never even gets into the real meat of the tale. And Dick takes a beautiful solo chorus on his steel. 

Next time: More “covers” from the September 23, 1937 Machado/McIntire session…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]


Direct download: 03_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:03am EDT

Lena Machado – Hollywood Days

In an era in Hawai`i when it was not yet culturally acceptable for women to be professional entertainers, where did one find their role models? We have already discussed one trend-setting wahine who defied cultural norms of the period to publicly engage in singing and songwriting – Helen Desha Beamer. But there was also Lizzie Alohikea, an accomplished songwriter and singer with the Royal Hawaiian Band. It had long been Lena’s wish to sing with Lizzie, and the wish came true in 1925 when bandmaster Mekia Kealaka`i offered her a regular position as featured vocalist with the band – beside her hero, Lizzie Alohikea. The mentor/student relationship between Lena and Lizzie ultimately blossomed into a friendship. And Lena performed with the band for nearly a decade.

After a revolving door of bandmasters, the Royal Hawaiian Band enlisted Frank Vierra in the early 1930s. With this change in leadership Lena’s relationship with the band took a turn. A professional and a modern woman, the forward-thinking (and – dare I say – brave) Machado took Vierra to court to fight for equal pay for the band’s growing number of female members. She won the case but subsequently found the stress on her relationship with Vierra (and, perhaps, with the male band members) too much. So Lena took a leave of absence from the band and – after a brief tour of the neighbor islands – headed back to the mainland where she performed at hotels and night clubs in and around Hollywood. The return to the Los Angeles area afforded Lena the opportunity to go into a recording studio with a group of musicians who were becoming fairly well known across the country and around the world but who for the better part of their career were pretty firmly entrenched in Hollywood (in order to take advantage of its many opportunities as they arose).

For the first time since the historic 1927 Brunswick sessions, in 1935 Lena went into Freeman Lang Studios in Hollywood (known primarily for producing early radio shows and commercials) with a quartet led by none other than steel guitar wunderkind Sol Ho`opi`i and including Harry Baty (later of The Polynesians, Los Angeles’s most famous Hawaiian music export of the 1950s) on guitar, George Piltz on the `ukulele, and a still unidentified bassist. The group cut four sides in a single session. And while the combination of Machado’s voice and Ho`opi`i’s steel was pure magic, there was another element that made the results of the session even more special: the songs. For while Lena had previously only performed and recorded songs written by others, the 1930s were the beginning of her most fruitful songwriting career. I have often said that the best songs for falsetto singers to sing are songs written by other falsetto singers because those who sing in this style understand the elements that give the style its characteristic sound – the huge intervallic leaps, the quick trills, and the ha`i (or break between the full voice and the high, upper register which sounds like a brief yodel). Auntie Lena was a marvelous falsetto (although, the vocal technique being the same for the woman as for the man, it is rarely referred to as "falsetto" when women sing in this manner). And so she wrote songs which utilized these melodic devices to how off her vocal prowess. Arguably Machado did this better than any other falsetto-singing songwriter (with the possible exception of John Pi`ilani Watkins).

Now add to this a real flair for the Hawaiian language – Lena’s unique way of expressing the indelicacies of everyday life and love. She could write about flirtation, new love, mature love, distant love, lost love, friendly love, physical love, infidelity and indiscretion, and assorted other foibles in such a way as to be humorous and gut-wrenchingly truthful at the same time. If we were to line up Machado’s compositions end to end – not necessarily in chronological order, but in some other more logical manner – what we would find is her song cycle to life. And she said it all with an amazing economy of language – saying a mouthful in very few words, choosing each one carefully. She became the songwriter’s songwriter – one of the greatest Hawai`i ever produced. Nobody disputes this. So let’s listen to some of her earliest compositions sung by the composer herself.

According to Lena’s hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, in her book Songbird of Hawai`i, interestingly the first three songs Lena recorded are just such a song cycle as I described earlier. Together, they form a serial that is reminiscent of so many love affairs: love won, love enjoyed, and love lost. "Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe" speaks of flirting and the invitation to love. "Ho`onanea" speaks of sharing a relaxed (hence the title) romantic encounter. And "Kau`oha Mai" - sometimes referred to as "The Keyhole Hula" - is the sad ending in which the woman returns home only to find another in her lover's arms. And although this is too often the story arc of a love affair, all three songs were based on events that happened to friends or acquaintances of Auntie Lena's (although Motta believes that “Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe” is not entirely second hand news since the style and lyric content hints at something far more personal).

When she composed "Kau`oha Mai," Lena understood the boundaries she was pushing - especially for a female composer. Like many Hawaiian songs which express some covert (or overt) sexuality - "Nanea Kou Maka I Ka Le`ale`a" and "Hali`i Ka Moena" come to mind - the composer must choose his or her words carefully. This is at the heart of the poetic technique known as kaona in which there are many layers of veiled meaning which repeat listening - and the aid of the hula - will help elucidate. If we were to sing the English equivalent of what Lena wrote...

Ki`ei aku wau / I peered

Ma ka puka ki `ea / Into the keyhole, yep

E honihoni `ia ana / Being kissed repeatedly

Ko ihu kapu `ea / On your ihu kapu (forbidden opening), yep

... this would no doubt be considered by most to be risque. But not in Hawai`i – and not in the Hawaiian language – because historically their cultural views on sexuality are much different and the body and all of its uses are not considered "dirty." Although we now understand that Auntie Lena was among the most artful of composers to be able to choose words carefully while still making her intent quite clear – which is one of the reasons singers love to sing her songs and her compositions remain among the most sung by Hawaiian musicians still today – she was right to be concerned about boundaries – for when she began performing the song in public, indeed Lena received complaint letters. Such is the evolution – or devolution – of a culture since this could be viewed as the once more liberal views of the Hawaiians being superceded by more modern - and conservative - western views.

Despite that Auntie Lena was writing in the hula ku`i form (songs written for the hula where a single melody and chord structure are repeated over and over again – the composer eschewing melodic and harmonic complexity in favor of focusing on the lyric content), it is clear – even in her earliest compositions such as those heard here – that she was taking this song form in new, more modern directions. While most hula ku`i songs are built upon three chords in the scale (the tonic, dominant, and subdominant – often notated as I-IV-V – the foundation of most hula music), listen to what Lena is doing with these songs. “Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe” bounces around a series of secondary dominants (often referred to as the “cycle of fifths,” or, in the key of C, bouncing from F to A7 to D7 – the audacity of skipping the dominant G7 altogether), while “Ho`onanea” is built stunningly around an augmented chord substituted where one would expect to find the dominant seventh chord (V7). These are both elements firmly rooted in jazz, but Lena is already at this point incorporating them into the Hawaiian idiom – something few of her contemporaries were yet doing. You also hear the aforementioned intervallic leaps that allow the falsetto singer to show off a little – such as the repeated major third leap in the melody of “Kau`oha Mai.”

And now that you have listened, you no doubt understand the reason falsetto singers love to sing Lena Machado songs to this day.

Motta makes an interesting observation about her hanai mom’s songwriting:

Night was when her feelings were strongest, when her emotions stirred restlessly inside her. She did most of her composing at night when the rest of the house was asleep and she was by herself. This is when lines like “A`ohe o’u moe pono i ka po, i ka hana nui a loko” and “Kahi a ka mana`o e lauwiliwili nei” came to her. In just a few words or less, she could show how she was drowning in love – how she wanted this relationship so badly.

Finally, Lena wrote “Kamalani O Keaukaha” after returning from a tour of Hawai`i island. In it she celebrates the loving and gracious hospitality of the people of the Hawaiian homestead lands in Keaukaha who followed Lena from stop to stop when she performed all over their side of the island. Motta remarks that it more often than not took time for Lena to “turn an experience into a song” – often years and years after the event. But Machado wrote “Kamalani O Keaukaha” within a year or two of returning home from the Hawai`i island tour – so moved was she by Keaukaha and its affection. “Kamalani” means “favored child” which here Lena uses as a poetic term of endearment referring to all the people of Keaukaha.

Next time: Auntie Lena sticks around L.A. a while longer and cranks out a few more quintessential sides with yet another legendary steel guitarist…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]


Direct download: 02_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:42pm EDT

Lena Machado – The Early Years

Lena Kaulumau Wai`ale`ale was born in the district of Pauoa in Honolulu on the island of O`ahu on October 16, 1903. The last of five children, Lena was hānai (a Hawaiian tradition in which a child is unofficially adopted and raised by close family or friends of the birth parents) to the Loo Pan family, friends of Lena’s mother. So young Lena was immersed in a household where English, Hawaiian, and Chinese were spoken. 

As a child Lena was prone to tinker musically – singing, of course, or making makeshift instruments from assorted otherwise non-musical household items. But Mrs. Loo Pan admonished Lena for such behavior – pushing her toward more productive endeavors and setting the expectation that the young lady would indeed become a school teacher someday, demanding that all time and energy (even at this tender age) be focused on that goal alone. This conflict was escalated to a fever pitch when neighbors entered six-year-old Lena in a talent contest. Lena sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and took first prize. Naturally, Mrs. Loo Pan disapproved and set forth an edict: No more singing. And, as everybody knows, nothing can help ensure that a child will absolutely do something more than telling them that they can’t. 

Lena was discovered for the second time when KGU radio station manager Marion Mulroney overheard the teenaged Lena singing while perched high in a mango tree. Mulroney asked Lena to audition, and he was so impressed that he signed Lena to her first professional contract. The radio appearances naturally led to numerous other offers including national tours. According to one newspaper reviewer: 

The Pacific Songbird is said to possess a voice of magnificent range and rich timbre fully capable of coping with the demands of a grand opera. Her singing in the film-musical presentation A Trip To The Hawaiian Islands, though limited to the simple but rhythmic songs of her native land, has yet been able to captivate the most fastidious of musical critics with its unmistakable suggestion of exotic personality. 

After a few years of touring, Lena returned home to KGU radio and professional engagements around Honolulu. By age 23, she married Honolulu Police Department detective and musician Luciano Machado. And soon, with the addition of Lu’s brothers and a sister-in-law, Lena had her own band. 

The timing was perfect for Lena as Hawaiian music was becoming the popular music of the era with – according to Hawaiian music historian George Kanahele in his Hawaiian Music and Musicians – three out of every five songs played on mainland U.S. radio a Hawaiian song. Capitalizing on this craze, in 1927 mainland-based Brunswick Records took on the ambitious project of a binge recording session of what turned out to be a whopping 110 sides of Hawaiian songs by local artists. They set up a makeshift recording studio in the Alexander Young Hotel (on Bishop Street between King and Hotel Streets, just on the edge of Chinatown) and enlisted then hot property in Hawaiian music Johnny Noble as their local A&R (artist and repertoire) man. Noble enlisted the 24-year-old Lena, and she inaugurated the proceedings by waxing the first of these 110 sides, obliging with four selections: Mary J. Montano’s “Beautiful Kahana,” Matthew Kane’s “Ka Makani Ka`ili Aloha,” Charles E. King’s “Na Lei O Hawai`i,” and a medley of “Palolo,” “Lei Loke O Kawika,” and “Na Moku `Eha.” 

The only one of these rarities that we can still enjoy is “Na Lei O Hawai`i” which was thankfully preserved for us by Michael Cord and his Hana Ola Records enterprise. Because of the age of the recording and the little documentation that was preserved about recording sessions in this period – especially considering how quickly Brunswick Records was working under less than ideal conditions with artists completely unknown to them – we have no idea of the personnel on this recording except for Lena’s voice since the center hole label simply reads “soprano with Glee Club.” However, it is possible that Luciano and the other Machado family members may have appeared on the other sides (which regrettably we do not have access to) since what little documented history we do have about Brunswick Records sessions also lists “Lena Machado and Machado Troupe” (on the medley mentioned above). It goes without saying that Ho`olohe Hou will continue to go to great lengths to hunt down these historic recordings to share with you. 

Because of this early recording, Lena is largely acknowledged as being the first female performer from Hawai`i to record for a large national recording company (beating the 1928 Helen Desha Beamer recording of Charles E. King’s “Ke Kali Nei Au” by just a few short months). 

Next time: Auntie Lena follows her records to the mainland and cuts her next sides with a budding steel guitar legend…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.]


Direct download: 01_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:53am EDT

Lena Machado Week

You already know I am crazy about Hawaiian music. But how crazy am I? Already in the middle of tributes to Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs and Charles K.L. Davis, what would be crazier than launching a week-long tribute to Lena Machado at the same time?

I call it a “moral imperative” because Machado is without a doubt one of the most prolific and influential composers in the history of Hawaiian music. But through a comedy of bad timing, Ho`olohe Hou has never honored her. (I tend to honor Hawaiian music artists on or around their birthdays, and Ho`olohe Hou – for a variety of reasons – has never been fully operational in the month of October in its nearly eight-year history.) When examining Auntie Lena – as with Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, Irmgard Aluli, John Kamealoha Almeida, and a scant few others – we have to examine two aspects of her musical career – the performer and the composer. The composer has been well chronicled by Lena’s hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta in the book Hawai`i’s Songbird (an essential read for any fan of Hawaiian music or Lena Machado). But except for one compilation CD which only covers two brief periods in her lengthy recording career, there is no other material chronicling Lena Machado the performer and recording artist. That is a wrong Ho`olohe Hou aims to correct this week during which we will offer up rare recordings from all but the earliest part of Lena’s performing and recording career.

Join us here starting today, October 16, and all week long – sometimes twice a day – as Ho`olohe Hou pays tribute to a seminal figure in the evolution of Hawaiian music.

This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening…


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 3:35am EDT

The “Lost” Mona Joy Album

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences. 

Researching the musicians who made the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room famous across the country and around the world has led to the unraveling of one mystery after another. But it also leads back to an unsolved mystery which – for me – dates back more than 20 years. 

My passion for the music of Hawai`i was fostered in the bins of the once numerous used record stores that littered New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City. In the digital era, many believe that anything worth hearing that has ever been laid down in a recording studio would eventually see the light of day again as a CD or an MP3. But not so. Record companies are revenue-generating enterprises. They look to remaster and re-release music they can sell. And Hawaiian music does not sell (at least, on the mainland, not as it once did). And even in the rare case where a record company – or even just an interested individual – desires to fund the re-release of a recording they feel worthy, the master tapes may be lost or destroyed. And so, for Hawaiian music fans, our first – and last – resort has pretty much always been the dying art of “crate-diving” (or rummaging through bins of musty, moldy old records). 

I have a pretty good memory for all things relating to Hawaiian music (and an advanced directive that the plug should be pulled when I can no longer tell you who played steel guitar on a particular recording). So I can tell you that it was in my late teens – right after I got my driver’s license – that I found myself “crate-diving” in one of the great used record stores (now long gone, like so many others) in the town of Pennsauken, NJ. I found a record that almost any other Hawaiian music lover would have passed up since the album cover smacked of the “cheese” that was becoming the hallmark of Hawaiian music made on the mainland since the legends – such as those of the Hawaiian Room – left the East Coast to return to their island homes. The album – simply entitled Hawaiian Holiday – boasted a cover featuring only a single hula dancer but dressed in Tahitian garb (a visual indication that these producers knew nothing about Hawaiian music). But, more telling still, the names of the artists was deliberately withheld from the front album cover – another almost sure sign that this record was made by nobody anybody cared about and that the music would be about as inauthentic as one could imagine it to be when the dusty grooves are spinning virtually on the platter inside one’s head. 

But this was just the kind of record I always invested in – not too much a gamble at a whopping $1. And so I brought it home, placed it lovingly on a real turntable, and put the much-too-expensive-for-my-age-for-a-guy-who-makes-all-his-money-playing-music needle in the lead groove. And soon I understood that this might be the best $1 that I would ever spend. 

The music that came out of those grooves could just as easily have been recorded in Honolulu as in New York City. But, as it turns out, the record was recorded in NYC. The gentlemen who produced the album knew what they were doing, however. The record label – Aamco (which I had never heard of, but which suspiciously was also the name of a local chain of transmission repair specialists) – I would not learn until years later was the brainchild of Carl LeBow, former General Manager of famed Bethlehem Records, a primarily jazz label popular in the 1950s for releasing some of the most well-loved and best remembered songs by such artists as Nina Simone, Chris Connor, and Mel Torme (artists I was well familiar with as I am a huge aficionado of jazz and the Great American Songbook). In short, LeBow had taste. In April 1958, he formed the budget record label called Aamco (located at 204 West 49th street in New York City) with the aim of releasing popular, jazz and international music. He named Ted Steele (who exited Bethlehem with him) as Musical Director and Vice President. Steele was well known throughout New York City as a radio and television personality for nearly 20 years. In short, Steele knew where to find the talent in NYC. 

The formation of Aamco Records was announced in the May 19, 1958 issue of Billboard. According to the announcement: 

Aamco Records will issue low-priced LP's and eventually singles. First releases, which will be issued about June 15, will include a number of LP's leased by LeBow from both Bethlehem records and Monogram Records". (Monogram was not the label that released the early Chris Montez hits, but rather an earlier label run by Manny Werner that specialized in Caribbean/Calypso music.) Aamco released more than forty albums, with most having stereo counterparts. 

But the label was doomed to fail. They sold albums for $1.49 each ($2.49 for the burgeoning “stereo” releases), so they didn't make much on each sale. Despite the low margin, they might have been instead a volume-based business, but because they had no real hits, they didn't sell a lot of records either. Within the first year, they had already jacked up the price of the albums, but it still couldn’t prevent them from going bankrupt two months later – less than a year and a half after launching operations. But not until – thankfully for Hawaiian music fans – they released Hawaiian Holiday – historically and culturally perhaps the most important thing they would ever do (whether they knew it or not at the time) since they captured the end of a dying era of good Hawaiian music in New York City. 

I was enthralled listening to Side 1 of Hawaiian Holiday when I finally decided to explore the album cover more thoroughly. Discreetly on the back cover the artists were listed as “The Catamaran Boys featuring Mona Joy.” Now, if I had seen “Catamaran Boys” on the front cover – coupled with the Aamco label – I would have decided without hearing the album that the group was comprised of mainland haole unknowns and the music would be inauthentic. But having heard an entire side before discovering the group’s name, I was convinced that the Catamaran Boys were an all-star aggregation from Hawai`i recording under a pseudonym (like Johnny Pineapple recording under the dubious moniker “Johnny Poi”) to avoid discovery because they were under contract to another label. “Catamaran Boys” could be a code name for any number of outstanding Hawaiian music artists as evidenced by the astounding and familiar sounds emanating from the JBLs. And, I understood one more thing: These outstanding anonymous musicians were likely living in the NYC area at the time the album was recorded. Because no Hawaiian musicians would fly from Honolulu to NYC to make a record for an as yet unknown record company – a record which, ironically, would receive little or no distribution in Hawai`i because of the economics of the situation.

Identifying the Catamaran Boys becomes still more of a challenge when you listen to the arrangements… The group relied heavily on their tight four-part vocal harmonies – reminiscent of The Invitations with their jazzy chordal approaches. But while the whole was clearly a sum of some very decent parts, it was impossible to identify any one of the voices because few of these gentlemen rarely took a vocal solo – the arranger choosing to treat the quartet as a singular voice. The exception is a few duets with Auntie Mona where one baritone with the ability to transition into a nifty falsetto truly shines. After more than two decades, I still cannot identify that voice. Finally, while the Catamaran Boys are also proficient on their various instruments – rhythm guitar, upright bass, `ukulele, and vibraphone – these, too, rarely take a solo. If there were a signature steel guitarist, for example, leading this band, most Hawaiian music aficionados would first be able to identify the steel player and then – based on that steel player’s professional affiliations – at least some of the rest of the band. But in this case, no dice. 

But one thing I knew for sure: Mona Joy. Not merely a name affixed to the label to capitalize on her popularity and renown, the Mona Joy singing in front of the Catamaran Boys was the very same who had been serenading me on the cherished Luau At The Queen’s Surf LP for many years already. I’d know that voice in my sleep. 

So as I wonder if Auntie Mona will remember the making of this album and who any of her session cohort might have been – a mystery which may be at long last resolved in just a few short hours – let’s enjoy a few selections from this long lost treasure… 

First the opportunity to hear Auntie Mona sing “Ke Kali Nei Au” in a different setting than with Val Hao and the Waikiki Serenaders. (This 1958 recording made in NYC likely predates the Waikiki Records session back home by a few years.) Mona shines singing the wahine part, while the vocal quartet handles the men’s part together. 

Auntie Mona then tackles – with the help of the aforementioned anonymous duet partner, one of the few solo male Catamaran Boys we will hear – the song Helen Desha Beamer wrote as a wedding gift for her daughter, “Kawohikukapulani.” Writing about Beamer here at Ho`olohe Hou previously, I noted that because Auntie Helen was an opera singer herself, the songs she composed herself proved unusually challenging for anyone but the best trained singers to sing. Mona does Auntie Helen proud as do the vocal quartet who close the tune with their most jazzy chart. 

The inclusion of “Ku`u Lei” is an indication that the group knows their Hawaiian repertoire as the song is a seldom recorded or performed composition from the pen of Hawaiian Room alum George Kainapau. Mona sings with the male vocal quartet whose vocal arrangement reflects what was happening back home in Honolulu with such vocal groups as the Kalima Brothers (with whom Mona would later work upon her return) or the Richard Kauhi Quartet. 

The boys join in unison behind Auntie Mona as she regales us with the Harry Owens chestnut “Sweet Leilani.” Used in the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding, the original film arrangements for which were handled by Hawaiian Room alum Andy Iona, the song earned the Oscar for “Best Song” at the 1938 Academy Awards. The unison backing vocals by the quartet demonstrate that they were all pretty facile with their falsettos. 

Written by Alice Everett and published by Charles E. King, “Ua Like No A Like” is also a staple of the Hawaiian repertoire that you would rarely hear mainland performers of Hawaiian music choose to perform. The song is again sung as a duet by Mona and the anonymous baritone with the sweet falsetto to rely upon when needed. 

And the set closes with the other Hawaiian Wedding Song, “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae” which – like “Ke Kali Nei Au” – is from the pen of Charles E. King. This will allow you another comparison/contrast with Auntie Mona’s version from just a short while later with Val Hao. (Frankly, I prefer this version better, the anonymous falsetto giving it everything he’s got – sweetly, gently, and typically Hawaiian.) 

So will my fateful second meeting with Mona Joy resolve any of my decades-long mysteries? Perhaps. If not, at least this conversation-starter will allow me to atone for my previous stumbling in her presence. Were these Hawaiian Room musicians? If not, then who? And why did they have to remain anonymous? I have a hypothesis based solely on my ears (which are pretty damned good): The male vocal lead – the tenor with the lithe and supple falsetto – may, in fact, be none other than Hawaiian Room alum Ray Kinney who (according to discographies) returned to NYC throughout the 1950s to record with his old Hawaiian Room bassist (who would become a bandleader and steel guitarist in his own right, staying in NYC until his passing) Sam Makia. Kinney would be under contract to RCA around this time (based on the timing of his other record releases), and so he would not have been able to make a record for Aamco under his own name. If the mystery singer/bandleader isn’t Kinney, then I highly suspect it is a Hawaiian Room alum who worked under Kinney and who tirelessly studied his effortless vocal technique. If it is not Kinney, then it is an admirer who comes a close second. 

Maybe I will know in a few short hours… Until then, here is to recovering and giving back to the Hawaiian music-loving world the lost recordings of the legends of the genre and – in this one rare case – sharing them too with the artist who made it all possible. Mahalo nui e Anake Mona for giving me a mystery worth living for…

~ Bill Wynne


Direct download: Mona_Joy_2.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 6:47am EDT

In Hawai`i The Story Starts

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

And after all the mysteries we have endured – and perhaps solved – about the gentlemen of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room, perhaps the greatest mystery of them all is the one most likely to be solved: The mystery of the lone “girl singer,” Mona Joy. 

I often recount the story of growing up in New Jersey among the countless Hawai`i expats who came to the East Coast seeking new opportunities after World War II. It was through these loving calabash aunties and uncles that I came to fall in love with all things Hawaiian – but especially the music. One couple, in particular, fostered this love more than any other – Peter and Ruth Kuzer. While the name may not sound Hawaiian, Pete – a lifetime United Airlines employee – was the son of a Polish father, Bill, and a Chinese-Hawaiian mother, Elizabeth (or, affectionately, Auntie Lei). Many a New Year’s Eve, 4th of July, and random Saturday night or Sunday afternoon was spent with the Kuzers who lived just minutes away. The Kuzers had – what felt to me at the time (silly me!) – a vast Hawaiian music collection. One of the first LPs that I uncovered in their racks smelled of mildew and was scratched almost beyond listenability. But the cover beckoned me – the front cover a festive lu`au, the back cover filled with recipes for Hawaiian delicacies like lomilomi salmon. Pulling out the album revealed an even more inviting inner sleeve – a block print of white Tahitian tiare flowers on a background of solid blue, what I would come to learn many years later was a classic Alfred Shaheen print. I spun the record and was indoctrinated into the sounds of classic Hawaiian music as I had never known it before. The compilation album offered delights from such artists as Pauline Kekahuna, Bil Ali`iloa Lincoln, Andy Cummings, the Kilima Brothers, and a voice unlike any I had heard before or since – a lady named Mona Joy. The Kuzers gifted me their copy of that album (I left them no choice, really), and I have been through at least four more copies over the years – picking up every copy I have seen over the years on eBay at any ridiculous price. 

Flash forward more than 35 years… On July 10, 2014, I was honored to perform at The Willows in Mo`ili`ili for the “Pakele Live” concert series – a tremendous honor for an artist from New Jersey who purports to perform Hawaiian music. I was surprised to see an auntie from back home on the East Coast in the audience. Auntie `Io approached me with her arm around a friend, and she exclaims, “There is somebody here you have to meet. Bill, meet Auntie Mona Joy.” And something happened to me that rarely (bordering on never) happens: I had no idea what to say. So I just hugged her and told her the story I just related to you – and wondered if she believed that a haole kid from New Jersey could be so moved by Hawaiian music or – more specifically – by her voice. 

This evening, October 10, 2014, I have the opportunity to remedy past ineloquences when Auntie Mona and I meet again in New York City for the debut of the documentary film The Hawaiian Room about the lives of the musicians and dancers who made the Lexington Hotel in New York City the eastern outpost of Waikiki for 30 years. My musical partner, singer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Wang, will open for the film with a few songs accompanied by Auntie Mona as well as accompany the Hawaiian Room dancers on a reunion hula. And I will know what to say this time around. 

Born and raised in Waikiki, Mona launched her professional singing career at the Niumalu Hotel at the gateway to Waikiki. (The Niumalu would become the Hawaiian Village and – today – the vast Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel complex.) Mona went on to perform at such other venerable venues as the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, and Moana Hotel. She also performed with Lei Collins at the at the House Without A Key at the Halekulani Hotel (which – besides our love of the Hawaiian songbook – is something else Auntie Mona and I have in common). Mona has performed with such beloved figures in the annals of Hawaiian music as Gabby Pahinui, the Isaacs family, Mahi Beamer, and Bill Lincoln. 

After leaving Hawai`i for the mainland, Mona worked at Harry’s Waikiki in Chicago before making her way to New York City and the Lexington Hotel’s famed Hawaiian Room. She spent 18 years performing up and down the East Coast before returning to her Hawai`i home where she resides in Kapolei on the leeward side of O`ahu. And, yes, she is still singing – at tributes to her legendary friends in Hawaiian music, weddings at Kawaiaha`o Church, and anywhere she is asked. So let’s hear her sing a few for us right now… 

“The Story Starts” is from the Waikiki Records compilation LP In Hawaii The Story Starts with a quartet led by steel guitarist Barney Isaacs (billed here as Alvin Kaleolani). The beautiful story of young love was written by Barney’s father, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, Sr. (honored here at Ho`olohe Hou recently), and not only does Mona receive the honor of being the first to record the beautiful lyric and haunting melody to go with, it turns out she is the only singer to have ever recorded it. 

“Beautiful Kahana” is the first of a series of duets by Auntie Mona with baritone Val Hao with a somewhat anonymous quartet which goes only by the name “the Waikiki Serenaders.” (Perhaps this evening I will learn more about these mystery musicians.) The song – composed by Mary J. Montano – speaks of the windward O`ahu home of Mary E. Foster who is credited with bringing the Baha`i faith from India to Hawai`i. The song appears on a Waikiki Records 45 rpm single as well as on the Waikiki compilation LP Waikiki Sings. 

“Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae” – another duet from Aunty Mona and Uncle Val – is sometimes referred to as the real “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” Like the “fake Hawaiian Wedding Song” – “Ke Kali Nei Au” – the song is from the pen of the venerable and prolific Charles E. King. The duet features the same mystery musicians and appears both on the Waikiki Sings LP and on the flip side of the 45 rpm single containing “Beautiful Kahana.” 

“O Makalapua” was the first sound I ever heard from Mona Joy’s ethereal pipes. From my childhood favorite Luau At Queen’s Surf on Waikiki Records, Mona again duets with Val on this song which speaks of their beloved Queen Lili`uokalani by her many names (such as “Kamaka`eha" and “Makalapua”). The mysterious Waikiki Serenaders assist once again. 

In an embarrassment of romantic riches, Mona and Val duet for us one more time on Charles E. King’s “Ke Kali Nei Au” (sometimes called the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” but which has nothing to do with marriage – hence the “fake” label often ascribed to it). But it is as real as it gets in the hands of this duo. This was the second thing I ever heard Auntie Mona sing as it is on the flip side of Waikiki Records LP Luau At Queen’s Surf (which, for the record, despite the festive cover and the recipes, was not a live album and was not recorded at the Queen’s Surf supper club which once graced Kapahulu on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki). “Ke Kali Nei Au” was but one aria from the 1925 Charles E. King opera “Prince of Hawai`i” and was debuted both on stage and on record by Helen Desha Beamer and Samuel Kapu. And although she doesn’t know it yet, I am going to implore Auntie Mona to duet with me on this classic this evening when I accompany her at the documentary film debut. 

And the closing number is most fitting and timely since the Aloha Festivals just came to a close a few weeks ago. Once upon a time only a week long and contained to only the island of O`ahu, “Aloha Week” festooned into a lei of love, laughter, and culture that once spanned Maui, Kaua`i, and Hawai`i (before recently being scaled back again). “It’s Aloha Week Once More” was written for one of the early festivals.  I cannot claim to have heard this recording before embarking on writing this article. I was discussing Mona Joy with fellow Hawaiian music enthusiast, record collector, and DJ Norm Markowitz, and while rattling off Mona Joy titles, Norm asked, “You have Aloha Week, right?” I said, “No,” and it miraculously appeared on my doorstep to complete this piece to honor Auntie Mona. Then, on scouring my vast collection, I located “Aloha Week” filed under the name of the artist on the flip side. 

I hope you enjoyed hearing these rarities from the Hawaiian Room’s grande dame Mona Joy who is still going strong with microphone in hand and who – like fine wine, to overuse a cliché – only gets better with each passing year. But this is not the sum total of Mona’s discography. In true Ho`olohe Hou fashion, there must be another rarity in the vaults that perhaps even the artist herself hasn’t heard in over 50 years. But we will make sure you – and Auntie Mona – hear it before this day is through. 

This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening… 

Next time: The lost Mona Joy full length LP, recorded in NYC with another mystery cast of musicians – in 1959, as the Hawaiian Room days were coming to a close… Let’s see if the lady herself will help me put the mystery to rest…


Direct download: Mona_Joy_1.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:53am EDT

Hawaiian Room - Intermission

For the past few days – in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room (the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences) as well as the October premier of the documentary film simply entitled The Hawaiian RoomHo`olohe Hou has been featuring the musicians that put the Hawaiian Room on the map (and vice-versa). Although we have progressed from the venue’s opening in 1937 through Lani McIntire’s passing in 1951, we must now do a little investigative research to move forward with the accurate recounting of the Hawaiian Room’s story. 

At issue is not which musicians came next in the famed room. We know all the names! What we do not know is the order in which they appeared in the room. While not a single one of the musicians who worked the room (which closed in 1966) remains with us, fortunately the documentary film features a number of “Ex-Lexes,” the affectionate moniker for the hula dancers who graced the room during the latter part of its history. (One, in particular, is the daughter of a Hawaiian Room steel guitarist of the 1960s. Rummaging through the vast Ho`olohe Hou archives, I unearthed an album by Hawaiian Room musicians from this period which featured this same hula dancer’s face and hula movements. Despite the passing of years, I would have recognized her anywhere…) I befriended many of these ladies and look forward to speaking to them to solve still more mysteries and put more myths and misconceptions to rest.  

So stay tuned to Ho`olohe Hou for more Hawaiian Room legend and lore in the coming days and weeks. Until then, we will return to our originally scheduled ambitious October schedule of celebrations of Hawaiian music and musicians. What’s on tap? Let’s just say we have a lot of catching up to do… 

This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening… 

~ Bill Wynne


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 11:56am EDT

The Bass Player Becomes The Steel Guitarist

 Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And we have made tremendous use of the discographical information to determine that Bob Nichols was the first steel guitarist with McIntire during this period, that Sam Koki was the second, and that Hal Aloma was the third, and that there was (possibly) a pair of mystery steelers during this period to boot. But who was the long-term successor to Aloma’s steel chair? 

After a number of sides cut for budget label Sonora (the result of the American Federation of Musicians strike of 1942) with a pair of mystery steel guitarists in February 1945, it would not appear that Lani McIntire returned to the recording studio again for more than five years. This is perhaps another indication of the dwindling interest in Hawaiian music on the U.S. mainland during this period. But, fortunately, McIntire’s next sessions in March 1950 were again for a major label – MGM. And they featured his then current – and final – steel guitarist with a McIntire aggregation in the Hawaiian Room – Sam Makia. This is a story that requires us to rewind about a decade. 

From the “Don’t Believe Everything You Read” category that characterizes so much so-called “documented” Hawaiian music history, the only entry on Sam Makia in any book on Hawaiian music – from the leading book on the history of the Hawaiian steel guitar – offers only one run-on sentence about this legend: 

Vocalist and steel guitarist with Lani McIntire’s band at the Hotel Lexington NYC, then steel player with Johnny Pineapple’s band, then played bass with Ray Kinney at the same hotel. 

All true, but completely chronologically backward. I previously wrote here about Ray Kinney’s first trip from New York City to Hawai`i in 1938 – not quite a year after the Hawaiian Room opened its doors – to recruit more talent from home. He brought with him on that trip steel guitarist Tommy Castro, falsetto singer extraordinaire George Kainapau, and multi-instrumentalist Samuel Kamuela Makia Chung. I have written also that Hotel Lexington president Charles Rochester did not merely insist on island-born-and-bred Native Hawaiians to work the room. He insisted that his employees live up to this ideal in every conceivable manner – including their names. In the well-researched Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through the U.S. Empire, author Adria L. Imada writes: 

Yet most Hawaiian entertainers claimed racially mixed backgrounds with their names or by personal admission. Throughout his career, Ray Kinney referred to himself as the “Irish Hawaiian,” but because “McIntire and Kinney” sounded too Irish, the opening billing of the Hawaiian Room originally read “Andy Iona and His Twelve Hawaiians.” Chinese-Hawaiian Sam Chung began using one of his Hawaiian middle names professionally when he came to New York because “Makia” sounded more Hawaiian than his Chinese surname “Chung.” 

Makia took this another step further, however: He changed his surname legally, as did his wife, Betty. And I should know: Despite coming to New York City in 1938 solely for the promise of fame and fortune the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room held in store, unlike most of their friends and revue-mates in the Hawaiian Room who eventually returned to their island homes, the Makias stayed in New York for the rest of their lives and were friends of my family until their passing. Sam took my father – another budding steel guitarist who went professionally by the name of Tomi Dinoh (and who took Sam’s lead by changing his Filipino birth name to something more Hawaiian-sounding for the stage) – under his wing, performing together frequently in the early part of my father’s Hawaiian music career in the 1960s. In my later years, I would sing while Betty danced hula for me countless times at gatherings of Hawaiian family and friends – her favorite the hula standard “Aloha Kaua`i.” 

Because Kinney brought sterling steel player Castro to NYC with him, Sam instead made his Hawaiian Room debut on upright bass – making the earlier documented account above chronologically inaccurate. But by the mid-1940s, after the departure of Hal Aloma (circa. 1948), Makia would become Lani McIntire’s resident steel guitarist and continue in this capacity until McIntire’s passing in 1951 and beyond. 

I have written here previously that Hawaiian music once comprised the majority of records sold on the U.S. mainland and represented three out of every five songs heard on U.S. radio. However, by the mid-1940s Hawaiian music had begun to wane in popularity. This – plus a temporary recording stoppage sparked by an American Federation of Musician’s recording strike – likely account for the reality that McIntire did not make a recording between February 1945 and March 1950. But when he did, unlike the previous small group session, McIntire brought the entire big band along the ride – a last hurrah for this era in Hawaiian music. The sessions at MGM’s New York City studios resulted in the four-disc, eight side 78-rpm collection (later reissued as a 10” LP) entitled Hawaiian Nights. Here are a few of my favorites from that 1950 MGM issue. 

Sam trades bars with the saxophones and the celestes on the instrumental break in “Hawaiian Nights,” with lead vocal by Lani McIntire. On “Aloha Eyes,” the arrangement doesn’t leave much room for Sam except in the intro and ending (the arranger opting to punctuate Lani’s lead vocal with the celeste since metaphorically their sound probably speaks more to the “eyes” referenced in the song’s title). But on “Puanani,” Sam takes a long glissando into harmonics (often referred to as “chimes” because of the bell-like effect that steel guitarist achieves) in the second bridge and further accents Lani’s vocal with still more chimes. In this collection comprised entirely of ballads, the steel guitar was clearly intended to play a supporting role – which Makia does most tastefully. But in this era when the music was still heavily arranged, it is difficult to know which of the ideas emanating from the steel were notated on the chart and which came out of Makia’s head and through his hands. 

Regrettably, the arrangements for these sides do not give Sam the opportunity to stretch out in the jazzy way that previous arrangements permitted Hal Aloma. In reality, Makia and Aloma were great friends who would go on to perform and record together in the post-Hawaiian Room era. Those who have heard these later recordings find their playing styles to be virtually indistinguishable. At some point we will revisit the lives and work of both Makia and Aloma in the New York days that would follow in the wake of dramatic changes at the Lexington Hotel. 

Contradicting the aforementioned documented one-sentence account of his life one last time, Makia would go on to play steel guitar with the Hawaiian Room orchestra led by Johnny Pineapple after Ray Kinney’s death – making Makia the only steel guitarist to remain in the Hawaiian Room after its leader departed. 

Next time: What followed the end of the Lani McIntire era in the Hawaiian Room…


Direct download: 01_Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_Mcintire_with_Sam_Makia.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 8:12pm EDT

Dual Steel Guitars in the Hawaiian Room?

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And we have made tremendous use of the discographical information to determine that Bob Nichols was the first steel guitarist with McIntire during this period, that Sam Koki was the second, and that Hal Aloma was the third. I was prepared to tell you about the fourth when I made a startling discovery. 

In my last article on steel guitar at the Hawaiian Room, I discussed the American Federation of Musicians strike of 1942 (which banned artists from recording from the summer of 1942 through the fall of 1943) and the rogue record labels that arose during this era. McIntire’s first post-strike recordings were for the rogue (presumably owned by RCA) Sonora record label. These sides dating to February 1945 are no longer readily available – certainly not as digital reissues – but were once among the most circulated of the Hawaiian recordings on the mainland U.S. (because of the unscrupulous practices of these labels working anonymously under the RCA umbrella). I put some of these sides on the turntable to identify the steel guitarist when – to my amazement – I realized immediately that I was hearing two steel guitarists at the same time! But I couldn’t identify either. I turned to the discographical information provided by T. Malcolm Rockwell in his essential multi-artist, cross-label discography Hawaiian & Hawaiian Guitar Records – 1891-1960, and he tentatively identifies the dual steelers as Al Kane and Sam Macy. End of story. For as has been the case with so many other steel guitarists, there is no documentation that either of these musicians ever recorded or worked with McIntire. In fact, according to the absence of any information about these gentlemen in either of the prevailing books on Hawaiian steel guitar (and a thorough internet search), neither Al Kane nor Sam Macy ever existed. (Ever the thorough archivist, even Rockwell admits that the steel players in question may not be Kane and Macy and that – despite his searches – the recording ledgers on these sessions have not yet come to light.) In truth (and we are ever as polite as possible at Ho`olohe Hou – spinning music that may not be magical even if it is historically important), the steel guitar work here is rather unremarkable. (In fact, I have omitted the steel duo’s version of “Hilo March” – a staple of the steel guitar repertoire recorded at least once by nearly every steel guitarist – because it is among the most uninteresting I have ever heard – the two having such difficulty with the dotted sixteenth notes that they simply choose to leave them out – changing the melody entirely. Amen.) 

In this set, Lani takes the vocal lead on “Moonlight In Hawaii,” “Dreams of Old Hawaii,” and “Hawaiian Sunset.” The recording group here may not include all of the Hawaiian Room personnel since there are none of the big band elements – brass, woodwinds, piano, and drums – that characterized the dance hall sound of the Hawaiian Room era to date. But, then again, by 1945 the big band sound was beginning to wane in popularity, and so too McIntire may have been scaling down the size of the Hawaiian Room aggregation. Besides the dual steel guitars, the other notable curiosity on these sides is the addition of the vibraphone – a fairly new addition to any Hawaiian music group but a sound that would characterize Hawaiian music back in Honolulu from the 1950s through the 1970s. (Here the unknown vibraphonist doubles on bells, as well.) 

But in still another discovery, we find an unknown girl singer in the vocal trio on “Mai Po`ina `Oe Ia`u.” Rockwell’s excellent sleuthing reveals the singer to be Leilani Iaea, and this is verifiable. According to an ad in the February 21, 1940 edition of the Hawaiian language newspaper Hoku O Hawaii, Ray Kinney would make a triumphant return to his hometown of Hilo for a three night engagement at the Mamo Theater and would be bringing back from NYC with him George Kainapau, Tommy Castro, Leimomi Woodd (sister of Napua Woodd, a Hawaiian Room dancer and Kinney’s first girl singer), and Leilani Iaea. Further, according to a well-researched source cited here previously – Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through The U.S. Empire by Adria L. Imada – Kinney recruited hula queen contest contestant Marjorie Leilani Iaea from Harriet Kuuleinani Stibbard's hula studio on Maui in 1940 – putting her among the Hawaiian Room dancers five years before her voice would be heard on record. And what a lovely voice it is – reminiscent somehow of a contemporary of that period, the then still very young Genoa Keawe. 

So concludes but the next in a long line of mysteries and curiosities in our pursuit of the complete musical history of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room. If nothing else, this stop revealed a pair of mysterious steel guitarists – who, regardless of my efforts, may forever remain a mystery – and a hula dancer who was also a noteworthy vocalist. What could possibly come next in this story arc? 

Next time: Ray Kinney’s bass player becomes Lani McIntire’s steel guitarist?...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_Mcintire_with_Al_Kane_and_Sam_Macy.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

Enter Aloma of the South Seas…

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And we have made tremendous use of the discographical information to determine that Bob Nichols was the first steel guitarist with McIntire during this period and that Sam Koki came second. So, who’s on third? 

By all accounts (and, again, I whine that among the leading books on Hawaiian music and steel guitar, a total of two lines have been written on this subject), Hal Aloma held the steel guitar post at the Hawaiian Room during the early 1940s after Koki’s departure. According to the only source available, despite getting an early start in Hawaiian music back home in Honolulu, Aloma rose to prominence once he was recruited by McIntire to assume the Hawaiian Room steel guitar throne. The discographical information corroborates this since Aloma’s first session with the McIntire big band took place in January 1944. Hal went on to record some (now acclaimed) sides under his own name in NYC a little later in the year between February and March 1944. But his turn with McIntire the month before appear to be Aloma’s first appearance on record – indicating that he was in NYC in the right period to be Koki’s successor in the Hawaiian Room. 

But Aloma may have joined the McIntire group at the Lexington Hotel even earlier than this. We stated earlier that Koki had left the band by 1942 (based both on the date of his last recording session with McIntire on June 30, 1942). Surely the Hawaiian Room did not go without the sound of the steel guitar for a year-and-a-half from June 1942 until January 1944. But it is important to note that this same period saw no new recordings by McIntire’s orchestra – or almost any artist, for that matter.  On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) launched a strike against the major American recording companies because of disagreements over royalty payments. According to Wikipedia, “Beginning at midnight, July 31, no union musician could record for any record company. That meant that a union musician was allowed to participate on radio programs and other kinds of musical entertainment, but not in a recording session in a recording.” While never cited as such, for this writer the strike marked the death knell of Hawaiian music on the mainland U.S. Hawaiian music was already waning in popularity, and as a purely business argument, there would be no good reason for the major labels to continue to produce Hawaiian music records if they were as costly as any other type of record to make but would now have to pay greater royalties for shrinking revenue. McIntire’s recording home for nearly a decade, Decca Records, was among the first labels to settle with the AFM in September 1943, agreeing to make direct payments to a union-controlled “relief fund.” But by then I believe it was too late. McIntire’s next records – as well as those by most of the other notable mainland Hawaiian music artists – over the next few years were released by Decca, Capitol, or Columbia but, rather, by such forgettable budget labels as Sonora, Varsity, Variety, Allegro, and Elite. (McIntire would not be affiliated with a major label for another six years when he would cut sides for MGM.) 

As more than merely an interesting aside, this AFM strike resulted in a new era of “Prohibition” for record labels – many of which made the conscious (albeit unconscionable) business decision to bootleg themselves and their own artists. It is now widely understood by the record collecting community that the upstart Royale, Varsity, Allegro, Elite, Halo, and Concertone labels were all owned and operated anonymously by the Record Corporation of America (RCA). In order to continue generating revenue during this strike while averting paying royalties, a label like RCA would release its back catalog (or – worse still – as yet unreleased recordings by its currently signed artists) under the presumably completely disassociated vanity labels. And in order not to bristle the artists themselves, they would have to use pseudonyms for the artists. So a recording made Johnny Pineapple might be released under the not so veiled moniker of “Johnny Poi.” This must have confused the market terribly and – to my mind – further led to the demise of the popularity of Hawaiian music during this period. The most notable example of this pseudonymous preposterousness arose when one label began issuing one of its real artist’s recordings under the real name of another real artist. For a period of time, recordings made by Hawaiian notables Bernie Ka`ai Lewis and Danny Kua`ana were released under the name Lani McIntire. And why not? Lani McIntire was still popular and his group still going strong at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room five years running. Why not capitalize on that? Who but the most ardent fan or savvy Hawaiian music analyst would know the difference? And the hoax continues to be perpetrated on “crate-divers” to this day – many picking up what they believe to be a Lani McIntire treasure on Royale for a mere $1 and never realizing that the group on the record is Ka`ai and Kua`ana. (The joke is doubly funny when one realizes that the second cost cutting measure employed by these labels during this period was the use of an inferior shellac in the manufacturing of these records – resulting in a super thick and sturdy platter but with such substantial surface noise that the artist and the music in those grooves becomes virtually unrecognizable anyway.)

So, anyway, given that McIntire cut no records for the duration of the strike, we cannot be certain whether Aloma assumed the Hawaiian Room steel guitar post in July 1942 (when Koki left) or January 1944 (when McIntire released his first records using Aloma). But this is immaterial since regardless of when the Aloma era began, it is now regarded as a golden era in Hawaiian music and the Hawaiian Room. Here are just a few of the memorable sides those 1940s sessions yielded. 

The set opens with “Na Pua O Hawai`i” which features Hal on both steel guitar and lead vocals. The session personnel – except for Aloma and McIntire – are unknown, but as with other McIntire sessions, given the presence of the woodwinds, brass, piano, and drums, these are highly likely fellow musicians working in the Hawaiian Room under McIntire every evening (or, at least, the big band sound that visitors to the Hawaiian Room were likely to hear). The opening steel chorus reveals Aloma’s preferred soloing method of chord melody (i.e., harmonizing the melody with full chords which requires playing very quickly across multiple strings rather than one at a time – a very difficult technique). And the modulation in the out chorus reveals that Aloma also possesses an appealing falsetto which would may have been lacking in the Hawaiian Room since the departure of George Kainapau and Danny Kua`ana before him. 

“Okole Maluna” features similar big band instrumentation as that heard on “Na Pua O Hawai`i.” The winds and horns take the opening chorus this time followed by a jaunty single-string steel solo from Hal – demonstrating that he is more than a one-trick chord melody pony. Lani takes the lead vocal on this song about a popular Hawaiian toast which is not very Hawaiian at all. (“Okole maluna” is the literal translation of the English “your bottom toward the moon,” but the term “okole” refers to a very specific location on the posterior typically used indelicately as a reference to one who is – simply put – not nice.) 

“Makala Pua” [sic] (real title “O Makalapua”) is one of the many Hawaiian songs that honors its royal history – this one referring to Queen Lili`uokalani by her many nicknames (such as “Kamaka`eha” and “Makalapua”). The tasteful arrangement gives us something new: a string section. As there is no pictorial evidence that the Hawaiian Room ever employed violins and violas, this addition was likely only for this session and marks a rare recording by McIntire in such a formal setting. But such is called for in a song honoring a queen. The vocal trio is Hal, Lani, and (likely) Lani’s brother, Al, who was still with the orchestra during this period.  

The next selection is most surprising and evidences that this New York City-based group has both some seriously deep Hawaiian roots and a finger on the pulse of modern music. “Tomo Pono” is a playful song known primarily to residents of the island of Hawai`i (sometimes referred to erroneously as “the Big Island”). The song lends itself to the boogie woogie arrangement – an arrangement which demonstrates that McIntire (and whoever his arranger was during this period) was abreast of the public’s tastes in music. (Although boogie woogie existed as a solo piano form since the 1920s, it was not fully expanded into big band form until more than a decade later. A version of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" - considered the first boogie woogie “hit” in 1928, first recorded by its composer, piano player Pine Top Smith – arranged for big band and recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra band was not merely a huge hit for Dorsey in the mid-1940s but became the swing era's second best-selling record.) In this arrangement, the steel guitar trades quick boogie woogie “fours” (four bar solos) with the winds and brass. And the vocal trio – likely Hal, Lani, and Al again – do the syncopated rhythmic lyric justice at about 150 bpms (beats per minute). 

Despite that the documented discography of Aloma with McIntire ends abruptly at 1944, one source indicates that Aloma spent four years in the Hawaiian Room with McIntire – bringing us to 1948. But that is not the end of Aloma’s story either. Like nearly all other Hawaiian Room alumni, Aloma – barely thirty when his first stay at the Hawaiian Room came to a close – went on to a long and varied career in Hawaiian music, perpetuating his culture for audiences on the mainland from NYC to Florida when capped off his amazing career as the first band leader at the Polynesian Village for the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida on October 1, 1971. Ho`olohe Hou has honored Aloma previously, and his swingin’ small group sides from the late 1950s are worth a listen. 

Next time: Aloma is out. Next?!...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_Mcintire_with_Hal_Aloma.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:39pm EDT

Ho`olohe Hou “Sharing Is Caring” Contest

They say that one writes for themselves. They also philosophize about whether or not a tree falling in the woods makes a sound if there is nobody around to hear it. Either way, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the blog I call Ho`olohe Hou for many years now, but I have most enjoyed it since creating a Facebook page where you – the reader – can respond to what you read and hear. The Facebook page currently has nearly 450 faithful readers – based on page “LIKES” – and has received more page reads/listens since January 2013 (when I relaunched Ho`olohe Hou as a blog) than in the previous five years combined. August saw a record-setting 1,231 reads/listens. 

The goal now – despite that I continue to write for myself and talk about the people and the music that move me and why – is to spread the news about Ho`olohe Hou. And with Facebook, that is as easy as a click to share a post. You have seen the ambitious roster of artists and topics that I have lined up for October. What a tremendous opportunity to share this music with Hawaiian music-loving friends or with those who have not yet experienced the joys of Hawai`i, its special people, and its unique musical heritage. During the month of October, I am going to try to provide an unprecedented amount of content – as many as 50 new posts (in honor of Hawai`i being the 50th state). If every fan of Ho`olohe Hou shares just one post, and if each post garners just one new page “LIKE,” the blog can more than double its readership in only one month. 

To encourage you to share the music that moves you – or even the music that doesn’t – I am sweetening the deal. I will be counting the post shares for the month of October, and the reader who shares the most posts will receive two free Hawaiian music CDs (up to a $30 value plus shipping) from the inventory of Me Ke Aloha, my “go to” web retailer for all new Hawaiian music releases. You’ll simply go shopping, select any two single CDs, tell me what you choose, and I will order it for you and have it shipped directly to you. It’s that simple. You get to go shopping with me. Don’t know what to pick up? The first page of inventory at Me Ke Aloha is an embarrassment of riches. I highly recommend two new releases by my friends Keikilani Lindsey and Kapono Na`ili`ili (both of whom will be featured on Ho`olohe Hou soon, once I can catch them standing still long enough to chat with them about their music). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You have to win first. And in order to win, you have to play. So keep reading and start sharing! 

Mahalo nui for your support and encouragement and for taking this opportunity to broaden Ho`olohe Hou’s reach and increase our happy family!

~ Bill Wynne


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 7:17am EDT

Koki, Koki! Lend Us Your Steel…

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And in the absence of photographic evidence, we have used the discographical information to determine that the great Bobby Nichols was the first steel guitarist in McIntire’s employ. Let’s make us of this same data to determine which steel player came next. 

I mentioned previously that Nichols’ was the sole steel guitarist to appear on recordings by McIntire-led aggregations in the Hawaiian Room era in New York City through March 21, 1940 (when there was a first – and only – appearance by steel guitarist Bob True, a steel guitarist about whom surprisingly even less is written than about Nichols). But beginning with an April 14, 1941 session in NYC, the legendary Sam Koki became McIntire’s go to steel player for sessions for at least the next two years. Not only is there pictorial evidence that Koki worked the room with McIntire, we also have as-close-as-possible-to-first-hand-accounts. According to current Hawaiian music artist singer Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom whose grandmother, Jennie Napua Woodd was the featured dancer (and occasional featured vocalist) in the room during this period, Koki was clearly there every night dutifully behind McIntire because Woodd was dating him. Fair enough. Given all of these tidbits, can we assume that Koki succeeded Nichols in the coveted steel guitar chair of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room? 

With regard to Hawaiian music and – specifically – steel guitarists, Ho`olohe Hou has spent a great deal of time and energy trying to sort out legend from lore. And like so many other Hawaiian music artists, there may be more of lore about Koki than legend. Much of what has been written about him is purely anecdotal and, therefore, ultimately, contradictory. One source indicates he arranged for certain major motion pictures, but more reliable sources indicate that the same arrangements were done by Hollywood heavyweights. (I am referring here to Koki being credited as the arranger of “Sweet Leilani” and other hits from the score to the Bing Crosby vehicle Waikiki Wedding. Koki may have appeared as a steel guitarist on screen in the film, but sources dispute that he was the orchestrator or even that he played steel guitar on these songs.) Many sources have him recording with such non-Hawaiian artists as Gene Autry, but the discographical information puts Koki in the wrong place and time to have been on the sessions. And many believe that whenever Koki was in the recording studio that he was necessarily the steel guitarist when – in fact – he often traded steel chores with other band members who did an equally admirable job. (This is true of many sides by Sam Koki and His Paradise Islanders on which it is assumed that Koki is the lone steeler, but those “in the know” that the vast majority of the steel playing on those sides was performed by fellow steeler Danny Stewart.) Part of the lore is that affixing Koki’s name to any work during this period largely made it gold by association (or Iona’s name, for that matter, with whom Koki got his start). I do love unraveling the legend and the lore, but as there are many more Hawaiian Room steel players to tribute and very short little time remaining to pay tribute in the time I have allotted, I am going to have to reserve a full-scale investigation into Sam Koki for another time.  

Also interesting, however, is that most of Koki’s steel work on McIntire recordings during the Hawaiian Room era is with the smaller group of the Hawai`i delegation – not the big band sound one would have heard every evening at the venue. In no attempt to pull a “bait-and-switch,” I am going to here feature selections where Koki is playing steel with a similar group of the period, Mannie Klein’s Hawaiians, an aggregation which on record sounds much more like McIntire’s Hawaiian Room big band. An unusual name to lead a Hawaiian music group, Klein was considered one of the finest and most sought after trumpeters of the swing era. Starting out with the orchestra of Paul Whiteman in the late 1920s and working his way through numerous famed big bands through the band led by Artie Shaw in the 1940s, Klein forged an interesting alliance with Andy Iona at some point in the 1930s – Klein appearing on sides led by Iona for Columbia Records in Los Angeles in August 1934. Then, in an interesting turn, Klein decided to make similar records as leader under the name of Mannie Klein and His Swing-A-Hulas in May 1938. These sides featured Koki on steel and are some of the swingingest sides of the era if not – I dare say – some of the most Hawaiian (and not merely for a group led by a Jewish trumpet player). I thought it would be more interesting to hear Koki in the large group setting – even if it is not with the McIntire band – than it would be to hear him in the small group for which recordings abound. 

I have always loved all the irony around composer R. Alex Anderson’s “Malihini Mele.” The nonsense song – written mostly in the English language – co-opts Hawaiian language words and expressions to create a song that seemingly makes sense to any non-native speaker. The irony of course is that Anderson himself was a haole poking fun at haoles. This is one of the earliest recorded versions (the song was only copyrighted in 1934) dating to a May 1938 session in Los Angeles. Klein and Koki are the only session personnel identified. I love the way the song sneaks up on the listener – starting out as a whispered ballad (as if we’re learning a secret of all of this Hawaiian gibberish) and breaking out into a double-time swing chorus before slowing down to a bluesy ballad for the out chorus. Despite that Koki only gets an 8-bar break for a solo in the bridge of the uptempo middle section, I have always considered this one of the finest steel solos on record. 

From the same May 1938 session that gave us “Malihini Mele” comes “Moonlight In Waikiki” with a very straight-forward, very traditionally Hawaiian-style steel guitar solo by Koki. 

The closing tune features a vocalist who – we can be relatively certain by his tone and phrasing – is not a Hawaiian. The mystery vocalist is none other than Tony Martin who would not yet be a household name until signing with first 20th Century-Fox and later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a series of well received musical movies from the late 1930s through the 1940s. (He was also married to popular actress/dancer Cyd Charisse.) Here Tony sings the Alice Johnson composition “Aloha Ia No O Maui” – redubbed the “Island of Maui Hula” for this mainland U.S. release. Despite never having sung the language before, Martin’s attempt is admirable – clearly having been coached by Koki, the only Hawaiian on the session. The song nearly passed as “Hawaiian” until Martin scats behind the vocal trio on the repeat of the chorus. The tune was recorded in a session for Conqueror Records on June 5, 1938. 

Sam Koki’s last documented session with McIntire – and his last in New York City for a while – would be on June 30, 1942. At least one source says that Koki was with McIntire at the Hawaiian Room for two years, and the dates of the first and last recording sessions would serve to corroborate that. But there are no new recordings by the McIntire orchestra for another two years – a mystery for another time. Also for another time is the rest of the Sam Koki story as he went on to have a prosperous career in Hawaiian music for nearly another 30 years, mostly on the West Coast. Ho`olohe Hou will revisit the life and music of the enigmatic Koki when we celebrate his birthday next July. 

Next time: Koki is out. Next?!...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Sam_Koki_with_Mannie_Klein.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 9:58pm EDT

A West Coast Steeler’s New York Days

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

So now we believe that Lani McIntire was the sole bandleader at the Hawaiian Room from 1941 (when Kinney departed) until 1951 (when McIntire passed away) – making him the bandleader with the longest tenure here. But we also conjecture that since he was hired for the 1937 opening of the room, the McIntire band may have rotated with the other bands (led by Andy Iona and Ray Kinney) or that members of these bands worked together like “interchangeable parts.” In any case, regardless of whenever McIntire took over as the sole leader, surely the same steel guitarist did not stick around for the entire decade. Because Ho`olohe Hou loves a good mystery, can we determine which steeler came first?

If we again turn to the discographies for a little data, the answer is likely Bob Nichols. You have already read here that Lani McIntire made his first recordings in New York City in August 1935 – two years before the Hawaiian Room’s opening. This means that some of McIntire’s musicians had to have been rooted in NYC since – regardless of the popularity of Hawaiian music in this period – not even the major record labels would pay to transport (by ship – not jet plane – in this era) musicians for one-off recording sessions. Bobby Nichols played on that August 2, 1935 McIntire session and on all subsequent McIntire sessions through March 21, 1940 (when steel guitarist Bob True, made his one and only performance on record with McIntire). The pre-Hawaiian Room sessions were all small combos typical of the kind assembled to record and perform hula music back home in Hawai`i – a group comprised of Nichols on the steel, McIntire on rhythm guitar, his brother, Al, on bass, and a rotating cast of `ukulele players-cum-falsetto-singers in either George Kainapau or Danny Kua`ana. But the sessions that occurred after the Hawaiian Room’s debut featured the larger big band sound complete with brass, woodwinds, piano, and percussion – a group with personnel rarely listed but which were likely comprised of local musicians who were working evenings at the Hawaiian Room. So despite that there is no pictorial evidence of Bob Nichols on the bandstand at the Hawaiian Room with McIntire, it is possible – even highly likely – that he was one  of the first steel guitarists (along with Andy Iona) in residence at this new hot spot. 

Regular readers of Ho`olohe Hou know by now that one of my favorite past times is bemoaning the reality that while little is written about the history of Hawaiian music, there is almost nothing written about the history of its steel guitarists. This is equally true in the case of Bobby Nichols. The two prevailing volumes on the Hawaiian steel guitar do not grant Nichols more than two sentences each. So as I have written previously, most of the lore about a steel player like Nichols is perpetuated by other avid steel players such as on the Steel Guitar Forum. But even then such forums do not speak to the history of these players but more often delve into the “inside baseball” of the steel guitar such as whether or not Nichols was playing an early Rickenbacker fry pan model steel guitar and through which brand of amplifier. (Which is not to say that Ho`olohe Hou doesn’t deal with its share of “inside baseball” since it is written by a musician and because many of its readers are musicians.) But this time around there is simply so little information about Nichols that we are going to have let his playing speak for itself. 

A November 17, 1937 Decca Records session with the big band as it might have been heard each night at the Hawaiian Room gives us McIntire’s spin on “Hame Pila.” The brass and woodwinds trade instrumental breaks with Nichols’ steel guitars. Pay particular attention to Nichols’ trademark wide, rapid vibrato and the huge full chord glissandos (or slides) he plays behind the brass and winds. Nichols also jazzes us up the proceedings with generous helpings of blue notes in his solos. The vocal trio is Lani, Bob, and falsetto wunderkind George Kainapau. The upright bass is wielded by Lani’s brother, Al McIntire. 

Check out Nichols’ trademark vibrato again on “Kane`ohe” recorded September 3, 1937 at the Decca Records studios in Los Angeles. This is the small group that McIntire had already formed before the Hawaiian Room even opened. This recording gives us a glimpse at the groups more traditionally Hawaiian sound they would have utilized before they added the winds, horns, piano, and drums that characterized the big band Hawaiian sound of New York City and the Hawaiian Room. 

From the same band and same November 1937 session above which yielded “Hame Pila” comes the Sonny Cunha hapa-haole standard “Hula Blues.” Long a favorite of steel guitarists because of its jazzy rhythm and melody that is deliberately around non-scale tones (or the “blue” notes that give the “blues” its names), Nichols take on this tune with the McIntire orchestra and its stellar arrangement has long been one of my favorites. 

One of the few lines written about Nichols in the aforementioned volumes reads, “After many years with Lani McIntire’s band, he ended his career playing music on the cruise ships in the Pacific…” Record collectors know this is inaccurate. Nichols – based on the West Coast for most of his career – went on to record with the mainland’s premier Hawaiian music aggregation of the 1950s, The Polynesians, who worked in and around Los Angeles and who were the first call session musicians for much of the Hawaiian-themed film fare that came out of Hollywood during this period. So we will hear more of Nichols when Ho`olohe Hou explores the mainland Hawaiian music scene in the 1950s.

Next time: Nichols is out. Next?!...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_Mcintire_with_Bobby_Nichols_Edited.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 6:12am EDT

The (Questionably) Lengthy Reign of Lani McIntire

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Researching the history of the Lexington Hotel’s famed Hawaiian Room generates any number of mysteries – or, as I referred to them previously, “lore” – which might never be resolved except by first-hand accounts of those who were there (and, regrettably, there are so few of those still with us). My hope is that the eagerly anticipated documentary film debuting in NYC on October 10 – simply entitled The Hawaiian Room – will evince some answers. More interestingly, a significant delegation of former Hawaiian Room dancers will be in attendance for the debut, and I assure you that I am going to pick their brains. 

As to the current mysteries at hand (and there are two)… It is unclear who took over as bandleader at the Hawaiian Room after the departure of (first) Andy Iona and (second) Lani McIntire. One seemingly credible source – the well-researched Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through the U.S. Empire by Adria L. Imada – implies that a troika of Ray Kinney, Andy Iona, and Lani McIntire were hired simultaneously by the Hawaiian Room. Imada writes: 

The talent scout of Hotel Lexington president Charles Rochester signed the Hawaiian and Irish tenor Ray Kinney of Honolulu as the Hawaiian Room’s orchestra leader in 1937. Hotel management also contracted steel guitarist Andy Iona and composer-singer Lani McIntire. 

Other sources corroborate this by independently stating that each of the artists named above opened at the Hawaiian Room on June 23, 1937, but none states that they opened together or with each other. Imada further states: 

Yet most Hawaiian entertainers claimed racially mixed backgrounds with their names or by personal admission. Throughout his career, Ray Kinney referred to himself as the “Irish Hawaiian,” but because “McIntire and Kinney” sounded too Irish, the opening billing of the Hawaiian Room originally read “Andy Iona and His Twelve Hawaiians.” 

This would imply that all of these fine musicians appeared as one aggregation under the billing of the most Hawaiian sounding name, Iona. (And this is ironic given that Iona’s birth name was, in fact, Long.) It should not be surprising that these musicians would work happily together as there is a long history of incestuous relationships among Hawaiian musicians. In short, anybody would perform or record with anybody else. 

But returning to the discographies of these artists for corroboration – as we did to determine the comings and goings of Alfred Apaka, George Kainapau, and Tommy Castro – we discover that the three artists never recorded together as a single aggregation and very rarely in any combination. (The one rare meeting of Andy Iona and Ray Kinney in a recording studio – on November 30, 1936 at Decca Records’ Los Angeles studios – occurred in the wrong city and predates the opening of the Hawaiian Room by seven months. The one meeting of Kinney and McIntire in a New York City recording studio took place on December 10, 1937 – proving, at least, that the two co-existed in the same space and time but not necessarily proving that they were members of the same group.) If we believe the discographical information from this period, then Andy Iona had his own performing group that made records, Ray Kinney had his own performing group that made records, and Lani McIntire had his own performing group that made records. According to this data, rarely did the three artists or their groups meet outside of the Hawaiian Room. 

There is one more interesting piece of data – or, rather, the complete absence of data. There is scant little pictorial evidence of the groups performing at the Hawaiian Room during its earliest days. Most – if not all – of the pictures of the Hawaiian Room aggregation – typically in the form of postcards – show a group led by Lani McIntire and clearly pictures his group members George Kainapau, Alfred Apaka, Tommy Castro, and Sam Makia. No pictures of a Lani McIntire-led group show either Andy Iona or Lani McIntire on his bandstand, and there is no publicly-circulating photographic evidence of either an Andy Iona-led band or a Lani McIntire-led band in the Hawaiian Room. 

If we bring this data together, we can make two educated guesses about how these groups co-existed at the Hawaiian Room: 

  • The discographic evidence and the pictorial evidence would indicate that there were three separate groups all hired at the same time to open the Hawaiian Room which may have performed on different days of the week or even at different times on the same days of the week (as is often the case at hotels in Hawai`i – and practically everywhere – today.) Perhaps an evening performance schedule looked thusly:

    • Andy Iona and His Hawaiians – 5:00pm-8:00pm (for your dining and dancing pleasure)

    • Ray Kinney and His Royal Hawaiian Ambassadors – 8:00pm-11:00pm (with a hula floor show at 9:30pm)

    • Lani McIntire and His Hawaiians – 11:00pm-2:00am (for dancing into the wee small hours) 


  • The anecdotal evidence from Imada’s book suggests that it is possible that all three groups appeared together – or pieces of them in various combinations – under one group name (“Andy Iona and His Twelve Hawaiians”) under the management’s guise that “one Hawaiian is as good as another” and/or “all Hawaiians look alike.” 

The discographical evidence is more powerful (from this writer’s point of view) since the many entries in the Kinney and McIntire discographies indicate that both brought full cadres of musicians to NYC with them. I am referring here to the core quartets/quintets of musicians from Hawai`i specializing in Hawaiian music. The groups may have shared in common the larger orchestra (brass, woodwinds, etc.) – musicians who may have known nothing about Hawaiian music previously and were likely reading from charts provided by Iona, McIntire, or Castro (for Kinney’s band). 

So let’s accept this as a solution – until disproven by someone who wants to spend as much time and effort on the issue as this writer – to the first mystery: Iona, Kinney, McIntire, and their respective core musicians arrived at the Hawaiian Room simultaneously for its opening in June 1937 and co-habitated peacefully there as separate-but-equal aggregations. 

On to the second mystery… These artists left the Hawaiian Room and New York City for home (or elsewhere) at different points. We determined previously that Iona was gone by 1938 and Kinney by 1941. So who took over as the “leader” of the Hawaiian Room orchestra in 1941 and beyond? I, for one, want to say Lani McIntire and only Lani McIntire based again on the best available evidence – McIntire’s discography. The first recording sessions by a Lani McIntire-led group took place on November 17, 1937 (not long after the troup’s arrival in NYC for the opening of the Hawaiian Room). These earliest recordings included only the core quartet that Lani brought with him from Hawai`i (or his last stops on the West Coast). McIntire’s recording sessions over the next few years – through February 1945 – took place exclusively in Decca Records’ New York City studios, and the discography indicates that the group was later expanded to include a larger orchestra (the brass, woodwinds, etc.) not unlike would have been appearing with McIntire in the Hawaiian Room (and which may even have been Hawaiian Room personnel). And while the sessions slowed in the years to follow, McIntire led a few final sessions – all exclusively in NYC – culminating in a final session with the large Hawaiian Room-type orchestra in May 1950. So it would appear that McIntire remained in NYC from the time he arrived in 1937 until the end of his career. And one more fairly reliable source indicates that Lani McIntire was the bandleader at the Hawaiian Room “until his death in New York City on June 17, 1951.” That’s good enough for me: Lani McIntire was the bandleader at that Hawaiian Room from 1941 (when Kinney departed) until his passing in 1951 – making him the bandleader with the longest tenure at this venerable venue. 

While we cannot be certain that Lani McIntire took over immediately upon Kinney’s departure, we have little reason to believe he didn’t except for one account – based solely on the memory of one who claims to have been there – that “the Lani McIntire Hawaiians were the resident band at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room in New York from 1947 until his death in 1951.” This would leave a gap of six years (from 1941 until 1947) without a permanent band installed in the Hawaiian Room. I dispelled this myth almost immediately, however. The single image that accompanies this article – an advertisement for Lani McIntire and His Orchestra and the Honolulu Maids at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room (“Now In Its Record-Breaking Year”) – was taken from the copy of the New York Herald Tribune issued July 11, 1943. So even if McIntire didn’t start in 1941 (despite that all evidence indicates he was there from opening night), he certainly didn’t arrive as late as 1947. 

On to more important matters – such as the man and his music. 

Like the other Hawaiian Room personnel, Lani McIntire had an impressive musical pedigree long before he arrived in NYC. Born December 15, 1904 in Honolulu, Hawai`i, by his early twenties McIntire was under the employ of Sol Ho`opi`i. After a string of recordings with Sol Ho`opi`i’s Novelty Trio through the late 1920s, Lani’s first recording session as a leader – issued as Lani McIntyre’s Hawaiians (notice the alternate spelling of McIntire’s name which often cropped up) – on August 2, 1935 produced about ten sides – on only one of which Lani himself takes the vocal lead. Although not dating from the Hawaiian Room years, I open this set with Lani’s first vocal under his own name – a tune entitled “Night Wind.” It is questionable whether or not this is as much Hawaiian music as it is country/western music. So this might be a good juncture to point out – because I do not assume it is widely known – that McIntire’s work with Jimmie Rodgers is to many ethnomusicologists the nexus of Hawaiian and country music. It has always been understood that the country/western musicians on the mainland co-opted the Hawaiian steel guitar for their own purposes, but it is rarely spoken about that recordings of Jimmie Rodgers with Lani McIntire on the steel are among the first – if not the first – such recordings. The steel guitar player here is Bob Nichols of McIntire’s regular working group long before arriving in NYC, and the `ukulele player is none other than George Kainapau who would join Ray Kinney’s band and himself become a Hawaiian Room regular in a few short years. The bassist is Lani’s brother, Al McIntire, who throughout his career would vacillate between performing, touring, and recording with either (or both) of his musical brothers, Al and Dick. 

The same session as “Night Wind” yielded the more traditional Hawaiian song “Maika`i Wale No Kaua`i” with a falsetto vocal by Kainapau and more steel work by Nichols. 

McIntire and crew’s first recording session in NYC – for Decca Records on November 17, 1937 – gives us “In A Little Hula Heaven” and “Hawaiian Vamp.” The core group of Kainapau, Nichols, and the brothers McIntire is joined by a larger orchestra (consisting of brass and woodwinds) not unlike that they would have worked with every night at the Hawaiian Room (and who may even be Hawaiian Room personnel). The vocal harmonies are a trio comprised of Lani, George, and Tommy. (There is little evidence that brother Al sang on record.) 

And while I have mentioned previously that it was a rarity, the disparate Hawaiian Room bandleaders joined forces for a recording session on December 10, 1937 – with Ray Kinney taking the lead vocals on “My Wahine and Me” and “Lullaby of the Palms” with a small group led by Lani McIntire almost as listed above (but substituting one falsetto for another – Danny Kua`ana relieving Mr. Kainapau). 

So now we believe that Lani McIntire was the sole bandleader at the Hawaiian Room from 1941 (when Kinney departed) until 1951 (when McIntire passed away) – making him the bandleader with the longest tenure here. Surely the same steel guitarist did not stick around for the entire decade. 

Next time: Unraveling the mysteries of McIntire’s steel guitarists’ arrivals and departures…


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_McIntire.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:13am EDT