Thu, 27 November 2014
The most requested song on Hawaii Calls – at least, by people in love - was likely “Ke Kali Nei Au,” often referred to as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” The song was not heard as much outside of Hawai`i before 1959 as it was after 1959 – not because this was the year in which Hawai`i became a state, but because this was the year that national singing sensation Andy Williams released his version (which went to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), followed immediately by Elvis Presley’s version from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii.
But the title “Hawaiian Wedding Song” is a bit of a misrepresentation. Penned by prolific composer Charles E. King, the original Hawaiian lyric has nothing to do with marriage. King wrote the original “Ke Kali Nei Au” for a Hawaiian language opera, Prince of Hawai`i, which was first performed at the Liberty Theater in Honolulu on May 4, 1925 and whose cast included Ray Kinney (of Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room” fame) as the titular prince. The first recording of “Ke Kali Nei Au” – written as a duet for male and female – did not take place until three years later in a 1928 session for Columbia Records and featured soprano Helen Desha Beamer and baritone Samuel Kapu – the very same Sam Kapu who was with the Hawaii Calls cast almost from its inception in 1935 through the late 1950s (including its earliest LP records). But regardless of its origins or meaning, some of the most memorable versions of the song were waxed by the cast members of Hawaii Calls. (One must-hear recording is the version by Don Paishon and Nina Keali`iwahamana.) But I thought I would serve up a few very rare versions from the Hawaii Calls radio show which have likely not been heard since their original airing more than 50 years ago.
The first version is the one you thought you’d likely never hear – from Hawaii Calls’ two megastars of the 1950s, Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai. It is unlikely for a number of reasons. One is that Alfred and Haunani did not always appear on the program together. So the stars aligned – literally and figuratively – for this performance. But the other reason is that we are used to hearing Haunani sing in her low contralto, and Charles E. King wrote the female part of the duet on “Ke Kali Nei Au” pretty high – regardless of the key in which it is being performed. So this is one of those rare occasions when we hear Haunani reach into the highest stratosphere of her nearly three-and-a-half octave range for her mezzosoprano on this duet. And it is stunning. (Note that a version of the song by this duo was eventually released on the CD Memories of Hawaii Calls – Volume 2. But if you listen to both versions, the version you hear here is different from the one released on CD – making this a rarity indeed.)
I have said – as recently as the previous article in this series – that Sonny Nicholas did not have the star power of an Alfred Apaka or a Haunani Kahalewai and was often relegated to singing the show’s comic hula numbers (to which, fortunately, his voice was well suited). But, fortunately for us, here again Sonny was given the spotlight in a duet with lovely Lani Custino. The two never paired up in a recording studio – making this another rarity.
Finally, the version nobody would have imagined existed. In my humble opinion, this is the finest version of the song ever to be captured on tape. And, ironically, neither of the duet partners is a woman! Alfred Apaka once again takes the male vocal lead, but his partner taking the wahine part of the duet is none other than the legendary falsetto George Kainapau! In mining my Hawaii Calls archives, this was perhaps my greatest find. But this was not the first meeting of these two Hawaiian music icons on record. From the “Before They Were Famous” files, both Apaka and Kainapau performed at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room with Ray Kinney shortly after its opening in 1937 – nearly 20 years before this reunion – and they were captured together in the recording studio many times in that era (some of those sides heard here previously at Ho`olohe Hou). But adding still more to the lore of this recording, listen as host Webley Edwards announces the supporting vocalists on this number which includes cast member Sam Kapu who made the first recording of the song under the direction of its composer Charles E. King nearly 30 years earlier – bringing this set full circle.
As this was one of the most performed songs in Hawaii Calls’ history, in the future Ho`olohe Hou will explore still more renditions of this most popular duet by the rest of the cast.
Next time: A series of rare performances from the Hawaii Calls TV program by artists who never appeared on the radio show…
Thu, 27 November 2014
I have been transitioning from 1950s-era Hawaii Calls into the 1960s by introducing the new members of the ever-changing cast when I came across a tape from the previous era too precious to ignore. So with the kind indulgence of my readers for this “temporal shift,” I am compelled to back-up just a few years and present a gem of an episode of Hawaii Calls from an unknown date in 1957 which brings together the many stars – and supporting cast – of the program which hopefully you have already gotten to know a little by now through this nearly three-week long tribute to Hawaii Calls here at Ho`olohe Hou. And this episode is proof that – in the case of Hawaii Calls – the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts. (And the parts were already rock solid!)
The show opens with the sound of the waves and the chant of greeting, followed immediately by the fastest version of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s composition “`A`oia” that I have ever heard. Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song,” Haunani Kahalewai, takes the lead here with crystal-clear and crisp `olelo (a reference to her pronunciation of the Hawaiian language). She is joined by what host Webley Edwards refers to as the “High Trio,” meaning the ladies voices of sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana and Lani Custino along with Punini McWayne. (The third sister, Lahela Rodrigues, would not join the cast until a few years later – replacing Punini on her departure.) Listen here, too, to a fine example of Jules Ah See’s jazzy steel guitar style.
Next up, Alfred Apaka sings “Dreams of Old Hawaii,” a song composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre was one of the early international superstars of Hawaiian music. You may recall reading here at Ho`olohe Hou that he was the bandleader for nearly 15 years at the famed “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel in New York City from 1937 through 1951. What you may not recall is that McIntyre returned to Hawai`i several times throughout his Hawaiian Room tenure to recruit more talent for the show there, and one of his recruits was a then very young Alfred Apaka.
When writing about Sonny Nicholas previously, I mentioned two important things to know about him: That he was not considered a “star” of the radio program, and that he had a way with singing a comic hula number. Here both of these truisms are momentarily debunked as Sonny steps out in front of the rhythm section – which was his usual domain – to take the spotlight next to Haunani Kahalewai in a duet on “O Makalapua,” a song which honors Hawai`i’s beloved Queen Lili`uokalani, referencing her by her many nicknames (such as “Kamaka`eha" and “Makalapua”).
Now Alfred Apaka steps up to the microphone once again for a number largely associated with him, “Lovely Hula Girl.” The song was co-written by Jack Pitman (who also gave us such hapa-haole classics as “Beyond The Reef,” “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Goodnight, Leilani E,” and “Lani” which honors Hawaii Calls’ own Lani Custino) and Randy Oness (the bandleader who gave Apaka his first job in show business as the “boy singer” with Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiians).
After the reading of the air and water temperature – a staple of the program that audiences relied upon – and a steel guitar interlude from Jules Ah See (and, because there is no lyric here, you might not be able to tell the tune is “Aloha Sunset Land”), Haunani graces us with a song one last time. With the help of the “High Trio” once again, Haunani sings an old Hawaiian standard in waltz time, “Sweet Lei Mamo,”
I hope you agree that it was worth breaking the continuity of the timeline of our tribute to Hawaii Calls to step back a few years to hear this rare intact segment of the show featuring both of its superstars of that period – Haunani Kahalewai and Alfred Apaka – which likely has not been heard in the more than 50 years since it first aired.
But hearing the duet by Sonny and Haunani makes me long to hear more duets.
Next time: Three different pairs of voices team up for duets on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” – one of which you will not believe…