#1 - Don Ho - The Don Ho Christmas Album

By 1967 Ho had already conquered the mainland U.S. with his two live albums, sold out runs at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles and the Royal Box in New York City, and his signature tune, “Tiny Bubbles.” But if he hadn’t, he would have with The Don Ho Christmas Album. 

Make no mistake: While Ho was a musician from Hawai`i, we cannot say exactly that he performed Hawaiian music. Nor would he have said it. With help from a swinging group of young men whose acquaintance he made while in the Air Force (the quintet known as The Aliis) and a songwriter with Hawaiian roots but pop sensibilities (Kui Lee), Ho and crew set out to turn traditional Hawaiian music on its ear and pave a new path forward. On stage, Ho was all Chivas Regal-fueled swagger and Conqueror of Co-eds, and the sing-alongs that pervaded his twice and thrice nightly (or morning-ly) set lists might have given on-lookers the impression that Ho was all flash and no substance – the master master of ceremonies and a showman’s showman but not much of a singer if he had to have the audience do most of the work for him. 

The Don Ho Christmas Album proves all such theories patently untrue. While Ho was the showman’s showman, he was also the singer’s singer – a talent he rarely had the opportunity to demonstrate given his competing priorities. On the Waikiki strip where Ho held court for decades, crowd-pleasing was more important than raw vocal talent, and Ho could not show off his chops doing “E Lei Ka Lei Lei.” But when he sang a serious Kui Lee song – “If I Had It To Do All Over Again” and “I’ll Remember You” leap to mind – his performance was deeply moving. The reason that Ho could cast a spell over his audiences is because he was first and foremost a storyteller – perhaps the single most important quality of the best singers. When Ho sang good material, he was as good as Sinatra or Mathis or as soulful as Lou Rawls. So when he opens his holiday album with Kui Lee’s “The Song of Christmas,” despite that it was 84 degrees and sunny in Hollywood when he recorded the album, wherever you are you are seated by a roaring fire as snowflakes begin to fall, and it is Christmas. 

In case you have forgotten (or never knew), Ho could have recorded for local favorite Hula Records which would have given him very limited distribution. But with his talent, a little luck, and a whole lot of patience, he held out for the bigger, better deal and was eventually hand-picked by Sinatra himself for his newly launched Reprise Records (which would not long after its inauguration be swallowed up by the Warner Bros. conglomerate). Perhaps Sinatra saw more than a little of himself in Ho – the way that the co-eds flocked to him in much the same way the bobby-soxers had swooned over the crooner two decades earlier. Or perhaps Sinatra saw in Ho some previously unimaginable combination of himself, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. – professional singer, professional drinker, and professional do-whatever-you-have-to-do-to-grab-your-audience-by-the-shirt-collar-and-never-let-them-go. A one-man Rat Pack. But in reviewing The Don Ho Christmas Album, AllMusic contributor Lindsay Planer hits on the thing that even I (as Ho’s self-proclaimed biggest fan – more about that another time) overlooked for more than 40 years when he writes, “The likeness in style and delivery between Ho and Crosby has never been as vividly pronounced as it is here.” 

And this is why The Don Ho Christmas Album ranks #1 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. Not only was Ho as good a singer as Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat Cole, Johnny Mathis, Vic Damone, Jack Jones, or any of the other jazz-flavored pop singers of the era, he assembled a list of classic songs each of which must be heard at least once during each holiday season (and eschewed – as cute as they may be – the local-flavored offerings like “Here Comes Santa In A Red Canoe” and “Numbah One Day of Christmas”). And the one local favorite he did record, Alex Anderson’s classic “Mele Kalikimaka,” he recorded in a manner that it had not been recorded before or since – giving it an air and gravity that puts it on par with such beloved holiday treasures as Percy Faith’s “Christmas Is…” and Mel Torme and Bob Wells’ “The Christmas Song” (both covered on the album as well). So “Mele Kalikimaka” does not stand out (as it might on a Jimmy Buffett album) as a feeble attempt to turn a pop album into a Hawaiian album. Just the opposite: Ho took a Hawaiian song and made it a universally acceptable pop song. 

And this, essentially, is the theme for the entire album. This is not Ho’s “Hawaiian Christmas Album.” This is Ho announcing to the world… We are Hawaiian, but we are serious musicians. Deal with it. This was serious music from an oft playful presence who just also happened to have serious vocal ability. 

And this seriousness could not have been put forth any finer than by Sinatra’s personal first choice for arranging strings since 1957, Gordon Jenkins, who arranged for strings or full orchestra two of Sinatra’s moodiest offerings, Where Are You? and No One Cares, and who not coincidentally arranged Sinatra’s finest Christmas album, A Jolly Christmas from Frank. In other words, The Don Ho Christmas Album might have been titled A Jolly Christmas from Don for it was a fitting follow-up to Frank’s previous effort and stands up – to this day – to any of the classic holiday albums from any of the above named male vocalists of the era. 

For the quality of its arranging, the collective musicianship, the selection of classic holiday material, Ho’s vocal performance, and the reality that Ho did not create an album aimed solely at his local Hawai`i fan base but at the mainland U.S. (and, dare I say, the world), The Don Ho Christmas Album ranks at this elite position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. You can hear the entire lush album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. 

The few selections from the album offered here are my favorites and (I think) a fitting way to wish my reader/listeners the best and brightest of holidays and my sincerest mahalo for making 2014 the most successful year in Ho`olohe Hou’s seven year history. Here’s looking forward to whatever adventures in Hawaiian music and entertainment await us in the year ahead. Thank you for making the effort worthwhile. 

From my house to yours, Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau`oli Makahiki Hou… 

~ Bill Wynne 


Direct download: 1_Christmas_-_Don_Ho_-_The_Don_Ho_Christmas_Album.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:57am EDT

Genoa Keawe - Po La`i E (Silent Night)

More than a decade into her recording career while still with the oddly named 49th State Records (the record label which gave her a start in the record business in 1947), Genoa Keawe and Her Hula Maids recorded a few holiday-themed singles. By 1959 these would be compiled – along with singles from other 49th State artists – into the LP entitled Santa’s Gone Hawaiian. As you can tell by the image here, while the album has been remastered and rereleased on CD and MP3 courtesy of Michael Cord and his Hana Ola/Cord International enterprise, my coveted original copy was stamped (as many 49th State releases were in the era) on red vinyl. (The dirty secret is that while the records may have been prettier, the cheap vinyl used to press such colorful records was actually of the lowest quality and resulted in a terrible sounding record right out of the package.)

Of the many selections Aunty Genoa recorded with a Christmas flavor, my favorite has always been “Po La`i E” – a Hawaiian version of “Silent Night.” A natural born cynic, I often wonder if artists that make Christmas-themed recordings put stock in what they are singing about. (And this is particularly true when such popular Jewish artists as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan sing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Holy Night,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”) But when we hear Aunty Genoa sing “Silent Night,” those who knew her believe her because we knew and understood her deep and abiding faith because for her it was the aspect of her life that came before all else – the thing that made all other things possible. When Aunty Genoa sings of a Savior born unto us, we believe her because she was a Believer, and her voice has the power and conviction to make a Believer of others.

And this is why I can’t help but think of Aunty Genoa on this day and why Ho`olohe Hou offers up her unique rendition of “Po La`i E” as our special gift to friends and followers of this site. Thank you for making 2014 the most special year ever – a year filled with friendships old and new, all rooted in our love of Hawaiian music and culture.

With love and best wishes for all good things in this season and always…

~ Bill Wynne 


Direct download: 04_Hoolohe_Hou_-_12-16-07.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:04am EDT

Alfred Apaka - Joy To The World

Here is something you would rarely hear in that era in Hawaiian music (and rarely still today) – an a capella Christmas carol performed by a group primarily known for its way with steel guitars and `ukulele. 

From a holiday-themed EP on the Hawaiian Village Records label (signifying that it was bankrolled by Hawaiian Village Hotel owner/creator Henry J. Kaiser), Alfred Apaka and his group, the Hawaiian Village Serenaders (notice the theme here?) led by Benny Kalama, offered up holiday favorites in their unmatched and unmistakable style. “Winter Wonderland” and the medley of “Mele Kalikimaka/Jingle Bells” feature Kalama’s usual arranging and the steel guitar magic of Jules Ah See. But the real stand-out here was something Apaka had not done before (and did not have the opportunity to do ever again when his life was tragically cut short): Sing a capella, allowing us to truly appreciate the voices of Apaka and the group without instrumental accompaniment. For this they chose “Hau`oli Ka Honua” – or “Joy To The World.” And it is pure joy. 

I could have spun the entire EP for you to enjoy, but the real rarity here is the a capella rendering (a style I am now affectionately referring to as Apakapella). I hope you enjoy it. It is my special thanks to a special friend for allowing me to use the Facebook communities he created to share my rants and ravings about Hawai`i’s illustrious music and entertainment history with a bevy of like-minded people who care about this music as deeply as I do. So, mahalo and Mele Kalikimaka e Jeff Apaka. 

If you have appreciated the last more than 100 posts about Hawaiian music history from my blog (www.hoolohehou.org) that I have reposted on Jeff Apaka’s Facebook community pages (Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s and 60’s and Waikiki & Honolulu in the 70’s and 80’s), I hope you will support my next endeavor in Hawaiian music edutainment to be announced here on January 5th. 

As I used to say at the end of my radio show each week… This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening… 

~ Bill Wynne 


Direct download: 03_Hoolohe_Hou_-_12-16-07.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 4:59am EDT

Lucky Luck - Kanaka Christmas

I have been waiting to share this piece for days. But you have to wait until Christmas Eve to read (or hear) “`Twas The Night Before Christmas…” (In fact, I think that’s a law in certain jurisdictions that you have to wait – like not listening to “Alice’s Restaurant” before noon on Thanksgiving.) 

As I have written here previously, the nature of comedy in Hawai`i is far different than practically anywhere else in the world. At the heart of Hawai`i’s unique approach to humor is that it is one of the most ethnically diverse spots on the planet, and these many different cultures needed to learn to co-exist peacefully on an island. So while the rest of the world has eschewed ethnic humor as perpetuating racism and stereotypes, for many in Hawai`i the differences between ethnicities are so apparent that not pointing them out would be the equivalent of ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. It is the humorist’s job to observe and point out the obvious, turn it on its side, look at it through a different lens, and make us laugh about things we already knew. This often takes the form of “men are different from women because…” and “blue collar is different from white collar because…” In Hawai`i, therefore, if you intend to do humor that is uniquely “local,” you have very little material if you don’t look to ethnic differences. With time, as political and cultural sensitivities have risen to a fever pitch practically everywhere, some have become more critical of such practices. (I just read a tirade on YouTube by some Filipinos about Frank Delima’s “Filipino Christmas.” While half expressed outrage, the other half of the Filipinos referred to Delima as a “comic genius” and indicated that it is possibly the funniest thing they had ever seen. As a Filipino-American, I agree. And I agree all over again every time I put on a hot pink or lime green shirt. Some would argue that stereotypes exist for a reason.) 

Humor in Hawai`i is so unique in the comedy universe that it has even merited examination in The Hawaiian Journal of History. In his article Humor in Hawai`i: Past and Present, Dr. Harvey Mindess explores the art of comedy as it has blossomed in such an ethnically diverse locale as Hawai`i.  

One of the things the residents of those Islands have to teach the rest of us is that humor—even ethnic humor—can be a friendly way of expressing affection for one another, not a form of demeaning attack. Most of us feel as protective of our ethnicity as we do of our families. It is as basic a part of who we are, as is our masculinity or femininity. As we all know that anti-Semitism and prejudice against Blacks, Indians, Chicanos and other ethnic groups have sponsored unfairness and viciousness on the part of racists, it is no wonder that many members of ethnic groups are highly sensitive to any suggestion that their group may be even slightly flawed. But we are all less than perfect as individual human beings, so how could the groups to which we belong be faultless? 

The challenge is to differentiate between ethnic slurs in jokes' clothing and ethnic jokes as they exist in Hawai'i: a mostly-friendly form of kidding each other by unveiling one's own and each other's frailties. The difference between ethnic jokes and ethnic slurs is the difference between a pat on the tush and a kick in the butt. 

What the residents of Hawai'i have to teach us in general is even more important. All the foregoing evidence of humor in Hawai'i, from its earliest days to the 21st century, suggests that, faced with threatening or disastrous situations, the Hawai'i populace might be inclined to use their sense of humor to keep their spirits up. And in fact, that appears to be precisely the case. 

Any exploration of local Hawai`i comedy must also include an examination of the local (and quite legitimate) language referred to as pidgin – a combination of English, Hawaiian, Chinese, and other languages that came to Hawai`i with its many “settlers.” (Note that while locals call the language “pidgin,” that is not, in fact, the name of any language. It is the technical linguistic term for any new language anywhere that was created locally by its people and which likely would not be spoken outside of that region. And, more accurately still, a new language should rightfully only be referred to as a “pidgin” for the first 25 years of existence. As Hawai`i pidgin is nearly 100 years old, it should more appropriately be called a “creole.”) Pidgin began to gain prominence on stage, radio, and TV in the 1950s and 60s with such hosts and comedians as Kent Bowman, Lippy Espinda, and Lucky Luck. The question we might ask is… Why did these comedians choose pidgin as their medium? Dr. Mindess may hold the answer:  

Pidgin, the language created by the immigrant laborers in Hawaii to help them communicate with one another, is a humorous tongue, not a polite one. Like Ebonics for Blacks and Yinglish for Jews, it helps draw its users together by endorsing their inclination to amuse themselves and each other. 

Simply put, these comedians chose pidgin as their currency because it is a language that doesn’t belong to any one ethnic group but which was co-constructed by all of the ethnic groups and therefore belongs to everybody. 

Still, it is an unusual language to speak – and with such fluency – for a guy like Lucky Luck, a haole born and raised in St. Louis (Missouri – not the Catholic high school in Kaimuki). Melvin Luck (his real last name) stayed in Hawai`i after his tour of duty in the military there and made good as a comedian, disc-jockey, TV host, and sometimes actor. (See the early episodes of Hawaii Five-O for his star turns on the cop drama as well as his cameo in the Elvis Presley vehicle Blue Hawaii.) But one might argue that Luck’s background is not unlike anybody else’s who came to Hawai`i – he was once a stranger there too – so why shouldn’t he achieve fluency in pidgin? 

In the early 1960s fellow pidgin comedian Kent Bowman recorded his version of “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” in pidgin for Don McDiarmid’s Hula Records. (It is included on the #17 album on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i Mele Kalikimaka – A Hawaiian Christmas Party – which is hosted by Bowman.) But a year or two later, Lucky Luck laid down his version – which was slightly different – on a 45 rpm under the title “Kanaka Christmas.” I thought that those who remember Lucky Luck fondly from “sma’ keed times” and “hanabata days” (pidgin terms – the latter of which I would be happy to translate for the unindoctrinated) would enjoy hearing Luck again after more than 50 years. And for those of you who do not hear pidgin often (or perhaps are hearing it for the first time), there is no finer introduction than Lucky Luck and this humorous take on a Christmas classic which – ironically – does not poke fun at any of Hawai`i’s ethnic groups. 

So much more to say, but the story reminds me that I have to go set another trap for the `iole nibbling around my recycling cans. I believe I heard them stirring – possibly a pot of tripe stew. 

~ Bill Wynne 


Direct download: 02_Hoolohe_Hou_-_12-16-07.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 6:57am EDT

#2 - Teresa Bright -  A Bright Christmas

When writing about the selection ranking #3 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i, I asserted that The Brothers Cazimero blazed a new path in contemporary Hawaiian music – successfully melding tradition and innovation – to create a new style and sound unlike anything attempted previously. I also mentioned that such innovation – in the face of staunch traditionalism and the offense and injury they would surely leave in their wake – carries with it an element of bravery. In this regard artists like Teresa Bright owe a debt of gratitude to Robert and Roland for an album like A Bright Christmas would not have been possible just a few years earlier before Robert and Roland set the stage and took their lumps from the kupuna so that those who followed wouldn’t have to (or, at least, not quite as severely). 

Teresa burst on to the local music scene in the early 1980s while still a student at the University of Hawai`i. She released three albums with then partner Steve Mai`i – the last of which yielded Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award Song of the Year “Uwehe, `Ami, and Slide.” After splitting from partner Mai’i, Bright took a nearly five year hiatus from recording while quietly launching her solo career before reemerging like a butterfly from its cocoon with the 1990 classic Self Portrait which earned her two more Hōkū Awards (for Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year) – at which point Ms. Bright’s career was living up to her ambitious name. Self Portrait was audacious in its simplicity – some tracks featuring as few as two musicians, a template with which she was familiar from her duo days. But it was the arranging combined with her voice – which simply can do no wrong – which captivated the hearts of local fans. Teresa was just the artist to usher in the new decade for Hawaiian music. 

After the follow up, Painted Tradition, in 1994, only a year later – only two albums into her solo career – Teresa went into the studio to work on her first holiday-themed release, A Bright Hawaiian Christmas. The release was everything fans had come to expect. Possessing a voice that excelled at jazz and pop as well as traditional Hawaiian fare, the first Christmas album moved easily back and forth from the rockabilly swagger of “Jingle Bell Rock” to the surprising “Po La`i E” (“Silent Night”) which is at first softly jazz before a gospel choir emerges and we are transported to vespers at a New Orleans church. It was a beautiful album from top to bottom. 

But then, only five years later, Bright gave her fans another Christmas gift with a second holiday album. Entitled A Christmas Season’s Delight, the second album fulfilled the seemingly impossible promise of surpassing the beauty of the first with a power and majesty all its own. From the jazzy waltz-time “What Child Is This” with the vibes leading the way to the Bossa Nova-tinged “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with full orchestra featuring a lush string section to the astounding “Carol of the Bells” conceived a la The Carpenters and featuring a choir of seemingly infinitely overdubbed Teresas singing all of the parts a capella, A Christmas Season’s Delight was one of the finest holiday albums of all time – not merely in Hawai`i, but rivaling many far more expensive productions from the mainland. It is right up there alongside classics from Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall, and Lena Horne and far surpasses anything any of her contemporaries (like Gloria Estefan or Mariah Carey) ever did for the season. 

Because time is the ultimate enemy of the recording industry, neither A Bright Hawaiian Christmas nor A Christmas Season’s Delight are available any longer in their original form. But the best selections from both releases were gathered into a single collection, A Bright Christmas, which was released as recently as 2009 and which is available for streaming from such services as Spotify or Rhapsody or for purchase from iTunes or Amazon.com. I do not usually agree with producers when they cull something they refer to as a “best of,” but in this case Teresa and her crew really did choose the best selections from across the two dozen available to them – including the five songs you here in this set at Ho`olohe Hou. 

For the purposes of this survey of the great Hawaiian music CDs intended for the holidays, instead of ranking either of the original releases (both would have easily made the list), I have instead ranked the newer collection – because it is still available for your enjoyment – and reserved that additional spot for another deserving CD. (It is difficult to say which of the other two dozen would not have made the cut, but I would not assume it was the current #25.) So we might say that Teresa Bright has doubly earned this elite position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.   

And we also have to imagine that an album would have to be truly great to best either of these two from Teresa and reach the coveted #1 position on this countdown. 

Next time: #1 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 2_Christmas_-_Teresa_Bright.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 6:12am EDT

#3 - The Brothers Cazimero - Christmas Collection

I don’t want to say that The Brothers Cazimero have been around a long time. But their first release came out on 8-track. And their first Christmas album was released on both vinyl LP and cassette. 

But that is by no means a dig at two gentlemen who arguably did more to perpetuate and further the Hawaiian music tradition in the 20th century than any other artists. There might not have been any such thing as “contemporary Hawaiian music” were it not for their seminal contribution (Guava Jam, from the group known as the Sunday Manoa which featured brothers Robert and Roland Cazimero and wizard of all stringed instruments Peter Moon). At the very least the duo lit the spark that became the blazing inferno now known as the “Hawaiian Music Renaissance” of the 1970s. And they did it by remaining both largely respectful to their past and true to themselves as artists. Make no mistake, in their younger days they took more than their fair share of cracks for jazzing and rocking Hawaiian music a little too much, a few more still from such mentors as Alice Namakelua and Eddie Kamae for singing a few Hawaiian lyrics incorrectly. (Some still have not forgiven them for their version of “Morning Dew” which by Robert’s own admission was well off the mark with regard to their use of the Hawaiian language.) But these are the growing pains of musicians that would become artists, and now it is Robert who is grooming the next generation of Hawai`i’s musicians. 

I do not know a life without The Brothers Cazimero. Cherished aunties and uncles would make their annual trip home to Hawai`i and return to the East Coast with 35mm films (this was the pre-iPhone era, after all) of the boys at Chuck’s Cellar or Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, and I was enthralled. I kept wondering… How do two guys make so much music? They sound like five or six! Of course, the answer was two-fold and lies both in their soaring, intertwining voices – diving and swooping in and around each other until they sound like a choir of thousands – and in Roland’s unique 12-guitar style, approaching the guitar like an orchestra with an eye (and ear) toward laying down a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for their singing as well as playing melodic counterpoint at the same time, often wiring his pick-ups in stereo so that half of the notes come at your left ear and the other half at your right. They were ahead of their time in more ways than we can count. 

And so nearly a decade into their career as a duo after the untimely implosion of the Sunday Manoa, the brothers finally gifted us with their first of what has turned out (so far) to be three holiday-themed releases, Christmas Collection in 1984. It is exactly what you would expect from the groundbreaking duo and perhaps more – their creative juices sprinkled with the magic dust of Christmas to make everything that is uniquely Cazimero even moreso (as if that were possible). From the pahu drum that opens “We Three Kings” (a nod, no doubt, to their own king, David Kalākaua, and his revival of the hula), you knew from first listen 30 years ago (has it really been that long?) that this was going to be a holiday album like no other previously from Hawai`i. Robert and Roland created a template that would be followed for the next three decades – setting the stage for such inventive outings as those from Keali`i Reichel and Willie K. In short, the brothers – like Lena Machado, Kahauanu Lake, and Eddie Kamae before them – made it alright to push the boundaries of Hawaiian music as long as one foot was kept firmly in tradition, all was done with impeccable taste and respect, and the whole thing was wrapped up in something uniquely Hawaiian. 

And this is precisely what Christmas Collection was and remains three decades later. Robert and Roland melded their contemporary take on songs and hymns that remind us of the true reason for the season (“Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”) with such winter-themed chestnuts as “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” And Roland, the baby of the massive Cazimero `ohana, summons up his inner wonder when the big, burly Hawaiian sings “Me & My Teddy Bear.” 

In short, Christmas Collection was a joyous romp that inspired many similar creations from the artists that would follow in their footsteps. And to show our gratitude for forging a new path in Hawaiian music and for many years of enjoyment, the brothers have more than earned this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire delightful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. Because the album has been packaged and repackaged over and over again throughout its 30 year history, you will today most likely find it under the title Cazimero Christmas Favorites which also features a few selections from their follow-up holiday release. 

Next time: #2 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 3_Christmas_-_Brothers_Cazimero.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 4:56am EDT

#4 - Kuana Torres Kahele - Hilo for the Holidays

Kuana Torres Kahele is a force of nature. Seemingly perpetually on tour somewhere, you turn around and suddenly there is a brand new CD from his camp replete with brand new compositions from his pen. And you’re thinking… Didn’t I just buy your new CD? And with each release – either on his own or with his aggregation, Nā Palapalai (a rotating collective of Hawai`i’s finest musicians but always with Kuana at the helm) – he repeatedly reaches the top of both the Billboard World Music and iTunes charts. 

The question audiences should be asking is… Does Kuana ever sleep? 

It would appear his aim is world domination, but even the most successful Hawaiian music CDs do not sell anywhere in the neighborhood of those from Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber. No, more accurately, Kuana’s goal would appear to be to make a Hawaiian music lover out of as many people as he can in the short time God gives us on this planet. A veritable Santa Clause of Hawaiian music, Kuana’s workshop is constantly in session. 

Like Keali`i Reichel’s Maluhia which ranks only one position lower on this countdown, Kuana’s Home for the Holidays is the perfect blend of traditional Christmas fare and new original lyrics. The title song will be a classic (if it isn’t already), and the addition of local Big Island touches to “Home for the Holidays” (his nod to “Numbah One Day of Christmas”) will bring a smile to the faces of Hawaiians and Hawaiians-at-heart missing “home” at this time of year. He reprises the rarely heard “Here Comes Santa In A Red Canoe” (composed by the too rarely spoken of Johnny Kamano who will be honored here at Ho`olohe Hou at some point for his contributions to Hawaiian music). And Kuana proves that he has the heart of a child by throwing away all care in his version of The Chipmunks “Christmas, Don’t Be Late.” The Hawaiian lyric is not a translation as such (it rarely is), but rather an improvement as it puts the true meaning of Christmas back in what was a song for children with its nod of thanks to Jesus for the bounty He gives us in this season and all year long. 

It probably goes without saying that Hilo for the Holidays garnered the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Christmas Album of the Year, and the accolade is well deserved. But the album would be a worthy addition to your holiday CD collection even if it had earned no awards, and despite its very recent release the instant classic merits this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire delightful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. 

Next time: #3 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 4_Christmas_-_Kuana_Torres_Kahele_-_Hilo_for_the_Holidays.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 6:36am EDT

#5 - Keali`i Reichel - Maluhia

While December 21st will be much like any other day in Hawai`i in terms of average daily temperature or the length of the day (in terms of sunrise and sunset), for many in the Northeast the winter solstice can be the saddest day of their year or their happiest – and, occasionally, both. It has already been cold for weeks here – sooner than in recent years – and the winter solstice is often called the “shortest day of the year” in terms of sunlight – awakening in the dark and a sunset well before 5pm. (Scientifically speaking, it is, in fact, the longest day of the year around the world since this is the day the earth is furthest from the sun in its elliptical orbit and, therefore, the decreased gravitational pull means that the earth rotates more slowly – the day actually being about 24 hours and 30 seconds long, your watch becoming a little more wrong every day, the earth catching it up when the days shorten to 23 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds over the summer to come that we all eagerly anticipate.) And while it was completely unplanned – Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i having been compiled in November – Keali`i Reichel’s Maluhia is the perfect album to warm these cold, dark days. It is the winter solstice album from Hawai`i. 

Kumu hula and master chanter Keali`i Reichel did not burst on to the Hawaiian music scene but, rather, snuck in furtively in 1994 with Kawaipunahele, a pre-Kickstarter self-funded CD that took Hawai`i by quiet storm. And there is a thread that connects every one of his mega-successful, multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award-winning releases since. It is something indefinable. I might even go so far as to say “magical.” You listen and a peaceful tranquility falls over you – even the up-tempo numbers managing somehow to slow your heart rate. 

In this way Maluhia – Reichel’s first holiday offering (and, I suspect, it certainly won’t be his last) – is thankfully like his previous work. The title means “peace,” “quiet,” “tranquility,” or “serenity,” and this is not merely marketing hyperbole. One could argue that he chose a title and then worked to fulfill it. But I think it is simply that Reichel knows no other way. He is the embodiment of peace and tranquility, and therefore – without having to try – the embodiment of this season. For nine seasons now since its release, my family has lowered its collective heart rate – ever rising with the madness of holiday shopping, the hustle and bustle of combining work and play, cookies baked on a deadline, and Christmas lights that worked yesterday but failed the morning after – with Maluhia. 

Combining traditional Christmas hymns with new original lyrics from Ben Vegas, Keola Donaghy, and Puakea Nogelmeier, Reichel struck the balance so many seek at this time of year – a yearning for the past, a hope for the future. My favorite is the cover of The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” in which popular group Ho`okena plays the role previously played by a choir of a thousand overdubbed Carpenters. But the Christmas miracle here is “Nū `Oli” which immediately sounds like a choir of a thousand angels but which, in fact, follows The Carpenters template – only four voices overdubbed seemingly infinitely, Keli`i getting an assist from Sky Perkins Gora, Nālei Kanoho Harris, and Maila Gibson. 

Maluhia was nominated for a whopping seven Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in 2007 and yet somehow lost to a far less deserving album, Caz Christmas (the Brothers Cazimero’s third holiday release and nowhere near as fine as either of their two previous efforts). But it certainly warrants this high position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire peace-inducing album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. 

Next time: #4 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 5_Christmas_-_Kealii_Reichel_-_Maluhia.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:49am EDT

#6 - Makaha Sons - Christmas Day in Hawai`i Nei

I wrote here previously that it was difficult to write about Hapa and their holiday album because while the album certainly has merit on any number of counts, I am not a fan of Hapa. Conversely, anything I write about the Makaha Sons might be just as easily dismissed as these gentlemen have been my friends for over 20 years. Perhaps this is why listening to their Christmas Day in Hawai’i Nei is like spending the holiday with old friends. 

Sometimes I feel like the Forrest Gump of Hawaiian music – being there (perhaps accidentally) for many pivotal moments for local Hawai`i musicians. For example, I was there when Moon, John, and Jerome performed in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. – the first Hawaiian music group to do so – for the annual Kamehameha Day lei draping in 1993. The event was closed to the public, so Jerry told me to carry his guitar and he would tell everybody I was his roadie. I was there when they bowed at Carnegie Hall in 1994 (the performance which became part of their release On The Road – Live). But I was not merely in the audience. I was on stage opening for them, and I was backstage with them the rest of the time. I remember sitting in their dressing room, sharing with Moon a mele inoa that I had written for the birth of a friend’s granddaughter. As a Hawaiian, Moon might have admonished me for attempting to write a song with such little foundation in the Hawaiian language. But as a Hawaiian language teacher and a gentle spirit, he suffered me gladly and gave me an important lesson in directionals (iho, aku), and he proceeded to structure and edit until I had a song suitable for a gift. And then we went to one of New York Chinatown’s finest restaurants and jammed until the wee small hours. 

The last time I saw them – in New Hampshire in 2009 – was the last time I would see John Koko. John was everybody’s friend – that guy who lived to make sure that everyone smiled at least once a day and belly-laughed as often as humanly possible. He would do anything to make that happen – including making himself the butt of the joke (literally and figuratively). At Christmas especially, I always ask why God always seems to take the best and brightest from us too soon, and I pray for our collective loss. 

Most of the Hawaiian music-loving world knows the Makaha Sons of the stage – aiming to please, quick with a joke, but deadly serious about their music, their harmonies, and the use of the Hawaiian language. Those were their hallmarks. But off stage, it was a slightly different version of the boys – the music coming second, life and love coming first, waxing philosophical and spiritual on the topics nearest and dearest to their hearts, always leaving you thinking about your own life, your own direction, your own purpose. And this is why Moon retired from the Makaha Sons in July of this year – to help other young creative people discover their direction and purpose. The group did not merely exist to make music. Together, Moon, John, and Jerome had a mission, and they continue to evolve to fulfill it and will not rest until they do. 

It is difficult to listen to Christmas Day in Hawai`i Nei – or any Makaha Sons album, really – without thinking about those times, life and its hardships, and battles fought (and often lost). While the album is filled with joyous moments, for me there is a hint of melancholy – bringing thoughts of life the way it could have been. And, at the same time, as I listen, I hear the hope that I can right the wrongs I have done and change my direction. After all, this is what the holidays are about. 

Not merely because they are my friends (and I will always speak about John in the present tense), but because their musicianship and love for their fans, friends, and family is unparalleled, the Makaha Sons’ Christmas Day in Hawai’i Nei ranks #6 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  But judged on a far more personal rubric, the album ranks #1 in my heart. You can hear the entire beautiful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. 

Next time: #5 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 6_Christmas_-_Makaha_Sons_-_Christmas_Day_in_Hawaii_Nei.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:09am EDT

#7 - Willie K. - Willie Kalikimaka

How do you write about Willie K.? You can’t. You simply cannot. It’s like trying to describe the damage a tornado leaves in its wake. It’s like trying to describe the many colors in a flame. It’s like trying to describe the speed of cars whizzing around the track at Talladega. If you cannot describe any of these, then you cannot describe the speeding, flaming tornado that is Willie K.

A man who has proven that he can conquer every realm in entertainment – including film – over the last 25 years, Willie’s specialty is anything with strings.

He’s an amazing guitar virtuoso, a Hawaiian Jimi Hendrix; he’s Gabby Pahinui, Andres Segovia and Eddie Van Halen rolled into one. Willie can mimic seemingly any style, moving easily between screaming Stratocaster, sweet slack key and jazzy, almost baroque acoustic 12-string.”

- The Honolulu Weekly

But while he is constantly reinventing himself, we don’t mean between albums. We mean between one track and the next on the same album. And Willie’s stylistic restlessness is a gift for audiences. He is the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

This is why Willie’s 1999 holiday release, Willie Kalikimaka, epitomizes the phrase “something for the entire family.” From the gentle Hawaiian elegance of “Away In A Manger” to the rockabilly good fun of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” on which his `ukulele leads the way to the solo acoustic version of the too infrequently performed Kui Lee classic “A Song of Christmas,” Willie shows his many sides – the tender, the serious, the playful. His version of “O Holy Night” is a staple of local Hawai`i radio in this season and should be considered among the greatest versions of the song ever recorded anywhere. And who else has the chutzpah and network of famous friends to get none other than Willie Nelson (a part-time Maui resident) to duet with him on ““What Child Is This?”

Few local artists have had the career longevity – and fan base – to produce two or more holiday albums. Only Teresa Bright, Na Leo Pilimehana, and the Brothers Cazimero come to mind. But in 2010 Willie released a second holiday album which is arguably better than the first. If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to check out Willie Wonderland as well.

Willie Kalikimaka is one of my personal favorites – possessing from beginning to end the rare ability to warm my often cold heart and put me a more holiday frame of mind when I find myself suffering from the melancholia that often sets in at this time of year. So even if Willie Kalikimaka hadn’t garnered the 2000 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Christmas Album of the Year, it would still warrant this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire beautiful album on Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com.

Next time: #6 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 7_Christmas_-_Willie_K._-_Willie_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:41am EDT

#8 – Amy Hānaiali`i – A Hawaiian Christmas

It has been so many years now since Amy Hānaiali`i burst on to the local Hawai`i entertainment scene that many of us have forgotten that – like Melveen Leed two decades before her – Amy started out as a pop and jazz vocalist. (Her first album, 1995’s Native Child released under the name Amy Gilliom, was more of a mix of pop and jazz and Hawaiian than her later more Hawaiian fare). And like Melveen before her, Amy’s pop and jazz roots give her a unique approach to Hawaiian music. Along with Hapa and Keali`i Reichel, Amy’s early collaborations with Willie K. were critically important in reigniting the Hawaiian music scene in the 1990s. Moreover, despite having a lineage steeped in Hawaiian culture (her grandmother is hula master Jennie Napua Woodd of both the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and New York City’s famed Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room), Amy is not like anything that came before. She sings and composes in the Hawaiian language, but listening to Amy does not evoke images of Genoa Keawe, Lena Machado, Leina`ala Haili, or Iwalani Kahalewai.

In short, Amy is her own woman and a true artist.

This is what made her 2007 release, A Hawaiian Christmas, such a welcome addition to the canon of holiday music from Hawai`i. It, too, was like nothing that came before. Listen to her take (in the Hawaiian language) on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (taken in a jaunty and joyous 6/8 time signature rather than the usual 4/4), the sweet steel guitar of Bobby Ingano on “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (also sung in Hawaiian), the Brazilian backbeat on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” or her lush and lovely “Silent Night” so regal that it really does signal the coming of a King.

Amy Hānaiali`i’s A Hawaiian Christmas more than warranted the 2008 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Christmas Album of the Year, and so, too, its place on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire beautiful album on such major music streaming services as Spotify and Rhapsody or take a copy home or gift it to family and friends by downloading it in MP3 format from iTunes and Amazon.com.

Next time: #7 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…


Direct download: 8_Christmas_-_Amy_Hanaialii_-_A_Hawaiian_Christmas.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:52am EDT

#9 – Various Artists – Kī Hō`alu Christmas

It is widely acknowledged by discographers and ethnomusicologists that despite slack key guitar being played on back porches across the islands since the mid-19th century, the first ever recording of slack key guitar was made by Gabby Pahinui in 1947 – making him the undisputed folk hero of the instrument. In the decades that followed, however, you could count on your hands and feet the number of recordings that strictly featured the slack key guitar as a solo instrument. Many slack key guitarists were featured members of larger bands, and slack key guitar was often used in its primary service as accompaniment for the vocalist. But recordings of solo slack key guitar were rare for the first nearly 50 years after its first appearance on record. 

Enter George Winston, a Montana haole and pianist who came to prominence first in the 70s but then catapulted to fame in the 80s – the era which spawned the New Age music movement, solo instrumental music perfect for nights sipping wine, smoking anything that was not tobacco, and gazing at the stars from you hot tub perched high on the hills of Santa Monica. Winston released a series of seasonally-themed LPs of his dream-like solo piano on Windham Hill – the New Age record label of that period – some of which are perfect for this season. (Check out Winston’s December or Winter Into Spring.) But it is little known that when Winston auditioned for Windham Hill head honcho guitarist Will Ackerman, it was with solo guitar pieces. Nonetheless, Ackerman signed Winston to make a series of solo piano albums – perhaps because he didn’t like Winston’s guitar playing as much as his piano prowess, perhaps because he didn’t want the competition as Ackerman would go on to release a series of solo guitar albums on his own label (as would be his prerogative). 

More than 20 years ago now while chatting with Alan Yoshioka of Harry’s Music in Kaimuki, he casually said, “You and George Winston are like the haole soul mates of slack key. You should chat with him.” He proceeded unsolicited to give me Winston’s phone number, and I used it. Winston and I struck up what was at first a virtual friendship but then a more personal one – getting together every time he did a concert anywhere near my then home of Philadelphia. And all of our time together was spent discussing our mutual love of what we felt was the grossly underappreciated slack key guitar. But what I will always remember is that despite becoming renowned for his brand of piano playing, Winston always said that slack key guitar was the instrument and the playing style that spoke to his soul – that he could communicate better through slack key guitar than through the piano. 

Putting his time and money where his mouth was, Winston invested heavily in Hawai`i’s unique art form by launching Dancing Cat Records which aimed to capture the living legends of slack key guitar in a manner in which they were rarely captured on record previously – solo. He started with the elder statesmen of the instrument – some of them in ill health – knowing that the opportunities to do so – regrettably – would be limited. The first Dancing Cat releases were from Raymond Kane and Sonny Chillingworth, and Winston’s prescience would sadly be fulfilled as Chillingworth would pass away soon after the release of his first Dancing Cat CD and never see the release of his second. Winston went on to record some of the younger legends – Keola Beamer, Cyril Pahinui, and Ledward Kaapana were among the first – as well as the first and only acoustic steel guitar recordings of steel guitarist Barney Isaacs accompanied by slack key guitarist George Kuo. The CDs were a resounding critical success but, alas, not a commercial one. And so there would be only about 20 Dancing Cat releases in the decade that followed before the releases would begin to slow to a trickle and eventually no more. What most do not know is that there are many more recordings “in the can” (as they say in the biz) including still more solo slack key tracks by Ray Kane, Sonny Chillingworth, and others. We can only hope they see the light of day someday soon. 

Winston also had the foresight to record one or two holiday songs every time he had one of these legends in front of the microphone. (Notice I have not said “in the studio” since often these guitarists were captured in their comfy chairs and sofas right in their own homes.) So before long he was able to release Kī Hō`alu Christmas, the first ever holiday album comprised solely of solo slack key guitar recordings. (“Kī hō`alu,” by the way, is a Hawaiian term for the slack key guitar, but it should be considered a neologism since it was only conceived of during the Hawaiian music renaissance of the 1970s. For the century prior, Hawaiians referred to their unique art form simply as “slack key guitar.”) Featuring the label’s roster of artists at that moment – Keola Beamer, Cyril Pahinui, Ozzie Kotani, Ledward Kaapana, and others – the album does not evoke images of blizzards and sleigh rides but, more appropriately, the gentle joy of a Christmas in the islands. Most importantly, Kī Hō`alu Christmas spawned countless more holiday albums featuring the slack key guitar and – later – the `ukulele. 

There was an almost equally beautiful follow-up from Dancing Cat just a few years later, Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas. But the first such album warrants this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i – not only because it set an important trend, but even if only for the solo slack key guitar recording of “Christmas Memories” by its composer, Dennis Kamakahi, which he introduced 20 years earlier on Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae & The Sons of Hawaii. This is the way the song was meant to be performed and heard – in its most sentimental form. The album is not available from the music streaming services such as Spotify and Rhapsody, but you can download it in MP3 format to your iPhone or iPod at iTunes and Amazon.com. 

I also encourage you to check out George Winston’s December, a favorite of my family in this season and which the artist himself referred to as “slack key piano.” 

Next time: #8 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 9_Christmas_-_Various_Artists_-_Ki_Hoalu_Christmas.mp3
Category:Slack Key Guitar -- posted at: 5:02am EDT

#10 - Hapa - Hapa Holidays

Lest I be accused of unabashedly liking every artist, song, and recording I feature at Ho`olohe Hou or not using the entire rubric in determining which recordings or artists merit such attention, a newsflash: I am not a fan of Hapa. Despite having the privilege of opening for Hapa in my hometown of Blackwood, NJ earlier this year, from the group’s first incarnation and first album, the eponymously titled Hapa in 1992, I have not been a fan, and none of their nearly dozen releases in the more than 20 years since have convinced me otherwise. Surely you’re asking yourself, “Why?” (especially if you are a Hapa fan). I have written many times in this space that there is no clear and agreed upon definition of “Hawaiian music” – even by ethnomusicologists. (Ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman explored this topic in a series of panel discussions in 2011 when she was Dai Ho Chun Distinguished Scholar and professor in residence at the University of Hawai`i – Manoa.) While we can attempt to define “Hawaiian music” by its sounds, instrumentation, arrangement, or lyric content, the prevailing wisdom is that what makes music Hawaiian is not solely content but, rather, a feeling. And while Hapa has been one of the most commercially successful groups of all time from Hawai`i, when I listen to them, I do not hear or feel the Hawaiian. I have considered my position on this group endlessly because it feels – even to me – disingenuous – that as a musician, I can say that I do not like Hapa but cannot put my finger on precisely why. Hapa found resounding success in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds of distance and culture – their leader, Barry Flanagan, not a Hawaiian but a haole raised in Bergen County, New Jersey, falling in love with Hawaiian music and making it his life’s work. This makes my criticism more curious still when you realize that I am also a haole raised in Camden County, New Jersey – a really long stone’s throw away (or a really short drive) from Flanagan’s home – and I also somehow fell in love with Hawaiian music and also chose against all odds to make it my life’s passion. If nothing else, this at least makes me appear fair – picking on my own – but I am not so out of touch that I do not fully realize that my dislike for a group rooted in my home state to an outsider likely reeks of petty jealousy. 

For the record, I am tremendously proud of Barry Flanagan as an outsider to Hawaiian culture being accepted into its sacred inner circle and being permitted and encouraged to pursue Hawaiian things, and I aspire to the same. I just don’t like his music. 

Then how, you are no doubt asking yourself, did Hapa’s holiday release, the cleverly titled Hapa Holidays, rank so high on a list judged single-handedly by a guy who claims not to like them? Simple. Because my day job for the last 25 years has been in the field of research in the measurement of human potential. In short, I train people on how to judge things. So I like to think I am able to put my feelings aside and use the entire rubric in order to objectively judge something myself. With regard to Ho`olohe Hou, I do not merely present music I like. I present music that is culturally relevant and historically important. And Hapa is. If Hawai`i experienced a first musical renaissance in the 1970s, it went into remission for over a decade. Arguably, there was a less often spoken about second Hawaiian music renaissance in the 1990s – a tide that swept in such contemporary legends as Keali`i Reichel and Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom. But Hapa was at the crest of that wave – somehow gaining not only local Hawai`i favor, but worldwide acceptance, not merely for themselves, but for Hawaiian music in general. They cut a new swath in an uncharted jungle. They made it hip and cool to like Hawaiian music whether you were in New Jersey or Texas or Montana. Would George Winston’s series of slack key recordings on his Dancing Cat label had fared so well if Flanagan’s guitar hadn’t blazed the trail before? Perhaps not. 

So, in no backhanded attempt to improve my chances of ever opening for Hapa again, I can honestly say that there are times when I sincerely desire to hear a cut from Hapa Holidays – usually an instrumental at which Flanagan excels. While we could argue all day long whether his brand of slack key guitar is “traditional” or “Hawaiian,” it is an enjoyable listen, and legions of fans agree. While the lineup of Hapa has changed over the years, listen to founder Flanagan with then partner Keli`i Kaneali`i gently rock “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Flanagan’s soulful solo on “Iesu me ke Kanaka Waiwai,” and the almost classical approach to “Joy To The World.” Few can touch Flanagan when it comes to technique with six strings. 

No, I am not a fan of Hapa. But Hapa Holidays was important – as was the group’s debut release – in giving Hawaiian music worldwide exposure and opening doors for the artists that would follow. And so it earns its rightful place on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can find Hapa Holidays on such major music streaming services as Spotify and Rhapsody as well as for download to your iPhone or iPod at iTunes and Amazon.com. 

Next time: #9 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 10_Christmas_-_Hapa_-_Hapa_Holidays.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#11 - Na Leo Pilimehana - Christmas Gift

Groups in all places and in all genres come and go. So the fact that 2014 finds Na Leo Pilimehana celebrating their 30th anniversary together with all three original members – Nalani Choy, Angela Morales, and Lehua Kalima – intact is an accomplishment in itself. The fact that they have turned out one cherished recording after another with nary a dull moment among them is a testament to their vocal chops and impeccable taste in selecting songs and musical collaborators. 

Sure, the group has evolved over time. Their first album, Local Boys which featured the radio hit for which the LP was titled, was typical 80s fare from Hawai`i. The vocals were sweet and clear, but the arrangements may have suffered a little bit. (However, despite the keyboards indicative of the era, their version of Andy Cummings’ “Waikiki” from that LP has endured and remains a staple of local Hawai`i radio.) But by the 90s Na Leo (as they are affectionately known, or sometimes simply NLP) hit their stride with such collaborators as Zanuck Kapala Lindsey – leading to such hits as “Saving Forever” (co-written by Lindsey and group member Lehua Kalima), “Flying with Angels,” and their tremendously popular cover of Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man.” In an era which saw such powerhouse women’s vocal trios as Wilson Phillips, Destiny’s Child, TLC and En Vogue, I choose Na Leo every time. And this was not a phenomenon contained to Hawai`i. I could turn on the radio in my then home of Philadelphia and hear their “Poetry Man” at almost any hour of the day. 

The group moves seamlessly through a variety of material which allows their many facets to shine like the jewels they are – from pop covers to The Beatles to originals to a capella to traditional Hawaiian to ­hapa-haole to doo-wop and R&B. But on their 1998 holiday release, Christmas Gift, they a show a side their fans rarely see – taking on an ethereal, almost Celtic Woman-like aura and ethos. When Nalani, Angela, and Lehua sing “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” I must stop everything and simply listen, and I become a Believer all over again because I believe that they Believe too. There is no other way they could sing these lyrics with such conviction. The album also features a far better version of the Robert Cazimero holiday composition “A Christmas Wish” than he performed previously with his brother, Roland. While the combination of the voices of Robert Cazimero and Na Leo may seem magical, somehow together they make the hope for peace, love, and joy a very real possibility. 

Na Leo offered a follow-up to their Christmas classic as soon as three years after this one – the aptly titled Christmas Gift 2 in 2001. And while it is surely fine, the first is still the best and warrants this position – and, arguably, a much higher one – on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can find Christmas Gift and Christmas Gift 2 on such major music streaming services as Spotify and Rhapsody as well as for download to your iPhone or iPod at iTunes and Amazon.com. If you have trouble finding the original, it may be because it was more recently repackaged and rereleased under the title Hawaiian Holidays: Christmas with Na Leo. But in my humble opinion, the original title was more fitting as the album was truly a gift to the world.

Next time: We finally break the Top Ten on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 11_Christmas_-_Na_Leo_Pilimehana_-_Christmas_Gift.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:32am EDT

#12 - Natalie and `Iolani Kamauu - Love & Peace and Unity

I had to think hard about this, but there have not been many husband/wife duos in the history of the Hawai`i entertainment scene. There have been mother/daughter duos, father/son team-ups, and plenty of sister/brother collaborations. But I had to reach back over a century – all the way to Toots and July Paka – to think of another husband/wife pairing who made Hawaiian music together. (The dubious side of the Paka’s story, of course, is that despite choosing to perform Hawaiian music, Toots Paka was a Broadway actress who was not of Hawaiian descent and had never even been to Hawai’i. This in itself is not a crime, but Toots told her audiences and the media that she was Hawaiian. The lack of authenticity in her singing and hula belied her assertions.) 

This makes Natalie and `Iolani Kamauu one of the few (if not the only) husband and wife duos in the history of Hawaiian entertainment to make and release music together. And the entire Hawaiian music-loving world rejoices that they did. Despite being from a family steeped in hula lineage (her parents are kumu hula Howard and Olana `Ai), Nat’s voice has a pop sensibility reminiscent of a Nohelani Cypriano, but chooses to perpetuate her culture by singing most of her repertoire in the Hawaiian language – offering new compositions as well as beloved traditional fare served up in a contemporary way courtesy of `Io’s arranging talents. Since splashing on to the local music scene in 2005, Nat – with most able instrumental accompaniment from husband `Io (previously of the group Kawaiola with Trevor Maunakea, Kanamu Akana, and Alden Levi) – has released a new CD on average every three years. The notable exception was the year 2009. Despite releasing her second full length CD only a year earlier, for the 2009 holiday season Nat and `Io gave the world their Christmas gift: Love & Peace and Unity. (Yes, the title is written correctly. The Kamauus have made a distinction between the ampersand and the word “and” – choosing to use both in the title.) 

On Love & Peace and Unity, rather than translate, the couple finds the “Hawaiian” in these songs through husband Iolani’s arrangements. The repertoire runs the gamut and lives up to the expectation of “something for the entire family.” One moment Natalie is caressing the sacred “Away In A Manger” with tremendous sensitivity, then the couple gently huff and puff until they blow the roof off of the church with “Santa, Bring My Baby Back To Me,” their answer to such R&B holiday joints of the 60s as “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” And Nat and `Io are the only artists from Hawai`i ever to tackle “Count Your Blessings” (the Irving Berlin chestnut from the 1954 film classic White Christmas which Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang to each other). `Io rearranged the usual 3/4 waltz-time as a 4/4 ballad – giving the song even greater poignancy and the couple more time to linger over each phrase. Finally, Natalie offers up one of the finest renditions ever of my favorite Christmas song, “I Wonder As I Wander,” with a soulfulness that proves that Nat can sing anything – her wide range relying not on a falsetto because she really can sing that high in her full voice with no loss of volume or quality. 

As the newest release from Hawai`i to earn a spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i, you will find Love & Peace and Unity on such major music streaming services as Spotify and Rhapsody as well as for download to your iPhone or iPod at iTunes and Amazon.com. 

Next time: #11 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…



Direct download: 12_Christmas_-_Natalie_and_Iolani_Kamauu_-_Love__Peace_and_Unity.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 6:14am EDT

#13 - Local Divas - Christmas

From the 1960s through the 1980s, four ladies dominated the Waikiki showroom scene: Melveen Leed, Carole Kai, Loyal Garner, and Nohelani Cypriano. Each held court in their respective hotel showrooms, and this can lead to everything from friendly rivalries to petty jealousies. But in the case of these four outstanding women with a tremendous sense of humor and hearts of gold (remember the Carole Kai Bed Race?), they were dear friends. This might not happen in New York City, L.A. or Las Vegas, but it can happen in the land of aloha.

In 1997 the four ladies joined forces for a series of events under the collective moniker Local Divas – an ironic name if ever there was one for these humble women were anything but divas. Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Steven Mark best described the unique gifts each brought to the table: “Kai’s Vegas-influenced brassiness, Leed’s country-jazz stylings, Cypriano’s romantic lyricism and R&B, and Garner’s own hearty power.” Garner contributed her heart to the group in spades as leader/arranger as well which could not have been easy given that each was a lead vocalist before Divas was formed but would now have to sing harmony a la Diana Ross and The Supremes. But each would have their turn being Diana. Putting four superstars together could result in musical disaster, but for their efforts the group was awarded Entertainer of the Year honors at Johnny Kai’s Hawaii Music Awards in 2000. The group would release two CDs – one which mirrored the set list of their live shows, and another a holiday effort – before Loyal Garner’s untimely passing on November 15, 2001 of colon cancer. In Loyal’s honor and in the spirit of “the show must go on,” on December 19, 2001 the remaining three ladies went through with their “Local Diva’s Holiday” at the Hawai`i Ballroom of the Sheraton Waikiki. But the group could not endure their loss beyond this, and that holiday program shortly after their leader’s death would be the group’s last for more than a decade until their New Year’s Eve 2011 reunion at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – another star-studded tribute to Loyal.

Oddly, Local Divas’ Christmas was released on January 1, 1998 – or after the holidays. But it is a joy-filled romp featuring all four singers in the lead and hampered only by its 80s-flavored arrangements (a remnant of trying to do a Waikiki showroom extravaganza with the least musicians possible, which in that era usually meant a bevy of keyboards, in this case handled ably but excessively by David Kauahikaua). In selecting songs for this set, with your indulgence I focused heavily on Loyal’s contributions to the CD because I believe they are among the album’s most poignant. I had the privilege and honor of opening for Loyal in 1994 at Carnegie Hall for the concert entitled “A Portrait of Hawai`i’s Music.” I spoke to her about her song “Island Feeling,” a huge local hit in Hawai`i a decade earlier. She wrote it for a nephew who went away to the mainland for college and couldn’t stand being away from home. Perhaps this is why when Loyal sings “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – a version which rivals those by Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald – I believe her with every fiber of my being.

Local Divas’ Christmas has been out of print on CD for nearly a decade and has never been re-released in the MP3 era. So I hope you have enjoyed hearing a few of the better selections from it again after so many years. Despite a sound stuck in another era, I believe it warrants its position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i if only because these are the only Christmas songs ever recorded by the incredible Loyal Garner.

Next time: #12 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…



Direct download: 13_Christmas_-_Local_Divas_-_Christmas.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:22am EDT

Sonny Kamahele - Numbah One Day of Christmas

By now you have heard at least half of A Merry Hawaiian Christmas, featured here twice and ranking #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  But I have held back the one song from that album that is so iconic that it is still heard on local Hawai`i radio every day during the holiday season more than 50 years after its release. 

For the unindoctrinated, there is a local Hawai`i language referred to as “pidgin” – a combination of English, Hawaiian, Chinese, and other languages that came to Hawai`i with its many “settlers.” (Note that while locals call the language “pidgin,” that is not, in fact, the name of any language. It is the technical linguistic term for any new language anywhere that was created locally by its people and which likely would not be spoken outside of that region. And, more accurately still, a new language should rightfully only be referred to as a “pidgin” for the first 25 years of existence. As Hawai`i pidgin is nearly 100 years old, it should more appropriately be called a “creole.”) Pidgin began to gain prominence on stage, radio, and TV in the 1950s and 60s with such hosts and comedians as Kent Bowman and Lucky Luck. But it was “Numbah One Day of Christmas” – a pidgin version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – that put pidgin on the map. And Sonny Kamahele was just the guy to put across this comic version. Featured all too infrequently on the Hawaii Calls radio show, this was Sonny’s moment to shine. 

In this local rewrite of the more than 200-year-old tune, not only were the locals’ favorite things substituted for partridges and turtle doves, but you will also hear some of the essential elements of pidgin syntax (such as the use of “one” in place of the indefinite articles “a” and “an”). 

Sonny was a beautiful human being and my friend. For those of us who knew and loved him, this makes the hearing of “Numbah One Day of Christmas” all the more special. One month a year is simply not often enough to celebrate his music, but it is the perfect performance for this season when so many of us are seeking anything that might make the cold, dark days a little more Sonny. 

The song was composed in 15 minutes in 1959 based on memories of Christmas from one of the composer’s childhood days in Anahola on the island of Kaua`i – a time and place where they really did covet televisions. 


Trivia: “Numbah One Day of Christmas” was co-written by one of Sonny’s fellow members of the Hawaii Calls cast. Do you remember which one? (Difficulty Rating: Medium if you know which Hawaii Calls cast member hailed from Anahola. Easy if you’re information literacy skills are well honed and you are near an iPhone, iPad, or computer.)  


Direct download: Sonny_Kamahele_-_Numbah_One_Day_of_Christmas.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:19pm EDT

#14 - Hawaii Calls - A Merry Hawaiian Christmas (Part 2)

As you read previously, my first copy of A Merry Hawaiian Christmas from the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio shows was abridged. There was an earlier version which featured more songs and a different cover. It is the original 1962 cover that you see here. I mentioned also that there have been as many as a half-dozen different covers in the more than 50 years since the album was released. The most curious of these is just like the one you see here but without the decorated pineapple top. It was simply a plain white cover with red and green text. The plain white wrapper did not evoke the holiday spirit in me. (It was more like what fish might be wrapped in at Tamashiro’s Market.) But it is the cover of the copy in my collection nonetheless. (The cover pictured here is from the collection of ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman.) 

The two missing songs – “Pomaika`i Wale Ko Ke Ao” (Joy To The World) and “Mele Mai Na Anela” (Angels We Have Heard on High”) – were welcome additions regardless of the wrapper in which they arrived. 

When I pulled this record off the shelf of the Ho`olohe Hou archives after not touching it for 349 days, I knew that it would take me at least two blog posts to gift you with all of the music from this album that I wanted you to hear. For we cannot omit Nina Keali`iwahamana’s rendering of “Hamau! Na Anela” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). Nor could we forget what may be the best reading ever of Alex Anderson’s classic known around the world, “Mele Kalikimaka,” sung here by Haunani Kahalewai. 

To hear the songs I did not include in this teaser, visit iTunes or Amazon.com to purchase the entire unabridged A Merry Hawaiian Christmas for your iPod or iPhone and take it with you all year long (to cool the long, hot July days in Albuquerque). Then maybe after you have heard all dozen glorious tracks you will agree that A Merry Hawaiian Christmas warrants its spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. 

There is one more exceedingly worthy song from this album – one so iconic and representative of Christmas in Hawai`i that they still play it to this day every holiday season on local Hawai`i radio. 

Next time: Sonny Kamahele recorded the quintessential song of Christmas in Hawai`i… And #13 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 14_Christmas_-_Hawaii_Calls_-_A_Merry_Hawaiian_Christmas_Part_2.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:05am EDT

#14 - Hawaii Calls - A Merry Hawaiian Christmas (Part 1)

By now you know the stars of Hawaii Calls – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani, Haunani Kahalewai, Sonny Kamahele. And by now you should also be able to recognize their voices in a split second. Wouldn’t it be great if they got together and made a Christmas album? It would, and they did! 

Released in 1962, A Merry Hawaiian Christmas featured these voices as well as the voice of then recent addition to the cast of the weekly radio show, Don Paishon (who would soon after making this recording head to the mainland for a lengthy stay at the 1964 New York World’s Fair with the group led by Sterling Mossman). But as with all of the other Hawaii Calls material, there are certain curiosities and mysteries surrounding this record. 

First, the steel guitarist on many of these cuts almost certainly sounds like longtime Hawaii Calls steeler Jules Ah See who tragically passed away in 1960 at the age of 36. But A Merry Hawaiian Christmas was released two years later in 1962. It is possible that cuts that feature Jules were recorded years earlier but only released as part of this collection. But it is also possible that the steel guitarist was an Ah See acolyte who played very much like Jules. There were few of these during that era, and the one that comes to mind – Mel Abe – never performed or recorded with the Hawaii Calls group. Jules’ friend Barney Isaacs was the only steady Hawaii Calls steel guitarist after Jules’ passing, but while Jules could mimic almost any other player including Barney, Barney was not known to be able to copy Jules style so accurately. For now, this will remain a mystery. 

Second, the first copy of this album I ever located – the cover of which is seen here – had only ten songs. Decades later I would locate another copy with a different cover which contained a dozen songs. This was my first experience with “abridged” albums. In the era of the LP, a record label would often trot out previously released albums and re-release them with fewer songs at a lower price since cutting songs meant paying fewer royalties to the songwriters. I was very happy to find an original copy of the album and hear these two “lost” songs which really do belong in this collection. Over the years, I have seen numerous different releases of the album on two different record labels – Capitol Records, which originally released the LP, and Hula Records, which currently owns the rights to all things related to Hawaii Calls – with as many as a half-dozen different variations on the cover art. 

Ultimately, however, Hawaii Calls was about music, and the music on A Merry Hawaiian Christmas is simply beautiful. Show creator and host Webley Edwards once remarked that if a Hawaiian sings “Jingle Bells,” it becomes a Hawaiian song. And, to an extent, he is right. Listen as Haunani Kahalewai (with help from our mystery steel guitarist) regales us with a version of “White Christmas” rivaled only by Rosemary Clooney’s, Nina Keali`iwahamana leads the men and women of the cast in an a capella rendition of “What Child Is This,” and Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani leads us in worship with “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” 

You can still find A Merry Hawaiian Christmas for purchase in MP3 format from iTunes and Amazon.com. But you won’t recognize the cover. A heartfelt mahalo to Hula Records who re-released the complete and unabridged album in the digital era with all 12 original songs. Because of my love of Hawaii Calls and their importance in spreading Hawaiian music and the aloha spirit around the world for nearly 40 years, naturally A Merry Hawaiian Christmas merits a spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. 

As with the other clips from Hawaii Calls, hearing some simply makes me want to hear more. 

Next time: More from #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…


Direct download: 14_Christmas_-_Hawaii_Calls_-_A_Merry_Hawaiian_Christmas_Part_1.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:03am EDT

#15 - The Sons of Hawaii - Christmas Time

The Sons of Hawaii’s history has already been well chronicled – by Kamae himself, a man of many talents including documentary film maker, as well as by collaborator James Houston in their story of Kamae and the Sons simply entitle Hawaiian Son. But at the holidays, we must acknowledge a Sons’ LP that did what no holiday album from Hawai`i dared to attempt previously: Turn time backwards. Which, after all, is what so many of us seek to do at this time of year, a time that is largely about memories.

The cover hinted at the delights within – a tree-sheltered grove, the glow of the porch light from a mythical one-room house beloved by its fictitious family, kupuna in rocking chairs being serenaded by their nephews with guitars and `ukulele, the family mule listening attentively, all rendered in oil as only artist Herb Kawainui Kane can. (There were more Kane works commissioned for the half-hour television special Eddie produced to accompany the release of the album.)

And then there is the music. The Sons went through a lot of changes over the years – Gabby Pahinui eventually out of the group over (among other things) his repeated disputes with Kamae over what constitutes “Hawaiian enough.” Then there were guitarists Bobby Larrison and Atta Isaacs, both fine additions to the group but perhaps not the sound Kamae had been searching for. Ironically it was the incarnation that featured a slack key guitarist and composer a generation younger that helped Kamae find the sound he was looking for that was sodeeply rooted in the past. Fortunately, young Dennis Kamakahi was willing – and able – to take the trip back in time with Kamae. In the very beginning of their time together the group would open each performance by saying, “We are The Sons of Hawaii, and we are  Hawaiian.” But even in its early days the group’s music was not staunchly traditional – bringing to bear elements from the jazz, classical, and rock idioms. By contrast, the 70s version with Kamae, Kamakahi, bassist and arranger Joe Marshall, and steel guitar legend David ‘Feets’ Rogers was the most Hawaiian aggregation leader Kamae had assembled to date – opting not for the tricky diminished and augmented runs that previously characterized their intros, endings, and solos, but, rather, for a true folk music sound, completely acoustic (except for Rogers’ steel guitar) and completely (there is no other word for it) raw, as if they were sitting around the porch waiting for the mule to bray.

Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii opens with “I Love Christmas,” now a staple of the Hawaiian holiday repertoire but then a brand new composition by Eddie and wife Myrna with a little help from Hawaiian language and cultural expert Mary Kawena Pukui. Because the song is really for the kids, the Sons share the stage here with the Honolulu Boy Choir. The album would be classic if only for this contribution to the Hawaiian holiday cannon. But it also holds in store other delights – two new compositions from the pen of then 26-year-old Kamakahi (such as “Christmas Memories” heard here on which Dennis harmonizes with himself through the magic of a recording studio), Feets’ dazzling steel guitar work on “La Kalikimaka” (or “Christmas Day”), and Kamae’s vocals on “Ho`onani I Ka Hale” (the song you know better as “Deck The Halls”).

A careful curator of his own legacy (and owner of his own production company, Hawaii Sons), Kamae has not permitted the online music streaming services access to his catalog. But you can purchase the MP3 version of the complete album from iTunes and Amazon.com.

A few years ago this album would have ranked even higher on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. But so many wonderful holiday albums have come out of Hawai`i in just the last 20 years that Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii has dropped a few places on the list – but not in my heart.

Next time: #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 15_Christmas_-_Eddie_Kamae__The_Sons_of_Hawaii_-_Christmas_Time.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:46am EDT

#16 - Ho`okena - Home for the Holidays

Winner of the 2001 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Christmas Album of the Year, Ho`okena’s Home for the Holidays is almost perfect. It is Hawai`i’s equivalent of the first holiday album by The Carpenters, and just as the brother and sister duo had a follow-up holiday album that didn’t quite measure up to the perfection of their first, so, too, did Ho`okena. Once you achieve a high water mark in musicianship and production, why try to top it?

Of course, the earlier incarnation of Ho`okena that contributed to Home for the Holidays was larger and even more star-studded than its current incarnation which has reformed as a trio. The current threesome – bassist Chris Kamaka, multi-instrumentalist Horace Dudoit III, and slack key and falsetto master Glen Smith – were previously a quintet with William “Ama” Aarona and founding member, kumu hula, and composer Manu Boyd. It is that five-part harmony that was the signature sound of the group and which warrants the comparison to The Carpenters who – despite being a duo – would overdub their voices in harmony until there were 8, 12, or even 16 virtual Carpenters. While Ho`okena’s musicianship has never been in question, for me it has always been their vocal prowess and intricate vocal arrangements that made the group a standout in contemporary music.

But it is also the song selection that made Ho`okena’s first holiday outing an instant classic to my ears – almost all songs that The Carpenters tackled on either of their two holiday albums. They range from the sacred songs that speak to the true meaning of the season – listen to Boyd’s lead vocal on “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and their uniquely Hawaiian take on “The Little Drummer Boy” – to favorites about home and family – such as Mel Torme and Robert Wells’ “The Christmas Song.” To date, they are still the only Hawaiian music group ever to tackle “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” turning the 6/8 waltz-y classic into a 4/4 cha-lang-a-lang romp. And, of course, there is one of the too few renderings of a holiday classic from the pen of Kui Lee, “The Song of Christmas.”

(Of course, Ho`okena would eventually tackle the ultimate holiday classic from The Carpenters, but it would not be on their own album. But we will save that for later in the countdown.)

Ho`okena’s voices in their unique church choir-type harmony, their Hawaiian spin on holiday classics, and the reality that somehow we can hear their aloha warrant a spot for Home for the Holidays on Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. You can check out the entire album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold.

Next time: #15 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i



Direct download: 16_Christmas_-_Hookena_-_Home_For_The_Holidays.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:44am EDT

Nina – The Lost Christmas Album

If you celebrate Christmas and you love music, then you likely have your favorite Christmas LPs, CDs, or MP3s. And if you are like me, you probably can think of one artist whose Christmas album you feel was an abysmal failure. (I can think of several.) But you can probably also think of one artist you love who should have made a Christmas record but never did. 

For me, that artist is Nina Keali`iwahamana. The singular voice of the Hawaii Calls radio programs for nearly two decades and one of the three singing daughters of musician and composer Vicki I`i Rodrigues, Nina’s career has been guided seemingly by the principle of doing what she wanted to do when she felt like doing it. This is evidenced by a solo career spanning nearly 50 years but which has yielded only a handful of albums under her own name. There are the albums she made with her mother and equally famous brothers (Boyce and Ioane) and sisters (Lani and Lahela). She has been the featured voice on albums by `ukulele stylist Herb Ohta and steel guitarist Bud Tutmarc (the latter of which featured Nina singing the Great American Songbook of Cole Porter and the Gershwins). She has also teamed up for duet releases with both Charles K.L. Davis and Bill Kaiwa. But there has been not a single solo album from Nina since the 1970s when she teamed up for a popular series of albums (produced rapid-fire) with arranger/conductor Jack de Mello for his Music of Polynesia label. So with so little output, it would be presumptuous to expect a holiday album. 

But you may have read here previously about a Christmas album which features no names on its cover. Simply entitled Mele Kalikimaka – A Hawaiian Christmas Party (and ranking at #17 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.), the album largely featured the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio program. It simply wasn’t entitled Hawaii Calls Christmas as there was already an official LP by that title. In other words, this is the Hawaii Calls holiday album that few know about. More importantly, Nina and her sisters Lani and Lahela were featured on a half-dozen of the albums selections. 

In my previous post about this remarkable album, you heard Nina and brother Boyce duet on “Spring Spends The Winter In Hawaii.” In this set I offer three more from the signature voices of Hawaii Calls. Nina and sisters remind us of the true meaning of Christmas with “Po La`i E” (“Silent Night”) and the Harry Belafonte hit “Mary’s Boy Child.” Then Nina fulfills my Christmas wish – for if ever there was a song I would have wanted to hear her sing that I feel epitomizes this holiday, it would have been Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” from my favorite holiday musical of all time. 

Nina mentions reaching down (or over) to another set of islands for the Caribbean-influenced “Mary’s Boy Child.” But the truth is that the song was written by composer, arranger, and choral conductor Jester Hairston who in his time was considered the leading authority on African-American spirituals and choral music. The song was not originally Christmas-themed. A friend asked Hairston to compose a song for a birthday party where the guests would be natives of the West Indies. So Hairston composed a song – “He Pone and Chocolate Tea” – for the occasion in the style that he hoped the guests would find familiar. It would not be until years later that Hairston was commissioned to write a holiday song for Walter Schumann’s Hollywood Choir, and Hairston recycled the calypso-themed tune and rhythm for “Mary’s Boy Child.” It is an interesting ethnographic point that many believe the song to be composed by a native of the West Indies when, in fact, it was composed by a native of Belews Creek, North Carolina. And it makes one wonder whether or not – with appropriate study and practice – a native of New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or even Tokyo could perform Hawaiian music so convincingly that most would believe it was recorded by a native Hawaiian.  

By the way, despite his songwriting and arranging background, Jester Hairston would best be remembered as Henry Van Porter on Amos ‘N Andy. 

So if you were truly interested in hearing a Nina Keali`iwahamana Christmas album end-to-end, you might purchase the six songs she led from Mele Kalikimaka – A Hawaiian Christmas Party and marry these to the four selections she led on the Hawaii Calls release A Merry Hawaiian Christmas. Those ten songs would make an amazing playlist for your iPhone, iPad, or other music listening system. 

In case she is reading, here’s wishing Auntie Nina a happy Hawaiian Christmas and all good things in the year to come. 

And now you can tell people you’ve heard “Silent Night” sung by a real live angel. 

~ Bill Wynne 


Direct download: Hawaiian_Christmas_-_Nina_Kealiiwahamana.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:44pm EDT

#17 - Various Artists - Mele Kalikimaka

For his label’s first holiday release, Hula Records’ owner Donald “Flip” McDiarmid II assembled a cast of his label stars for something not unlike a TV variety program hosted by Andy Williams or Perry Como. The artists went into the studio to professionally record their holiday favorites, somebody wrote a script, then an engineer haphazardly laced together the dialogue recorded later with the songs recorded earlier to make it sound like a bunch of friends were casually sitting around the hearth for an impromptu holiday gathering and sing-along. But it was anything but, and without the festive visuals that usually accompany such holiday fare – the Baldwin grand piano, the roaring fire, the pretty girl singer in a red dress and a Santa cap with the white pompom flopped askew in a not-quite-accidentally-sexy way – the concept falls flat. 

However, what McDiarmid did accomplish was giving the world the second of two holiday LPs which largely featured the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio program. It simply wasn’t entitled Hawaii Calls Christmas as there was already an official LP by that title,but most of the artists featured on Mele Kalikimaka – A Hawaiian Christmas Party were indeed Hawaii Calls program regulars. In other words, this is the Hawaii Calls holiday album that few know about. 

The set opens with Jimmy Kaopuiki leading the men of Hawaii Calls in an Alex Anderson composition, “Holiday Hula.” Barney Isaacs plays the brief-but-joyful steel guitar solo. Composed by the same gentleman who gave us “Lovely Hula Hands,” “Haole Hula,” and countless other hapa-haole gems, the lyric to this song published in 1954 was rarely heard between this 1960s recording and the recording from only the last few years by Robi Kahakalau. There is also a lovely instrumental version by `ukulele player Kalei Gamiao. 

Next brother and sister Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani and Nina Keali`iwahamana – both stars of Hawaii Calls during this period – team up for our theme song here in New Jersey, “Spring Spends The Winter In Hawaii.” But then Hilo Hattie rubs it in a little worse with her reflections on Christmas weather in Hawai`i – among other nuances of the holiday that differ in the islands – with “Santa’s Hula” featuring the steel guitar of Joe Custino. 

And, of course, the host for this faux fest is none other than Hawai`i’s favorite faux senator K.K. Kaumanua, the alter ego of comedian Kent Bowman. 

Despite the stilted dialogue and forced holiday fun, because of the stellar cast of characters the album merits a spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you can still enjoy the entire album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

But there is more to the story. Nearly half of the album featured the voice of Hawaii Calls singing star Nina Keali`iwahamana. So is this also the Christmas album that Nina’s fans have always longed for? 

Next time: #16 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… And more from Nina and the Christmas album her fans wish she had made… 


Direct download: 17_Christmas_-_Various_Artists_-_Mele_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#18 - Jerry Byrd - Christmas in Hawaii

When Ho`olohe Hou was a radio program, I offered a segment entitled “Unlikely Heroes in Hawaiian Music” which featured artists who should not have attained such popular or critical acclaim in the field of traditional Hawaiian music because of their perceived natural, physical, geographic, or ethnic limitations. And the first such artist I featured was steel guitarist Jerry Byrd. 

Jerry Byrd was not a Hawaiian but a haole from Lima, Ohio. As he used to tell his own story, Byrd fell in love with the steel guitar as a child after begging his parents for the money to go a Chautauqua, the traveling shows popular in the early 20th century which featured everything from educational and religious lectures to the latest hits from Broadway or the Metropolitan Opera. (President Theodore Roosevelt referred to the Chautauqua as “the most American thing in America.”) At the particular show Byrd attended he heard a traveling music troupe from Hawai`i which was led by steel guitar. It was love at first listen for Byrd, and the rest – as I often say here – is history. Byrd did not go on merely to become a steel guitarist. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest steel guitarist of all time for his unparalleled technique – things he could do with this most difficult of instruments with only a straight steel bar that many of Nashville’s finest have not been able to do since with a bar and eight, nine, or ten pedals. He was dubbed the “Master of Touch and Tone” and inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1975 – among the first to receive the honor. 

But I, for one, don’t think this is Byrd’s most important contribution to the world of music. Byrd toiled somewhat in obscurity – as far as Hawaiian music is concerned – near his Midwest home until 1970 when he made the permanent move to the mecca of the music he so loved. But he relocated to Hawai`i with a specific mission in mind: To revive the Hawaiian steel guitar, which by the 1970s was a dying art with a only a handful of the last generation of the living legends still performing or recording. With grants from the State of Hawai`i, Byrd began to teach and ended up with two budding protégés and future legends themselves: Alan Akaka and Casey Olsen. In recent years Akaka has taken on teaching nearly full time – breeding yet another new generation of steel guitarists. In short, Byrd almost single-handedly revived the steel guitar in Hawai`i - despite being a haole from Ohio. 

Christmas In Hawaii is a fine example of Byrd’s virtuosity on the instrument. With the help of longtime friend and musical partner, Hiram Olsen, on the guitar and vibraphonist Francis Ho`okano (of Harold Haku`ole’s “Sometime Group” which recorded with Noelani Mahoe and the Leo Nahenahe Singers on their Hawaiian Christmas), this release by Byrd nearly 40 years ago remains the only recording of steel guitar instrumentals for the holidays in the Hawaiian style. And once you listen, you will understand that you have heard nothing like it before and that despite his Midwest roots, Byrd – as often remarked by his peers – was as Hawaiian as they came. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you can still enjoy the entire album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

Next time: #17 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 18_Christmas_-_Jerry_Byrd_-_Christmas_in_Hawaii.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#19 - Waimanalo Keikis - Mele Kalikimaka

Researcher, teacher, author, and musician Noelani Mahoe already made Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i with her 1965 Tradewinds Records release Hawaiian Christmas. And she does so again with an even more iconic album from a decade later on which she added “choir director” to her list of accomplishments – Mele Kalikimaka by children’s choral group, the Waimanalo Keikis. 

According to musician, composer, and journalist Keith Haugen who wrote the liner notes for the album, it was recorded – as so many Christmas albums are – in July. But while this might make a difference in L.A. (Mel Torme and Robert Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” – “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” – in July in Hollywood to try to cool off during a marathon songwriting session), the weather would not be much different in Honolulu whether it be July or December. In Hawai`i, you have to work to create a Christmas mood, but those who know Auntie Noe know that she has the Christmas spirit every day of the year – making her the perfect choice to lead this choir of young people on any day in any month. 

The album – only the first by this aggregation – would catapult the youth choir to heights rivaled only by the more famous Honolulu Boy Choir. As Haugen put it on his own blog: 

And in 1978, on behalf of Governor Ariyoshi, we recommended the Keikis as representatives of Hawai`i for a major cultural program in Japan. The host group - Kokusai Bunka Kyokai - said "no," they wanted older students, since groups coming from other countries were all high school and college age students. But when they heard the Keikis singing at Blanche Pope Elementary School in Waimanalo, they said "YES!" For many of the touring Hawaiian children, it was the first time they had been off the Island of O`ahu. Some had never even been to Honolulu before that trip to Japan. 

The Waimanalo Keikis would go on to record another popular LP as well as accompany Keith and Carmen Haugen on their beloved Chasing Rainbows LP in 1978. But unlike other children’s choral groups from which the children ultimately graduate by virtue of maturing and changing voices – never to see each other again – the group reunited 30 years after the release of their Christmas album to celebrate its rerelease on CD. As Haugen put it, “They sang together for the first time in a quarter century and, although their voices have beautifully matured, they sounded great, remembered their parts, and had fun.” 

I have written here before many times of my friend, Hawaiian music stalwart Harold Haku`ole who appears on countless Hawaiian music LPs, often uncredited. I used to sit and talk to Harold for countless hours, and the conversation would invariably turn to his steel guitar playing which was immediately identifiable to other steel players after only a few notes. Uncle Harold would insist that he only played the steel in a recording studio once –  for his friend Noelani Mahoe’s most recent CD, Eia Au O Noelani. And I would politely argue with him, “That’s not true because I have the albums, and I have heard you play steel guitar on albums dating back four decades.” And we would agree to disagree. But Haugen – who was in that classroom for those warm-ish July recording sessions – confirms that it was indeed Haku`ole on the steel guitar that day. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you and your `ohana can join my family in celebrating the season by dialing up the album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

Next time: #18 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Trivia: One of today’s popular supporting musicians in Hawai`i was also a Waimanalo Keiki. He has never made an album under his own name, but he has recorded with some of Hawai`i’s most popular artists of the last 30 years. Guess who? (Difficulty Rating: Hard if you’re merely guessing. Easy if you’re information literacy skills are well honed and you are near an iPhone, iPad, or computer.) 


Direct download: 19_Christmas_-_Waimanalo_Keikis_-_Mele_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#20 - Christmas with the Honolulu Boy Choir

People often ask me how I amassed such a vast collection of Hawaiian recordings. Naturally there was no one source of all of these beautiful recordings. Many were gifts from cherished aunties and uncles. Some were the result of scouring record stores in every city I have ever visited. Some were from the eBay era – paying top value for practically one-of-a-kind must haves from such unlikely regions of the world as Australia and France. And, on rare occasion, it has been through the kindness of strangers who knew I would preserve this music long after it had been forgotten by others. 

In the 1970s and 80s the place to find Hawaiian music was the House of Music, a retail store which occupied a significant amount of square footage in the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu and which was managed by Hawaiian music historian Lydia Ludin. I sometimes fancy myself a Ludin acolyte. If you called her up on the phone and asked her which albums Sonny Chillingworth played guitar on, she could tell you without even pulling a 3x5 card out of a file box. Before the Internet made the world a slightly smaller place and eBay made it possible to find anything you’d ever wanted (or once had and somehow lost), when I got my first job and made my first buck, most of it went to the House of Music which was only a phone call away. Eventually I befriended their shipping department, the head of which was a Hawaiian who hailed from Chicago but who had returned to his O`ahu home, Art Ryan. Art and I chatted monthly for a period of years, and so he knew better than anybody how much money I dropped on that store. 

One day around 1989-90, I returned home from work one day to find an unusually large box from the House of Music, and I wondered what it could possibly be when I hadn’t ordered anything. I opened it to find more than 100 sealed records on the Hula, Lehua, Makaha, Mahalo, and Waikiki labels – some of which I owned but which had seen the ravages of time, and some of which were completely new to me. It turns out that the House of Music was having a sidewalk sale – an opportunity that this New Jersey resident obviously could not take advantage of – and without my knowing, Art shopped the sale for me – holding back one copy of every record he put out in the bins. And every sealed, brand new record was marked at the whopping price of 99 cents! The lot was accompanied by a note: 


We had a sidewalk sale, and I didn’t want you to miss out. You probably have most of these, so only pay us for the ones you don’t already have. 


Uncle Art 

Obviously I paid for the entire lot since I was shocked that anyone would think of me from so far away, because I valued my relationship with the House of Music, and because the sealed copies of records I already had were in much better condition than my time-worn copies. 

Sadly, that was my last communication from Art Ryan. I never heard from him again, and my collection grew so vast, so quickly that some of the records from that sidewalk sale are still sealed nearly 25 years later. Perhaps I should have a sidewalk sale? 

Among the albums in the box that I had not heard before were two by the Honolulu Boy Choir whom I had only seen on TV specials hosted by Jim Nabors or Dolly Parton. Having sung in choirs most of my young life, I was naturally enthralled. This was a top-notch choir of young men rivaled only by the Harlem Boys Choir (whom I had first heard live in Toronto at a week-long choral festival in 1989). And from the arrival of that box, Christmas with the Honolulu Boy Choir has been a staple of holiday listening for my family ever since and ranks among Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you and your `ohana can join my family in celebrating the season by dialing up the album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

And whenever you think of Christmas and Hawai`i, remember the kindness of my friend Art Ryan and consider giving someone you love the gift of Hawaiian music. 

Next time: #19 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


#21 - Arthur Lyman - Mele Kalikimaka

For a period of over 30 years – from the 1950s through the early 1990s – there was little interest in the style of music known to many as “exotica” – a type of music that combined elements of jazz and percussion with high drama and the taste of a (perhaps mythical) South Pacific island. Although the sound was invented on the mainland by bandleader Les Baxter, it was made most famous by two Hawai`i locals – Martin Denny (for whom the style was named for his debut LP, Exotica) and Arthur Lyman (a graduate of Denny’s band who went on to great fame in his own right). The music was wildly popular in the 50s and early 60s but then almost just as quickly died. In the 90s, however, the “exotica” style of music was lumped into a larger category of music from the era – including the cool jazz of George Shearing, the large Latin orchestra of Juan Garcia Esquivel, and the lounge pop of The Three Suns – that was aimed at the Mad Men crowd, the type of music that evokes images of lava lamps, leather settees, and walls upholstered in shag carpet. The new category was dubbed Space Age Bachelor Pad Music (or SABPM), and a new generation of record collectors paid outrageous prices for long out-of-print copies of records by these artists in any condition.

Enter Rykodisc, a then independent record company who found gold in mining and rereleasing the catalogs of Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, and David Bowie. They cashed in on the SABPM craze by licensing the entire Arthur Lyman catalog from his previous label home, Hi-Fi/Life Records. And one of their earliest releases was Lyman’s holiday album, Mele Kalikimaka. The Internet was still in its infancy in 1993, but Rykodisc producer David Greenberg took to the SABPM message boards in search of the album’s original cover which Hi-Fi/Life did not have in its archives. They accepted my offer of the album cover from my personal collection, and after several conversations with Greenberg, Rykodisc asked me to consult on the remaining Lyman releases because of my intimate knowledge of his music and his role in Hawaiian music history. I agreed, and the next thing I found in my mailbox were the original session notes from every Lyman group recording session – a veritable treasure trove of minutia that only a collector would appreciate.

As Rykodisc began work on the Christmas release, the first comment I made about the process was to be my last. I mentioned to Greenberg that most of the titles of the Hawaiian songs would have to be corrected on album covers and in liner notes. When he asked why, I indicated that the albums’ original producers were not too careful about the spelling of these Hawaiian titles, and in an era where we know far more about the orthography of the Hawaiian language, it would be insulting to the Hawai`i market not to use its language correctly. The problem was that this represented work to Rykodisc who had hoped to use original album artwork and liner notes exactly as they had found them on the original LP releases. This work would cut into the profits of the few copies of the CDs that they could hope to sell, and so they ignored my advice, and ultimately they ignored me – to the extent that they did not even use the original album cover art for Mele Kalikimaka that I had already provided by Fed-Ex (at my expense). They opted for something that would appeal more to the SABPM crowd – not the foil-wrapped picture of the Lyman group you see here, but a picture of an attractive woman in a skin-tight elf suit – and Rykodisc renamed the CD version In A Christmas Vibe. For my troubles, Greenberg sent me a Rykodisc poster featuring its prestigious roster of artists – everybody, that is, except Lyman.

My role in the re-release notwithstanding, it is not the cover art that made Mele Kalikimaka great. It was the imaginative Lyman’s unique approach to this music. When I listen to Lyman and his group perform “We Three Kings,” I am traipsing across the desert with gold, frankincense, and myrrh in tow (and I don’t even know what those are). When they do “Sleigh Ride” at those break-neck tempos, I can feel the wind in my face and the snow up my nostrils. Even with their percussive Polynesian spin on these tunes, Arthur Lyman and gang have truly captured the essence of the holiday for people anywhere and everywhere. And this is why Mele Kalikimaka ranks among Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.

You can hear the entire joyous album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or purchases the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold.

Next time: #20 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 21_Christmas_-_Arthur_Lyman_-_Mele_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 4:12am EDT

#22 - Have A Merry Karen Christmas

Although perhaps better known as a comedienne, as a showroom performer Karen Keawehawaii could do it all – from emcee to singer with a cry-like break in her voice (what would be called ha`i for the male singers) reminiscent of singer/composer Lena Machado. Perhaps Karen heard the resemblance too for she would cover at least two Machado compositions on each of her first five LPs. 

But it is as funny lady that Karen may be best known – starting out as co-host of Channel 9 bingo with Kirk Matthews and parlaying this into a career hosting a variety of local radio, TV, and live events. One of these was the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contests in the 2000s in which she joked about my non-resident status by introducing me as being from the “08638” and “area code 609.” 

Have A Merry Karen Christmas is a beautiful album which would rank higher on Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i if it were not such a “period piece.” Although her voice harkens back to a golden era of singers from Hawai`i, the recordings alas cannot be considered quite so timeless since they were recorded in the 1980s, and Hawaiian music in the 1980s was stuck in the unique sounds of the 80s – right down to the keyboards and drum machines. But there are moments on Have A Merry Karen Christmas that may be among the most beautiful of any of the holiday recordings ever produced in the islands. On the two cuts I have selected for your enjoyment – my two favorites from the album – Karen achieves a soulfulness reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson – proving again that Karen was more than a funny lady, but also a true singer’s singer possessing genuine “chops.” 

Although Karen remains active on the entertainment scene, she picks and chooses her public appearance opportunities now – as befitting a living legend. Sadly, none of Karen’s LPs or CDs have been rereleased in the MP3 era, and all of her CDs are out of print. And so it has been nearly 30 years since most have heard Have A Merry Karen Christmas – an album never available in the digital era, an album so rare that there wasn’t a single image of its original cover on the Internet before this blog post. I hope you enjoy hearing these Christmas treasures again and honoring a tremendously funny and loving lady who once honored me with a funny and heart-warming introduction on one of the most important evenings of my life. 

Next time: #21 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 22_Christmas_-_Karen_Keawehawaii_-_Have_A_Merry_Karen_Christmas.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:44am EDT

#23 – Melveen Leed – Christmas with Melveen

In the 1970s Melveen Leed forged a new path in Hawaiian music by combining traditional Hawaiian songs and hapa-haole classics with the sounds of her heroes in Nashville. Hawai`i’s answer to Connie Smith or Donna Fargo, Leed’s music was still somehow Hawaiian because of the material she chose. But these now countless albums (there might have been a dozen over a 15 year period) were produced by Charles “Bud” Dant who despite being based in Hawai`i previously had his roots in all kinds of music on the mainland. To achieve just the sound Leed was seeking, Dant enlisted a raft of Nashville’s finest session players – often referred to as the “Super Pickers,” guys who had backed everyone from Dolly Parton to Willie Nelson. But it would hardly be reasonable to import a dozen guys from Nashville to Honolulu for the recording sessions. So, instead, Dant sent Leed to Nashville where she could not only record with their best and brightest but also soak up a little down home spirit. Then Dant took those tracks into Honolulu’s Sounds of Hawaii studios where he added the Hawaiian touches – most notably, the steel guitar of Jerry Byrd (who, ironically, was not Hawaiian but himself an import from Cincinnati).

And now that you know how all of those classic Hawaiian country sides by Melveen Leed were made, forget all of it. Because Christmas with Melveen was a different affair entirely.

Many have since forgotten that before she was the “Hawaiian Country Girl,” Melveen was a pop and jazz singer who worked the hotels and nightclub of the Waikiki strip singing everything from Cole Porter to Antonio Carlos Jobim to native African fare. (Her latest, I Wish You Love, marks a return to her jazz roots.) So for her sole holiday release, still under the direction of Bud Dant, Melveen completely abandoned the country persona she created and instead reached deep into her bag of tricks to show us everything she can do and every influence that has ever weighted upon her. First there is her straight-ahead pop take on the Mel Torme and Robert Wells classic, “The Christmas Song” (my personal favorite Christmas song). Then there is her jazzier approach to what I have always simply called her “Bells Medley” (“Carol of the Bells,” “Silver Bells,” and “Jingle Bells”). (I hope you appreciate how she manages to continue to swing “Jingle Bells” mercilessly even as Bud Dant superimposes the 3/4 time counterpoint over her 4/4 jam.) And, the piece de resistance, Melveen’s surprising version of “Ave Maria” – a song we might never expect her to tackle, but she proves (as she always does) that she has the chops, at times approaching the gravitas of a Beverly Sills and the soulfulness of a Mahalia Jackson.

If for no other reason, I love Christmas with Melveen because it is one of the rare recordings on which Melveen in her many facets sparkles like the diamond she is – warranting this album a spot among the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. Fortunately for all of us, Lehua Records has re-released this classic in the digital era, and you can find it on such services as Spotify and Rhapsody.

Next time: #22 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 23_Christmas_-__Melveen_Leed_-_Christmas_with_Melveen.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:41am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Sonny Kamahele

Google “Sonny Kamahele” and the first search result is indeed an oddity. In an entry on “The Best Luxury Hotels on Oahu,” the online version of Frommers travel guide is quick to point out that although most cannot afford to stay at the “money is no object” Halekulani Hotel, one must still drop by some evening at sunset and sip a mai tai at the House Without A Key while Sonny Kamahele serenades them.  

But Uncle Sonny left us more than 10 years ago now. This Frommers entry then either speaks to the editors’ inattentiveness or the seeming invincibility of the gentleman with arguably the longest career in Hawaiian music show business. Who ever thought the immortal Sonny Kamahele could ever die? Certainly not me.  

Solomon “Sonny” Kamahele was born August 28, 1921 in Honolulu, Hawai`i. I don’t even know how to describe adequately the career of someone who – in a more than 60 year career as a singer, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and arranger – literally and figuratively “did it all.” Sonny’s was no doubt one of the most illustrious careers in the history of Hawaiian music. He was already a first call musician when Alfred Apaka recruited Hawaii Calls cast member Benny Kalama to be the musical director for his show at the then recently opened Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1957, and Benny turned around and enlisted Sonny for the group that would become known for the hotel where they held court, the Hawaiian Village Serenaders. After Apaka’s passing, the group would stay on at the hotel to support shows by such other legends of Hawaiian entertainment as Hilo Hattie while throughout the 1960s Sonny led his own group at this same hotel’s Surf Room. And all the while Sonny was also an in demand studio musician who appeared on more recordings than one can count (often uncredited except to those who recognize his guitar playing or his voice). 

Sonny also toiled largely anonymously as a critically important member of the Hawaii Calls program’s orchestra and chorus – lending his guitar and voice for both the radio and short-lived TV versions of the program as well as on innumerable recordings which found their way around the world courtesy of Webley Edwards’ multi-year contract with Capitol Records. Like so many in the rhythm section of that program – Jimmy Kaopuiki, Sonny Nicholas, and others – Sonny rarely received the credit he deserved. He was too rarely given a vocal solo, but you would occasionally hear his voice pop out of the texture of the chorus – especially if he was singing in his lowest register. 

And, oh, that voice! Sonny’s gorgeous pipes ranged from the highest, sweetest falsetto you have ever heard down to his lowest basso profundo which he used to great effect on the Hawaii Calls novelty numbers. And he was the last of a rare breed of rhythm guitarists who played in the real old style – part guitarist, part drummer, heavy on the syncopation, an upstroke as well as a downstroke with the pick. (Today’s Hawaiian rhythm guitarists do not value the upstroke highly enough, I fear.) And many may have already forgotten that Sonny was handy with a steel guitar, as well – mastering the seldom used D9th tuning.  

Perhaps because so many of the show’s other stars had either passed away, gone on to greener pastures, or altogether packed it in, Sonny began to stand out more on Hawaii Calls by the 1970s. Here he is featured on two numbers from shows selected from the 1972-73 season – both of which honor Queen Lili`uokalani. 

“E Lili`u E” is a mele inoa or “name song,” a song honoring a person – not anonymously like some love songs, but by name. Here the song honors the queen – referring to her as “Lili`u,” for short. But it is not often remembered that the song was not originally for her. The song dates back a little farther to a chant composed for her sister-in-law, Queen Kapi`olani, and was entitled “E Kapi`olani E.” 

By contrast, “Anapau” is a mele ma`i, a song composed to honor royalty by honoring instead their genitalia – a uniquely Hawaiian tradition. This should not be considered vulgar for it is these organs which are the source of life. The reference to Lili`uokalani’s life-giving organs here is the song’s title which means “frisky.” But the song was also sometimes referred to by the title “He Mele Ma`i No Lili`uokalani,” and, like “E Lili`u E,” was originally a chant. This is what makes the arrangement you are listening to all the more interesting since the use of instruments on a song that was originally a chant opens up a world of possibilities – arranger Benny Kalama altering the chords for certain verses to use the IV9 (or subdominant 9th chord) where one would usually expect the I (or tonic). 

I knew Sonny personally from the final period of his career which he spent at the Halekulani Hotel’s famed House Without A Key. I used to go listen to him play with The Islanders, a group led by steel guitarist Alan Akaka, at the venue local musicians once referred to affectionately as “HWAK” where they performed for nearly 20 years from September 1983 until Sonny’s retirement in August 2003. I miss Sonny in as many ways as he had talents. I not only miss his music, I miss his spirit and his kolohe nature. Unlike some of the other relationships I have had the privilege of forging with Hawaiian music legends, it would be disingenuous of me to call Sonny my “friend.” We didn’t know each other well enough. But we shared many a lovely evening after his performances at HWAK, sitting under the kiawe tree hours after the gig ended until Halekulani staff ultimately had to kick us out or sweep around us. He regaled me with stories of a Hawai`i – and a Hawaiian music scene – that I will never knew. Sonny was my hero, but he also personally knew so many of my other heroes that he was my “one degree of separation.” Despite being a legend, Sonny was a most unassuming presence – dressing to the nines in the all-white uniform he himself conceived of for the Halekulani gig (and which the bands which came after still wear to this day), but playing a vintage Gibson archtop so ravaged by time that it was held together with duct tape. And that pretty much sums up the Sonny I will always remember. 

Next time: A Hawaiian Christmas classic that would not have been the same without Sonny…  


Direct download: 04_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:34am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Boyce Rodrigues in the 70s

You likely read here previously that after sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues, Boyce was the last member of the musical Rodrigues family (whose matriarch, Vicki I`i, was with the show’s cast from its inauguration on July 3, 1935 until 1951 when daughter Lani largely replaced her) to arrive on the set of Hawaii Calls – joining the cast in 1962. But he would stay until the show’s untimely demise in 1975. It would not be long before he would be an audience favorite, catapulting him to stardom in showrooms across Waikiki. During the period when these Hawaii Calls shows were taped in the early 1970s, Boyce would also be headlining at Primo Gardens at the Ilikai Hotel and co-starring in sister Lani’s “Return to Paradise” production there. But a few years later, he would buy a property in the 1600 block of Ala Moana Boulevard and open Watertown – a place that would become the Green Lantern of its generation, the place where all of the other entertainers would go to hang out after their Waikiki gig was over for the night, the result a perpetual all-night jam session featuring Hawai`i’s most famous musicians. Like the rest of the Rodrigues’ `ohana, Boyce was a tremendous addition to the Hawaii Calls cast – jovial and ready to sing a comic hula, or using his baritone on a haunting love ballad. Here we listen to him do a little of both. 

Boyce opens this set with “Hula `Oni `Oni E.” (“`Oni” means “to wiggle.”) I have said time and again that some of the best comic hapa-haole songs were composed by songwriters with no ties to Hawai`i. This song – a favorite among hula dancers – was composed by Cliff Bernal and Joaquin Cambria whose only other composition on record seems to be the “Rhumba Havana.” Boyce is joined by his singing sisters here for a family affair, and there is a brief, but rollicking steel guitar solo by Barney Isaacs. 

I have mentioned already the issue of limited repertoire on this program – with songs being recycled from time to time. You may recall hearing Alfred Apaka sing “Dreams of Old Hawaii” when Ho`olohe Hou examined Hawaii Calls in the 1950s. The song was composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre gave Apaka one of his early breaks when he recruited a still young Alfred to star in McIntyre’s show at the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. But with Apaka gone now, Boyce would step up and sing the song that once belonged to Hawaii Calls’ former boy singer. 

Finally, Boyce gives us a song that would be the title of his then forthcoming album, “Happy Me.” When we spoke of Ed Kenney’s performance of “Pearly Shells,” I noted that while ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tatar believed that song to be one of the most successful adaptations of a Hawaiian song into English, I disagreed because the resulting English song doesn’t tell even remotely the same story as the Hawaiian original. If we are looking for a better example of an adaptation of a Hawaiian song into English, it might be “Happy Me” which like the original, “Laupahoehoe Hula” by Irmgard Aluli, tells the story of a young Hawaiian man and the simple pleasures he finds in everyday life in Hawai`i. Ironically, the English versions of “Pearly Shells” and “Happy Me” were both written by Leon Pober (who also wrote “Tiny Bubbles” which is not an adaptation of any song). 

We will hear more from Boyce as we continue our look at Hawaii Calls in the 1970s. 

Next time: A look at a long-time Hawaii Calls cast member who only took center stage in the 1970s… 


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 7:01am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Jimmy Kaopuiki in the 70s

When we spoke about Hawaii Calls bassist and vocalist Jimmy Kaopuiki and his work on the show in the 1950s and 60s, I pointed out that his was one of the many voices that led off the show week after week but which Webley Edwards rarely announced. So to the radio audience Kaopuiki largely toiled in obscurity – which is the lot in life of a great rhythm section player. And Jimmy was one of the best ever. 

Nonetheless, over the last few weeks I have aimed to give Kaopuiki his due (which is long overdue). Here are a few of the numbers with which Jimmy opened the radio show during the 1972-73 season. 

“Tomo Pono” is an old song from the Big Island. It is rarely sung, and on the rare occasion it is, it is usually on the back porch at a pa`ina. (Which is why I was delighted to learn that the song was done once again by the group Waipuna on their album just released last month.) Hawaii Calls’ largely mainland haole audiences would not know that this is one of the most explicit of all of the Hawaiian love songs. As orthographer Jean Sullivan put it, if this song had been written and recorded in English, it would have warranted an “Explicit Lyrics” warning label. Also called “Hō`ese Pue Ana `Oe” (which means “that thing you’ve been concealing”), Jimmy says it all when he sings, “Hō`ike i ka mea nui” (“Show the big thing then already”). 

“Maile Lau Li`ili`i” is a love song by former Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room bandleader Ray Kinney with an assist from David Burrows. It is a love song in which the lovers are described as various elements occurring in nature around Hawai`i – the maile vine with the palai fern, the `ie`ie vine with the `iwa`iwa frond, and so on and so forth. The metaphor here (or kaona, as the poetic technique is known in Hawaiian) is that these elements not merely co-exist in nature, but are somewhat symbiotic – often wrapping themselves around each other like lovers. Here Jimmy receives a little help from the ladies vocal trio of Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lahela Rodrigues, and Lani Custino. 

“`Uhe`uhene” opens another program for a rollicking hula number in which the ladies used their `uli`uli, small, hollow gourds filled with seeds and capped with the feathers of Hawaiian birds to be used as a rattling percussion implement for the hula. The song, composed by Charles E. King, is often referred to as the “Hawaiian Shouting Song,” but it, too, is a love song which utilizes a fishing metaphor and challenges the fisherman to catch the fish of his choice before another fisherman takes his shot and their lines get all tangled up. 

“Hola E Pae” is – surprise! – another love song, but not one with a happy ending. Sometimes referred to 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 there. This is one of the rare occasions that we can distinctly hear the twin steel guitars Hawaii Calls always employed – in this case handled by Barney Isaacs and Joe Custino (husband of Lani Custino). In this most interesting arrangement by then musical director Benny Kalama, Jimmy splits each phrase with the ladies trio or the entire chorus, and the key goes up-and-down a half step even in the middle of a verse – very unusual for a Hawaiian song. 

Now I don’t want to say that these songs were taken at a rapid tempo, but Jimmy and the gang just whipped through four songs in 4 minutes 37 seconds. 

You will hear still more of Jimmy Kaopuiki as we continue to celebrate Hawaii Calls in the 1970s. 

Next time: Another gentleman who joined the cast in the 1960s sticks around Hawaii Calls until the bitter end…


Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:02am EDT

#24 – Noelani Mahoe – Hawaiian Christmas

The story of this album revolves around one of my heroes – and one of the unspoken heroes in Hawaiian music history. According to the book Hawaiian Music and Musicians, Margaret Williams was a mainland haole woman who moved to Hawai`i for health reasons. One day Williams made a recording of a boy on Waikiki Beach singing a couple of songs and released the tunes as two sides of a 45 rpm single. The record was a huge smash, and from this humble beginning Williams trudged forth and started her own record label - Tradewinds Records. According to Williams’ longtime collaborator – researcher, teacher, author, and musician Noelani Mahoe who led many Tradewinds recording sessions – “She was also strictly Hawaiian. She never learned the language, but authenticity was a must.” 

And you are assured authenticity in the hands of Mahoe who leads the group here again on the 1965 Tradewinds release simply entitled Hawaiian Christmas. And what a stellar group comprised not of the superstars of Hawaiian music, but, rather, of the most reliable session musicians in Hawaiian music history – men and women who toiled to make others sound better but who rarely had the spotlight themselves. The ladies singing group was known as the Leo Nahenahe Singers, which in addition to Noelani included Lynette Kaopuiki Paglinawan and sisters Mona and Ethelyne Teves. The gentlemen are led by my dear friend Harold Haku`ole in what he called his “Sometime Group” since they rarely performed live but only for recording sessions such as this. They included Clarence Hohu (usually on the steel guitar), Al Ka`ailau (the honorary fourth member of the Kahauanu Lake Trio who is heard on most of their records) on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Bobby Ayres, vibraphonist Francis Ho`okano, slack key guitarist Atta Isaacs, and Harold on whatever was needed to round out the group. 

This is as traditional as Hawaiian Christmas music will ever get. And so it ranks – in my humble opinion – among the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. 

Next time: #23 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 24_Christmas_-_Noelani_Mahoe_-_Hawaiian_Christmas.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#25 – The Surfers – Christmas from Hawaii

1959 was a very good year for Hawaiian music. Perhaps instigated by the prospect of statehood and the possibility of wider mainland exposure for local Hawai`i artists, that year gave us some particularly good albums – so many, in fact, that the year warrants its own feature series here at Ho`olohe Hou before the Baby New Year whisks away the 55th anniversary of the year 1959. 

Let’s start with this one… 

There were few musical aggregations in the history of Hawai’i - or anywhere, for that matter - in which all the participants were as strong vocally as they were with their instruments. But The Surfers were. While some of their arrangements may seem dated so many years after, the musicianship is undeniably timeless.  And the vocal harmonies were as intricate as any offered by the finest jazz vocal groups before or since - reminiscent of their mainland contemporaries such as the Four Freshmen or the Hi-Los.  As rare as this combination is - in Hawai’i, only The Aliis or The Invitations came close in that era – now add brothers Clay and Al Naluai’s rapport with an audience and fearlessness for doing anything to make an audience come alive in the tradition of the Smothers Brothers. 

Already several records into their contract with Los Angeles-based Hi-Fi Records (which was also the record label home of Arthur Lyman and his group), The Surfers’ musicianship and good humor shined through on their first and only Christmas LP, Christmas from Hawaii. But they were not alone in the endeavor. You may also recall reading here that the members of the group featured on the Hawaii Calls radio program were each sought after musicians in their own right – especially for studio work. Here The Surfers are joined by Hawaii Calls’ ubiquitous bassist Jimmy Kaopuiki and the show’s legendary steel guitarist Jules Ah See who makes his guitar sound like everything from church bells to a pipe organ for this session. Finally, the boys were joined by percussionist Harold Chang (of the Arthur Lyman group, and later drum teacher at Harry’s Music in Kaimuki) who shakes all manner of maracas and sleigh bells to create just the right atmosphere. 

The Surfers Christmas in Hawaii ranks #25 on my list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i, but it ranks even higher on the list of great albums produced by musicians from Hawai`i in 1959. I hope you enjoy this throwback to a simpler time – in Hawai`i or anywhere – more than 50 years ago. 

Next time: #24 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 25_Christmas_-_The_Surfers_-_Christmas_from_Hawaii.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 8:06am EDT

Ho`olohe Hou Ho Ho

There is something utterly fascinating about the combination of Hawaiian music and the music of Christmas. The holiday conjures up thoughts of cold and frost and images of snow-covered coniferous trees, but while the missionaries imported a few Norfolk pines to Hawai`i, they did not bring along the frozen precipitation from Boston. So when Hawaiians sing of a “White Christmas,” if they truly desire to have one, they had better hop a jet for the mainland.

Webley Edwards once joked, “Let our folks sing ‘Aloha `Oe’ or ‘Havah Nagilah’ or ‘Jingle Bells’ and it comes out Hawaiian.” And he may have a point. As I wrote here earlier, how to achieve the Hawaiian “sound” or “feel” may not be entirely teachable. You may need to be born with it (or into it). So when we listen to holiday music from Hawai`i, it takes on a decidedly tropical feel – as if it could melt all of the snow from our frozen hearts. And some of us desire this. Others of us just long to be closer to the islands at a time of the year that conjures up thoughts of friends and family, and if our family is 5,000 miles away in Kane`ohe or Hilo or Lihue or Makawao, this music keeps them a little closer to our hearts.

I thought it would be interesting to look at a history of Christmas music from Hawai`i by rummaging through the archives at Ho`olohe Hou and ranking (using my own criteria, mahalo) the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i and featuring one per day from December 1st through Christmas morning – a sort of Advent calendar of Hawaiian music. And I hope you will come along for the sleigh ride! By examining more than 50 years of holiday music from Hawai`i, we also have an interesting opportunity to hear the evolution of Hawaiian music – five decades in only 25 days.

And along the way I will throw out a few “bonus” tracks – holiday songs of note but which may have appeared on an album not wholly worthy of inclusion on the list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i (or which may have appeared on an album that is not holiday-themed at all).

Come celebrate the holidays with me at Ho`olohe Hou!

From my house to yours, here’s wishing your family the best and brightest of seasons and peace, love, and joy throughout the year… Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!

Bill Wynne 


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 8:03am EDT

Hawaii Calls – December 1, 1962 (Part 3)

Host Webley Edwards changes the mood from the comic “Mama’s Mu`umu`u” to the romantic “Low Moon At Waikiki.” This number typifies the cultural and historical gaffs host Webley Edwards often made in writing his scripts. He announces the song title as “Low Moon At Waikiki,” but he is only half-right. When sung in the original Hawaiian, it is a love song entitled “Pua Rose” but which is often affectionately referred to as “Dargie Hula” for composer Henry Kailima`i dedicated the song to a haole woman he referred to only as Mrs. Dargie. The song is only called “Low Moon” when performed as an instrumental. And here Edwards falls down on the job a second time. If the song sounded eerily familiar to Hawaii Calls audiences, it was likely because this was the song played by steel guitarists Jules Ah See, Barney Isaacs, and others as the “connecting tissue” (in radio, often called “bumpers”) between songs as Edwards read the script. (Go back and listen to the previous snippets of the program I have published on this blog, and you will hear “Dargie Hula” on the steel guitar over and over and over again.) This performance is a family affair with the male vocal lead by Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani with a little help from his sisters Nina, Lani, and Lahela. The song became associated with Boyce, and so he ended up recording it on the second LP by his family led by their matriarch, Auntie Vickie Sings (which sadly is no longer in print but which we will likely hear from here at Ho`olohe Hou soon). 

Next the ladies trio – led by Nina – perform a brief snippet of “Hanauma,” a classic from the prolific songwriting team of Mary Kawena Pukui and Maddy Lam which extols the beauty of the Hanauma Bay area of the east end of O`ahu.  

As Webley Edwards sends the cast’s guitarist and vocalist Sonny Kamahele off to Australia for a little while, he invites Haunani Kahalewai to sing a temporary farewell – in this case, “Some Enchanted Evening” from the then recent musical South Pacific. (The cast also frequently performed that musical’s set piece, “Bali Ha`i.”) Haunani has the assistance of the gentlemen of the chorus with a high harmony from Nina whose voice is so haunting here it sounds like a theremin (an experimental electronic instrument popular in that era). 

The show closes – as it always did in that era – with “Aloha `Oe,” composed by Queen Lili`uokalani who intended it as a love song but which was co-opted nonetheless as a song of farewell. 

I hope you have enjoyed this look at a complete Hawaii Calls radio program exactly as it happened 52 years ago today. But there was still a little over a decade remaining in the show’s run, and so we have just a little bit of tribute remaining too. 

Next time: Hawaii Calls denouement in the 1970s… 


(Click here to listen to Part 1 of this program.) 

(Click here to listen to Part 2 of this program.) 


Direct download: 03_Hawaii_Calls_-_12-1-62.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:21am EDT

Hawaii Calls – December 1, 1962 (Part 2)

Host Webley Edwards brings down the tempo a little bit from Haunani’s Tahitian aparima for the more romantic “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight” which features Barney Isaacs on the steel guitar played softly enough to feature Barney’s duet partner, the waves of the great blue Pacific lapping at the shores of Waikiki Beach. 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 Barney. (We have actually now heard the song by two Hawaii Calls steelers – if we include the previous version by Jules Ah See with Haunani taking the vocal lead.) The ladies and gentlemen of the chorus finish up the song from the bridge. 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. 

Barney Isaacs is featured once again on a number popular among steel guitarists, “Hilo March,” with help once again from the chorus. The song – originally titled “Ke `Ala Tuberose” – was composed at a much slower tempo by Royal Hawaiian Band member in 1881 in anticipation of the band’s trip to the Big Island accompanying the princess (not yet queen) Lili`uokalani. But bandmaster Henri Berger didn’t feel it was regal enough and arranged it instead as the march we know today. Residents of the island of Hawai`i largely consider this to be their theme song (despite that it only speaks of the Hilo side of the island).

Finally, some of the greatest comic hulas were written by songwriters from the mainland. Perhaps the songs were so funny because the composers were completely out of touch with Hawaiian culture. But a song like “Mama’s Mu`umu`u” is perfect for Sonny Nicholas who takes the lead on the first verse and then trades leads with Jimmy Kaopuiki and Benny Kalama on the second. Like “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight,” the song was composed by a country-western songwriter, Gene Burdette. 

Next time: The conclusion of the December 1, 1961 episode of Hawaii Calls 


(Click here to listen to Part 1 of this program.) 

(Click here to listen to Part 3 of this program.)


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_12-1-62.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:02am EDT

Hawaii Calls – 52 Years Ago Today

Now that you have heard of all of the greats of the 1960s-era Hawaii Calls cast independently, we can put the pieces of the puzzle back together and enjoy a complete broadcast from that era. And this one just happened to have gone out over the airwaves exactly 52 years ago today on December 1, 1962. In case you have forgotten some of the voices we have heard along the way on our now three-week journey through a history of Hawaii Calls, I will give you a few reminders along the way. 

As always in that era, the show opens with the show’s singing sisters – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues – performing the chant of greeting before Jimmy Kaopuiki launches into the up-tempo “Nani Wale Na Hala,” a song honoring Queen Emma. You may hear her referred to as “Kaleleonalani” in the last verse since after the loss in rapid succession of both her son, Prince Albert (in 1862) and her husband, King Kamehameha IV (in 1863) the queen took the name Kaleleonalani (which means “Flight of the Royal Ones”). (Like many Hawaiian songs handed down through the ages, you may hear “Nani Wale Na Hala” sung to two different melodies. Hawaii Calls cast member Mahi Beamer sings the alternate version of the melody on his LP Hawaii’s Mahi Beamer which was recorded with members of the Hawaii Calls group.) The group then slows down the tempo for a medley with the Gordon Beecher and Johnny Noble hapa-haole standard “Song of Old Hawaii” which features the voice of Haunani Kahalewai with a high harmony by Nina and the steel guitar of Barney Isaacs. I have previously used this space to question some of the artistic choices made the by show’s producers and/or musical director, and here I am compelled to point out that there is no obvious thematic connection between “Na Hala O Naue” and “Song of Old Hawaii.” But as the latter appears on Haunani’s then recent LP release Hawaii’s Favorite Singing Star: Haunani!, recorded as part of Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records, she was likely encouraged to sing the song to plug the LP on which it also appeared.  

Next Nina, Lani, and Lahela – whom host Webley Edwards often refers to as the “High Trio” – performs just a snippet of “He Aloha No `O Honolulu.” Composed by Lot Kauwe, a composer with a wandering eye who often set his dalliances to music, the song speaks metaphorically of a trip aboard the inter-island steamer Maunaloa and a potential lover at each port. But, oddly, the ladies are only permitted to sing one of the five verses Kauwe composed. So in this version the dalliances are never evidenced because we never get out of home port. 

The seldom heard but heavenly waltz-time tune is often simply called “The Winds From Over The Sea” for its first line, but its real title is “A Song To Hawai’i.” The rightful composer has been contested, but as noted by ethnomusicologist Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman (in a scholarly article, "Aloha Aina": New Persecptives on "Kaulana Na Pua", The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 33, 1999), at least two generally credible sources credits J.D. Redding with composing the song: Jack Ailau’s Buke Mele Hawaii and Charles E. King’s Book of Hawaiian Melodies (1923 edition). Interestingly, despite that the song dates back to at least 1923 - and possibly earlier - I cannot find in my archives or in any publicly available electronic materials (spelled Google) any versions recorded until the 1960s and none recorded since. This song seems to have had a very specific moment of popularity in time, and we can only speculate about the sudden fervor (statehood and the ensuing spike in tourism?) and its just as sudden demise (perhaps the somewhat archaic waltz time which renders the song impossible for the hula). It is all very odd because scores of other hapa-haole songs (songs which extol the beauty and virtues of Hawai’i but written in the English language) remain very popular despite their quaintness in these modern times. The vocal solo here is by Sonny Nicholas. 

Haunani loved to sing songs in a variety of languages. She has been known to record songs not only in English and Hawaiian, but also in Tahitian, Samoan, and even Fijian. Here Haunani regales the audience with “Vahine Anamite,” a song composed by Tahiti’s most popular musician of that era, Eddie Lund, and which honors the hard-working Indo-Chinese women immigrants to Tahiti. The song was already a staple of Haunani’s repertoire when she performed it here as it had also – like “Song of Old Hawaii” earlier – previously appeared on her then recent LP release Hawaii’s Favorite Singing Star: Haunani! 

Next time: Part 2 of the December 1, 1962 episode of Hawaii Calls 


(Click here to listen to Part 2 of this program.) 

(Click here to listen to Part 3 of this program.)


Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_12-1-62.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:17am EDT