Hawaii Calls – The 1950s (Conclusion)

Because Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long tribute to Hawaii Calls next June on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, my goal this time around is simply to share as much music from the program as possible with enough information and historical context to aid listeners in the appreciation of it. 

Of historical importance this time around is Alfred Apaka’s first performance on radio of “Goodnight Leilani E.” This is important for at least two reasons. The first is that the song was practically brand new – published only a year earlier by Jack Pitman (who also composed “Beyond The Reef,” among many other classics). It was first recorded for the composer’s own Pitman-Hawaiian Records label by Napua Stevens (who also debuted “Beyond The Reef” on record a year earlier), but as this record would only have distribution within Hawai`i’s island borders, Apaka’s performance would be the introduction of this new song to a worldwide audience. (The song would not see such exposure again until it was performed by Buddy Fo and The Invitations on their 1960 Liberty Records release The Invitations with Billy May and His Orchestra. which had both national and international distribution.) More importantly, this is our first indication that Apaka performed on the Hawaii Calls broadcasts not merely the songs he made famous on record for he never recorded “Goodnight Leilani E” or (for that matter) most of the songs he performed on the radio show. By unearthing the recordings of the live Hawaii Calls programs, then, we have found a treasure trove of Alfred Apaka songs that we might never have heard him sing before. We will hear more of Apaka from these broadcasts over the next few days. 

I keep asserting that the early 1950 Hawaii Calls programs offered few breakout stars but relied more on the ensemble. But that ensemble was like a supernova of local Hawai`i talent. The male voices – including brothers Simeon and Andy Bright, John “Squeeze” Kamana, Frank “Mystery” Cockett, Bob Kauahikaua, Sam Kapu, and occasionally Bill Akamuhou – handled the instruments as well. (Simeon and Andy handled the dual rhythm guitars, Squeeze Kamana the `ukulele, Mystery Cockett the upright bass, and David Keli`i on steel guitar.) But there was also an all-important trio of ladies voices. The show went through numerous girls singers over the years, but during this period the trio was likely comprised of Miriam Punini McWayne, Lani Custino, and Annie Ayau. There was a fourth grande dame who was not as important to the cast for her singing talents (for she was extremely talented in that regard) as she was for her knowledge of music and all things Hawaiian, but specifically for helping maintain the show’s ever-growing library of Hawaiian songs (most of which she knew by heart) and helping ensure the accuracy of the use of the Hawaiian language for the entire cast. Because of her vast training and expertise Vicki I`i Rodrigues was practically the right hand of arranger/conductor Al Kealoha Perry, but you can also hear her voice here on the uptempo number in the middle of this set. 

Sam Kapu and Alfred Apaka trade vocal leads on the next number… Most often known simply by the first line of the lyric, “The Winds From Over The Sea,” the song is actually titled “A Song To Hawai`i” and was composed by J.D. Redding nearly a half century before as it made its first appearance on record almost at the same time as the advent of the phonograph. 

Finally, Alfred Apaka closes the show by leading the chorus in “Aloha `Oe,” which despite becoming Hawai`i’s traditional song of farewell, was actually composed by Queen Lili`uokalani strictly as a love song. 

Such was a typical Hawaii Calls broadcast in the early 1950s. But the decade would be a time of evolution for the program. Cast members would depart, and new ones would soon arrive on the scene, and perhaps even the tempo would change... 

Next time: About the new Hawaii Calls cast members… But first a day-long tribute to Alfred Apaka…


Direct download: 03_Hawaii_Calls_-_7-21-51.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:56pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – The 1950s (Continued)

Because Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long tribute to Hawaii Calls next June on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, my goal this time around is simply to share as much music from the program as possible with enough information and historical context to aid listeners in the appreciation of it. 

As ethnomusicologist George S. Kanahele pointed out in an early edition of his Hawaiian Music and Musicians, the music of the Hawaii Calls radio programs was often accused by its critics of being “too slow and old-fashioned.” This is nowhere more evident than on this program’s arrangement of “Maui Moon.” Often taken at a much peppier hula tempo, such performances are misinterpreting the song based on the seemingly cheerful opening line, “You taught my heart how to love, Maui moon.” But the opening stanza belies the heartache that is uncovered if we listen carefully all the way through to the second stanza: 

You made me dream once again, Maui moon 

Dream of a love that I lost all too soon 

Love haunts me yet like a gay gypsy tune 

Where is my sweetheart now? 

If you know, tell me, Maui moon 

So while it may be true that Hawaii Calls was heavy laden with ballads for a period of time, I think the arranger may be one of the few – if not the only – who ever appropriately captured the mood of this melancholy mele. 

For many, the signature sound of Hawaiian music for the first half of the 20th century was the steel guitar. And the “intermission” (as it were) of every Hawaii Calls program usually featured its steel guitarist. For 15 years of the program’s nearly 40-year run – from 1937 through 1952 – the man of the hour was the legendary David Keli`i. I have written here before that the steel guitarist must have an understanding of physics since unlike other guitarists who can place their fingers practically anywhere they can reach without hurting themselves, the steel guitarist is confined to a single straight line across the strings – as dictated by the steel bar with which the instrument is played (which is the origin of its name). A steel guitarist can slant that bar forward or backward but must ever be careful to keep it in line with the frets, and the frets get closer and closer together as we move up the fretboard – meaning that the degree of the angle is ever changing. Or, alternatively, to achieve different chord formations or combinations, the steel guitarist can change the tuning (or order of the pitches of the strings) on the guitar. Keli`i was known as a master of countless tunings. He often achieved this by keeping a number of different guitars around – grabbing a different one for each different song depending on the chords he needed for that song. But many who saw him in action claimed that Keli`i could also retune a guitar with tremendous accuracy on the fly in the middle of a song without missing a beat. On his solo here, “Tiare O Tahiti,” you also hear Keli`i’s mastery at harmonics – often referred to as “chimes” – which are typically played with the pinky finger to achieve the lightest touch on the strings. But harmonics are a feat of physics too since the string must be plucked exactly 12 frets above where the steel bar is placed, and the distance between the bar and the picking hand will constantly change as the frets grow closer together or farther apart. 

This is merely to give the listener an appreciation of steel guitar technique and the difficulty in mastering this instrument. And we will hear more of this master over the next few days. 

The “intermission” ends with a single measure from the familiar voice of the cast’s resident “boy singer” – none other than Alfred Apaka who begins to sing “Hawai`i Calls,” the song composer Harry Owens wrote when he was the musical director of the program when it debuted. I commented previously that this particular cast relied largely on its ensemble – not on star power – since few in the cast would be known outside of the islands. The first cast member to achieve nationwide recognition was likely Haleloke Kahauolopua who was discovered by Arthur Godfrey who whisked her away from the islands a few years earlier, made her part of his weekly TV program, and – in his free time – married her. But Apaka was also known on the mainland from his appearances a decade earlier in the famed “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel in New York City and – more recently – from his national recording contract with Decca Records signed the same year – 1951. Apaka was a voice that Hawaii Calls relied upon heavily, and so you will hear much more from him before this tribute is over. 

Next time: More about the early 1950s cast and the conclusion of the July 21, 1951 broadcast…


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_7-21-51.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:18am EDT

Hawaii Calls – The 1950s

Because Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long tribute to Hawaii Calls next June on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, my goal this time around is simply to share as much music from the program as possible with enough information and historical context to aid listeners in the appreciation of it.

The first question you’re likely asking yourself is… Since when do live radio programs “skip” like records? This requires some clarification of how the “live” radio program was transmitted in that era. In fact, “live” was a bit of hyperbole. It was certainly “live” when it was recorded, but it was already dated by the time it reached listeners ears in most cities around the world. In the earliest days of the program, the easiest – if not, perhaps, only – means of long-distance transmissions of these broadcasts was shortwave radio. So by the time it reached its destination, the dynamic range of the show (its ability to transmit the musical highs – like treble – and lows – like bass) was already compressed into something about as limited as the telephone. Now, to make matters worse, because magnetic tape had not yet come into its own as a recording medium, the shortwave signals were captured on shellac discs (or what you might call “records”). It was these records that were then played by the local radio stations at appropriate hours (when listeners were awake). And then, typically, because the shows were supposed to be live and, therefore, only to be heard once, most radio stations smashed the shellacs and threw away the pieces. This is why few episodes of Hawaii Calls from the pre-magnetic tape era survived. There is no such thing as a “master.”

As you have probably already figured out, the four dozen or so programs from this era here in the vaults of Ho`olohe Hou are tape copies of the original shellac discs which show the ravages of time. Records that are not cared for properly become scratched or dirty (or both), and this manifests itself as crackles, pops, and an occasional skip. Then add to this the occasional variations and speed – known as “wow and flutter” – from transferring them to magnetic open reel tapes on equipment that may not have been carefully maintained, and the result is less than idea. For the more than five hours of Hawaii Calls material I plan to share with you over the next few weeks, I have spent more than 25 hours in restoring them. In other words, as bad as you think they sound, they sounded worse before I got to work on them. So we are going to have to agree to tolerate less-than-CD-quality sound in order to appreciate these lost recordings again. As I know how difficult it was to attain my copies of these recordings – and now that you see why so few copies continue to exist – in some cases we may be hearing the only copy of a recording still in existence. And it is my extreme pleasure and honor to share these with such an appreciative audience again.

Moreover, because there were no such thing as “reruns” for live weekly radio programs like Hawaii Calls, this may be the first time since their original broadcasts more than 60 years that the entire broadcasts have seen the light of day again. There have been Hawaii Calls LPs and – more recently – CDs that come across as complete live broadcasts, but those were actually pieced together from different programs to come up with the ideal set list – a sort of “Best Of” collection. But this particular program you are currently listening to is presented here again just as it was intended to be heard on July 21, 1951.

Those of you are familiar with the format of the Hawaii Calls program may hear some subtle differences between these early 1950s programs and those which came in the 1960s and 70s. If not, once we get around to these later decades, you will no doubt find yourself bouncing back and forth between these recordings to discover the differences for yourself.

For example, notice here that there is both a host – Webley Edwards – and an announcer (whom I have not yet identified). An announcer that was separate from the host was a convention that dated back to the early days of radio (and which continues for some programs today such as the late-night TV talk shows). But for episodes of the show from the later 1950s until the end of the show’s run in 1975, Webley Edwards was both host and announcer.

Early editions of the program were also not reliant on “star power.” Until more of Hawai`i’s music artists would gain popularity beyond the islands’ borders, there were few names in the cast that would be recognizable to any but a Hawai`i local (or the most ardent fan of Hawaiian music). Few had recording contracts, and those that did would not have seen distribution outside of Hawai`i. But one could argue this only added to the mystique and authenticity of this music. (It was different than, say, Bing Crosby performing these same songs.) But because of this, you will notice that more of the arrangements are for the larger ensemble than for any particular soloist.

Interestingly, while the male voices of the cast in later years would be more distinctive, the early 1950s cast offered a raft of often indistinguishable bass-baritones. Only the most diehard fan will be able to tell Sam Kapu from Simeon Bright from his brother Andy Bright from Bob Kauahikaua.

But there is one standout male voice. And even casual Hawaiian music fans will no doubt recognize it…

Next time: More from the July 21, 1951 broadcast… More about the cast and its “boy singer…” And the magic of the steel guitar in the hands of one of its greats…



Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_7-21-51.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:09am EDT