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