#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