Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…
It was difficult – believe me, very difficult – to decide which of Haunani’s dozens and dozens of performances from the Ho`olohe Hou archives to share given that we have limited time to share them. (We will celebrate Haunani over and over again. But we also need to give some air time to the other stars of Hawaii Calls who have not even received an honorable mention yet.) Choosing the last video of Haunani was the most difficult task – until, that is, I ran across this performance by Haunani in which she graces us not only with song, but with a hula.
“Hula Town” was composed by Don McDiarmid – orchestra leader, composer, and entrepreneur who started what has since become the longest continuously operating record label in the islands, Hula Records. A son and a grandson have since taken over the family business, but neither was a songwriter like their patriarch who also gave us such numbers perfect for comic hula as “Sadie, The South Seas Lady,” “My Wahine and Me,” and “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” (the latter composed for performer Clara Haili Inter who adopted the song’s title first as her stage name before changing it legally to “Hilo Hattie”). The connection here is not necessarily with Hawaii Calls, but with your author personally as I was briefly a Hula Records artist myself – the prize for having won the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest in 2005. To make this circle compete, when I performed for the prize the evening of September 24, 2005, it was on the stage of the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – the very same stage where Haunani held court with her fabulous show in the 1960s. (And a Hawaii Calls regular of the 1960s cheered me on from the front row: Mahi Beamer.) Perhaps this is why I feel more deeply connected to Haunani than the average fan.
In most of the video clips she filmed for the Hawaii Calls TV show, Haunani is either sitting still or standing still – letting the hula dancers steal the scene. In a scant few, she is either strumming an `ukulele or plucking a slack key guitar. (Since the audio tracks were pre-recorded in a recording studio in Honolulu, I have been unable to ascertain whether Haunani was the slack key guitarist we hear in that clip or if she was simply playing air guitar to whatever guitarist actually recorded the track back at the studio.) But “Hula Town” was the only clip in which Haunani did a hula. As with the similar clip of Lani Custino singing and dancing at the same time to “Waikapu,” Haunani is not really singing and dancing at the same time since her vocal was also laid down in the studio in advance of the location shoot. But even lip synching and hula at the same time deserves extra points for difficulty.
I hope you enjoyed this last look – for now – at Haunani in action. But there may still be one more tribute to her “in the can.”
Next time: Wrapping up our look at Haunani with one last listen from the Hawaii Calls radio days…
Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her seemingly countless appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio program…
The recording studio affords an artist an almost infinite number of attempts to get a song just right. I have session tapes from Frank Sinatra’s 1950s Capitol Records sessions where there are countless false starts on the same tune – for everything from an out-of-tune flute to a saxophone that comes in a beat late to some “clams” from the singer. (Sinatra fans will know immediately what I mean by “clams.”) Haunani Kahalewai’s recording output – which featured the finest musicians in Hawai`i of the moment, many also fellow Hawaii Calls cast members – were truly perfect. (By contrast, there were some notable issues with Alfred Apaka’s recordings of the same period – missed cues, flubbed intros and endings – which for some reason nobody felt deserved a mulligan. And so we have these mistakes on vinyl for posterity to prove that our heroes weren’t perfect.) But I mention this because Haunani’s radio performances were also damned near perfect every time! In a 1980 interview with KCCN Radio, cast member Nina Keali`iwahamana spoke of the inherent dangers of doing a live radio broadcast. The musicians who didn’t read music worked from chord charts, and as Nina put it, it was easy enough in the heat of the moment to read a “G” as a “C,” and the singer ends up singing higher or lower than they ever thought possible. I have heard many, many hours of Hawaii Calls broadcast recordings, and I have heard such mistakes. But for some reason there was nary a mistake when Haunani stepped up to the microphone – as if the musicians and singers alike tried just a little harder for her. Because Haunani simply could do no wrong under any circumstances.
I mention this because this set opens with a number for the hula (at which – as you have read here previously – I believe Haunani truly excelled). The group settled on quite a tricky arrangement for “Na Ka Pueo” – startling even me when Haunani took the first verse in the key of “C,” but then the ladies chorus takes the repeat of that verse in the key of “A.” Those who understand music theory will no doubt see the difficulty in getting from “C” to “A” in one bar of music. They are unrelated key centers. (“Am” is the relative minor of “C” – making getting “C” to “Am” a little easier. But there is no direct path from “C” to “A.” You’ll just have to trust a musician on this.) But the arrangement was quite intentional – putting a verse in a key comfortable for Haunani’s contralto and another verse in a key suited to the higher voiced ladies. But you could not trip up steel guitarist Barney Isaacs who upon seeing the “A” on the lead sheet took a vamp in E7. (Nice job, Barney!) But more surprising still is that for the last verse, the musicians deliberately stay in “A” after the ladies chorus finish up their verse – allowing Haunani to outdo even herself by closing out the song by making the leap from her contralto to her mezzosoprano.
“My Isle of Golden Dreams” was previously made famous in not one, but two recordings by Alfred Apaka earlier in the decade. He also performed the song frequently on the weekly radio broadcast. But now it was Haunani’s turn as she had just waxed the song for her then recent LP, Hawaii’s Favorite Singing Star: Haunani, released in the spring of 1962 and recorded with musicians culled from the Hawaii Calls group and a new vocal backing group led by Nina Keali`iwahamana. (This is also one of the few records in my vast archives to boast a colon in its title!) Here they use the same arrangement for the radio show as they used in the recording studio and – as they always did for Haunani – pulled it off with aplomb.
Finally, I continue to marvel at the number of songs performed by Hawaii Calls cast members which clearly have the feel and flair of a locally-written tune but which were written by someone far, far away from the islands. This time around it is “Blue Water and White Coral,” composed by two New York jazzmen, Sherman Ellis and Arthur Barduhn. There are few recordings of this song in its history, but according to my archives, Haunani is the only artist from Hawai`i ever to record it. Who knows if Haunani found the song or it found her, but either way the lush and lovely melody is perfect for her (and vice-versa). This was also included on the same LP release as “My Isle of Golden Dreams” performed earlier in the same 1962 broadcast.
I am winding down this day-long tribute to Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song.” But perhaps one last look at Haunani in action on video.
Next time: Because you have not yet seen Haunani do the hula…
Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her numerous appearances on the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…
The setting is the Wailua River on the island of Kaua`i where seemingly forever tourists have shelled out for a boat cruise through fern grottos in order to see the Garden Isle both inside and out. Romantic (if you do not have your four kids in tow). More romantic still if you are alone on the boat with one of the most sultry songstresses in the history of the islands.
But the real sense of adventure here is that Haunani and the musicians of Hawaii Calls tackle a then brand new film theme. Often simply called “Follow Me, it is, of course the “Love Theme from Mutiny on the Bounty” which was the hot film release of only two years earlier. It is most ambitious since the small group of musicians – despite being Hawai`i’s finest – needed to arrange the song previously intended for a full symphony orchestra. That task was likely handled by Benny Kalama who had previously accomplished such feats for the recordings of Broadway show tunes by his former boss, Alfred Apaka. (You may recall hearing here previously Benny’s arrangement of “Bali Ha`i” from South Pacific which Apaka performed on a 1957 broadcast.) Here Kalama comes up with just the perfect minimalist setting that still fairly represents the original film version while supporting the weightiness of Haunani’s deep, rich contralto.
If I have marveled previously that guys from New York or Saskatchewan could capture the feel of Hawai`i in songs they composed far from the islands, enter Polish-born Bronislau Kaper who was clearly a student of the music of Polynesia or otherwise could not have arrived at this masterpiece which won the Academy Award for Best Music – Song for “Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me).” (He also took home the prize for Best Music – Score for his work on the entire film from beginning to end.) The lyric is by Paul Francis Webster who shared the award with Kaper, and while this song would not become one that would be hummed by housewives across the nation, two of Webster’s other efforts would – “Secret Love” and “The Shadow Of Your Smile” – earning him still two more Best Music – Song statuettes from the Academy.
Finally, there is Haunani’s vocal performance – never clearer, never more technically precise, and never more haunting than it was here. Which is no doubt exactly as host Webley Edwards intended it since the TV version of his Hawaii Calls was aimed – like the radio program before it – at promoting tourism. I also have a recording of Haunani performing this song on the radio program during this period (in the same Benny Kalama arrangement), and it falls just shy of the perfection she achieved here. The visual setting helps, and we should be fortunate that this particular clip did not suffer the ravages of time as others have and can still be enjoyed in such vivid color. This is music in motion, Hawai`i in motion, and Haunani in motion. And I believe it is the high water mark for both the Hawaii Calls program and for Haunani as singer.
As Haunani never recorded this song in a studio for any of her LP releases, I, for one, feel fortunate that this performance was captured for posterity. I hope you have enjoyed seeing this clip – which has not materialized elsewhere for nearly 50 years – as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.
Next time: More Hawaii Calls radio and more forgotten Haunani Kahalewai magic…
Direct download: Haunani_Kahalewai_-_Love_Theme_From_Mutiny_On_The_Bounty.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:34am EDT
Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her time with the Hawaii Calls radio program…
Some say that Haunani was at her finest singing a slow, romantic love song. That is difficult to disagree with, but I would counter that Haunani may be at her finest when she sings a rollicking hula number. Take a listen to “A Kona Hema O Ka Lani,” an ancient chant dedicated to King Kalākaua (hence the title, which translate to “The King At South Kona”). (In the last verse you will hear the king referred to by one of his many nicknames, Kaulilua.) Like so many Hawaiian songs, it extols the virtues of the districts of Kona and Kohala on the island of Hawaiʻi, and you will hear Haunani cycle through the various towns there – Kaʻawaloa, Kawaihae, and Māhukona – as well reference the wind called ʻĀpaʻapaʻa that blows from Kohala to the north. (If you pay attention to Hawaiian song craft, you will notice that there isn’t merely a single word for “wind” in the Hawaiian lexicon. Rather, the winds of various areas of each island have been given unique names that describe the character of that particular wind. For this reason scholars of Hawaiian music have to keep a dictionary of Hawaiian wind names handy.) In the 20th century the chant was set to music and became a popular hula number in which the pu`ili – wands of bamboo split multiple times part of the way down their length so that when they are beaten against each other (or even against the hula dancer’s body) they make a percussive crash – are often used. Over and over again I have applauded the efforts of the brilliant engineers Hawaii Calls employed – in this era, likely Bob Lang – who attempted to capture every last nuance of a largely visual show somehow with an audio representation of it, and here you can clearly hear the flourish of the pu`ili wielded by the Hawaii Calls hula maids. More importantly, at these tempos it is important to notice how crisp Haunani’s pronunciation of the Hawaiian language is. And it has to be, and she knew it, because trained singers understand the deeper one’s voice, the more difficult it is for audiences to understand what you’re saying. Singing louder is not the fix; enunciating is. This is why the altos and basses in a choir have enunciation drilled into them so. But this speaks to just one aspect of Haunani’s incredible vocal technique which we might otherwise take for granted.
It is lovely to hear “Waipi`o” again as too often an English-language version – “Beyond The Rainbow,” which is not a translation of the original Hawaiian-language lyric – is performed instead. (I have recordings of Haunani singing either version and even both at the same time.) One popular source of Hawaiian song lyrics indicates that there may be some lingering dispute over who wrote the song. As Hawaiian music is a largely oral tradition, some such disputes linger forever. But not in this case since the song was published in numerous versions of Charles E. King’s popular song folios (in this case, the folio often known simply by its color – King’s “Blue Book”). The version of the folio copyrighted in 1948 clearly credits the song to George Allen and Mekia Kealakai (the latter the leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band in the early 20th century). The song honors Irene Kahalelauokekoa Holloway and her home at Waipi`o near Ewa on the island of O`ahu. I often accuse host Webley Edwards of “falling down on the job” when it comes to making his audiences aware of the many beautiful connections to be made between songs, places, and people – opting instead to weave in words Hawai`i’s mystical charms rather than let its colorful history stand on its own merit as it needs (in this writer’s opinion) no embellishment. If I had announced this song for the radio audience, I might have mentioned that Mrs. Holloway was the daughter of John Papa I`i - giving the song an immediate connection to the Hawaii Calls family since John I`i was related to one of the show’s original songstresses and its song librarian, Vicki I`i Rodrigues. The more interesting factoid still is that it means that John I`i’s distant relatives are performing the song in this moment as Vicki’s daughters Nina, Lani, and Lahela provide the harmonies for Haunani’s vocal lead. That, at least, is how I would have written scripts for Hawaii Calls, but while it is factually accurate, it is not nearly as magical.
Finally, the last song in this set is a true rarity as it was recorded probably only once by a Hawaiian entertainer. “Coral Isle” was composed by Earle C. Anthony, a West Coast businessman and wealthy philanthropist who dabbled in broadcasting and automobiles and who fancied himself a journalist, playwright, and – as you can hear – a songwriter. Composer and publisher Johnny Noble assisted Anthony with the tune which they copyrighted on June 7, 1937 – a little over 20 years before Haunani’s performance of it on Hawaii Calls. Who can say if this song was a staple of the repertoires of local Hawai`i entertainers, but the historical record indicates that it was only recorded once by a Hawaiian – Ray Kinney of the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. Haunani never recorded it – making it even more of a rarity. I feel the need to apologize for the conspicuous splice in the song where several seconds appear to have gone missing, but as I indicated earlier, such is the condition in which I received the tapes, and so we should be thankful to have even a glimpse at this performance at all.
We will continue to honor Haunani since she is clearly worthy of the honor and because there remains much more of her material to be mined in the Ho`olohe Hou archives that has not been heard in over 50 years.
Next time: Haunani Kahalewai simply stuns in a set piece from the Hawaii Calls TV show – a performance I consider to be her crowning glory…
Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…
Of the scant 26 episodes of the TV version of Hawaii Calls (which ran during the 1965-66 season), Haunani appears in more than half of them. With national recording contracts – first with Capitol, then with Decca – and her weekly appearances on the radio version of the show for nearly seven years at this point, Haunani was by that time a household name on par with Alfred Apaka before her. And host Webley Edwards capitalized on her fame by featuring her on the TV show as often as possible.
Haunani’s repertoire for Hawaii Calls mirrored the set list for her weekly engagement in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room. And one staple of her set was the Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ swinger “`Auhea `Oe.” If you are a frequent reader/listener of Ho`olohe Hou, then perhaps you heard Papa Alvin sing his own composition before in concert with his sons Norman and Barney. But I did not tell you much at all about what the song means. But do I really need to? Like so many of his compositions, here Alvin again dabbles in kaona (layers of poetic meaning or metaphor) to craft a song which reminds us where cuddling can lead. Except for the most part the kaona is not so discreet after all:
E huli mai ‘oe / You turn to me
Kūpono iho / Rise up and go down
I luna i lalo / Up and down
ʻIʻo ia nei / This is true love
Āhē nani ʻiʻo no / True love so beautiful
The English-language lyric – with its “yacka hicky” gibberish and reference to Chattanooga, Tennessee – is obviously not a translation of the Hawaiian. But, more surprisingly, its focus on the hula – still a curiosity on the mainland U.S. when this song was written – belies the original Hawaiian lyric’s more intimate nature. The song is a natural for Haunani who plays it relatively straight except for a bounce, a smile, and an occasional eye roll.
The group that performed with Haunani in the Monarch Room was – like Alfred Apaka’s group – comprised largely of members of the Hawaii Calls band including steel guitarist Barney Isaacs who always plays his solo differently (as evidenced by comparing the version here with the version from Haunani’s live LP, The Voice of Hawaii). But the TV version benefits from a second guitar solo – this one likely from Pua Almeida as that is certainly his jazzy style.
While Haunani made many appearances on the few episodes of the Hawaii Calls TV program, she often repeated her signature songs on multiple episodes. I have mentioned previously that the producers made some curious choices throughout the show’s history, and this is no exception: While they used the same pre-recorded audio track of the same song, they often filmed the visuals in two different locations. There is an alternate video of “`Auhea `Oe” in which Haunani is in a park strumming an `ukulele as she sings for a pair of hula dancers, but it uses the exact same audio track as the clip you see here. Again, this speaks to host Edwards’ assumption that mainland audiences would never know the difference – that if they had never seen the visual before, they would never know they were hearing the same song twice only a few weeks after the first time they heard it.
I hope you are enjoying seeing and hearing Haunani again. But as she did her best work on the radio version of the show, and as there is just so much material there to mine, we return now to closing our eyes and letting our ears do the seeing for us.
Next time: More of Haunani from the late 1950s and early 1960s from the live radio broadcasts…
Sat, 22 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and the Hawaii Calls radio program…
I have mentioned here previously that at various periods in its history Hawaii Calls was hampered by a shortage of material. With a song library of approximately 1,500 titles and with the cast performing no fewer than ten songs for each weekly episode, the show could not go more than three years without repeating a title. Fortunately or unfortunately, Edwards favored some songs more than others – often featuring the same song twice within a few weeks of each other but by two different singers (which demonstrates, I think, a particular disdain for his mainland audiences which did not speak Hawaiian and which he probably felt “would never know the difference”). This was particularly true with any brand new composition which the show would cling to desperately until they rung the life out of it. Such is the case with the comic hula “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands,” a new song published in 1957 and composed by Mary Johnson (often credited as “Liko Johnston”) and Tony Todaro (the songwriting duo responsible for such hapa-haole favorites as “Somewhere In Hawaii” and “There’s No Place Like Hawaii”). It made its debut in the 20th Century Fox film The Revolt of Mamie Stover in which it was sung by Jane Russell. But less than a year after its film debut, “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands” was performed twice on Hawaii Calls within just a few weeks of each other – first by Sonny Nicholas (a version heard here earlier), and then again by Haunani. Fortunately the cast had not rung the life out of the number by the time Haunani got around to it. And, if anything, the cast breathed new life into it for their then new girl singer with the addition of the “doo-wop” background vocals by the show’s male chorus led by Benny Kalama and the jazzy steel guitar of Jules Ah See. (Listen as Jules uses his steel to emulate a “wolf whistle” in the bridge.)
Mary Jane Montano composed the lyrics for “Old Plantation,” a 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 set the lyric to music, a melodic and harmonic wonder 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 C – to its relative minor – Am – and then to the dominant – G.) And, in an interesting twist to the arrangement, Hawaii Calls arranger Al Kealoha Perry complicates the song even further – unexpectedly moving to the unrelated key center from C (when Haunani opens the song solo) to A (when the ladies chorus joins her). The combined voices of the ladies of Hawaii Calls stir the heart – even for those who do not understand the Hawaiian lyric – and the harmonics from Jules’ steel guitar are like stars shining over the Ward estate.
Finally, Haunani and the cast reach back 20 years to a song from 1937, the popular “Song Of Old Hawaii” with lyrics by Gordon Beecher and music by composer/publisher Johnny Noble. This chestnut of the Hawaiian music canon epitomizes the hapa-haole idiom – songs about Hawai`i’s unique charms but written in English for all the world to understand.
As we listen to Haunani’s voice again together, it makes me long to actually see Haunani perform just once. If only there were video of her from this era.
Oh, but there is.
Next time: Haunani Kahalewai in motion again for the first time in nearly 50 years…
Sat, 22 November 2014
While Hawaii Calls creator and host Webley Edwards was known to recruit well established stars of the local Hawai`i music scene for the show, Haunani Kahalewai was – as accurately recounted by cast member Nina Keali`iwahamana in a 1980 interview with KCCN Radio – a product of the radio show. Born in Hilo on the island of Hawai`i, Haunani largely lived and worked in obscurity. But eventually her voice was used for the soundtrack of a movie filmed on location in Hawai`i, and when Edwards heard the soundtrack and that voice – ranging from her pure contralto to a soaring mezzosoprano, which was used to full effect on that soundtrack with her voice soaring well above the chorus – he simply said, "Find that voice!" Hawaii Calls longtime arranger/conductor Al Kealoha Perry found Haunani working at a small resort on Kaua`i and recruited her to join the cast.
Edwards was right about his hunch, and Haunani quickly went from regular cast member to one of Hawaii Calls superstars – in terms of her popularity, becoming the show’s female equivalent of Alfred Apaka. Whether singing in the contralto or the mezzosoprano range, audiences immediately recognized her rare and unique voice, and she became known worldwide simply by her first name. She first appeared on record on the fourth LP in the series spawned by Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records, Waikiki!, released in 1957. As there is little documented history about Haunani Kahalewai and her time with Hawaii Calls (or, for that matter, as the successful solo artist she became), the release of this recording likely marks the approximate year she joined the cast of radio show. The Ho`olohe Hou archives corroborate this since she does not appear on a Hawaii Calls radio broadcast until that same year.
That we must take educated guesses about such matters is a pity. As influential as Haunani became as a local Hawai`i recording artist, as critically important as she was in spreading Hawaiian music across the country and around the globe with her national recording contracts with Capitol and Decca, and with a voice like no other with a supernatural three-and-a-half octave range, Haunani does not merit so much as a Wikipedia page (Alfred Apaka does) or a personal fan site. She does not even warrant an entry in the seminal work on the history of the music industry in Hawai`i (Kanahele and Berger’s Hawaiian Music & Musicians) – not even as a footnote to the entry on Hawaii Calls. There are no commercially available CDs of her music, and a quick glance at iTunes reveals that there is only one MP3 download available. In other words, Haunani remains as obscure now as before Webley Edwards discovered her on that movie soundtrack. And this, after all, is why Ho`olohe Hou exists: To preserve the memories and voices of the entertainers who defined Hawaiian music over the last century. So it gives me great honor and pride to use this space to give new life to songs Haunani performed on Hawaii Calls in its heyday and which have likely been heard nowhere else in the 50 years since their original broadcast.
At first listen these radio broadcasts will sound like time-worn LP records complete with ticks, clicks, pops, and even the occasional skip. This is because Hawaii Calls programs – because of the limitations of technology and time zones – were never really aired “live.” In the earliest days of the program, the only means of long-distance transmissions of such broadcasts was shortwave radio. But by the Haunani era of the program in the late 1950s, the show employed an elaborate system of transcription recorders which cut the radio shows direct to disc as if they were in a recording studio. These discs were sent out to radio stations and played over the air like the records they were. Most of these transcription records were tossed or destroyed by the radio stations because Hawaii Calls was never in reruns – offering a new program each week. The Ho`olohe Hou vaults maintain instead open reel copies of these shows – likely preserved by the radio stations or private collectors on tape before tossing the shellac or vinyl originals. Hindsight being what it is, we now know this was a huge mistake since in the long run tape is a far more fragile medium than vinyl or shellac – subject to differences in temperature and humidity that sturdier media are not. In a best case, climate subjects magnetic tape to expansion and contraction that results in occasional variations of speed – known as “wow and flutter,” which to the ear sounds like the music randomly speeding up and slowing down or changing pitch. Sometimes the tape merely becomes brittle and snaps – requiring a “splice” where the tape is rejoined together, resulting in some loss of music at the splice, which to the ear will sound like a “skip.” But in a worst case, I spooled up a 1950s show on open reel tape that was so fragile that the magnetic particles of the tape were unspooling and falling to the floor like so much brown dust before they ever crossed the tape machine head. In other words, I was watching the music disintegrate before I ever got to hear it. I have no idea what was lost to the ravages of time on that particular reel. Suffice it to say, I have pulled together an hour of material by Haunani Kahalewai, but the remastering of that material has taken nearly five times as long. Trust that this was an absolute labor of love, but the upshot is that in this digital era where there is little tolerance for less-than-CD quality recordings, we will have to agree to tolerate subpar sound quality 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.
I usually subscribe to the show biz axiom “save the best for last,” but I open this set with one of my favorite moments from the Hawaii Calls radio shows. Haunani has been known to perform and record in languages from Hawaiian to English, Tahitian to French, even Fijian. Here she opens a late 1950s episode of the program with the Tahitian aparima “Marcelle Vahine,” in an arrangement that features everything you could hope for in a Hawaii Calls production number: an a capella cold open from Haunani and the ladies trio comprised of sisters Nina, Lani, and Lahela before the men’s chorus led by Benny Kalama chimes in and Jules Ah See’s steel guitar sets the tempo for the musicians. This performance reminds us of what Webley Edwards was trying to accomplish with the program and so often did successfully: Convince audiences that heaven is in Hawai`i.
Fans of Hawaiian music are likely familiar with the iconic recording of “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight” by Gabby Pahinui from the 1970s – one of the few recordings in circulation on which the slack key guitar folk hero plays his first instrument, the steel guitar. So it is an interesting contrast to hear the song played here nearly 20 years earlier by steel guitarist Jules Ah See with Haunani taking the vocal lead. In this typically Hawaiian arrangement, it is difficult to believe that this hapa-haole tune that is a favorite of all Hawaiians was written by the Nashville songwriting duo of Al Dexter and James Paris.
Similarly, it is almost as inconceivable that the beautiful but rarely performed “Hawaii Sang Me To Sleep” was composed by a pair of guys from New York City and New Jersey. Matty Malneck was primarily known as a string player specializing in violin and viola, but he was known to write a few good tunes (such as “Goody, Goody,” a staple of the repertoires of such pop and jazz icons as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald). Frank Loesser is probably the more famous of the two, having earned multiple Tony Awards for writing both the lyrics and music to such beloved Broadway hits as Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The pair teamed up to score the 1939 Universal Pictures release Hawaiian Nights which featured an orchestra led by steel guitar great Sol Ho`opi`i. Few performers in Hawai`i have touched the song (and it has rarely been recorded since the 78 rpm era). But Haunani touches it here and makes magic with it.
This is just the beginning of a lengthy tribute to Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song. This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening…
Next time: More forgotten classics from Haunani and Hawaii Calls…