#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

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

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

#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

#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

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

Hawaii Calls – Ed and Lani – Hana Hou

Continuing our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

You recently heard Ed Kenney and Lani Custino duet on “Ke Kali Nei Au,” which came to be known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” The song became even more popular and more closely associated with weddings after1959 when national singing sensation Andy Williams released his version (which went to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart). This was followed almost immediately by Elvis Presley’s version from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii. But most Hawaiians do not consider it a wedding song because the original Hawaiian-language lyric does not convey a sentiment even remotely related to marriage. The English-language version sung by Williams, Presley, and most entertainers in Hawai`i after them is not a translation of the original Hawaiian-language version. So who knows where the wedding “theme” arose from? 

Then which song would the Hawaiians consider a wedding song? Check out this lyric… 


E ku`u lei / Beloved of mine 

Lei aloha na`u, lei makamae / To me you're precious, I adore only you 

Eia au, ke kali nei / Alone I wait, my heart is yearning 

Ho`i mai kāua, ho`i mai e pili / Come my love, abide with me 


The lovely “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae” was penned by the same Charles E. King who composed “Ke Kali Nei Au.” But you can see for yourself that this song is closer to a song of betrothal. Still, when tourists request the “Wedding Song,” crowd-pleasing entertainers in Hawai`i will serve up “Ke Kali Nei Au.” But when Hawaiians sing for each other, their first choice is “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae.” 

It is rare that the same duet partners would team up for both wedding songs, so this was quite a coup on the part of Hawaii Calls creator/host Webley Edwards. (In fact, I cannot think of another singing duo that has given both songs a whirl on record.) And there was no better choice of partners than Ed Kenney and Lani Custino. 

The setting for the scene is, of course, the coconut grove of what was the Coco Palms Resort in Wailuā on the island of Kaua`i. For more than 20 years locals have mourned the loss of the iconic property which was ravaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. But the property is currently under redevelopment by Hyatt and is scheduled to open its doors – and, hopefully, its coconut grove – again in 2017. 

I hope you have enjoyed this retrospective on Ed Kenney and his rare performances culled from episodes of the Hawaii Calls TV show. Of course, Ho`olohe Hou will revisit the man and his music when we celebrate Ed Kenney’s birthday next August. 


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_And_Lani_Custino_-_Lei_Aloha_Lei_Makamae.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 11:26am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney and Lani Custino

Continuing our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

You have likely already read here previously about the singing sisters of Hawaii Calls in the 1960s – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lahela Rodrigues, and Lani Custino, all three daughters of original cast member and the program’s song librarian Vicki I`i Rodrigues. And, if you have read all about these sisters, then you know that Nina was groomed as the singer and Lani as the hula dancer. Like Beverly Noa, Lani became known as one of Hawai`i’s finest showroom hula dancers and her hula hands equally iconic for their countless appearances on menu covers, travel posters, and hotel showroom advertisements. But just because Custino was better known for her hula should not imply that she was steered in that direction because she could not sing. On the contrary, Lani is one of the finest singers Hawai`i ever produced. 

Most of Lani’s appearances on the television version of the Hawaii Calls show featured her hula. But, on rare occasion among the too few 26 episodes of the program, Lani’s lovely voice was featured in duet with every girl singer’s favorite duet partner, Ed Kenney. And since you have previously heard here three different duet pairings on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” by Hawaii Calls cast members, I thought we should add yet another to the canon. 

Some of the most memorable versions of the song were waxed by the cast members of Hawaii Calls. One must-hear recording is the version by Don Paishon and Nina Keali`iwahamana. (At some point I may offer up that version here for comparison/contrast with the version by Nina’s sister with Ed Kenney.) Lani waxed the song once previously – on the debut album by Don Ho, The Don Ho Show, recorded live at Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace. So this is a song for which Lani will forever be known both in Hawai`i and around the world. (Perhaps a comparison between the Ho/Custino version and the Kenney/Custino version is in order, as well?) 

As I have written here before many times, the title “Hawaiian Wedding Song” is a bit of a misrepresentation. Penned by prolific composer Charles E. King, the original Hawaiian lyric has nothing to do with marriage. King wrote the original “Ke Kali Nei Au” for a Hawaiian language opera, Prince of Hawai`i, which was first performed at the Liberty Theater in Honolulu on May 4, 1925 and whose cast included Ray Kinney (of Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room” fame) as the titular prince. The first recording of “Ke Kali Nei Au” – written as a duet for male and female – did not take place until three years later in a 1928 session for Columbia Records and featured soprano Helen Desha Beamer and baritone Samuel Kapu – the very same Sam Kapu who was with the Hawaii Calls cast almost from its inception in 1935 through the late 1950s (including its earliest LP records). 

But if “Ke Kali Nei Au” is not the real “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” what song would most Hawaiians consider fills the bill? If we knew, perhaps Ed and Lani would sing that one for us instead. 

Next time: Ed Kenney and Lani Custino give us a hana hou and sing the real wedding song… 


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_And_Lani_Custino_-_Hawaiian_Wedding_Song.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 10:03am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney and Bev Noa

Continuing our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

For those familiar with the Waikiki entertainment scene of the 1960s and 70s, you already well know that Ed Kenney was not always a solo artist. His most unusual duet partner, however, was not another singer but, rather, a hula dancer. Like Lani Custino, Beverly Noa is considered one of the finest purveyors of showroom hula in the history of local Hawai`i entertainment. Kenney must have thought so too because he made Ms. Noa his wife. 

Together Kenney and Noa headlined shows on the Waikiki strip throughout the late 1960s and 1970s – most notably at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Halekulani Hotel. Who knows if there are any videos from those performances in the pre-Handycam era? But there are a number of performances by the duo from the 1965-66 television version of the Hawaii Calls program. Here is one of my favorites. 

If the lei is the most precious symbol of affection the Hawaiians can give, what could be more precious than a lei of flowers? A lei of stars, perhaps? In 1949, composer R. Alex Anderson published the now classic “I’ll Weave A Lei of Stars,” but a few years later, another composer extended Anderson’s analogy to outfit the object of his affection with a lei of stars, a gown woven from the skies, and a rainbow for a shawl. Ed sings while Bev dances that oft-forgotten follow-up, “To Make You Love Me, Ku`uipo.” The song was composed by steel guitarist Danny Stewart who joined the Hawaii Calls radio program in 1960 after the untimely passing of the show’s longtime steel guitarist Jules Ah See. But Stewart was already gone by the time of this mid-1960s television performance – having passed away a few years earlier in 1962. 

We will see and hear more from Ed Kenney and Bev Noa when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Hawaii Calls next year. But Kenney would have other duet partners along the way. 

Next time: Ed Kenney pairs up with another singing/hula dancing legend… 


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_And_Bev_Noa_-_To_Make_You_Love_Me_Kuuipo.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 9:37am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney – Sweet Leilani

Continuing our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

“Sweet Leilani” may be the quintessential hapa-haole song. It bridges a gap in the history of Hawaiian song craft between the somewhat corny English-language songs of the godfathers of the genre (like Sonny Cunha and Johnny Noble) and the modern English-language songs from Hawai`i that vacillate between the elegant and elegiac (like Keola Beamer’s “Honolulu City Lights” or Jay Larrin’s “Snows of Mauna Kea”). It is also written with the Hawaiian poetic technique of kaona in mind. Despite that the song is not written in the Hawaiian, it proves that the technique transcends language for the listener may not know – even after repeat listens – that the song is not about a woman with its language of “paradise completed” and notions of jealousy. Not even a full understanding of what a “bower” is will urge the casual audience toward the reality that the song was, in fact, composed for a newborn. 

According to his autobiography, Sweet Leilani: The Story Behind The Song, Harry Owens composed “Sweet Leilani” on October 20, 1934 – one day after his daughter, Leilani, was born. The classic simply flowed from his pen and was completed – just as we hear it today – in just under an hour. Soon the song would become the theme for the orchestra Owens led at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. And, the next year, Owens would become the first musical director for the inaugural episode of the Hawaii Calls radio show. 

From the “Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet” files, some websites claim that Bing Crosby was the first to record the song – that he actually recorded and released a version of it two years before he would sing it in the motion picture Waikiki Wedding. Nope. It was, in fact, steel guitar wizard Sol Ho`opi`i who waxed the first version of the song in a recording studio on October 6, 1935.  And just as you should not believe everything you read on the Internet, sometimes books can be equally dangerous. According to Richard Gudens in Bing Crosby: Crooner of the Century, Owens was reluctant to allow “Sweet Leilani” to be used in Waikiki Wedding and Bing had to convince him. But it was just the opposite. According to his autobiography, Owens had such tremendous confidence in the song – ordering a thousand advance copies of the sheet music – that he hatched a grand plan for putting the song in his old friend Bing’s hands (and vocal cords) strictly for the purpose of the film. 

The friendship between Bing Crosby and Harry Owens – and it really was, not merely one of those things one says in the entertainment business when they hope to call in a favor – dated back more than decade to 1926 when both performed at the same time at the Lafayette Cafe in Los Angeles. To help him prepare for the filming of Waikiki Wedding, the bosses at Paramount Pictures sent Bing and wife Dixie Lee on a cruise to Honolulu. Owens listened to the radio waiting eagerly for reports on when the S.S. Lurline would arrive so that he could nab Crosby and drag him over to the Royal Hawaiian to hear “Sweet Leilani” early and often. It was Crosby who initially refused to hear the song – joking that he couldn’t even pronounce the title! But eventually Bing approached the bandstand and asked his friend Harry to give the song a whirl for him. And at one listen Crosby fell in love with it and wanted to use it in the film. Producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. was adamant that the song would not be used – citing not only that they already had too many Hawaiian songs at the ready, but calling the song “childish” and “lousy.” As a result of this conflict, Variety magazine reported that there was some strife – the cause of which was unknown (at least to its reporters) – on the set and that as a result there was a work shut-down on Waikiki Wedding. The truth is that Crosby retreated to the golf course – adamantly refusing to return to work until Hornblow agreed to use the song in the film. 

And the rest, as they say (and even I say it here at Ho`olohe Hou, trite as it may sound), is history. "Sweet Leilani" won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1938 Academy Awards, the song became Crosby's first gold record, and it is credited for reviving a then slumping post-Depression recording industry by remaining on the Hit Parade for 28 consecutive weeks. And all the while the real-life Leilani was learning to swim from the legendary Duke Kahanamoku and hula from equally legendary hula dancer Napua Woodd (who would soon leave for New York City and her own fame in the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room). 

Crosby would record a great many more Hawaiian songs throughout his career – both with the Hawaiian Room’s bandleader, Lani McIntyre, and later with guitar wunderkind Les Paul. “Sweet Leilani” would be the start of it all for Der Bingle. But his brand of Hawaiian music would likely not be considered “Hawaiian” in the islands by the culture that gave such music its birth and rise. Hawaiian music is not strictly about melodies and lyric content. Many will tell you that Hawaiian music is a “feeling.” You simply know it when you hear it. It is debatable whether or not anyone but a Hawaiian can generate that feeling in an audience when they sing or play. But as we listen to Ed Kenney perform “Sweet Leilani” on this episode of the Hawaii Calls TV show, it certainly feels Hawaiian, and his performance was likely more what Owens had in mind when he wrote the song – even if Crosby’s take was one of the most commercially successful in the history of music. 

Next time: Ed Kenney sings as his wife dances a hula… 


Editor’s Note: Many of my readers have asked how your writer knows so much about such trivial matters as these in the history of Hawaiian music. The truth is that for over 40 years I have been studying Hawaiian music in a most non-traditional manner – by reading about it, listening to it, and learning to sing Hawaiian songs and play Hawaiian instruments at first by imitating what I heard on records. This is unusual because Hawaiian music is largely considered an oral tradition passed down from one generation to the next – not something you read about in books. But because I am not Hawaiian and was raised so far from Hawai`i, I required an alternate pathway to knowledge – amassing the vast library of more than 25,000 songs and related books and sheet music in the Ho`olohe Hou archives. With all of this material at my fingertips, I probably hadn’t pulled Harry Owens’ autobiography off the shelf since I found it on eBay and read it cover-to-cover nearly 20 years ago. So was I ever pleasantly surprised to open this book today for the first time in two decades and discover that it is a first edition signed by none other than Harry Owens. And that is as close to his greatness as I will ever come… 


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_-_Sweet_Leilani.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 8:39am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney – Pearly Shells

Continuing our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around the popular song “Pearly Shells.” I thought we could take Ed Kenney’s performance of the song to discuss – and perhaps dispel – a few of these. 

“Pearly Shells” is an adaptation ­– not a translation – of the much older Hawaiian song “Pūpū A`o `Ewa.” When a Hawaiian language lyric is written for a Hawaiian song, unsuspecting audiences more often than not believe the English version to be a loose translation of the Hawaiian, and this is rarely the case. (For example, take the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” – the original Hawaiian having nothing to do with marriage.) As you listen to the song here, it will likely strike you as a sort of child-like or teeny-bopperish love song – something Bobby Rydell or James Darren might have sung in one of their beach-romp flicks. But the original Hawaiian has nothing to do with love at all. “Pūpū A`o `Ewa” is a mele pana, a category of Hawaiian song written to honor a place – in this case, the town of `Ewa on the island of O`ahu. More specifically, this is a song about that place and its then current events – the discovery of pearl oysters at Pu`uloa (or what you might call Pearl Harbor) in the late 19th century. So the only thing that the English and Hawaiian language versions of the song have in common is that in both cases their shells are pearly. 

Next, the composers of the English-language “Pearly Shells” broke the original song form of “Pūpū A`o `Ewa.” They only retained the melody and chords of the chorus – not the verses. According to ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tatar, the original Hawaiian song follows the musical structure of hīmeni ha`ipule (religious hymns). It has multiple verses and a chorus which utilizes a call-and-response device. “Pearly Shells” has no verses at all – only a chorus – and adds a bridge that is not at all related to the original hīmeni song structure. In other words, what was originally in the structure of church song was redesigned as a pop song – and only the refrain remains. It is almost difficult to assert that one song is based on the other. 

While we are speaking of breaking the song’s original form, while the original “Pūpū A`o `Ewa” has a call-and-response chorus, “Pearly Shells” boasts an echo chorus. How are these different? In call-and-response, the congregants (or audience) since both a different melody line and lyric from their leader. In an echo song, the audience sings exactly the same words (and often even the same melody) as their leader. Need an example? Pull out your copy of Don Ho’s first LP, The Don Ho Show (or pull it up on Spotify). (Don was infamous for his sing-alongs.) Listen to “E Lei Ka Lei Lei” and “Pearly Shells” back-to-back. “E Lei Ka Lei Lei” is a call-and-response song; “Pearly Shells” is an echo song. 

For these reasons, despite that I am not an ethnomusicologist, I staunchly disagree with Tatar’s assertion (from the 1979 edition of Hawaiian Music and Musicians) that “Pūpū A`o `Ewa is one of the few Hawaiian songs to be successfully adapted into English (as Pearly Shells).” This can only be true if the sole criteria for “success” is royalties since Don Ho likely sold more copies of “Pearly Shells” than all other artists combined sold copies of their versions of “Pūpū A`o `Ewa.” A truly successful adaptation would have translated the original lyric content of the Hawaiian as closely as possible into English (even if the Hawaiian poetry were lost in translation). A truly successful adaptation would also have retained the call-and-response structure – not replace this with a somewhat dumbed-down echo response. And the snippet of melodic and harmonic concept of the original – the chorus – that was retained by the English-language songwriters was not even a traditional Hawaiian song to begin with but, rather, a haole Christian song form. In short, since the music form was never Hawaiian in the first place and since the English-language lyric is not a retelling of the original Hawaiian language lyric, after the adaptation the song is essentially no longer a Hawaiian song. That it is beloved by Hawaiians should not define the song as “Hawaiian.” “Sweet Someone,” “Blue Darling,” and “For The Good Times” are well loved by Hawaiians too, but that does not make them Hawaiian songs. By contrast, the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” – which I eschew in this space every opportunity I have – should actually be considered a far better adaptation of a Hawaiian song – “Ke Kali Nei Au” – into English. At least its composers retained 100% of the original melodic and harmonic structure (which was composed by a Hawaiian, Charles E. King), and the song that began as a love song in the original Hawaiian at least ended up a love song in English.  

And the final misconception… Hawaii Calls’ creator/host Webley Edwards is often credited for writing “Pearly Shells.” It turns out this was not a solo endeavor. The published sheet music (dating to 1962) credits both Edwards and Leon Pober (who composed the equally un-Hawaiian “Tiny Bubbles”). But according to Tatar, others had a hand in its creation including Hawaii Calls musical leader Al Kealoha Perry and composer Jack Pitman (of “Beyond the Reef” fame, among countless others). 

By his performance here, Ed Kenney – in his tongue-in-cheek way – indicates that he is not fond of the material either – putting on a little of his Broadway in the middle of the song with a mock Midwestern accent. And, not merely as an aside, not only are these shells not shiny in the way that oysters are, but these are, in fact, the cowries of which Ed Kenney’s mentor, Nona Beamer, wrote and Nina Keali`iwahamana sung in “Pūpū Hinuhinu,” another clip from the Hawaii Calls TV show in which the producers chose a completely different type of shell than the ones of which Beamer wrote. 

Next time: Ed Kenney sings a true Hawaiian classic…


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_-_Pearly_Shells.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:41am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney - Kalalea

Beginning our look at Ed Kenney and his frequent appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program…   

You previously heard a few selections from Kenney’s second Columbia Records LP, The Exotic Sounds of the Spice Islands. Here on this episode of the Hawaii Calls TV show, Ed sings a song that for him dates back a few years earlier to his first Columbia release, My Hawaii, from 1959. But the song is, in fact, much, much older than that. 

The song was a staple of Kenney’s repertoire – likely because it honors the area of Anahola on his home island of Kaua`i. Kalalea is a peak overlooking the town of Anahola. According to a translation by singer, composer, and Hawaiian scholar Kainani Kahaunaele: 


Ki`eki`e Kalalea`a i ka makani / Kalalea stands majestically in the wind 

`O ka pali kaulana o Anahola / Famed cliff of Anahola 

Noho iho e ka `ohu noe i nā pali / The mist rests upon the cliffs 

A he nani maoli nô mai `ō a `ō / Simply exquisite from end to end 


A ke aku la e`ike / I yearn to see 

I ke kai nehe a`i Hālaulani / The rustling sea at Hālaulani 

`O ka pā kolonahe a ka makani / The gentle breeze 

I laila māua me ku`u aloha / That's where I am with my sweetheart 


The literal translation would make this appear to be a song about the topography of the region. But look again. In Hawaiian poetry, the technique known as kaona allows the composer to conceal the true meaning of places, weather events, even people. In other Hawaiian mele, a cliff or peak can be a reference to the male anatomy (“exquisite from end to end”), and mist, rain, or sea spray are almost assuredly references to love-making. Why else would this song make the unexpected leap in the last line to refer to a sweetheart? But as I am not a Hawaiian language scholar, perhaps I am completely off track about all of that? If you really yearn to know the truth, you might ask Kainani Kahaunaele whose great-great-great grandmother Keali`ikua`āina Kahanu composed the song. (It appears on Kainani’s debut album, Na`u `Oe.) 

I opened up our look at Ed Kenney with this clip because it shows every aspect of what made him famous abroad (the good looks, the voice, the smile, the fashion sense) as well as at home (his careful use of the Hawaiian language and his graceful yet masculine hula). Every time I have watched this, I have been mesmerized over and over again. 

Kenney was the real deal – the complete package. And if this clip were the only evidence we have, it should be sufficient proof to convict him of his greatness. 

Next time: Ed Kenney sings a song composed by the creator/host of Hawaii Calls… 


Direct download: Ed_Kenney_-_Kalalea.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:19am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Ed Kenney

When I was in high school, I had earned the lead in the drama club’s musicals in both my freshman and sophomore years. So I assumed I was a “shoe in” for the role of Curley in Oklahoma in my junior year. I have never been afraid of the stage, and my audition went amazingly well. So you can imagine that I was simply crushed to learn that I did not get the part. I asked the director if my audition was as bad as all that, and he assured me the audition was absolutely rock solid. 

“Then why didn’t I get the part?” I countered. 

“Because you’re not blonde.” 

Having always been a self-proclaimed wise ass, I retorted, “Neither was Ed Kenney when he played Curley.” 

The director said, “Who the hell is Ed Kenney?” 

And that was that. 

Even at that tender age of 16 – nearly 30 years ago – I bemoaned the reality that Hawai`i’s entertainers received so little recognition beyond their island boundaries. And, in this case, not even one who starred in not one, not two, but three Broadway musicals in my director’s lifetime. And Broadway was less than 75 miles from my suburban Philadelphia high school. Still, the name did not ring any bells. 

Back in Hawai`i, perhaps few knew – or cared – that Kenney was once a shining star on the Great White Way. They knew Kenney for his voice which had been part of their local music scene for more than 35 years by the time that both he and I had been insulted by my high school director. After a modest start in community theater, in 1954 a then 20-year-old Kenney was starring in the “Sunset Serenade Show” at the Niumalu Hotel (which only a few years later would be the home of Alfred Apaka when the Niumalu became the Hawaiian Village Hotel). For the next 25 years Ed Kenney would hold court for audiences at every major hotel and nightclub in Waikiki – the most notable, perhaps, being his lengthy stints at the Sheraton Waikiki, Halekulani, and Royal Hawaiian Hotels where he headlined with his then wife, the amazing hula dancer Beverly Noa. Oh, yes, and in between Kenney managed to escape his own local celebrity to forge a second career on Broadway, first in Shangri-La (1956), then the role for which he is best known, Wan Ta, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song (1958-1960), and finally in a musical about life in Hawai`i taken to Broadway by its writer, Punahou graduate Eaton Magoon, 13 Daughters (1961). 

Perhaps because of his mainland notoriety – the snub from my high school director notwithstanding – Kenney signed a number of recording contracts with such prestigious record labels as Decca and Columbia. Performing a mixture of traditional Hawaiian fare and current Broadway hits, Kenney’s records sold well and received glowing reviews from Billboard magazine. 

But despite the coming and going from his island home, Kenney never lost touch with – or pride in – his Hawaiian roots. He was the protégé of hula master and Hawaiian cultural expert Nona Beamer who worked with Kenney on hula, Hawaiian language, and every conceivable aspect of Hawaiian performance. As his friend and collaborator, Tony Todaro, wrote in his Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment, after his work with Beamer, “Ed’s subsequent performances were always gilded with his own genius and Nona Beamer’s magic.”   

With this combination of good looks, fabulous voice, dance training, stage experience, utter fearlessness and willingness to try anything once, and deep roots in his Hawaiian culture, Ed Kenney would be the perfect addition to the Hawaii Calls family, wouldn’t he? Definitely! And yet, having read every publicly available piece on Ed Kenney’s life and career, and having mined nearly a hundred hours of Hawaii Calls radio programs, there is no evidence than Kenney ever appeared on the radio version of Hawaii Calls. He also never appeared on any of Hawaii Calls more than two dozen LP releases on Capitol Records. However, he was the shining star of the short-lived TV version of Hawaii Calls, appearing in nearly all of its 26 episodes, making no fewer than two (and often three) appearances per show in a program which offered only ten performances per half-hour episode. 

In short, Ed Kenney was the star of the Hawaii Calls TV show. 

As with co-stars Hilo Hattie and Poncie Ponce who also never appeared on the radio program, Kenney was likely recruited for the TV version of the show not merely because he was talented as hell, but equally importantly because he had a built-in following from coast to coast from his work on Broadway, television, and nationally-distributed recordings – work across a number of genres, all of which earned him rave reviews. But even Kenney’s star power could not save the program which was here and gone in only one season. But in his many performances on the show, Kenney demonstrates over and over again – as Todaro described it – the combination of his own genius and Nona Beamer’s magic. 

We are going to spend the day here at Ho`olohe Hou examining a half-dozen of these performances and the spell that Kenney could weave. None of these performances have been available to the public in the nearly 50 years since they first aired. So I hope you will join me in this step backward in time as we look at one of the great entertainers of his generation – from Hawai`i or anywhere. 

I don’t care what my high school director says. 

Next time: Ed Kenney in a Hawaiian number tailor-made for his talents… 


The songs heard in this set are from Ed’s 1962 Columbia Records LP The Exotic Sounds of the Spice Islands. Despite its ironic title, there is no Hawaiian music in this collection. Rather, it is the only LP which features Kenney singing the songs that made him famous – tunes from hit Broadway musicals and others from the Great American Songbook. The album is no longer available in any format.


Direct download: Ed_Kenney.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:24am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Kalani Kinimaka

Readers will forgive me, I hope, if I am occasionally critical of the way that Hawaiian music and entertainment has (or hasn’t) been documented. It is the primary reason Ho`olohe Hou was launched: To attempt to correct the errors and oversights in documenting this critically important history for future generations. 

The only encyclopedia of Hawaiian music, Hawaiian Music & Musicians, refers to singer/composer Iva Kinimaka in several entries. But in this same essential volume Iva’s tremendously talented and successful brother, Kalani Kinimaka, is not mentioned once – neither in the 1979 original printing (compiled by ethnomusicologist Dr. George S. Kanahele), nor in the 2012 update (edited by Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist John Berger). And I think to myself… How is this possible? 

Kalani Kinimaka was an up-and-comer in the Hawaiian entertainment field in the early 1960s – palling around with such fellow up-and-comers as Kui Lee and Alex Kaeck (the latter another songwriter and arranger, formerly of Buddy Fo and The Invitations). Alex dubbed his friend “Prince” because of his somewhat loose connection to the last reigning dynasty of Hawai`i. (Kalani’s great-great grandmother was also the hānai – or adoptive – mother of King David Kalākaua.) Perhaps because of his affiliations with budding songwriters who were trying to capture the essence of Hawai`i’s youth in a trying time when maintaining ethnic identity in the aftermath of statehood was of paramount importance to that generation, Kalani leaned toward the Hawaiian entertainment scene’s more contemporary sounds. So it is somewhat ironic, then, that it was two Hawaii Calls regulars, Benny Kalama and Lani Custino, who encouraged Kalani to come over and do some guest appearances on a show which featured music nothing like what Kalani was performing elsewhere. But he reluctantly agreed to do a few guest appearances on the radio program between 1963 and ‘64, and by 1965, Prince Kalani was a Hawaii Calls cast regular – performing Hawaiian music in the style of yesteryear such as you hear in this set. 

Although only a little over a decade old when Kalani Kinimaka performed it on this early 1960s appearance, “Lovely Hula Girl” harkens back to the hapa-haole style popular in the early half of the century. The song was co-written by Jack Pitman (who also gave us such hapa-haole classics as “Beyond The Reef,” “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Goodnight, Leilani E,” and “Lani” which honors Hawaii Calls’ own Lani Custino) and Randy Oness (the bandleader who gave Alfred Apaka his first job in show business as the “boy singer” with Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiians). 

Although adopted by the Hawaiians as their own, “Sweet Someone” has its origins in Hollywood. The song was composed by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel in 1937 for the 20th Century Fox film Love and Hisses. Although the lyric content has nothing to do with island life, the feel of the song is not unlike hapa-haole songs of the previous era in Hawaiian music. The song landed in Hawai`i with the duo of Eddie and Betty Cole who recorded the song in 1959 and made it a staple of their sets when they were performing in Waikiki in the 1950s and 60s. Eddie Cole is the singing, piano-playing brother of the somewhat more famous singing, piano-playing Nat Cole. So I am compelled to point out here that a singer related to a king is performing a song made popular by a singer who was also related to a “King.” 

Kalani would remain with the cast for a few more years – even appearing on some of Hawaii Calls late 1960s LPs. But he would go on to greater fame in the hotels and nightclubs of Waikiki in the 1970s – performing an eclectic blend of the Hawaii Calls-era Hawaiian music, light jazz, then current pop/rock, a few tunes from Brazil, and even a few of his originals. We will hear from Prince Kalani again when we continue to examine the Hawaiian entertainment scenein the 1970s…  


Direct download: 26_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 12:22pm EDT

Hawaii Calls - Danny Kaleikini

By now everyone who loves Hawaiian music knows and loves Danny Kaleikini. He has been a force on the Hawaiian entertainment scene for more than 60 years – first appearing at the Waikiki Sands in 1952 and only recently wrapping up his tenure as the emcee/star of the show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel which bowed in 1967 and was one of the longest running shows in Hawai`i (as well as – anecdotally – one of the most lucrative contracts ever in the history of local Hawai`i entertainment). (The running joke is that if Don Ho owned half of Hawai`i, Danny Kaleikini owned the other half.) Finally, for his efforts in spreading goodwill and his tireless fundraising for the most worthy of causes, the State of Hawai`i named Kaleikini “Hawai`i’s Ambassador of Aloha.” Who knows what such a position entails, but for Danny, it probably just means being himself. In the words of one of his most famous songs, a Roy Sakuma tune with which he opened his Kahala Hilton shows in the 1980s… 

I am what I am 

I’ll be what I’ll be 

Look, can’t you see 

That it’s me, all of me 

It was probably Danny’s second professional engagement that brought him to the attention of Hawaii Calls boss Webley Edwards – in the mid-1950s when he was appearing with cast member Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Top of the Isle. Who knows if it was Haunani who recommended Danny to Edwards or if Danny’s growing reputation simply reached the Hawaii Calls set? The earliest appearances I have heard by Danny on the Hawaii Calls program date to 1957. Here are a few selections from that era – some of the earliest of his work (dating to a year before his debut on record, the 1958 Hawaii Calls LP Hula Island Favorites). 

You may recall my speaking of host Webley Edwards’ affliction about not always announcing the singer before – or even after – their performances. As Danny was not yet a star of Hawaii Calls in this period, he is considered simply a member of the chorus and performs uncredited here to open this 1957 episode with “Ka Moa`e.” The Hawaiian word for “tradewind,” the “moa`e” in question here has taken somebody’s love away and the singer longs for when the winds will blow her back toward home. It is a love song rife with kaona (veiled poetic meanings), but we do not get the full story as Danny and the chorus only sing a handful of the songs nearly dozen verses. The fast tempo also belies the lyric’s more intimate nature. 

Danny follows that up with the hula staple “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii.” The song, which tells of longing for a town on the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawai`i, was introduced at a canoe race in Kona on the 4th of July, 1933. You may recall discussing composer/publisher Johnny Noble and the dispute over who really wrote “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya.” A rival composer’s son, Don McDiarmid, Jr., claims that his father composed that song with friend Doug Renolds and that Noble merely stole it and published it as his own. In a similar story from years earlier, the composers of “Grass Shack,” Bill Cogswell and Tommy Harrison, asked Noble to publish their song, and Noble completely rewrote the music and affixed his name to the co-writing credit. This makes the early publishing industry in Hawai`i sound even more dubious until we add that Noble turned over rights to the song’s future royalties for a $500 advance from San Francisco publisher Sherman, Clay & Co. and gave sole composing credit to Cogwell and Harrison. We cannot possibly know all of these years later if there was a similar dispute between Cogswell, Harrison, and Noble as there was between Renolds and Noble that may have led to such an arrangement, but it would appear that the “right” prevailed in the end. 

Danny would remain with the show until its demise in 1975 and would even become the show’s emcee when Webley Edwards fell ill in 1974. But like so many other stars of the radio program in that era, Danny never appeared on the TV version. But we will hear from Danny Kaleikini again when we take a look at Hawaii Calls in the 1970s…  

Next time: The rising star of Hawaii Calls also becomes it host and emcee… 


Direct download: 17_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 10:59am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Pua Almeida on Screen

I wrote here previously that one of the curiosities of the TV version of Hawaii Calls (which aired during the 1965-66 season) was that Webley Edwards frequently featured performers on the TV show who never appeared on the radio program previously, and this sacrificed precious airtime for some popular radio show regulars who didn’t appear on the TV version of the show even once. This was not the case with Pua Almeida who fortunately did appear on the TV program but unfortunately all too infrequently – in fact, perhaps only twice in 26 episodes. Here is one of those rare performances. 

“Bird of Paradise” hails from Broadway, but many are confused to this day – more than 100 years after it was published – about which show the song appeared in. According to one source, “On January 8, 1912 the play Bird of Paradise opened up on at Daly's Theater in New York to rave reviews. It starred Laurette Taylor and featured five Hawaiian musicians who played traditional Hawaiian music to rapt audiences.” But according to the Internet Broadway Database (IDBD), the show – while it featured many traditional Hawaiian songs performed by Hawaiian musicians – did not feature a song by this title. The song was, in fact, written by Broadway composer Max Hoffman - presumably (according to the cover of its sheet music) for another 1912 production, Broadway to Paris, a vehicle for Hoffman’s wife, Gertrude, a vaudeville dancer and choreographer. But referring to the same Internet Broadway Database, while Hoffman may have composed the song for the show, it did not necessarily appear in the show since it is not listed in either Act I or Act II of the show’s original program. (My guess is that it appeared in a medley of songs that the program simple refers to as “The Garden of Girls.”) Whether or not the song actually made the cut for the Broadway show, that was at least composer Hoffman’s intentions. 

Interestingly, a Google search reveals that the song was little recorded since it was published in 1912, and the only performer to touch the song in Hawai`i was Pua Almeida who performs it here for the Hawaii Calls TV show. But, a few years later, Pua would lay down the song in almost the same arrangement with members of the Hawaii Calls group for the 1967 Decca Records release Hawaii Stars. And herein lies the curiosity… Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records was still in effect in 1967, and members of the show’s cast were still producing records for the label. But a number of the stars of Hawaii Calls – including Nalani Olds, Haunani Kahalewai, Sonny Kamahele, Hilo Hattie, and Pua Almeida – appeared on this Decca LP while under contract to Capitol. And this may be why Hawaii Stars is not recognized as an official Hawaii Calls LP release. The album does not even reference Hawaii Calls on its front cover, but, rather, refers to this aggregation of stars of the show as “The Nui Nui Six.” If you are trolling through flea markets or other haunts where dusty crates of records can found, dig deep and try to secure a copy of this precious LP for yourself. 

Pua would continue as a Hawaii Calls cast member for nearly another decade until his untimely passing in 1974. So we will hear from Pua again when we explore Hawaii Calls in the 1970s…  

Next time: Pua struck down in his prime… 


Direct download: Pua_Almeida_-_Bird_of_Paradise.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 8:34am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Pua Almeida in the 60s

At various points in my life Pua Almeida has been my raison d’etre. He is one of the most influential Hawaiian musicians of all time – with a unique voice possessing just enough affectation that it is immediately recognizable, having developed his own unique style on every instrument so that his playing is unmistakable, and having gone against the tide to revolutionize Hawaiian music by incorporating elements from jazz, rock, and Latin music into the traditional Hawaiian idiom throughout the 1950s and 60s. A few years ago, while perusing the reboot of the seminal book on Hawaiian music, John Berger’s update of Dr. George Kanahele’s Hawaiian Music and Musicians which has been the bible for fans and students of Hawaiian music for over 30 years, I recoiled at the reality that this veritable encyclopedia of the history of Hawaiian music inexplicably did not contain an entry on Pua Almeida except as a footnote to the entry on his hānai father, legendary composer and entertainer John Kameaaloha Almeida. Such an omission is criminal given Pua’s importance to Hawaiian music and how universally beloved he is by Hawai`i’s musicians of all generations. 

This oversight in Kanahele’s original 1979 edition was the impetus for the first Ho`olohe Hou podcast in 2007. And discovering that this grievous error was repeated in the latest edition was the inspiration to relaunch Ho`olohe Hou as a blog in January 2013. That is how important Pua Almeida is to me, and Ho`olohe Hou continues to strive to right such wrongs for the many legendary musicians that time has somehow forgotten. 

But, anyway, I tell you this because there is little more that I can tell you about Pua Almeida now that I didn’t already recount in a length series of posts dating back to February 2013. (You might visit the Ho`olohe Hou home page and scroll back to this period to read about the man and his music and hear many of his recordings – all sadly out-of-print in this era.) What you need to know as we examine the period during which Pua became a member of the Hawaii Calls family around 1957 is that by that time he was already a 15-year veteran of the Hawaiian music scene and had recorded hundreds of sides across more than a dozen labels - not only as the featured artist, but also as a much in demand sideman for both his amazing rhythm guitar work and his unique steel guitar stylings. You have read here previously about the recording contract show creator Webley Edwards forged with Capitol Records which featured such artists as Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, and Mahi Beamer. If you are listening to one of those albums, you are no doubt hearing Pua Almeida’s work – either as a rhythm guitarist or, in the case of Mahi Beamer’s second album (simply entitled Mahi), as steel guitarist. (Few know that was Pua playing steel guitar – along with future Hawaii Calls steeler Danny Stewart – since their names do not appear on the album covers.) And like his Hawaii Calls bandmates Jimmy Kaopuiki, Sonny Kamahele, Benny Kalama and Sonny Nicholas, Pua was also present for the recording sessions which featured the show’s guest stars like Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ethel Nakada. 

In other words, Pua Almeida was ubiquitous in Hawaiian music for decades and a guiding force in the last great period of Hawaii Calls. So we owe it to ourselves to hear Pua in a context in which he was not previously featured at Ho`olohe Hou: As a member of the Hawaii Calls group. 

If the lei is the most precious symbol of affection the Hawaiians can give, what could be more precious than a lei of flowers? A lei of stars, perhaps? In 1949, composer R. Alex Anderson published the now classic “I’ll Weave A Lei of Stars,” one of the most beloved of all of the hapa-haole songs sung by Hawai`i’s singers. Anderson composed so many ­hapa-haole songs that it is impossible to recount them all, but along with “Lei of Stars,” “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula” are probably my favorites. 

Johnny Bond was a country-western singer/songwriter from Oklahoma who turned out many a hit not only for himself, but also for such country music stalwarts as Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. This may be why his “Jim, Johnny, and Jonas” does not have much of a Hawaiian feel to it. And yet it became a staple of the Hawaii Calls show when it was performed time and again by its singing star of the 1950s, Alfred Apaka. (It was even included on one of the Apaka LPs that he recorded with the musicians of the Hawaii Calls group.) But after Apaka’s untimely passing, would Hawaii Calls audiences still want to hear the song? Host Webley Edwards tested those waters by handing the song that Apaka previously owned instead to Pua Almeida. From this 1962 episode, this may likely be Almeida’s first ever performance of the song since we can hear him fumble the lyrics that he had probably never sung before. As Benny Kalama and Nina Keali`iwahamana recounted in a 1980s interview with KCCN Radio about their time with the program, in live radio such mistakes abound, and Hawaii Calls was no exception. But the show must go on! 

Hawaii Calls outlived Pua, but not by much. He passed away much too young at the age of 52 in February 1974. Given how little of Pua’s music is available in the CD or MP3 era, I hope you have enjoyed hearing two selections by Pua that he never recorded or released for his own albums. Like the other Hawaii Calls stars of that era, it would be great, too, if we could actually see Pua perform since there is as little video of him in circulation as there is audio. 

Next time: Pua Almeida strolls and sings for us for the first time since his passing more than 40 years ago… 


Direct download: 24_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:47am EDT

Hawaii Calls – The Romantic Side of Poncie Ponce

Hawaiian Eye star Poncie Ponce was not a regular on the radio version of Hawaii Calls, and he only appeared a handful of times on the TV version of the same show (likely host Webley Edwards’ attempt to capitalize on Poncie’s well-established popularity across the nation). But on the few occasions when he did appear on Hawaii Calls, more often than not he was permitted to do something he was not permitted to do either on Hawaiian Eye or on the records he made for his bosses at Warner Bros.: Sing a romantic ballad. 

And, as you can hear here, Poncie Ponce was equally adept at Hawai`i’s romantic ballads as he was at its rollicking comedy numbers. It is a pity he did not have the opportunity to do more such performances. But such is what happens when you get pigeon-holed into a particular role in the entertainment field, and Poncie Ponce was branded – through his own actions – as the funnyman. 

The song is quite a mystery as this seems to be the only ever performance of it by any artist anywhere. Presumably titled “Magic Island,” no song by this name has ever appeared on another LP recorded in Hawai`i, and a search on the lyric reveals no song by this title either. Did Poncie Ponce write it himself? Regardless of who the mystery composer might be, I hope that publishing this video encourages other performers in Hawai`i to take up the reigns and give this song new life. (This song would sound terrific on a singer like, for example, Ioane Burns.) 

I hope you enjoyed this clip of Poncie Ponce which has remained far from sight and mind for nearly 50 years.


Direct download: Poncie_Ponce_-_Magic_Island.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 2:32pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – The Regal Nalani Olds

You may have read here previously about Nalani Olds’ entertainment legacy. It was in her DNA. And she proves that she was born to sing once again in this clip from the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV show from the mid-1960s in which she sings the Charles E. King composition “Ku`u Lei Aloha” which – along with his “Ke Kali Nei Au” and “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae” – form a trilogy which may rank among the greatest Hawaiian love songs of all time. 

Nalani’s career began more than a decade before her appearances on the Hawaii Calls TV show, and she continued on to even greater successes after – including her stints at the Hawaiian Village Hotel and with Danny Kaleikini’s show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel as well as two cherished LP recordings from the late 1970s which regrettably are out-of-print but which will get their due at Ho`olohe Hou when we continue to celebrate the incomparable Nalani Olds soon. 



Direct download: Nalani_Olds_-_Kuu_Leialoha.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 2:02pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – The Crazy Hilo Hattie

You have probably already read here previously how Hilo Hattie got her crazy name from the song of the same name composed by Don McDiarmid, Sr. (composer of such beloved comic hula songs as “My Wahine and Me” and “Sadie, The South Seas Lady”). While Clara was a fine singer and top-notch guitarist, such novelty songs as the “Hilo Hop” are the songs that made her famous. Here is yet another rare performance by Hilo Hattie of just such a tune – one with a sordid history. 

The sheet music for “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya” credits the song to Royal Hawaiian Band leader and original Hawaii Calls orchestrator and conductor Harry Owens. But did he really write it? A tradition in the music publishing industry in Hawai`i – where previously someone would write a song without thinking to publish or even copyright it, allowing it to fall into unscrupulous hands – was that the few experts in publishing (the names Charles E. King, Johnny Noble, and Harry Owens were the big three) would assist songwriters in publishing and copyrighting their works in exchange for a co-writing credit (which would entitle them to a portion of the song’s royalties). There are literally hundreds of such songs with co-authorship cited as “…and Johnny Noble” or “…and Harry Owens” where the creative contribution by the name following the “and” remains forever in question. But what reason do we have to believe that Owens is not solely responsible for “Princess Poo-poo-ly?” A conflicting account by someone who says that the song was written “on the spot” at a party in Hale`iwa by party-goers Doug Renolds and Don McDiarmid (yes, the same McDiarmid who wrote “Hilo Hattie” and the litany of songs listed above). According to McDiramid’s son, Hula Records owner Don McDiarmid, Jr., Harry Owens published the song and was subsequently sued by Renolds who – in order to help Owens save face – sold his rights to the popular song for a hefty sum. McDiarmid apparently never attempted to claim co-authorship of the song. 

We could dismiss the younger McDiarmid’s account as that of a proud son protecting his father’s legacy. But we could actually use the music itself to attempt to validate his assertion. Harry Owens is famous for such compositions as “Sweet Leilani,” “Hawaiian Hospitality,” “Hawaiian Paradise,” “Dancing Under The Stars,” and “Hawaii Calls” (the original theme song for early episodes of the Hawaii Calls radio show). All of these songs are ballads that show a flair for a romantic – not a single up-tempo or comic song among them. But, more than this, as you read here previously, during his tenure as bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Owens would not even allow such low-brow comic hulas as McDiarmid’s “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” to be performed at such a classy establishment. How could “Princess Poo-poo-ly” be the type of fare in which Owens would be interested or that could even come from his romantic balladeer’s pen? By contrast, “Princess Poo-poo-ly” is exactly like the songs for which McDiarmid was known – having the same rhythms and rhyme schemes as “Hilo Hattie” or “Sadie, The South Seas Lady.” If one who knew Hawaiian music were to hear the song and guess who composed it, one is highly likely to guess McDiarmid. It was simply his style. 

So here is a theory: After Owens rejected the opportunity to perform “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” and it became both a critical and commercial success, might Owens have published “Princess Poo-poo-ly” in retaliation? We will never know. The true authorship of the song may forever remain in debate, but until further evidence comes to light, we can let our ears be judge and jury. 

We will hear from Hilo Hattie again and again here at Ho`olohe Hou. Until we do, I hope you enjoyed watching her in this clip that has not been unearthed elsewhere for nearly 50 years and which may be the one of the only videos of this talented lady in action.


Direct download: Hilo_Hattie_-_Princess_Pupule.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 1:38pm EDT

Hawaii Calls - Emma Veary

If you are an avid follower of Ho`olohe Hou, then you may recall we already paid tribute to Emma Maynon Kaipuala Veary Lewis when we began our coverage of Waikiki night life in the 1970s when she starred in large stage productions in the strip’s most prestigious showrooms – first at the Halekulani Hotel, and then at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. She started her music career somewhat inauspiciously – singing with the E.K. Fernandez circus at the tender age eight. But after winning any number of talent and singing contests, Emma was singing at every major Waikiki nightspot while still in high school. She went on to study opera and perform in the stock companies of such Broadway shows as Carousel, Showboat, Pal Joey, West Side Story, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song. But she is best remembered for a series of four LP records she made with arranger/producer Jack de Mello. (Click here to hear clips from these out-of-print treasures which can be heard only at Ho`olohe Hou.)

The opera training made the versatile Veary perfect for such material as traditional Hawaiian standards, waltzes, and the songs of Na Lani `Eha (the four members of Hawai`i’s last reigning royal family who also just happened to be among the most prolific and artful composers in Hawai`i’s history). But for the 1970s when Hawaiian music was turning toward its more folk directions, de Mello’s arrangements may have been considered too heavy or serious – orchestral affairs involving large string sections and even a harp. This is what makes seeing this clip of Ms. Veary on the Hawaii Calls TV show such a rare delight. The group is not an orchestra but, rather, the down home Hawaiians of the rhythm section of the Hawaii Calls radio show band, and the song is not more serious fare but, rather, a novelty tune – requiring Veary to turn down the operatic technique a notch or two and just sing the song. Compared with her 1970s work, here Veary’s voice is lighter, airier, and – frankly – more relaxed. Casual, I believe, is the word I am looking for, and it is really nice to see and hear the lovely Ms. Veary in a casual mode – a side which her Waikiki audiences rarely got to see and hear.

“Blue Mu`umu`u” was composed by the venerable Jack Pitman about whom you have been reading here often as he also composed “Lovely Hula Girl” and “Goodnight, Leilani E” (which were performed earlier by Alfred Apaka), “Beyond The Reef” (sung by Nina Keali`iwahamana and danced by her sister, Lani Custino), and “Lani” (sung by Sonny Nicholas and inspired by the hula of the same Lani Custino). And the list of Pitman hapa-haole favorites goes on and on and also includes “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Fish and Poi,” and (a staple of my repertoire) the oft-forgotten “Seven Days In Waikiki.”

Like Hilo Hattie and Poncie Ponce before her, Veary appeared on the TV version of Hawaii Calls but never on the radio version which spawned it. I hope you enjoyed seeing and hearing this early clip of Emma Veary which has likely not been in circulation for the nearly 50 years since it first aired. 


Direct download: Emma_Veary_-_Blue_Muumuu.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 11:47am EDT

Hawaii Calls - The Comic Side of Poncie Ponce

A welder by trade, Ponciano Hernandez secretly desired to be an entertainer. The young man was raised playing his native `ukulele but also excelled at the saxophone, trumpet, harmonica, and bongos. But his real talent was comedy. His act went over well for tourists on Maui where he was born and raised, and he fared well too in local talent contests – even winning one hosted by local celebrity Lucky Luck. So he decided to make a go of a life on the stage and took the plunge completely by moving to Los Angeles where he was discovered by a used car dealer who also happened to broadcast a local radio talent show, Rocket to Stardom, right from his automotive showroom on Wilshire Boulevard. While performing at Ben Blue’s Santa Monica as a singer and stand-up comedian, he was discovered all over again by Warner Bros. executives who thought there might be a part for him in their new Hawai`i-based TV show just going into production. They signed him to a contract with one stipulation: Jack Warner (you know – one of the Warner Brothers) thought his name was too complicated for television audiences to say or remember, and fully expecting him to become a star, insisted on shortening it to something more clever and alliterative.  

Before you know it, Poncie Ponce was one of the stars of the hit TV series Hawaiian Eye, the first regular series since the (then very recent) invention of television to be set in Hawai`i. His performance as the singing, clowning cab driver Kazuo Kim was well received – landing him on the cover of TV Guide and in the guest chair of talk and variety shows hosted by such notables as Mike Douglas, Red Skelton, Woody Woodbury, David Frost, John Gary, and Art Linkletter. Warner Bros. even enlisted him – as they did other members of the Hawaiian Eye cast (including Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens) – to record an LP – partly to tout Ponce’s vocal talents, but moreso as a shameless promotional tie-in to the TV show. The record, Poncie Ponce Sings, features hapa-haole classics performed by some of L.A.’s finest studio musicians (including steel guitarist Vince Akina) – most in the comic vein for which Ponce was noted. Billboard magazine agreed that the comedy tunes were Poncie’s strength, saying, “He does his best work on novelties.” 

Such fame can be fleeting, but not for Ponce who, after the four-year run of Hawaiian Eye came to an end, went on to perform across the country – at such prestigious spots as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, the Palmer House in Chicago, Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and the Frank Sinatra-owned Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe – as well as around the world with extended engagements and TV appearances in Sydney, Australia, Tokyo, Japan, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Back home in Hawai`i he had runs at both the Outrigger Hotel in Waikiki and the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. But he appeared most frequently Las Vegas – likely because it was easy to get to from his new permanent home state of California. And he also made a film appearance as one of the pit crew in Elvis Presley’s Speedway. 

As with Hilo Hattie and others who appeared on the TV version of Hawaii Calls but never on the radio version which spawned it, show creator/host Webley Edwards likely did not choose Poncie Ponce to appear on the show so much for his popularity in his home islands as much as for his established nationwide notoriety. Here he performs one of the most notable – and earliest written – hapa-haole songs from the pen of the man largely credited for creating the genre in the early 1900s, Sonny Cunha (who is also known for composing “Boola Boola,” the still popular fight song for his alma mater, Yale University). Ponce performed “Hapa-Haole Hula Girl” on his 1962 Warner Bros. LP, but he performs it again here for TV audiences in an entirely different arrangement accompanied by the Hawaii Calls group. You can hear from this tune that he clearly excelled at this type of comedy material, and – perhaps because of breaking in first as a comedian – Ponce is one of the few performers who can actually convey the humor in the song with his voice alone even if you couldn’t also see the wink and the smile.  

I hope you appreciate seeing this clip of Poncie Ponce which has remained in a vault somewhere for nearly 50 years. 

Next time: The sensitive side of Poncie Ponce we never heard on record… 


Direct download: Poncie_Ponce_-_Hapa-haole_Hula_Girl.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 9:17am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Nalani Olds

It was almost inevitable that Nalani-alua Olds Napoleon would become an entertainer. Her father was Hawai`i’s best known male hula dancer in the 1920s and 30s – dancing at the grand opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and appearing in films with such luminaries as Dorothy Lamour.  Her mother was a singer, dancer, and actress during this same period. Following in her parents footsteps, the lovely Nalani also became a triple-threat: singer, dancer, and model. 

Nalani’s career began more than a decade before her appearances on the Hawaii Calls TV show. (Note that she never appeared on the radio program – only the TV program. Perhaps it was the intention of show creator/host Webley Edwards to capitalize on her beauty which would have been lost on radio audiences.) She was first the featured dancer and singer with the trio of Alice, Linda, and Sybil – also known as the Halekulani Girls for the hotel where they held court. She was then with fellow future Hawaii Calls cast member Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Top of the Isle. Next a stop in New York City for an extended engagement at the Luau 400 Club (which would replace the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room as the top nightspot for Hawaiian entertainment through the late 1950s and 60s). And when she returned to Hawai`i, she spent six years performing with the then newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel’s lu`au, followed by a lengthy stint with Danny Kaleikini’s show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel. During this time Nalani was also waxing singles for Decca Records – often accompanied by members of the Hawaii Calls group – followed by two enduring solo albums in the 1970s. 

I met Auntie Nalani in September 2007 when she was a judge for the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest. We became fast friends – bonding over our mutual love of the sounds and entertainers of Hawaiian music’s golden era. But she serves her audiences differently now – as a Trustee-At-Large for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs since 2000. 

In this performance from the Hawaii Calls TV show, Nalani performs the endearing “Pua Mae`ole” – a performance made all the more special still when we realize that the song was composed by fellow Hawaii Calls cast member John “Squeeze” Kamana. I hope you appreciate seeing this clip which likely has not seen the light of day for nearly 50 years. 

Next time: An encore from Ms. Olds… 


Direct download: Nalani_Olds_-_Pua_Maeole.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:49am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Hilo Hattie Hops

Don McDiarmid, Sr. (composer of such beloved comic hula songs as “My Wahine and Me” and “Sadie, The South Seas Lady”) wrote the wacky “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” n 1935 when he was a member of Harry Owens’ band at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Don took the song to his bandleader boss for his approval, but Owens said they couldn’t play such a low-brow song in such a classy establishment as the Royal. But Clarissa “Clara” Haili Inter, a singer and guitarist with Louise Akeo’s Royal Hawaiian Girls’ Glee Club (the same group who performed daily for the Kodak Hula Show written about here previously), discovered the song, created an iconic hula for it, and made it her own – but, to contradict many accounts, she did so reluctantly. But it would not be long before “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” would be more Clara’s song than McDiarmid’s. 

Now, by all accounts the diminutive Clara was quite the lady, as all members of Louise Akeo’s Glee Club were expected to be. On stage, they carried themselves with the utmost professionalism. But on a cruise to Portland, Oregon – far from Hawai`i and reputations – Clara performed the comic hula she had dreamed up with the ship’s orchestra and nearly capsized the ship from the uproarious applause. She continued to perfect the performance – trying it out at private parties, but never in public because she felt it would not be received correctly. But then one evening at the Royal, Clara decided she wanted to unleash the number on that classy audience. The song’s composer, McDiarmid, was now the bandleader, and despite Clara’s urging, he flatly refused. But this was not because he agreed with his former boss that the song was too low-brow for the establishment by any means. No, the reason is far more shocking. As McDiarmid recounted in the April 1947 issue of Paradise of the Pacific: “I had conjured up an exotic eyeful, tall and slender, voluptuous and glamorous. Well, if you’ve seen Clara in the role, I need say no more. She is neither tall nor slender, neither streamlined nor glamorous.” This revelation took me aback since my entire life I had seen the number performed by hula dancers who might be considered momona. But in the article McDiarmid went on to say that he clearly had in mind a prepossessing someone like an Aggie Auld or a Napua Woodd – tall, slender ladies with their curves in the right places who just also happened to excel at the comic hula. But once you have seen Clara do the hula she created for “Hilo Hop,” you simply cannot imagine anyone else doing it. And, before I forget to finish the story I started, Clara got her way, McDiarmid and orchestra accompanied her on the song at the Royal that evening, and they did five encores for a most enthusiastic audience. 

Clara Haili Inter embodied Hilo Hattie. And this is why she eventually changed her name legally to Hilo Hattie. Ironically, it was Harry Owens – who at first staunchly rejected the song – who assisted Clara with her legal name change since she was contractually obligated to do so by 20th Century Fox who insisted she use the name when she was featured in their 1941 film Song Of The Islands. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. Hilo Hattie went on to international acclaim on records, television appearances, and motion pictures. And not merely a footnote to the story, she even licensed her iconic name to the retail clothing chain whose stores dot the islands. Hilo Hattie was a performer, but she was also an enterprise – an akamai lady who also possessed the charm to win over her audiences, clients, and business partners. Ho`olohe Hou will feature her again when we celebrate her October birthday next year. But, for now, I hope you appreciate seeing Hilo Hattie in this clip likely not seen anywhere else in nearly 50 years and which may be the only video in which she is captured performing the song which made her famous – and gave her that name. 

Next time: If you’re lucky, a hana hou from Hilo Hattie… 


Trivia: The Hilo Hattie retail chain existed long before Hilo Hattie leant it her name. What was the chain called before it was called Hilo Hattie’s? (Difficulty Rating: Hard as hell regardless of your sources because not a single source on the Internet gets it right. Easy if you are an aficionado of Hawaiian fashion or a collector – as I am – of vintage aloha shirts.) 


Direct download: Hilo_Hattie_-_When_Hilo_Hattie_Does_The_Hilo_Hop.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:49am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Hawaiian Wedding Song

The most requested song on Hawaii Calls – at least, by people in love - was likely “Ke Kali Nei Au,” often referred to as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” The song was not heard as much outside of Hawai`i before 1959 as it was after 1959 – not because this was the year in which Hawai`i became a state, but because this was the year that national singing sensation Andy Williams released his version (which went to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), followed immediately by Elvis Presley’s version from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii. 

But the title “Hawaiian Wedding Song” is a bit of a misrepresentation. Penned by prolific composer Charles E. King, the original Hawaiian lyric has nothing to do with marriage. King wrote the original “Ke Kali Nei Au” for a Hawaiian language opera, Prince of Hawai`i, which was first performed at the Liberty Theater in Honolulu on May 4, 1925 and whose cast included Ray Kinney (of Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room” fame) as the titular prince. The first recording of “Ke Kali Nei Au” – written as a duet for male and female – did not take place until three years later in a 1928 session for Columbia Records and featured soprano Helen Desha Beamer and baritone Samuel Kapu – the very same Sam Kapu who was with the Hawaii Calls cast almost from its inception in 1935 through the late 1950s (including its earliest LP records). But regardless of its origins or meaning, some of the most memorable versions of the song were waxed by the cast members of Hawaii Calls. (One must-hear recording is the version by Don Paishon and Nina Keali`iwahamana.) But I thought I would serve up a few very rare versions from the Hawaii Calls radio show which have likely not been heard since their original airing more than 50 years ago. 

The first version is the one you thought you’d likely never hear – from Hawaii Calls’ two megastars of the 1950s, Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai. It is unlikely for a number of reasons. One is that Alfred and Haunani did not always appear on the program together. So the stars aligned – literally and figuratively – for this performance. But the other reason is that we are used to hearing Haunani sing in her low contralto, and Charles E. King wrote the female part of the duet on “Ke Kali Nei Au” pretty high – regardless of the key in which it is being performed. So this is one of those rare occasions when we hear Haunani reach into the highest stratosphere of her nearly three-and-a-half octave range for her mezzosoprano on this duet. And it is stunning. (Note that a version of the song by this duo was eventually released on the CD Memories of Hawaii Calls – Volume 2. But if you listen to both versions, the version you hear here is different from the one released on CD – making this a rarity indeed.) 

I have said – as recently as the previous article in this series – that Sonny Nicholas did not have the star power of an Alfred Apaka or a Haunani Kahalewai and was often relegated to singing the show’s comic hula numbers (to which, fortunately, his voice was well suited). But, fortunately for us, here again Sonny was given the spotlight in a duet with lovely Lani Custino. The two never paired up in a recording studio – making this another rarity. 

Finally, the version nobody would have imagined existed. In my humble opinion, this is the finest version of the song ever to be captured on tape. And, ironically, neither of the duet partners is a woman! Alfred Apaka once again takes the male vocal lead, but his partner taking the wahine part of the duet is none other than the legendary falsetto George Kainapau! In mining my Hawaii Calls archives, this was perhaps my greatest find. But this was not the first meeting of these two Hawaiian music icons on record. From the “Before They Were Famous” files, both Apaka and Kainapau performed at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room with Ray Kinney shortly after its opening in 1937 – nearly 20 years before this reunion – and they were captured together in the recording studio many times in that era (some of those sides heard here previously at Ho`olohe Hou). But adding still more to the lore of this recording, listen as host Webley Edwards announces the supporting vocalists on this number which includes cast member Sam Kapu who made the first recording of the song under the direction of its composer Charles E. King nearly 30 years earlier – bringing this set full circle. 

As this was one of the most performed songs in Hawaii Calls’ history, in the future Ho`olohe Hou will explore still more renditions of this most popular duet by the rest of the cast. 

Next time: A series of rare performances from the Hawaii Calls TV program by artists who never appeared on the radio show… 


Direct download: 11_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:19am EDT

Hawaii Calls - 1957

I have been transitioning from 1950s-era Hawaii Calls into the 1960s by introducing the new members of the ever-changing cast when I came across a tape from the previous era too precious to ignore. So with the kind indulgence of my readers for this “temporal shift,” I am compelled to back-up just a few years and present a gem of an episode of Hawaii Calls from an unknown date in 1957 which brings together the many stars – and supporting cast – of the program which hopefully you have already gotten to know a little by now through this nearly three-week long tribute to Hawaii Calls here at Ho`olohe Hou. And this episode is proof that – in the case of Hawaii Calls – the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts. (And the parts were already rock solid!) 

The show opens with the sound of the waves and the chant of greeting, followed immediately by the fastest version of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s composition “`A`oia” that I have ever heard. Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song,” Haunani Kahalewai, takes the lead here with crystal-clear and crisp `olelo (a reference to her pronunciation of the Hawaiian language). She is joined by what host Webley Edwards refers to as the “High Trio,” meaning the ladies voices of sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana and Lani Custino along with Punini McWayne. (The third sister, Lahela Rodrigues, would not join the cast until a few years later – replacing Punini on her departure.) Listen here, too, to a fine example of Jules Ah See’s jazzy steel guitar style. 

Next up, Alfred Apaka sings “Dreams of Old Hawaii,” a song composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre was one of the early international superstars of Hawaiian music. You may recall reading here at Ho`olohe Hou that he was the bandleader for nearly 15 years at the famed “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel in New York City from 1937 through 1951. What you may not recall is that McIntyre returned to Hawai`i several times throughout his Hawaiian Room tenure to recruit more talent for the show there, and one of his recruits was a then very young Alfred Apaka. 

When writing about Sonny Nicholas previously, I mentioned two important things to know about him: That he was not considered a “star” of the radio program, and that he had a way with singing a comic hula number. Here both of these truisms are momentarily debunked as Sonny steps out in front of the rhythm section – which was his usual domain – to take the spotlight next to Haunani Kahalewai in a duet on “O Makalapua,” a song which honors Hawai`i’s beloved Queen Lili`uokalani, referencing her by her many nicknames (such as “Kamaka`eha" and “Makalapua”). 

Now Alfred Apaka steps up to the microphone once again for a number largely associated with him, “Lovely Hula Girl.” The song was co-written by Jack Pitman (who also gave us such hapa-haole classics as “Beyond The Reef,” “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Goodnight, Leilani E,” and “Lani” which honors Hawaii Calls’ own Lani Custino) and Randy Oness (the bandleader who gave Apaka his first job in show business as the “boy singer” with Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiians). 

After the reading of the air and water temperature – a staple of the program that audiences relied upon – and a steel guitar interlude from Jules Ah See (and, because there is no lyric here, you might not be able to tell the tune is “Aloha Sunset Land”), Haunani graces us with a song one last time. With the help of the “High Trio” once again, Haunani sings an old Hawaiian standard in waltz time, “Sweet Lei Mamo,”  

I hope you agree that it was worth breaking the continuity of the timeline of our tribute to Hawaii Calls to step back a few years to hear this rare intact segment of the show featuring both of its superstars of that period – Haunani Kahalewai and Alfred Apaka – which likely has not been heard in the more than 50 years since it first aired. 

But hearing the duet by Sonny and Haunani makes me long to hear more duets. 

Next time: Three different pairs of voices team up for duets on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” – one of which you will not believe… 


Direct download: 10_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:55am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Benny Kalama – The Last Laugh

By now, if you have read any or all of the previous four articles in this series on Benny Kalama’s years with Hawaii Calls, you likely concur with me that Tony Todaro’s comments about the man in The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment are not hyperbole after all. Kalama lives up to every facet and dimension of the legend that he has become. 

And if you listened to the first article in this series, you heard Benny perform a novelty tune that became forever associated with him (much in the same way that “No Huhu” became eternally associated with Barney Isaacs). Despite being of Hawaiian-Portuguese descent, Benny went at the medley of the traditional Scottish folk song “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” and Sol K. Bright’s “Hawaiian Scotsman” with verve, gusto, and his finest Scottish brogue. For Hawaii Calls radio audiences, this medley became one of his most famous and well-loved performances. So imagine what it must have been like to actually watch the very animated and comical Kalama perform the song live? Well, we don’t have to imagine because just such a performance was captured at least one time – and once is all we need to remember – for the television version of Hawaii Calls which aired a too short 26 episodes during the 1965-66 season. 

Although I rarely find myself at a loss for words, for now there is nothing more I can think to say that Benny doesn’t say for himself with this performance. He exuded talent, humor (which fellow cast members have gone on record as saying was most genuine, both on stage and off), and aloha that we can actually hear and – now – see. We will hear from Benny a few more times as we approach the final era of Hawaii Calls in the 1970s. And Ho`olohe Hou will doubly honor Benny Kalama again next June when we celebrate both his birthday and the 80th anniversary of the launch of the Hawaii Calls radio program. 

I hope you have enjoyed these rare performances by Benny Kalama as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. 

Next time: More of the gentlemen of Hawaii Calls in the 1960s… 


Direct download: Benny_Kalama_-_Hawaiian_Scotsman.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 3:47pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Radio Benny

More from Benny Kalama and the Hawaii Calls radio program from the period 1957-1962… 

Benny displays his exquisite falsetto again on Lena Machado’s composition “Ho`onanea.” If you have read about the song here previously (when Ho`olohe Hou paid tribute to Machado), then you already know that host Webley Edwards employed his usual brand of understatement when he described the song’s meaning for the radio audience. While it is true that “ho`onanea” means “to relax,” this is not a song about coming home from work, kicking off your shoes, and cracking open a Primo. This is a song about the relaxation that comes from being intimate with your special someone. 

Ma ka poli iho nō `o ho`onanea / Lose yourself here in my arms 

E ake inu wai a ka manu / I long to drink deeply of love 

Edwards’ all too brief explanation of this most poetic of Hawaiian romantic songs speaks to the reality that Hawaii Calls was a family show, and the censors in that era would likely not tolerate the indelicacies of the song’s true meaning – regardless of how it was couched. 

There have been many Hawaiian songs composed to honor a person, their home, and their hospitality. One such song is “Wailana” which was written for the home of the Cummings family of Waimanalo. To whom we should attribute the composing of this song remains in question for some researchers. Some say it is one of the many songs written by King Kalākaua. But my 1929 edition of Johnny Noble’s Royal Collection of Hawaiian Songs indicates that the song was composed by Malie Kaleikoa. (It was copyrighted by the publisher, Noble, a year earlier in 1928.) Like the Lena Machado composition “Pōhai Kealoha,” the poetry in the song could speak either to love of a place, a person, or even an entire family or the romantic love for a special someone. And I will need to consult with my experts in the Hawaiian language in order to resolve this conflict. 

I repeatedly use this space to marvel at the number of songs that are written with typically Hawaiian flair and feel by songwriters who live far, far from the islands. “Moana” is just one of these songs. Written by the mainland haole troika of Mel Ball, Lew Porter, and Moss Gorham, the song seems tailor-made for Kalama’s falsetto. But while the song’s melodic and harmonic structure are typical of Hawaiian song, the lyric content is not typical of the hapa-haole genre which – by definition – should extol some unique virtue of Hawai`i as a place or its people. The only Hawaiian word here is the name of our protagonist, and all of the sentiments expressed are largely universal. Without the Hawaiian name, the lyric could be a popular song from practically any time, any place. The composers even choose the “rose” as opposed to some flower indigenous to Hawai`i – giving away this song’s true nature as being “foreign” to Hawai`i. As the only ever recording of the song in Hawai`i was by Benny Kalama (on the seventh album in the series stemming from Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records, Hula Island Favorites in 1958), one must wonder how the song fell into Kalama’s or Edwards’ hands and if the song was ever intended to be Hawaiian at all – the composers possibly taking a song they had written by another title (“Joanna?” “Susannah?”) and replacing the titular woman with a more Hawaiian-sounding name. Either way, Kalama made magic with it both on record and on this live broadcast which dates to right around the time the LP featuring the song was released. 

I think there is still time for one more from my hero, Benny Kalama. In fact, it is a moral imperative. 

Next time: Benny appears for the first and only time on the Hawaii Calls TV show and reprises a song he made famous on the radio program… This is a MUST see… 


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_Benny_Kalama.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:59am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Benny + Hula Again

In my last article I explained that as musical director and arranger for the Hawaii Calls through the 1960s until its unfortunate demise in 1975, Benny Kalama’s work was the backbone of both the radio and TV versions of the program. But despite that his voice was heard constantly on the TV show, he was rarely seen. Despite this, his vocal performances are worth hearing once again, and the hula that he accompanies is exquisite – as you are about to see. 

Like “Miloli`i” before it, “He Mana`o Ko`u Ia `Oe” has long been associated with Benny. He performed it many times on the radio program, here again on the TV program, and reprised the song 20 years later for one of the few LPs released under his own name, He Is Hawaiian Music (which you have read about previously here as I count it among the 12 Hawaiian Music LPs That Forever Changed My Life). It is a song in which Kalama gets to show off his one-of-a-kind ethereal falsetto. The song is intriguing for its meandering melody and wandering harmonic structure – making it a challenge for novice musicians to navigate. It’s a song you really have to know (and heaven forbid the singer ask to sing it in a different key than you play it in). If the lyric sounds somewhat repetitive, that is completely intentional on the part of the composer. This is one of a family of songs which celebrate the major islands of the Hawai`i archipelago by naming each island’s most famous flower. But here the composer puts a twist on that model by bringing into play a woman on each island. Poetically speaking, then, this song is a little confusing. Taken together, the woman and the lei could be symbolic of the hospitality of each island. Or it may be about another kind of hospitality – like certain other Hawaiian songs, involving someone with a wandering eye (or heart) who has a different special sweetheart wherever they roam. 

This has always been one of my favorite hula performances, too. Notice how the hula has been choreographed to feature only one dancer at a time – one for each woman on each island Benny sings about – and then the four ladies come together for the final verse in which the women are sung about collectively. The costumery and presentation have the feel of the type of hula we might have seen had we been alive during the reign of King Kalākaua. As the Merrie Monarch Festival of hula was inaugurated only a year before this clip was filmed, and because in its 50-year history the festival has often featured performances of hula in the style presented during the monarchy, one can only wonder if the creation of the festival influenced the Hawaii Calls performance here or vice-versa. 

From the “Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet” files, certain popular Hawaiian song lyric websites indicate that we do not know who composed this beautiful mele. But many believe we do. The song is often attributed to legendary steel guitarist Sol Ho`opi`i who introduced the song when he performed it first in the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding starring Bing Crosby. (We discussed Ho`opi`i previously here in the context of his work with Lena Machado.) Kalama clearly concurs with this assertion since he credits authorship of the song to Ho`opi`i on his He Is Hawaiian Music release. 

As I am enjoying this tribute to one of my heroes, why stop now?... 

Next time: A hana hou from Benny Kalama’s radio days with Hawaii Calls... 


Direct download: Benny_Kalama_-_He_Manao.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:33am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Benny Sings for the Hula

When writing about the short-lived Hawaii Calls radio show previously, I mentioned that that one of the curiosities of the TV version of Hawaii Calls (which ran during the 1965-66 season) was that Webley Edwards frequently featured performers on the TV show who never appeared on the radio program previously, and this sacrificed precious airtime for some radio show regulars who rarely appeared on the TV version of the show. Such was the case with Benny Kalama whose disembodied voice made many an appearance on the program – usually accompanying a lovely hula number – but whose face only appeared once in 26 episodes. Here is one of those performances. 

I have also mentioned here that the radio version of Hawaii Calls at times suffered from a somewhat limited music library – making the show a bit repetitive for those astute enough to recognize that they were hearing the same song over and over again every few weeks. So I have versions of “Miloli`i” from the radio show by Nina  Keali`iwahamana, Jimmy Kaopuiki, and Benny Kalama. But Benny was the only cast member to be “honored” by performing the song for the TV version of the program. The song relates composer John Makuakane’s travels from one island to another – including a quick pit stop on the mainland – and the unusual sights he encounters along the way. In Miloli`i (a town on the island of Hawai`i, south of Kailua-Kona and not far from Kealakekua – the town spoken of in “I Want To Go Back To My Little Grass Shack” –  or Honaunau – in ancient times a place of refuge during war), a most stubborn donkey. In Waikiki, an elephant (a reference to Daisy, the pachyderm resident of the Honolulu Zoo in the 1930s). In San Francisco, a jet airplane. Of course! How else would he get home? Perhaps on the steamer ship he saw in Honolulu. The hula is performed here by Gloria Beck and Kahili Del Costillo. 

Despite being performed by many stars of Hawaii Calls, this would hereafter remain Benny’s song as he recorded it the same year as part of Webley Edwards’ recording contract with Capitol Records on the cast’s 17th studio album, Waikiki After Dark. 

Next time: A hana hou from the disembodied voice of Benny Kalama for the Hawaii Calls TV show... 


Since the song written in her honor has been heard twice now on Ho`olohe Hou, the picture here is of Daisy the Elephant in the company of an ardent fan at the Honolulu Zoo circa. 1900. 


Trivia: Daisy suffered a horrible fate. Does anyone remember what happened? (Difficulty Rating: Medium if you were old enough to be there. Easy if you have Google.)


Direct download: Benny_Kalama_-_Milolii.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 10:13pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Benny Kalama

Benny Kalama is probably the least publicized entertainer in the superstar echelon in Hawaiian musical history. True – everyone knows about his musicianship, but he does everything so well he is simply taken for granted. Similar to movie stars who perform with excellence but are never nominated for an Oscar. 

When it comes to arrangements for Hawaiian songs, Benny is incomparable. He plays all stringed instruments as well as any musician. His mellow baritone and smooth falsetto vocalizing should rate him as one of Hawaii’s greatest singers. Benny’s conducting is absolutely flawless, and his pleasant demeanor makes his actions seem effortless. 

  • Tony Todaro, The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment 

For as long as I have been writing about Hawaiian music, I am fairly certain I have never quoted from this book. With no offense intended to the author – a transplant to Hawai`i who became one of its most beloved composers of hapa-haole songs – his tome about the history of Hawaiian music is filled with hyperbole as it focuses primarily on Todaro’s personal friends (or, at least, entertainers he considered friends or perhaps just entertainers he hoped would be his friends if he wrote the utmost complimentary things about them). But I quote him here because I have heard every moment of Benny Kalama’s work on record, and, quite frankly, Todaro’s description paints the perfect portrait of a musician I have admired since childhood and who I count among my heroes. I fancy myself a writer, but I admit that I could not have put my sentiments about Benny Kalama in writing any better than Todaro did. 

When it comes to Benny Kalama, words like “incomparable” and “flawless” are the furthest thing from hyperbole. They should be considered understatement. 

When writing previously of such Hawaii Calls stalwarts as Sonny Nicholas and Jimmy Kaopuiki who were not the “stars” of Hawaii Calls but who might otherwise fall into the category of “They Also Served,” I asserted that the rhythm section is too often relegated to anonymity – that a good musician in the rhythm section not only knows his instrument but is content to spend his career making others sound good. It is a support role that must be fulfilled admirably, and this is what Todaro means when he compares Kalama to those actors who make the film more special but are “never nominated for an Oscar.” Kalama’s name may have been slightly more recognizable than the others, but he made few recordings under his own name – remaining content to arrange and conduct and make the artists with whom he collaborated sound even better than they knew they could sound. 

You have read about Kalama here before when I paid tribute to one of his earliest musical aggregations – the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders, led by his friend Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. And I also tribute him when I began my series on 12 Hawaiian Music LPs That Forever Changed My Life. But we have not yet spoken about Kalama in the context of perhaps his most famous role: arranger for the last few years of the 40-year run of the Hawaii Calls radio show. 

This was by no means Benny’s first stint on radio. He had previously performed on “The Voice of Hawaii,” a weekly broadcast from Honolulu station KGU beamed on a national hook-up. During this period he worked off and on with Alfred Apaka, and around 1955 Kalama backed up Apaka in his show in Las Vegas. So when Henry J. Kaiser appointed Apaka the Entertainment Director of his newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1957, Kalama was Apaka’s first choice to join him there as a musical director and arranger where he spent the next nearly 15 years – staying even after Apaka’s death and working with (among others) Hilo Hattie. Although it is little documented, Apaka credited Kalama with helping him achieve his tremendous success – Benny coaching Alfred years earlier in developing his vocal style and unique phrasing. 

And here is where the history becomes less than entirely clear. Benny joined the Hawaii Calls cast in 1952, but we cannot know if it was Apaka (already a cast member) who recommended him to show creator/host Webley Edwards or if Edwards recruited Kalama directly based on his already two decades of credits on the local music scene. But it matters little how he got there. Kalama was the perfect addition to the cast as he could play any instrument handed to him (but listen closely and you will hear – not just in this segment, but in any of the segments previously featuring any of the Hawaii Calls singers – Kalama’s rhythmically exciting `ukulele style). He was also adding his arrangements fairly early on with Apaka performing on the radio show arrangements Benny created especially for him for their evening shows at the Hawaiian Village. (Listen again to Kalama’s arranging touch on the Broadway classic “Bali Ha`i” which I posted earlier.) With such effortless talent, Kalama would eventually become musical director and arranger for Hawaii Calls in 1967 with Al Kealoha Perry’s retirement. But as we are not yet there in our chronology, let’s first take a look at Benny Kalama the singer.  

The set opens with a song rife with kaona (Hawaiian-style poetic double-entendre). “Lepe `Ula`ula” hails from the Waimea area of the Big Island which is home to one of the nation’s largest ranches. So our protagonist is a cowboy who claims to have caught his lover with a lasso. The composer writes “`Elua wale iho ho`i māua / Ka hau hāli`i a`o Waimea” (“Just the two of us covered by the dew of Waimea”), and those who understand kaona will tell you that typically whenever rain, mist, or dew are mentioned, it is a not-so-veiled reference to love-making. Because the song is cowboy-themed, it is usually taken at a peppier clip than the relaxed tempo Benny takes here. He is accompanied by the ladies vocal trio of sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana and Lani Custino with Punini McWayne. (The third sister – Lahela Rodrigues – would not join the cast for a few more years.) 

If the lei is the most precious symbol of affection the Hawaiians can give, what could be more precious than a lei of flowers? A lei of stars, perhaps? In 1949, composer R. Alex Anderson published the now classic “I’ll Weave A Lei of Stars,” but a few years later, another composer extended Anderson’s analogy to outfit the object of his affection with a lei of stars, a gown woven from the skies, and a rainbow for a shawl. Benny sings that oft-forgotten follow-up, “To Make You Love Me, Ku`uipo.” 

Finally, a novelty number with which Benny will forever be associated. With his best Scottish brogue, Kalama weaves a medley of the traditional Scottish folk song “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” with the song of the “Hawaiian Scotsman” composed by Hawai`i’s own Solomon Kekipi Bright. Benny performed this song many times both live and on record, and it became one of his most famous and well-loved performances. Listen here also as steel guitarist Jules Ah See mimics the sound of the bagpipes with his Magnatone steel guitar. 

There’s still much more to come from one of my musical heroes – including a glimpse (or three) at Benny Kalama on video. 

Next time: Benny sings another novelty tune… this time in Hawaiian… for TV!... 


Trivia: “To Make You Love Me, Ku`uipo” was composed by a future Hawaii Calls cast member. Can you name him? (Difficulty Rating: Easy if you have Google.)


Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_Benny_Kalama.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 8:49pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – There’s No Voice Like Boyce

I wrote here previously that one of the curiosities of the TV version of Hawaii Calls (only 26 episodes airing during the 1965-66 season) was that Webley Edwards frequently featured performers on the TV show who never appeared on the radio program previously, and this sacrificed precious airtime for some popular radio show regulars who didn’t appear on the TV version of the show even once. But this was not the case with Boyce Rodrigues. While sister Nina never made an appearance on the TV show (although her disembodied voice did weekly), Boyce did several episodes. The only curious part about his appearances was that host Edwards announced Boyce as a “new member of the Hawaii Calls family.” New-ish, perhaps, but Boyce had already been part of the radio show for three years before the TV version first went to air. 

Although composed as a sort of novelty number, look how casually Boyce takes the upbeat “There’s No Place Like Hawaii.” The song is often misattributed to the songwriting team of Tony Todaro and Mary Montano (who also composed such hapa-haole staples as “Somewhere In Hawaii” and “Keep Your Eyes On The Hand”). But from the “Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet” files, this is only half-correct. Todaro co-wrote the song with Eddie Brandt who had no ties to Hawaii whatsoever. In addition to being a songwriter, the multi-talented Brandt was a television writer and cartoonist. He was a scriptwriter for The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Spike Jones Show and later for the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. But his oft overlooked mark on history was that he opened one of the first video rental stores in the nation, Eddie Brandt’s Sunday Matinee, which opened in 1967 and which began renting videos in the 1970s long before Blockbuster and Netflix. 

We will hear more from Boyce when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his birthday in March. 

Next time: More of the men of Hawaii Calls in the 1960s… 


Direct download: Boyce_Rodrigues_-_Theres_No_Place_Like_Hawaii.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:49pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Where The Boyce Are

OK, so it was actually pronounced Boy-see. Once you have mastered that, you can work on his Hawaiian middle name for a while: Kaihiihikapuokalani, which is how Hawaii Calls host Webley Edwards referred to him, preferring to use the performers’ Hawaiian names. But if you’re struggling with it, you can simply refer to him as Boyce Rodrigues. 

The son of a lady who joined the cast when the show debuted in 1935 – singer, composer, and show song librarian Vicki I`i Rodrigues – Boyce was, therefore, the brother of the show’s singing sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana (using a middle name, like her brother), Lani Custino (married to steel guitarist Joe Custino), and Lahela Rodrigues. Boyce was the last to the Hawaii Calls party – joining the cast in 1962. And like the rest of the Rodrigues’ `ohana, what a tremendous addition he was – jovial and ready to sing a comic hula, or using his baritone on a haunting love ballad. He was soon an audience favorite, catapulting him to stardom in showrooms across Waikiki – first with Hawaii Calls co-star Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, then headlining the same hotel’s Surf Room, followed by a double-duty stint at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, headlining at the hotel’s Pot ‘O Gold and co-starring with Hilo Hattie in her show in the Tapa Room. But he is best remembered for headlining at Primo Gardens at the Ilikai Hotel in 1970 as well as co-starring in sister Lani’s “Return to Paradise” production there. He also recorded a number of sides as part of the contract Webley Edwards forged with Capitol Records. I recall the first time I heard Boyce’s voice was on The Hawaii Calls Show LP (which aimed to recreate the live radio broadcast on record) in duet with sister, Nina, on the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” (Only later did that duet strike me as ironically as Frank Sinatra’s duet with daughter Nancy on “Somethin’ Stupid.”) 

Like his sisters, Boyce was with the radio broadcast until the bitter end in 1975. But I thought we would look at some performances from shortly after his arrival on the Hawaii Calls scene in 1962. 

I have mentioned time and again how the Hawaii Calls show repeatedly recycled its somewhat limited repertoire. So while you previously heard Haunani Kahalewai sing the beautiful “Waipi`o,” here Boyce serves up the song once again. The song honors Irene Kahalelauokekoa Holloway and her home at Waipi`o near Ewa on the island of O`ahu. Because Mrs. Holloway was the daughter of John Papa I`i, the song has an immediate connection to the show and the singers. As Vicki I`i was a distant relative of John I`I, here the song is being sung by the composer’s relatives with Vicki’s son Boyce taking the lead vocal and her daughters Nina, Lani, and Lahela providing the backing harmonies. 

I often marvel at how composers rooted far from the islands somehow managed to capture the essence of Hawai`i in songs that sound like they could have been composed while sitting on Waikiki Beach watching the sunset. The lovely waltz time “Honolulu Eyes” is just one of those songs. Published in 1921, the music was by a composer who went simply by the name Violinsky (which was the pseudonym of Sol Ginsberg), and the lyric was written by Howard Johnson of Waterbury, CT. Likely his only ever attempt at a Hawaiian song, Johnson was better known for “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” and “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.” Boyce’s vocal here exemplifies the haunting quality of which I wrote earlier, and Barney Isaacs’ steel guitar sets just the right mood. 

Finally, the last number here 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. 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). 

This rare audio of Boyce singing on the Hawaii Calls radio program is surely a treasure. But as we did with his sisters before him, it would be terrific if we could actually see Boyce the performer in action once again. 

And we shall. 

Next time: Boyce becomes one of the stars of the Hawaii Calls TV show… 


Direct download: 25_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:14am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Haunani Hulas!

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her appearances on the too short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program… 

It was difficult – believe me, very difficult – to decide which of Haunani’s dozens and dozens of performances from the Ho`olohe Hou archives to share given that we have limited time to share them. (We will celebrate Haunani over and over again. But we also need to give some air time to the other stars of Hawaii Calls who have not even received an honorable mention yet.) Choosing the last video of Haunani was the most difficult task – until, that is, I ran across this performance by Haunani in which she graces us not only with song, but with a hula. 

“Hula Town” was composed by Don McDiarmid – orchestra leader, composer, and entrepreneur who started what has since become the longest continuously operating record label in the islands, Hula Records. A son and a grandson have since taken over the family business, but neither was a songwriter like their patriarch who also gave us such numbers perfect for comic hula as “Sadie, The South Seas Lady,” “My Wahine and Me,” and “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” (the latter composed for performer Clara Haili Inter who adopted the song’s title first as her stage name before changing it legally to “Hilo Hattie”). The connection here is not necessarily with Hawaii Calls, but with your author personally as I was briefly a Hula Records artist myself – the prize for having won the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest in 2005. To make this circle compete, when I performed for the prize the evening of September 24, 2005, it was on the stage of the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – the very same stage where Haunani held court with her fabulous show in the 1960s. (And a Hawaii Calls regular of the 1960s cheered me on from the front row: Mahi Beamer.) Perhaps this is why I feel more deeply connected to Haunani than the average fan. 

In most of the video clips she filmed for the Hawaii Calls TV show, Haunani is either sitting still or standing still – letting the hula dancers steal the scene. In a scant few, she is either strumming an `ukulele or plucking a slack key guitar. (Since the audio tracks were pre-recorded in a recording studio in Honolulu, I have been unable to ascertain whether Haunani was the slack key guitarist we hear in that clip or if she was simply playing air guitar to whatever guitarist actually recorded the track back at the studio.) But “Hula Town” was the only clip in which Haunani did a hula. As with the similar clip of Lani Custino singing and dancing at the same time to “Waikapu,” Haunani is not really singing and dancing at the same time since her vocal was also laid down in the studio in advance of the location shoot. But even lip synching and hula at the same time deserves extra points for difficulty. 

I hope you enjoyed this last look – for now – at Haunani in action. But there may still be one more tribute to her “in the can.” 

Next time: Wrapping up our look at Haunani with one last listen from the Hawaii Calls radio days… 


Direct download: Haunani_Kahalewai_-_Hula_Town.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 1:47pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – (Can’t Get Enough) Haunani!

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her seemingly countless appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio program…

The recording studio affords an artist an almost infinite number of attempts to get a song just right. I have session tapes from Frank Sinatra’s 1950s Capitol Records sessions where there are countless false starts on the same tune – for everything from an out-of-tune flute to a saxophone that comes in a beat late to some “clams” from the singer. (Sinatra fans will know immediately what I mean by “clams.”) Haunani Kahalewai’s recording output – which featured the finest musicians in Hawai`i of the moment, many also fellow Hawaii Calls cast members – were truly perfect. (By contrast, there were some notable issues with Alfred Apaka’s recordings of the same period – missed cues, flubbed intros and endings – which for some reason nobody felt deserved a mulligan. And so we have these mistakes on vinyl for posterity to prove that our heroes weren’t perfect.) But I mention this because Haunani’s radio performances were also damned near perfect every time! In a 1980 interview with KCCN Radio, cast member Nina Keali`iwahamana spoke of the inherent dangers of doing a live radio broadcast. The musicians who didn’t read music worked from chord charts, and as Nina put it, it was easy enough in the heat of the moment to read a “G” as a “C,” and the singer ends up singing higher or lower than they ever thought possible. I have heard many, many hours of Hawaii Calls broadcast recordings, and I have heard such mistakes. But for some reason there was nary a mistake when Haunani stepped up to the microphone – as if the musicians and singers alike tried just a little harder for her. Because Haunani simply could do no wrong under any circumstances.  

I mention this because this set opens with a number for the hula (at which – as you have read here previously – I believe Haunani truly excelled). The group settled on quite a tricky arrangement for “Na Ka Pueo” – startling even me when Haunani took the first verse in the key of “C,” but then the ladies chorus takes the repeat of that verse in the key of “A.” Those who understand music theory will no doubt see the difficulty in getting from “C” to “A” in one bar of music. They are unrelated key centers. (“Am” is the relative minor of “C” – making getting “C” to “Am” a little easier. But there is no direct path from “C” to “A.” You’ll just have to trust a musician on this.) But the arrangement was quite intentional – putting a verse in a key comfortable for Haunani’s contralto and another verse in a key suited to the higher voiced ladies. But you could not trip up steel guitarist Barney Isaacs who upon seeing the “A” on the lead sheet took a vamp in E7. (Nice job, Barney!) But more surprising still is that for the last verse, the musicians deliberately stay in “A” after the ladies chorus finish up their verse – allowing Haunani to outdo even herself by closing out the song by making the leap from her contralto to her mezzosoprano.

“My Isle of Golden Dreams” was previously made famous in not one, but two recordings by Alfred Apaka earlier in the decade. He also performed the song frequently on the weekly radio broadcast. But now it was Haunani’s turn as she had just waxed the song for her then recent LP, Hawaii’s Favorite Singing Star: Haunani, released in the spring of 1962 and recorded with musicians culled from the Hawaii Calls group and a new vocal backing group led by Nina Keali`iwahamana. (This is also one of the few records in my vast archives to boast a colon in its title!) Here they use the same arrangement for the radio show as they used in the recording studio and – as they always did for Haunani – pulled it off with aplomb.

Finally, I continue to marvel at the number of songs performed by Hawaii Calls cast members which clearly have the feel and flair of a locally-written tune but which were written by someone far, far away from the islands. This time around it is “Blue Water and White Coral,” composed by two New York jazzmen, Sherman Ellis and Arthur Barduhn. There are few recordings of this song in its history, but according to my archives, Haunani is the only artist from Hawai`i ever to record it. Who knows if Haunani found the song or it found her, but either way the lush and lovely melody is perfect for her (and vice-versa). This was also included on the same LP release as “My Isle of Golden Dreams” performed earlier in the same 1962 broadcast.

I am winding down this day-long tribute to Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song.” But perhaps one last look at Haunani in action on video.

Next time: Because you have not yet seen Haunani do the hula…



Direct download: 04_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 1:10pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Haunani – The Ultimate Love Song

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her numerous appearances on the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program… 

The setting is the Wailua River on the island of Kaua`i where seemingly forever tourists have shelled out for a boat cruise through fern grottos in order to see the Garden Isle both inside and out. Romantic (if you do not have your four kids in tow). More romantic still if you are alone on the boat with one of the most sultry songstresses in the history of the islands. 

But the real sense of adventure here is that Haunani and the musicians of Hawaii Calls tackle a then brand new film theme. Often simply called “Follow Me, it is, of course the “Love Theme from Mutiny on the Bounty” which was the hot film release of only two years earlier. It is most ambitious since the small group of musicians – despite being Hawai`i’s finest – needed to arrange the song previously intended for a full symphony orchestra. That task was likely handled by Benny Kalama who had previously accomplished such feats for the recordings of Broadway show tunes by his former boss, Alfred Apaka. (You may recall hearing here previously Benny’s arrangement of “Bali Ha`i” from South Pacific which Apaka performed on a 1957 broadcast.) Here Kalama comes up with just the perfect minimalist setting that still fairly represents the original film version while supporting the weightiness of Haunani’s deep, rich contralto. 

If I have marveled previously that guys from New York or Saskatchewan could capture the feel of Hawai`i in songs they composed far from the islands, enter Polish-born Bronislau Kaper who was clearly a student of the music of Polynesia or otherwise could not have arrived at this masterpiece which won the Academy Award for Best Music – Song for “Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me).” (He also took home the prize for Best Music – Score for his work on the entire film from beginning to end.) The lyric is by Paul Francis Webster who shared the award with Kaper, and while this song would not become one that would be hummed by housewives across the nation, two of Webster’s other efforts would – “Secret Love” and “The Shadow Of Your Smile” – earning him still two more Best Music – Song statuettes from the Academy. 

Finally, there is Haunani’s vocal performance – never clearer, never more technically precise, and never more haunting than it was here. Which is no doubt exactly as host Webley Edwards intended it since the TV version of his Hawaii Calls was aimed – like the radio program before it – at promoting tourism. I also have a recording of Haunani performing this song on the radio program during this period (in the same Benny Kalama arrangement), and it falls just shy of the perfection she achieved here. The visual setting helps, and we should be fortunate that this particular clip did not suffer the ravages of time as others have and can still be enjoyed in such vivid color. This is music in motion, Hawai`i in motion, and Haunani in motion. And I believe it is the high water mark for both the Hawaii Calls program and for Haunani as singer. 

As Haunani never recorded this song in a studio for any of her LP releases, I, for one, feel fortunate that this performance was captured for posterity. I hope you have enjoyed seeing this clip – which has not materialized elsewhere for nearly 50 years – as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. 

Next time: More Hawaii Calls radio and more forgotten Haunani Kahalewai magic… 


Direct download: Haunani_Kahalewai_-_Love_Theme_From_Mutiny_On_The_Bounty.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:34am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Haunani – Radio Days

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her time with the Hawaii Calls radio program… 

Some say that Haunani was at her finest singing a slow, romantic love song. That is difficult to disagree with, but I would counter that Haunani may be at her finest when she sings a rollicking hula number. Take a listen to “A Kona Hema O Ka Lani,” an ancient chant dedicated to King Kalākaua (hence the title, which translate to “The King At South Kona”). (In the last verse you will hear the king referred to by one of his many nicknames, Kaulilua.) Like so many Hawaiian songs, it extols the virtues of the districts of Kona and Kohala on the island of Hawaiʻi, and you will hear Haunani cycle through the various towns there – Kaʻawaloa, Kawaihae, and Māhukona – as well reference the wind called ʻĀpaʻapaʻa that blows from Kohala to the north. (If you pay attention to Hawaiian song craft, you will notice that there isn’t merely a single word for “wind” in the Hawaiian lexicon. Rather, the winds of various areas of each island have been given unique names that describe the character of that particular wind. For this reason scholars of Hawaiian music have to keep a dictionary of Hawaiian wind names handy.) In the 20th century the chant was set to music and became a popular hula number in which the pu`ili – wands of bamboo split multiple times part of the way down their length so that when they are beaten against each other (or even against the hula dancer’s body) they make a percussive crash – are often used. Over and over again I have applauded the efforts of the brilliant engineers Hawaii Calls employed – in this era, likely Bob Lang – who attempted to capture every last nuance of a largely visual show somehow with an audio representation of it, and here you can clearly hear the flourish of the pu`ili wielded by the Hawaii Calls hula maids. More importantly, at these tempos it is important to notice how crisp Haunani’s pronunciation of the Hawaiian language is. And it has to be, and she knew it, because trained singers understand the deeper one’s voice, the more difficult it is for audiences to understand what you’re saying. Singing louder is not the fix; enunciating is. This is why the altos and basses in a choir have enunciation drilled into them so. But this speaks to just one aspect of Haunani’s incredible vocal technique which we might otherwise take for granted. 

It is lovely to hear “Waipi`o” again as too often an English-language version – “Beyond The Rainbow,” which is not a translation of the original Hawaiian-language lyric – is performed instead. (I have recordings of Haunani singing either version and even both at the same time.) One popular source of Hawaiian song lyrics indicates that there may be some lingering dispute over who wrote the song. As Hawaiian music is a largely oral tradition, some such disputes linger forever. But not in this case since the song was published in numerous versions of Charles E. King’s popular song folios (in this case, the folio often known simply by its color – King’s “Blue Book”). The version of the folio copyrighted in 1948 clearly credits the song to George Allen and Mekia Kealakai (the latter the leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band in the early 20th century). The song honors Irene Kahalelauokekoa Holloway and her home at Waipi`o near Ewa on the island of O`ahu. I often accuse host Webley Edwards of “falling down on the job” when it comes to making his audiences aware of the many beautiful connections to be made between songs, places, and people – opting instead to weave in words Hawai`i’s mystical charms rather than let its colorful history stand on its own merit as it needs (in this writer’s opinion) no embellishment. If I had announced this song for the radio audience, I might have mentioned that Mrs. Holloway was the daughter of John Papa I`i - giving the song an immediate connection to the Hawaii Calls family since John I`i was related to one of the show’s original songstresses and its song librarian, Vicki I`i Rodrigues. The more interesting factoid still is that it means that John I`i’s distant relatives are performing the song in this moment as Vicki’s daughters Nina, Lani, and Lahela provide the harmonies for Haunani’s vocal lead. That, at least, is how I would have written scripts for Hawaii Calls, but while it is factually accurate, it is not nearly as magical. 

Finally, the last song in this set is a true rarity as it was recorded probably only once by a Hawaiian entertainer. “Coral Isle” was composed by Earle C. Anthony, a West Coast businessman and wealthy philanthropist who dabbled in broadcasting and automobiles and who fancied himself a journalist, playwright, and – as you can hear – a songwriter. Composer and publisher Johnny Noble assisted Anthony with the tune which they copyrighted on June 7, 1937 – a little over 20 years before Haunani’s performance of it on Hawaii Calls. Who can say if this song was a staple of the repertoires of local Hawai`i entertainers, but the historical record indicates that it was only recorded once by a Hawaiian – Ray Kinney of the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. Haunani never recorded it – making it even more of a rarity. I feel the need to apologize for the conspicuous splice in the song where several seconds appear to have gone missing, but as I indicated earlier, such is the condition in which I received the tapes, and so we should be thankful to have even a glimpse at this performance at all. 

We will continue to honor Haunani since she is clearly worthy of the honor and because there remains much more of her material to be mined in the Ho`olohe Hou archives that has not been heard in over 50 years. 

Next time: Haunani Kahalewai simply stuns in a set piece from the Hawaii Calls TV show – a performance I consider to be her crowning glory…


Direct download: 03_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:25am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Haunani in Motion

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV program… 

Of the scant 26 episodes of the TV version of Hawaii Calls (which ran during the 1965-66 season), Haunani appears in more than half of them. With national recording contracts – first with Capitol, then with Decca – and her weekly appearances on the radio version of the show for nearly seven years at this point, Haunani was by that time a household name on par with Alfred Apaka before her. And host Webley Edwards capitalized on her fame by featuring her on the TV show as often as possible. 

Haunani’s repertoire for Hawaii Calls mirrored the set list for her weekly engagement in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room. And one staple of her set was the Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ swinger “`Auhea `Oe.” If you are a frequent reader/listener of Ho`olohe Hou, then perhaps you heard Papa Alvin sing his own composition before in concert with his sons Norman and Barney. But I did not tell you much at all about what the song means. But do I really need to? Like so many of his compositions, here Alvin again dabbles in kaona (layers of poetic meaning or metaphor) to craft a song which reminds us where cuddling can lead. Except for the most part the kaona is not so discreet after all:  

E huli mai ‘oe / You turn to me  

Kūpono iho / Rise up and go down  

I luna i lalo / Up and down  

ʻIʻo ia nei / This is true love  

Āhē nani ʻiʻo no / True love so beautiful  

The English-language lyric – with its “yacka hicky” gibberish and reference to Chattanooga, Tennessee – is obviously not a translation of the Hawaiian. But, more surprisingly, its focus on the hula – still a curiosity on the mainland U.S. when this song was written – belies the original Hawaiian lyric’s more intimate nature. The song is a natural for Haunani who plays it relatively straight except for a bounce, a smile, and an occasional eye roll.  

The group that performed with Haunani in the Monarch Room was – like Alfred Apaka’s group – comprised largely of members of the Hawaii Calls band including steel guitarist Barney Isaacs who always plays his solo differently (as evidenced by comparing the version here with the version from Haunani’s live LP, The Voice of Hawaii). But the TV version benefits from a second guitar solo – this one likely from Pua Almeida as that is certainly his jazzy style. 

While Haunani made many appearances on the few episodes of the Hawaii Calls TV program, she often repeated her signature songs on multiple episodes. I have mentioned previously that the producers made some curious choices throughout the show’s history, and this is no exception: While they used the same pre-recorded audio track of the same song, they often filmed the visuals in two different locations. There is an alternate video of “`Auhea `Oe” in which Haunani is in a park strumming an `ukulele as she sings for a pair of hula dancers, but it uses the exact same audio track as the clip you see here. Again, this speaks to host Edwards’ assumption that mainland audiences would never know the difference – that if they had never seen the visual before, they would never know they were hearing the same song twice only a few weeks after the first time they heard it. 

I hope you are enjoying seeing and hearing Haunani again. But as she did her best work on the radio version of the show, and as there is just so much material there to mine, we return now to closing our eyes and letting our ears do the seeing for us. 

Next time: More of Haunani from the late 1950s and early 1960s from the live radio broadcasts…


Direct download: Haunani_Kahalewai_-_Auhea_Oe.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 3:08am EDT

Hawaii Calls – More from Haunani

Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and the Hawaii Calls radio program… 

I have mentioned here previously that at various periods in its history Hawaii Calls was hampered by a shortage of material. With a song library of approximately 1,500 titles and with the cast performing no fewer than ten songs for each weekly episode, the show could not go more than three years without repeating a title. Fortunately or unfortunately, Edwards favored some songs more than others – often featuring the same song twice within a few weeks of each other but by two different singers (which demonstrates, I think, a particular disdain for his mainland audiences which did not speak Hawaiian and which he probably felt “would never know the difference”). This was particularly true with any brand new composition which the show would cling to desperately until they rung the life out of it. Such is the case with the comic hula “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands,” a new song published in 1957 and composed by Mary Johnson (often credited as “Liko Johnston”) and Tony Todaro (the songwriting duo responsible for such hapa-haole favorites as “Somewhere In Hawaii” and “There’s No Place Like Hawaii”). It made its debut in the 20th Century Fox film The Revolt of Mamie Stover in which it was sung by Jane Russell. But less than a year after its film debut, “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands” was performed twice on Hawaii Calls within just a few weeks of each other – first by Sonny Nicholas (a version heard here earlier), and then again by Haunani. Fortunately the cast had not rung the life out of the number by the time Haunani got around to it. And, if anything, the cast breathed new life into it for their then new girl singer with the addition of the “doo-wop” background vocals by the show’s male chorus led by Benny Kalama and the jazzy steel guitar of Jules Ah See. (Listen as Jules uses his steel to emulate a “wolf whistle” in the bridge.) 

Mary Jane Montano composed the lyrics for “Old Plantation,” a song about the elegant estate of Curtis and Victoria Ward at the corner of King and Ward Streets (the site of what is now the Neal Blaisdell Center). David Nape set the lyric to music, a melodic and harmonic wonder which should be considered – like Nape’s other compositions (“Pua Mohala,” “Ku`u Ipo,” “Ku`u I`ini”) – advanced for the period in which it was written. (According to one copy of the sheet music, “Old Plantation” was copyrighted in 1906.). The primary song form of that period was hula ku`i – in which a single chord structure and melody are repeated over and over again (without a bridge or chorus) strictly in the service of supporting the lyric content. (This song form was – and continues to be – the primary song form for accompanying the hula, and the name of the form is simply translated as “to string together a hula.”) But Nape was writing a more complicated song form which deviated from the I-IV-V chord structure and repetitive melody to more meandering melodies and unexpected harmonic shifts. “Old Plantation” has at least three distinct sections – each having its own melody and unique chord structure which does not play upon or borrow from the other two. The middle section, in particular, demonstrates that Nape was thinking about other song forms that were not native to Hawai`i – one of the earliest Hawaiian songs to venture into a related key center in the bridge (in this case meandering from the tonic – here, the key of C – to its relative minor – Am – and then to the dominant – G.) And, in an interesting twist to the arrangement, Hawaii Calls arranger Al Kealoha Perry complicates the song even further – unexpectedly moving to the unrelated key center from C (when Haunani opens the song solo) to A (when the ladies chorus joins her). The combined voices of the ladies of Hawaii Calls stir the heart – even for those who do not understand the Hawaiian lyric – and the harmonics from Jules’ steel guitar are like stars shining over the Ward estate. 

Finally, Haunani and the cast reach back 20 years to a song from 1937, the popular “Song Of Old Hawaii” with lyrics by Gordon Beecher and music by composer/publisher Johnny Noble. This chestnut of the Hawaiian music canon epitomizes the hapa-haole idiom – songs about Hawai`i’s unique charms but written in English for all the world to understand. 

As we listen to Haunani’s voice again together, it makes me long to actually see Haunani perform just once. If only there were video of her from this era. 

Oh, but there is. 

Next time: Haunani Kahalewai in motion again for the first time in nearly 50 years… 


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 11:49pm EDT

Hawaii Calls - Haunani Kahalewai

While Hawaii Calls creator and host Webley Edwards was known to recruit well established stars of the local Hawai`i music scene for the show, Haunani Kahalewai was – as accurately recounted by cast member Nina Keali`iwahamana in a 1980 interview with KCCN Radio – a product of the radio show. Born in Hilo on the island of Hawai`i, Haunani largely lived and worked in obscurity. But eventually her voice was used for the soundtrack of a movie filmed on location in Hawai`i, and when Edwards heard the soundtrack and that voice – ranging from her pure contralto to a soaring mezzosoprano, which was used to full effect on that soundtrack with her voice soaring well above the chorus – he simply said, "Find that voice!" Hawaii Calls longtime arranger/conductor Al Kealoha Perry found Haunani working at a small resort on Kaua`i and recruited her to join the cast.

Edwards was right about his hunch, and Haunani quickly went from regular cast member to one of Hawaii Calls superstars – in terms of her popularity, becoming the show’s female equivalent of Alfred Apaka. Whether singing in the contralto or the mezzosoprano range, audiences immediately recognized her rare and unique voice, and she became known worldwide simply by her first name. She first appeared on record on the fourth LP in the series spawned by Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records, Waikiki!, released in 1957. As there is little documented history about Haunani Kahalewai and her time with Hawaii Calls (or, for that matter, as the successful solo artist she became), the release of this recording likely marks the approximate year she joined the cast of radio show. The Ho`olohe Hou archives corroborate this since she does not appear on a Hawaii Calls radio broadcast until that same year.

That we must take educated guesses about such matters is a pity. As influential as Haunani became as a local Hawai`i recording artist, as critically important as she was in spreading Hawaiian music across the country and around the globe with her national recording contracts with Capitol and Decca, and with a voice like no other with a supernatural three-and-a-half octave range, Haunani does not merit so much as a Wikipedia page (Alfred Apaka does) or a personal fan site. She does not even warrant an entry in the seminal work on the history of the music industry in Hawai`i (Kanahele and Berger’s Hawaiian Music & Musicians) – not even as a footnote to the entry on Hawaii Calls. There are no commercially available CDs of her music, and a quick glance at iTunes reveals that there is only one MP3 download available. In other words, Haunani remains as obscure now as before Webley Edwards discovered her on that movie soundtrack. And this, after all, is why Ho`olohe Hou exists: To preserve the memories and voices of the entertainers who defined Hawaiian music over the last century. So it gives me great honor and pride to use this space to give new life to songs Haunani performed on Hawaii Calls in its heyday and which have likely been heard nowhere else in the 50 years since their original broadcast.

At first listen these radio broadcasts will sound like time-worn LP records complete with ticks, clicks, pops, and even the occasional skip. This is because Hawaii Calls programs – because of the limitations of technology and time zones – were never really aired “live.” In the earliest days of the program, the only means of long-distance transmissions of such broadcasts was shortwave radio. But by the Haunani era of the program in the late 1950s, the show employed an elaborate system of transcription recorders which cut the radio shows direct to disc as if they were in a recording studio. These discs were sent out to radio stations and played over the air like the records they were. Most of these transcription records were tossed or destroyed by the radio stations because Hawaii Calls was never in reruns – offering a new program each week. The Ho`olohe Hou vaults maintain instead open reel copies of these shows – likely preserved by the radio stations or private collectors on tape before tossing the shellac or vinyl originals. Hindsight being what it is, we now know this was a huge mistake since in the long run tape is a far more fragile medium than vinyl or shellac – subject to differences in temperature and humidity that sturdier media are not. In a best case, climate subjects magnetic tape to expansion and contraction that results in occasional variations of speed – known as “wow and flutter,” which to the ear sounds like the music randomly speeding up and slowing down or changing pitch. Sometimes the tape merely becomes brittle and snaps – requiring a “splice” where the tape is rejoined together, resulting in some loss of music at the splice, which to the ear will sound like a “skip.” But in a worst case, I spooled up a 1950s show on open reel tape that was so fragile that the magnetic particles of the tape were unspooling and falling to the floor like so much brown dust before they ever crossed the tape machine head. In other words, I was watching the music disintegrate before I ever got to hear it. I have no idea what was lost to the ravages of time on that particular reel. Suffice it to say, I have pulled together an hour of material by Haunani Kahalewai, but the remastering of that material has taken nearly five times as long. Trust that this was an absolute labor of love, but the upshot is that in this digital era where there is little tolerance for less-than-CD quality recordings, we will have to agree to tolerate subpar sound quality in order to appreciate these lost recordings again. As I know how difficult it was to attain my copies of these recordings – and now that you see why so few copies continue to exist – in some cases we may be hearing the only copy of a recording still in existence.

I usually subscribe to the show biz axiom “save the best for last,” but I open this set with one of my favorite moments from the Hawaii Calls radio shows. Haunani has been known to perform and record in languages from Hawaiian to English, Tahitian to French, even Fijian. Here she opens a late 1950s episode of the program with the Tahitian aparima “Marcelle Vahine,” in an arrangement that features everything you could hope for in a Hawaii Calls production number: an a capella cold open from Haunani and the ladies trio comprised of sisters Nina, Lani, and Lahela before the men’s chorus led by Benny Kalama chimes in and Jules Ah See’s steel guitar sets the tempo for the musicians. This performance reminds us of what Webley Edwards was trying to accomplish with the program and so often did successfully: Convince audiences that heaven is in Hawai`i.

Fans of Hawaiian music are likely familiar with the iconic recording of “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight” by Gabby Pahinui from the 1970s – one of the few recordings in circulation on which the slack key guitar folk hero plays his first instrument, the steel guitar. So it is an interesting contrast to hear the song played here nearly 20 years earlier by steel guitarist Jules Ah See with Haunani taking the vocal lead. In this typically Hawaiian arrangement, it is difficult to believe that this hapa-haole tune that is a favorite of all Hawaiians was written by the Nashville songwriting duo of Al Dexter and James Paris.

Similarly, it is almost as inconceivable that the beautiful but rarely performed “Hawaii Sang Me To Sleep” was composed by a pair of guys from New York City and New Jersey. Matty Malneck was primarily known as a string player specializing in violin and viola, but he was known to write a few good tunes (such as “Goody, Goody,” a staple of the repertoires of such pop and jazz icons as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald). Frank Loesser is probably the more famous of the two, having earned multiple Tony Awards for writing both the lyrics and music to such beloved Broadway hits as Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The pair teamed up to score the 1939 Universal Pictures release Hawaiian Nights which featured an orchestra led by steel guitar great Sol Ho`opi`i. Few performers in Hawai`i have touched the song (and it has rarely been recorded since the 78 rpm era). But Haunani touches it here and makes magic with it.

This is just the beginning of a lengthy tribute to Hawai`i’s “First Lady of Song. This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening…

Next time: More forgotten classics from Haunani and Hawaii Calls…



Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 10:37pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Lani Sings and Dances

Continuing our look at Lani Custino and the Hawaii Calls TV show which ran for 26 episodes from 1965-66…


Fragrant flowers cool and sweet / Remind me of my Lani 

Blossoms for her hands and feet / But none as fair as Lani 

No matter how they try and try / No other hands can hold me 

No matter if I live or die / No other arms enfold me 

Stars are falling from the sky / They're falling for my Lani 

Falling stars are in her eyes / For they adore my Lani 

Palm trees by the Ala Wai / Bow their heads before her 

How they sigh when she walks by / Just because they love her


When I introduced this song a few days ago by Hawaii Calls singer Sonny Nicholas, it was still premature to tell you who inspired it. If you haven’t guessed by now, legend has it that the song – written by the same Jack Pitman who gifted the world with “Beyond The Reef” – was inspired by the beauty and graceful hula hands of Lani Custino. 

I wrote here previously that in Lani Custino Hawaii Calls recruited a double-threat – a singing hula dancer. Although sister Nina is better known as the singer and Lani as the hula dancer, Lani was a member of the show’s wahine vocal trio and – occasionally – a featured vocalist or duet partner for one of the male cast members. But host Webley Edwards wrote the show’s scripts in such a manner that it would have broken the spell he was trying to cast in aural paintings if he had stopped to mention the name of the next performer. Although Hawaii Calls had its stars – and often capitalized on that star power – Edwards just as frequently treated the cast as one unified whole that was the greater than the sum of its parts. Should it matter, then, if Edwards failed to mention a cast member by name? 

Conversely, Edwards never failed to mention when Lani Custino was about to dance a hula. This is ironic considering that radio audiences would never be able to see her dance the hula, so how could it matter whether or not he mentioned her name in that moment? Edwards continued this pattern when it mattered a little more – when Hawaii Calls bowed as a TV program and the world could finally see the lovely hula that they had been missing out on the previous 30 years. In this clip, Lani dances and sings for herself as she dances – which likely would not have been possible when taping the radio show (as wireless microphones were yet to be invented), but which was very possible through the magic of video where the song was pre-recorded and the artist would later “lip synch” to the audio track during the video shoot. So Lani is indeed singing here, but she is not really singing and dancing at the same time. She is dancing and lip synching at the same time (a feat which nonetheless should be granted bonus points for degree of difficulty). 

Like so many of the other Hawaii Calls TV segments I have chosen to share at Ho`olohe Hou, this one too – despite being filmed in color – has since faded nearly to black-and-white. But that should not detract from our enjoyment of this rare glimpse of Lani’s solo hula which has not been seen in nearly 50 years. It is also a far clearer recording of her gorgeous voice than what I was able to offer from the transcriptions of the original radio shows recorded only a few years earlier. In short, this is probably the best video we have of Lani Custino the singer and the dancer. 

At the risk of sounding like a record more broken than these time-ravaged radio transcriptions, I feel a sense of responsibility to point out discrepancies between the performances on the Hawaii Calls radio and TV programs and certain basic tenets of Hawaiian culture and tradition. And this performance offers just such another curious choice on the part of the show’s producers. In introducing the number, host Webley Edwards indicates that they are on location on the island of Hawai`i which is famous for its black sand. But then Lani launches into the song entitled “Waikapu,” a song which speaks by name about the various winds in four different locations on the island of Maui. (For this reason the song is sometimes referred to as “`Iniki Mālie” – meaning “gently piercing,” a poetic reference to the stringing of these winds as they touch the skin.) The producers could have made two equally responsible decisions. If on the island of Hawai`i, they could have performed a song written for an area of Hawai`i. But if the song choice was already a lock, they could have instead shot at a location on Maui. Now here is what makes their creative choice more curious still. The Hawaii Calls TV show frequently did location shoots on Maui. And, in case you need proof, I deliberately edited this clip to include the introductory instrumentals from the steel guitar of Barney Isaacs, and in the first 15 seconds of the video, you see the camera pan to Kuka'emoku, a 1,200-foot peak in the Iao Valley (and so the peak is sometimes referred to as the “Iao Needle”) on the island of Maui. The camera crew was already there on Maui at some point. Why not shoot the song for Maui on Maui? 

Such are the minor frustrations that have occupied the recesses of my mind even as I have enjoyed paying tribute to Hawaii Calls. 

We say goodbye to Lani Custino for now. But we will see and hear more from her when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts next June. 

Next time: More of sister Nina Keali`iwahamana from the radio shows…


Direct download: Lani_Custino_-_Waikapu.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 3:37pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Sisters Hana Hou

Continuing our look at both the talented Rodrigues sisters and the Hawaii Calls TV show which ran for a scant 26 episodes from 1965-66… 

As with “Lovely Hula Hands” previously, Nina Keali`iwahamana again leads the ladies vocal trio which is rounded out by her singing sisters Lani Custino and Lahela “Mackie” Rodrigues. And, again, Lani dances the hula for us – this time solo. Through the magic of video, Lani is accompanying herself on vocals as she dances – courtesy of the audio tracks pre-recorded in a Honolulu studio before the location shoot. But this time around the scene is in über-vivid color. 

When I began attempting to restore some of these Hawaii Calls TV segments to share at Ho`olohe Hou, I was quick to mention that these clips have seen the ravages of time. You may have difficulty believing – as I did – that they were filmed in color as they have since faded nearly to black-and-white. But this is the first of the clips I have shared where the color saturation has not diminished with time – making crystal clear the blue of the ocean and the pink of Lani’s satin holoku. The clarity of video also makes it easier to appreciate the hula by one of its finest practitioners. 

“Beyond The Reef” might be the quintessential hapa-haole song (or song extoling Hawaiian places, people, or ideals but written in English). Made famous by Bing Crosby with his 1949 recording, the lovely song was written by Jack Pitman who also composed such ­hapa-haole standards as “Goodnight Leilani E,” “Fish and Poi,” “Lovely Hula Girl,” and “The Sands of Waikiki.” And every time I hear a Jack Pitman song – songs with such a typically Hawaiian feel that continue to be beloved and performed by singers in Hawai`i to this day – I remain incredulous that Pitman hailed from Regina, Saskatchewan. 

So much for the sister act. But there is still more to come from Lani and Nina. 

Next time: Lani sings and dances at the same time 


Direct download: Lani_Custino_-_Beyond_The_Reef.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 1:35pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Sisters

Continuing our look at both the talented Rodrigues sisters and the Hawaii Calls TV show which ran for a scant 26 episodes from 1965-66…

If Nina was known as the singer and Lani as the hula dancer, from this clip it would appear that their respective roles remain intact. But that is only half of the story. Nina has the vocal lead here, but you can clearly hear the Hawaii Calls women’s vocal trio which during this period was all three of original show veteran’s Vicki I`i Rodrigues’ musical daughters – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela “Mackie” Rodrigues (who replaced Punini McWayne in the trio with her departure). This means, then, that Lani is accompanying herself on vocals as she dances the hula. All courtesy of the magic of video! The sisters laid down their vocal tracks in a Honolulu studio in advance, and then Lani and the Hawaii Calls hula maids were filmed on location dancing to those audio tracks.

Hey, if it’s good enough for Madonna…

We described Lani’s approach to the hula here previously, and with this video clip she proves she was among the very best of the era – living up to the title of R. Alex Anderson’s song “Lovely Hula Hands.” It was just such a vision that inspired Anderson to compose the song. At a party where a hula was being performed, he overheard someone say, “Aren’t her hands lovely?” And the rest is history. The song was first associated with hula dancer legend Aggie Auld but applies equally well to Lani. For those not yet indoctrinated into the beauty and joy of the hula, it is, of course, a storytelling dance in which the story is told with the hands. Few were better at this than Lani Custino – which is why her hula hands were captured in still frame for everything from travel magazines to hotel showroom posters.

And this raises one of the video’s curiosities. While it may sound like I am repeatedly picking on host Webley Edwards when we are supposed to be celebrating him and his creation, I am not. Or, at least, that is not my intention. I look at it more as ethnographic research – an attempt at putting Hawaii Calls and its players in their appropriate historical and cultural context. Some of the choices the show made – many masterminded by Edwards – would seem inconsistent to some cultural experts, and this is likely because many of the show’s creative decisions were made by a leader who was not Hawaiian and who perhaps did not always seek out cultural experts on such matters. Such thinking is likely rooted in the host’s desire to please his audience more than any desire to please the locals. There is an example of such a cultural inconsistency in this video. After a full run through of the verses and bridge sung by Nina, there is an instrumental section where steel guitarist Barney Isaacs is featured but nobody is singing. If the hula is a storytelling dance in which the hands interpret the lyrics of the song being sung, then when there is no singing, there can be no dancing, right? Sure, the dancers know the words of the song and can sing them to themselves in their heads. But that is not, in fact, part of the cultural tradition. To the Hawaiian people, words have divine or supernatural power – referred to as mana. And for this reason, in the hula tradition, the word comes first and the movement second. Quite literally, there can be no hula when nobody is singing, and so musicians who perform for the hula are well aware that they will not get to “show off” with a solo – at least not during a hula number. The decision to allow the ladies to continue to hula while there are no words being sung is curiously contradictory to the hula tradition.

To add to the curiousness, notice that lead hula dancer Lani Custino disappears from the scene for a full 50 seconds – the camera panning to the two accompanying hula dancers at 2:05 in the video during the instrumental section and Lani ducking back into the scene (from behind a tree, of all things) at 2:57 when sister Nina begins to sing again. Coincidence? Probably not. I have examined this scene a few dozen times now, and my conjecture is that having been trained by renowned hula master Iolani Luahine and fully understanding the power of the connection between word and movement in the hula, Lani very likely consciously objected to the producer’s decision to have an instrumental solo in a song intended for the hula and refused to dance during the instrumental break. And since the song’s tracks were already laid down in the recording studio and could not be changed on location, it would appear that a last minute decision was made to allow Lani to excuse herself from the scene during the instrumental section in order to remain true to the cultural practice and tradition.

There are many more such curiosities among both the TV and radio versions of the Hawaii Calls programs, and we will no doubt examine those in due time. But, for now, it is only to enjoy a scene that few (if any) have seen in nearly 50 years that features Hawaiian entertainment legends who also just happen to be sisters.

Next time: A hana hou from Nina and Lani – this one in Technicolor…



Direct download: Lani_Custino_-_Lovely_Hula_Hands.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 10:55am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Nina Sings For Children

Continuing a topic we began discussing in this space recently, for a short time around 1965-66, Hawaii Calls made a brief entré into the world of television. Edwards felt that radio was a dying medium and that audiences deserved to see the real Hawai`i. Radio could not capture the spray of the waves, the grace and vivid costumery of the hula dancers, or – perhaps most importantly – a friendly smile. Television was the perfect medium to portray paradise in technicolor, but as the radio program was already too costly to produce, a weekly live television show would by no means better the enterprise’s financial situation. The next best thing: Performances by the stars of Hawaii Calls shot at various locations around Hawai`i including junkets to film on Maui and Kaua`i. As a cost-cutting measure, the music tracks for each vignette were pre-recorded in a local Honolulu recording studio and the show’s singing stars – and often a few hula dancers – flown to various locations to film them “lip synching” to the prerecorded audio tracks. This constitutes one of the earliest forms of what today we call a “music video.” 

The next logical – albeit tragic – leap from pre-recording the music might be… Why do we need the singer on location at all? As I mentioned previously, one of the radio show’s female singing stars of the 1960s was Nina Keali`iwahamana. Fans of the show would sit at home by their radios ardently awaiting their favorite Hawaiian singer. But, for reasons completely unfathomable, Nina never made a single appearance on any of 26 episodes of the TV version of Hawaii Calls. But as with the radio program, her voice made several appearances on each week’s TV broadcast – almost always anonymously. This, too, is a pity. 

But now that we have worked through how to distinguish Nina’s voice from those of her singing sisters, we can appreciate some of the Hawaii Calls TV show clips which beyond a shadow of a doubt featured her unmistakable voice. 

In this first segment, Nina sings a song for children. Auntie Nona Beamer composed “Pūpū Hinuhinu” (meaning “shiny seashell” – say that ten times fast!) around 1950 as a sort of lullaby. Inspired by the cowrie shells found on the black sand beach of Punalu`u on the island of Hawai`i (the southernmost point in the U.S.), in this simplest of songs a child finds a cowrie shell, listens to its song, and then lays it down to sleep. This would make for a lovely scene except for certain cultural inaccuracies that come into play as a result of host and script-writer Webley Edwards’ lack of understanding at times of Hawaiian language and culture. First, Auntie Nona refers to the shell as “hinuhinu” because of its shiny outer coating. Some cowries are so small and shiny that they glitter like jewels – which may be why certain ancient cultures value the shells as currency. But none are over 2-3” in diameter. For some reason, here the young lady in the scene is instructed to pick up a queen conch – one of the largest of the Pacific shells and which most ironically has a dull, rough, chalky exterior. In other words, the conch is nothing like the cowrie of which Auntie Nona wrote. More curiously still, Edwards fabricates a story about the menehune of Hawaiian mythology – a legend about a people of dwarf-like stature who are skilled craftspeople but whom nobody has ever seen or heard. A conch shell can be sawn in such a manner as to be used as a trumpet. (If you have ever visited one of the commercial lu`au in Hawai`i, the evening no doubt began with a ceremonial blowing of the conch.) As one story about these little people goes, there was a chief who would blow on a conch shell to try to control the menehune, and in retaliation, the menehune stole the conch from the chief and trumpeted it at all hours of the night to disturb the locals and try to blame it on the chief whose conch it rightfully was. What the conch shell or this legend – or other similar legends about the menehune ­– have to do with Auntie Nona’s song is not immediately clear. But it is likely just host Edwards trying to weave a more mystical tale around the song than there really was for mainland audiences. 

And as I watch the playback of the video one last time, I dearly wish that they would have featured Nina in the song she was clearly singing. 

There are more performances by the disembodied voice of Nina Keali`iwahamana from the Hawaii Calls TV show yet to come. There are also more curious disconnects between scene and song to be examined. 

Next time: Nina sings while sister Lani dances the hula…


Direct download: Nina_Kealiiwahamana_-_Pupu_Hinuhinu.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 8:47am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Nina Keali`iwahamana

In 2004, while preparing for the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest, I was seeking out the lyrics to a song composed by Ida Alicante, “Ku`u Ipo, Ku`u Aloha, Po`ina`ole” (often referred to simply as “Ida’s Hula”). Tony Conjugacion made the only previous recording of this forgotten but still relevant song, but he and I had lost touch years before. But in the liner notes to Tony’s CD, he remarked that the lyrics to the song came from the songbook of Vicki I`i Rodrigues who had performed with Alicante long ago. Now, in Hawaiian music terminology, “songbook” rarely means a thing you order from Amazon.com. More often it means an archivist or performer’s personal collection – notes (often handwritten) scattered across three-ringers, boxes, and filing cabinets, sometimes orderly, but more likely in a state of disarray. It was my understanding that Auntie Vicki’s daughter was the keeper of her mother’s archives. But I had no idea how to reach her either. 

Using my “Phone-A-Friend” lifeline, I rang up revered steel guitarist and music teacher Alan Akaka, and I simply asked, “I need to learn a song. Any idea how I can reach Auntie Nina?” And despite that we are friends, I could sense that Alan was hesitant to give out a celebrity friend’s contact information. But he did the next best thing. He said, “Let me see what I can do.” And about 45 minutes later, an email arrived in my Inbox with the subject line, “Aloha from Auntie Nina!” That was the beginning of a decade-long pen-pal-ship. Not necessarily a friendship since, interestingly, we have never been in the same room together. No, that’s not true. I have been in the audience where she has performed, but my attempts to get backstage to chat with my pen pal have been in vein. 

“Who are you?” 

“I’m a friend of Auntie Nina’s.” 

“Sure, you are.” 

(I knew I should have said “nephew.”) 

But this is just the way things have turned out for Auntie Nina and me. I will email to tell her I’m coming to Hawai`i – only to discover that she is spending the same month in Las Vegas. She has invited me to events where other Hawaiian music notables would be present, but I was either already committed to paying gigs or other plans that breaking would simply be a social faux pas. So it is with me and my pen pal, Auntie Nina. 

But even receiving an email from Auntie Nina still stirs incredulity in me. Nina Keali`iwahamana is one of those celebrities whose portrait (from the cover of an issue of Honolulu Magazine, the image you see here) has graced the wall of my home studio for nearly 20 years. I first heard that voice as a small child, and I thought she might as well be an angel and every day Christmas for it is truly a gift when Nina graces you with a song. Little could I know at the time that the lady whose voice was like the heavenly host incarnate was, in fact, born on Christmas Day. 

As I mentioned here previously, Nina’s mother, noted musician, composer, and song archivist Vicki I`i Rodrigues, was with Hawaii Calls since its inception in 1935 until 1951 when daughter Lani took her place in the ladies chorus. Five years younger than her sister, Nina did not join the cast of Hawaii Calls until 1957 – several years after her. But while Lani made the most impact as a hula dancer, Nina sent spines tingling across the Hawaiian music-loving universe with her elegant mezzosoprano. For Nina, singing sounded as effortless as breathing and so you could not help but be put at ease at the sound of her voice. The addition of Nina to the cast was quite a coup for host Webley Edwards, one of whose primary goals for the program was to promote tourism. That voice was like the genie awakened from the lamp but willing to grant your three wishes – perhaps one of these to come to Hawai`i someday and soon to hear the voice in person. 

And it’s still just like I remembered it! Nina is still active on the Hawaiian music scene – not with a regular weekly thing in Waikiki or anything like that, but when the project suits her and comports the appropriate sense of historical and cultural importance. Often this means a modern-day recreation of the Hawaii Calls program for live audiences from Japan to New York City. The radio program has been off the air since 1974, and Nina was with it from 1957 until its bitter end. But despite that this was 40 years ago, Nina’s voice has not suffered the ravages of time that some singers’ pipes have through misuse and abuse. Nina took care of her instrument, and it is as glorious as ever. We will explore her recording career when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates her birthday around the holidays. But, for now, keeping with the spirit of our theme the last few weeks, let’s look at Nina’s early years with the Hawaii Calls program. 

I have remarked previously how the engineers for the Hawaii Calls radio broadcast – which, during this period, would be Bob Lang – strived to capture the entire experience with the limitation of using only audio. On the opening number here, you can hear the hula dancers using their ipu, a hollowed out gourd that is carefully prepared for use as a percussion instrument for the hula. Nina sings “Miloli`i,” a song which strays quickly from the Big Island town for which it is titled. The song relates composer John Makuakane’s travels from one island to another – including a quick pit stop on the mainland – and the unusual sights he encounters along the way. In Miloli`i (a town on the island of Hawai`i, south of Kailua-Kona and not far from Kealakekua – the town spoken of in “I Want To Go Back To My Little Grass Shack” –  or Honaunau – in ancient times a place of refuge during war), a most stubborn donkey. In Waikiki, an elephant (a reference to Daisy, the pachyderm resident of the Honolulu Zoo in the 1930s). In San Francisco, a jet airplane. Of course! How else would he get home? Perhaps on the steamer ship he saw in Honolulu. I have written here previously that Hawaii Calls suffered at times from a limited song library. Even among the few Hawaii Calls broadcasts in the Ho`olohe Hou archives, I have versions of “Miloli`i” by Nina, Jimmy Kaopuiki, and Benny Kalama. 

I have also commented here previously that host Webley Edwards’ lack of understanding of Hawaiian language and culture at time perhaps hampered his ability to communicate truthfully about the songs performed on his show. Nina’s performance of “Pōhai Ke Aloha” is a case in point. Edwards refers to this as a “love song” – a mistake made throughout history, even by some singers of the song. But this is not entirely accurate – unless Edwards meant a love song for a family. You have read here previously that early in her career Lena Machado was a featured singer with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and although she would eventually leave over a dispute with bandmaster Frank Vierra, the beginning of her association with the band years earlier under then bandmaster Mekia Kealaka`i was a wonderful time for her. Despite her very tumultuous and pubic separation from the band, Lena continued to look upon Kealaka`i fondly as mentor and friend, and he saw her as a daughter. Lena composed “Pōhai Ke Aloha” (which means “surrounded by love”) in honor of Kealaka`i, his wife, and his son and their home in the `Ewa Beach area of O`ahu. When the home was built, three hau trees were planted in the front yard. The trees grew to different heights – which, in Lena’s poetic mind, symbolized the three members of the Kealaka`i `ohana (or family). She references the trees in the second verse as “Kamanui, Kamalani, Kamaiki” – one for the father, one for the mother, and one for the son. It is this sentimentality that has confused many listeners – and performers – into believing that “Pōhai Ke Aloha” was written by Kealaka`i as a eulogy for his wife. For this performance, Nina is joined by sister Lani and the third member of the ladies vocal trio of that era, Miriam Punini McWayne. 

When I introduced the short-lived television version of the Hawaii Calls show, I mentioned the curiosity that the show often featured performers one would never hear on the radio show, and because of the air time afforded these special guests, the TV program never got around to showing certain members of the radio program’s regular cast. Because of her graceful hula, there was nary an episode of the TV show that didn’t feature Lani Custino. But one of the repeatedly slighted was sister Nina whose voice could be heard on one song after the next on the TV programs, but whose face was never shown once in its 26 episodes. Nina could be heard, of course, because the audio portion was pre-recorded in a Honolulu recording studio and then lip-synched by the guest soloists. Nina can be heard as one of the backing vocalists for the show’s guests as well as on a few solo numbers where no singer is shown on screen at all – just scenery or scripted vignettes. So we have the exact opposite problem with Nina and the TV program that we had with Lani and the radio program: You have to really be able to tell their voices apart to know who is singing when they cannot be seen and when the host fails to announce the performers. 

Next time: The uncredited voice of Nina Keali`iwahana on TV (sort of)… 


Direct download: 19_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:54am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Lani Custino - Singer

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin obituary reads, “Lani Custino, hula dancer from a well-known family of entertainers, died Tuesday in Las Vegas, where she had lived since August 1996. She was 66.”

So this is at least partially true. A more appropriate description of the dynamic entertainer might have been “hula dancer and singer.” But history has painted Lani Custino strictly in her more famous role. For a lengthy period in Hawai`i’s entertainment history from the 1950s through the 1970s, Custino was the equivalent of a hand model for the hula – her graceful hula poses appearing everywhere from iconic album covers to travel magazines to posters for the hotels that dotted the Waikiki strip. So it is understandable that this is what she would be best remembered for. Record producer Jon De Mello once said of her, “Lani Custino sculpted artistic images of this mystical land of aloha. Her graceful hands told the classic story of the song.” The pictorial evidence does not lie. A still photograph of Lani dancing the hula seemed somehow to actually convey the motion of the hula.

Such is the magic that Lani Custino wove with her hula hands.

And why not? Lani was trained by one of the most revered masters of hula kahiko (the ancient hula style), Iolani Luahine, who to this day legend claims was witnessed dancing hula while levitating several inches off the ground. After years of study under such a master, Lani became the quintessential “classical hula dancer,” as one observer described her.

Custino began her dancing career in the hula line of the group led by Dan Wallace at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the early 1950s before taking her rightful place as a hula soloist – first with Haunani Kahalewai at the Waikiki Biltmore Hotel’s Top of the Isle showroom, then with Alfred Apaka in his shows at the Hawaiian Village Hotel, and finally with Danny Kaleikini after Alfred Apaka’s passing. Perhaps it is because she became so well known as a hula dancer that Lani’s parallel career as a singer is often forgotten. Or perhaps it is because she hailed from a family of far more famous singers than her. For this reason I chose to profile Lani Custino the singer before I honor her more famous singing siblings.

You read here previously that singer, musician, composer, and song archivist Vickie I`i Rodrigues was one of the first wahine in the cast when Hawaii Calls bowed on July 3, 1935. Vicki remained part of the show’s iconic ladies vocal trio – as well as its music librarian – until 1951 when one of her talented daughters stepped up and took her mother’s place in the trio. This was the debut of Lani Custino with Hawaii Calls. In Lani the radio program hired a double-threat – singer and hula dancer. But she was more frequently featured as a solo hula dancer – a delight for the live audience, but perplexing for those tuned in at home with their ears pressed tightly against the speakers of their Motorolas. More ironically still, host Webley Edwards – who also wrote the scripts for each week’s program – had a terrible habit of not consistently announcing who was singing which songs. Despite that nobody could see her dancing, Edwards almost never failed to announce when Lani was performing a hula. But he rarely announced when Lani was about to sing. For this reason most casual listeners would have difficulty distinguishing Lani’s voice from those of the other wahine cast members – especially her singing sisters who at various times were also members of Hawaii Calls cast.

So if we can’t tell the players without a scorecard, how do we know when Lani was the vocalist on a number on this program? There are a couple of ways, but it takes well-trained ears (not necessarily those of a singer, although that is no doubt an advantage). First there were the rare occasions when Edwards did announce that Lani was about to step up the microphone, and we can compare those performances to those where he didn’t identify the singer. And we can also compare performances from the radio show with Lani’s many appearances on LP records during that era. She did several albums with her singing sisters – often with the Maile Serenaders, a studio-only aggregation (not a real performing group) with a rotating membership which often included the musicians who were also members of the Hawaii Calls group including Sonny Nicholas, Jimmy Kaopuiki, Benny Kalama, Sonny Kamahele, and the producer’s choice from among steel guitarists Barney Isaacs, Eddie Pang, or Joe Custino (who not at all coincidentally was Lani’s husband). She also made two well-loved albums with her entire family led by matriarch Auntie Vickie – Na Mele `Ohana and Auntie Vickie Sings – on which Lani soloed on such lovely traditional Hawaiian fare as “Ku`u Pua Mikinolia.” Finally, for fans of Don Ho, if you have heard Ho’s Reprise Records debut, The Don Ho Show, on which he sings “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” Don’s duet partner was lovely Lani. If you have heard all of these performances on which Lani is clearly identified, then you might be able to know when it is her voice featured on a Hawaii Calls song.

The most difficult part of this task is not distinguishing Lani’s voice from her sisters’, but specifically distinguishing it from her more famous sister’s, Nina Keali`iwahamana. But for some this actually makes the task easier because Nina is so widely recorded that her voice is emblazoned on our mind’s ear. Their voices are so similar – but by no means alike – that sometimes the easier method for identifying that Lani is singing is by confirming that it is not Nina singing. When it comes to the singing Rodrigues sisters, if I were jazz critic Whitney Balliett, I might describe the differences thusly… Lahela’s voice is like the `i`iwi bird, flapping occasionally in an effort to remain gracefully aloft in the air and on course. Lani’s voice is like one of its feathers drifting through the air from on high to settle into a comfortable breeze below. And Nina’s voice is the air itself – lighter than either of the other two yet sturdy enough to be able to support both bird and feather. Together, the sisters’ voices in harmony was a symbiotic relationship.

But for now we focus on Mrs. Custino.

Lani opens this set with “Kipu Kai,” composed by the venerable songwriting duo of Mary Kawena Pukui and Maddy Lam in honor of the estate of rancher Jack Waterhouse on the island of Kaua`i. (Waterhouse has another important connection to the world of Hawaiian music. You may recall reading here that at the age of 14 singer/entertainer Bill Kaiwa was hanai – the informal system of Hawaiian adoption – to a family on Kaua`i. Jack Waterhouse is Bill Kaiwa’s hanai father.) Copyrighted in 1956, this would have been still a relatively new song when Lani performed it on this 1957 episode of the radio show.

“Ka `Ano`i” is a very old song that is often attributed to no composer in particular but simply listed as a “Traditional” song. But ethnomusicologist Keola Donaghy researched this song much more thoroughly. From his response to Hawaiian lyrics website huapala.org: 

This mele was published in a songbook "Ka Ho`onanea o Nā Home Hawai`i", printed in 1888, by the Honolulu Commercial Advertiser, forerunner of [the] Honolulu Advertiser. The composer is credited as Kamealoha, which may have been John [Kamealoha Almeida]'s adoptive father, Paulo Kamealoha. This song also appeared in the Hawaiian language newspaper "Ke Ko`o o Hawai`i", 29 Augate 1883, Buke 1, Helu 2, pg. 8. It is given as a meleinoa for Kapi`olani, is credited to Kamehaokalani, and includes different stanzas and lyrics from the mele credited to Kamealoha. The melody as it is sung today is different from the way it was sung then. 

Published in 1812, the love ballad “Ua Like No A Like” is one of the oldest Hawaiian songs that continues to be cherished and performed by Hawai`i’s contemporary artists. Composed by Alice Everett, a contemporary of Queen Lili`uokalani, it is most often performed as a duet for a male and a female voice. Here, lovely Lani is joined by another Hawaii Calls cast regular, singer/arranger Benny Kalama.

Worry not! We will hear more from Lani and learn about her singing sisters soon. But, first, if Lani was better known for her hula, then we would be remiss in not honoring her hula. And that is not something we can appreciate on a radio show.

Next time: The camera-ready hula of Lani Custino…


Trivia: The three compositions Lani performs here have something most mundane in common. What is it?” (Difficulty Rating: Easy if you are a serious student of the last century’s worth of Hawaiian songs. Medium if you are a student of the Hawaiian language.)


Direct download: 18_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:24am EDT

Teddy Randazzo - Side 2

About a year ago while in the New Jersey town of Iselin on business, I made an obligatory stop in Vintage Vinyl which – like Princeton Record Exchange a little closer to home – is my Cheers. Everybody knows my name. With more than 25,000 titles in my vast collection, I have been known to frequent record shops in every town I stop in – looking for the “Holy Grail” of long players, but not knowing what I have never found until I actually find it. On this day, in particular, I picked up a pristine (or, as we say in record collecting, “mint”) copy of Reflections by Anthony and The Imperials. A quick Google search on the iPhone revealed that the vinyl LP has never been available on CD or MP3. Flipping the album over to read the liner notes was more revealing: Nearly a dozen Teddy Randazzo compositions I had never heard before. Randazzo had a long association with The Imperials – composing and producing any number of chart hits for the vocal group. But once I got home and was able to give Reflections a spin, only then did I realize how truly special a recording it was. A fellow blogger – who is more expert in funk and soul than I am – puts the album in the appropriate historical context better than I ever could: 

By the time the listener gets to Reflections, a soulful tour de force takes shape. The songs, the orchestrations, the singers take you to Shangri-La. This is some of the most beautiful music ever to come out of the 60’s. Teddy Randazzo made this world a much better place…  

Little Anthony & the Imperials were ten years into their history when they recorded this elegant, slightly trippy pop-soul classic under the guidance of writer/producer Teddy Randazzo, who co-authored all but one of the 12 songs here and did for this quartet more or less what Jimmy Webb did for The 5th Dimension during the same period. There’s nothing really psychedelic about the music here, despite its coming out in 1967 — rather, it’s a cheerful mixture of lyrical soul sounds and sunshine pop, with an understated elegance and gorgeous harmonies (and tastefully restrained horn and string parts, with the occasional flute) supporting the impassioned lead vocals by Little Anthony. The resulting album is one of the most beguilingly upbeat soul records of its period, a match and then some for anything coming out of Motown for accessibility. What’s more, it hasn’t lost an iota of appeal across the ensuing four decades — [exuding] a warm, lingering glow reflective of its era. 

No, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Tasteful, restrained... That’s the Teddy Randazzo I know. Comparisons to Jimmy Webb are certainly warranted. As good as Motown? That is a high compliment as this was released on Veep Records, the soul subsidiary of the largely white-ish United Artists conglomerate. 

When I was growing up, I had never heard Teddy Randazzo the teen idol. I don’t recall ever hearing him sing. By the time I was born, he had largely abandoned that part of his career. He was content to write songs, create beautiful arrangements for strings and horns, and produce. And whenever he did any of these things, he created magic. Here are just a few Randazzo songs and productions of historical importance.  

Many would be familiar with late period Steve Lawrence, the crooner who, in a duo with wife Eydie Gorme, filled the seats of Las Vegas showrooms night after night with their combination of schmaltz and nostalgia.  But fewer may be familiar with the poppy, doo-woppy Steve Lawrence of earlier in his career. Arguably Lawrence would have had no career at all if not for his cover of “Pretty Blue Eyes,” written by Teddy Randazzo with his longtime songwriting partner, Bobby Weinstein. The song peaked at #9 and earned a place on the Billboard Top 100 Hits of 1960– making Steve Lawrence a household name. 

Randazzo had a long association with Little Anthony and The Imperials. Although the group had been around in one form or another since 1957, they didn’t really begin to strike gold until their childhood friend Randazzo handed them the exquisite material for which they ultimately became famous – starting with “I’m On The Outside (Looking In”) in 1964 (peaking at #15) and followed almost immediately by “Goin’ Out Of My Head” later that same year (which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100). The latter has been covered innumerable times. Not merely a favorite among singers for its haunting melody line and dramatic crescendo in the bridge – covered by singers as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits, and Queen Latifah – the song’s intriguing harmonic structure (i.e., the chords) also resulted in countless instrumental versions – from former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen to jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis to the champagne sounds of Lawrence Welk to the iconic version by guitarist Wes Montgomery (for which he was accused of selling his soul to the devil and abandoning the artfulness of jazz for the more lucrative mainstream pop). In fact, as far as “claims to fame” are concerned, according to The Songwriters Hall of Fame, “Goin’ Out Of My Head” has sold more than 100 million records and has been recorded by over 400 artists – ranking it in the top 50 most recorded songs in history. 

It is worth noting here that among the many songs Randazzo and Weinstein wrote for The Imperials was one they ended up never recording. After “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” the songwriting duo’s most recognizable song is likely “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle,” which became a Top 30 hit for vocal group The Royalettes when a contractual dispute prevented The Imperials from tackling the song themselves. “Miracle” would hit again and again for such artists as Laura Nyro in the 70s and Deniece Williams in the 80s. 

Randazzo composed “Hurt So Bad” for The Imperials, as well, and it did even better than “Goin’ Out Of My Head” from the same album – becoming both a Billboard Top 10 hit and Top Five R&B hit. But this is not the version most remember. If you were a child of the 70s, depending on the type of music your parents played around the house, you likely either remember the easy listening version by vocal trio The Lettermen or the more angst-laden version by pop-rock diva Linda Ronstadt. This song was also popular among both vocalists and instrumentalists with versions from artists ranging from jazzers Richard “Groove” Holmes, Grant Green, Ramsey Lewis, and Nancy Wilson to pop icon David Cassidy and current soul songstress Alicia Keys. 

Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. Teddy Randazzo made the world a better place. 

Next time: Side 3: Teddy Randazzo The Producer…


Direct download: 02_Teddy_Randazzo_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:45pm EDT

Teddy Randazzo - Side 1

A few years ago I became more deeply involved in the Hawaiian music and hula community across the river from my New Jersey home – in New York City. I was pleased to accompany such talented hula dancers that I previously had no idea existed. In the green room of a theater before a first performance with a hula troupe with which I had never worked before, each dancer greeted me enthusiastically in turn. 

A tall, tan, and lovely young lady – who, if I didn’t know she were a hula dancer, could have been the real life girl from Ipanema – introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Skye! Skye Randazzo.” 

I introduced myself in turn and replied, “That is an unusual name.” 

She said, “You mean Skye?” 

I said, “No, Randazzo. You never hear that name, but there was a famous songwriter and producer in Hawai`i by that name. And before that he was huge on the mainland.” 

There was a tear in Skye’s blush when she said proudly, “That’s my dad.” 

And once again I was in the presence of Hawaiian music greatness. And, in fact, music greatness in general. For before Teddy Randazzo made a life in Hawai`i, he was first a teen heartthrob – a Justin Bieber for the 1950s, but with the noteworthy difference of possessing real vocal talent and unmanufactured charm and good looks. And then Randazzo became one of the great, yet underrated songwriters of all time – charting time and time again with his own records as well as writing for other budding music legends who put their own special touch on his compositions. One blogger puts Randazzo’s compositions on a par with those by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. I concur. The same writer refers to him as an “angst-cranker,” and while there may be a hint of hyperbole in it, Randazzo undeniably specialized in heartache and drama – each song a mini-symphony, a requiem to love and loss. 

You have no doubt heard Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Hurt So Bad.” Yes, that Teddy Randazzo. 

Regular readers of this blog know by now that I typically celebrate Hawai`i’s legendary entertainers on their birthdays. But I awoke this morning and started the day as I often do by scrolling through Facebook when I read a post that lived up to the title of the Randazzo song. In the latter part of his career, the New York City-born Randazzo met and fell in love with a Hawaiian girl, an extraordinary hula dancer and – as I have come to know her – an equally extraordinary spirit, the former Rosemary Shelly Kunewa. And when you get to know Mrs. Shelly Randazzo, you realize at the first mention of her husband that the love that she shared with Teddy was supernatural – powerful enough to fill a thousand universes, stop a thousand wars. And those who understand both the love the Randazzos shared and the music he made throughout his lifetime must have some difficulty reconciling the contradiction. Was the lovelorn Randazzo merely a put-on for fans of the once teen heartthrob? Or did meeting Shelly simply turn his life around? Regardless, flipping through Facebook for comic relief but finding instead my friend Shelly’s rededication of her love and life to her beloved husband on this – the anniversary of Teddy’s passing – hurt so bad. And while I was in the middle of writing about other artists today, I changed course – seemingly having no choice, led not by logic but by the heart – and decided to write about Teddy instead. 

I like to think there were three equally important and equally beautiful sides to Teddy’s career. Let’s start with Side 1: Teddy Randazzo The Voice. 

In the early 1950s, three guys from Brooklyn, New York got together and formed The Three Chuckles. Depending on your source, some say that they took their name from the once popular candy of the same name, while others assert that it was because they started out as a comedy troupe. Either way, when their accordionist left the group, they recruited another – Alessandro Carmela Randazzo – to round out the trio again. They recorded two sides for Boulevard Records – “At Last You Understand” and “Runaround.” “At Last” was intended as the “A” side, but it largely flopped. It was the “B” side that struck gold for the group. With lead vocals by Teddy Randazzo, “Runaround” (which you hear first in this set), was a smash – reaching #20 on the U.S. charts and earning them a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. 

And the rest – as they say – is history. 

Teddy forged on as a solo artist and landed three more singles in the Billboard Top 100. The highest charting tune, “The Way Of A Clown” (the second song in this set), peaked at #44. I recall daughter Skye mentioning this song to me apropos of nothing, and I responded, “Yeah, the one based on the aria Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci.” Astonished, she asked how I could possibly know such a thing, and I responded, “I told you I was a fan.” 

Such was the versatility of Randazzo as songwriter and arranger. Who else could write such angst-filled mini-operas as someone well versed in opera himself? 

While he was enjoying a career as a solo artist through the 1960s, Randazzo was also composing, arranging, and producing other artists of the era. If you have never heard of Randazzo, you have no doubt heard of the artists he helped make famous. 

Next time: Side 2: Teddy Randazzo The Composer… 

Dedicated with loving aloha to Shelly, Skye, and the entire Randazzo `ohana on this most difficult of days.


Direct download: 01_Teddy_Randazzo_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:45pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Barney Pedals Faster

By now it has been well documented that the steel guitar was invented by a Hawaiian boy named Joseph Kekuku. History continues to debate whether the discovery was made through deliberate experiment or a happy accident. But, either way, there is no dispute that the first to play in this manner was Kekuku of Lā`ie on the island of O`ahu. (Ironically, Kekuku died just a few miles from where I am writing this in the town of Dover, NJ.) 

Hawaiian steel guitarists were among the first to export the music of their unique homeland around the world. The farther they traveled, two things happened. Hawaiian steel guitarists heard styles of music they had never heard back home. In particular, jazz captivated their imaginations, and so Hawaiian steel guitar style evolved – quickly – to incorporate the jazz idiom. But, conversely, musicians from other parts of the world adopted the steel guitar for their own purposes – using them to perform other kinds of music besides Hawaiian. Despite being invented in Hawai`i by a Hawaiian, country-western music co-opted the steel guitar as its own with players popping up from Bakersfield to Nashville. At some point the mainland players would take the instrument a little farther still by adding pedals to it. But what were the pedals for? 

I have written here previously that playing the steel guitar is not merely an art. It is a feat of physics. The steel guitar is limited by being played with a perfectly straight steel bar. This means that you can only achieve chords that can be found in a straight line across the strings. Moving the bar on a diagonal – forward or backward – can achieve additional chord forms, but the player must be careful (and this is especially difficult at fast tempos) to keep the bar straight across adjacent frets as the distance between frets changes as we move up and down the guitar. In an attempt to combat this problem, some players began employing steel guitars with two, three, or more necks – like playing multiple guitars at the same time, each tuned differently, so that in order to find the chord or tuning they desired, they simply moved from one neck to another, not merely between songs, but often during the same song. But pedals attached to certain strings could be used to change the tuning of that string – higher or lower – in the middle of a song – potentially alleviating the need for multiple necks since you can change tunings on the fly. 

Ironically, one of the mainlanders who invented a prototype pedal steel guitar was a Hawaiian – Ernie Tavares. But despite that a Hawaiian may have a hand in its creation, Hawaiian steel guitarists largely eschewed the pedal steel guitar. Perhaps it was because they felt it was a cop-out – that a really good player could find all of the chords and sounds they needed on a non-pedal instrument through the clever and accurate manipulation of the steel bar, just as Kekuku had. Perhaps they were angry that the outside world felt that this uniquely Hawaiian instrument somehow needed some improvement. Or perhaps it was because – quite literally – a pedal steel guitar makes a different sound than a non-pedal steel guitar. Steel guitarists can hear this, as can some other musicians with refined ears. You can hear when a pedal steel guitar is being played because some notes will stand still while others are moving around, up or down. You cannot bend a steel bar to suit your needs in that moment. With the limitation of a steel bar on a non-pedal steel, if you move the bar up, all of the notes move up, and if you move the bar down, all of the notes move down. So if you hear some notes staying the same while others are moving up or down around them, you are likely hearing a pedal steel guitar. 

And this is a sound that most Hawaiian steel guitarists did not favor – creating an interesting divide. In Hawai`i, either you play steel guitar or you play pedal steel guitar, and rarely do the twain meet. A scant few steel players got away with moving back and forth from pedal to non-pedal steel guitar, and this was because they developed techniques that made it less evident that they were playing a pedal steel. They typically used the pedals to manipulate strings in ways they could have otherwise manipulated them with the bar. When I think of players equally adept at both playing styles and who were largely accepted by the Hawaiian music community, the first name that comes to mind is Billy Hew Len. 

But then there were Hawaii Calls’ Barney Isaacs and Jules Ah See. 

There was never any dispute that Jules went back and forth between pedal and non-pedal steel guitars. (Just listen to his pedal work on such songs as “Nani Wale Na Hala” on the LP Hawaii’s Mahi Beamer.) But experts in the steel guitar claim that Barney never played a pedal steel guitar. His friends and others who knew him personally emphatically state that they never saw Barney with a pedal steel guitar. And, yet, when we listen to some of Barney’s seminal recordings where the steel guitar was well out front – such as Steel Guitar Magic Hawaiian Style (with Billy Hew Len) and Evening In The Islands (with Eddie Pang) – careful and attentive listeners will hear immediately that Barney is employing pedals to achieve some of these sounds. On Steel Guitar Magic, some have credited all of the pedal steel work to Billy Hew Len, but Billy and Barney employed the pedals differently, and we can hear this. But there is no doubt that Barney played pedals on Evening In The Islands since a pedal steel can be heard, and duet partner Eddie Pang didn’t know how to play one. 

The clip you are listening to from the mid-1960s Hawaii Calls TV show puts this mystery to rest – finally. During the mid-1960s, the Hawaii Calls steel players were the same as on the Evening In The Islands LP cited above – Barney Isaacs and Eddie Pang. And Pang could not play a pedal steel. While I have never found – in listening to dozens of hours of Hawaii Calls radio programs from this period – any evidence of Isaacs playing a pedal steel on those live broadcasts, on the tune “On The Beach At Waikiki” from the TV show, we clearly hear a pedal steel guitar. And as Isaacs did 100% of the studio work for the backing tracks for the program’s brief 26-episode stint on TV, this is beyond a shadow of a doubt Barney Isaacs playing a pedal steel. 

Case closed. 

While it is debatable which of the Hawaii Calls steel guitarists possessed the most profound technique, Barney has always been my favorite. If I have honored him more than Keli`i or Ah See, you will have to forgive me. It’s my blog, so it’s my prerogative. And we will continue to honor Barney when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his birthday in July. 

Next time: We’ve doted on the men of Hawaii Calls for too long. It’s time to celebrate the ladies…


Direct download: Barney_Isaacs_-_On_The_Beach_At_Waikiki.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:02am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Barney Isaacs’ “No Huhu”

Hawai`i is at the crossroads of the Pacific. So it is quite the ethnic “melting pot” – perhaps unlike any place else on earth. These many races and nationalities co-exist – generally speaking – peacefully and harmoniously and even joyously. So while it may be considered less than politically correct elsewhere, ethnic humor was once the order of the day in the islands and was a symbol of the racial accord that may uniquely exist there. This is (almost) as true now as it was 50 years ago. Referring to your friend by their ethnic heritage (“Eh, howzit, Pake?”) is not considered a slur but, rather, a term of endearment.  

The inspiration for this Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs composition arose from a show he was producing for his church. They were rehearsing a one-act skit which featured a Chinese-dialect comedian, and as Alvin watched, he dreamed up this humorous scenario and set it to music – all in less than two hours. (This might not immediately be considered a feat considering the length – and repetitiveness – of most pop songs. But when one considers how many unique verses there are to this song – and the fact that Alvin was writing in a dialect – the feat becomes somewhat more amazing.) “No Huhu” (which is Hawaiian for “don’t get angry” or “no problem”) became – quite unintentionally – an instant classic and a popular sensation – especially in the hands of the right performer.  

Arguably, to this day, nobody* performed this number with as much flair and comedic timing as Alvin’s son, steel guitarist Barney Isaacs. Not merely because it is an Alvin Isaacs composition and not merely because it was popularized by his son Barney’s performance of it (perfected over time), but because it is an important cultural artifact demonstrating how Hawai`i was (and perhaps still is) different in its racial accord than almost anywhere else imaginable, we owe it to ourselves to hear Barney Isaacs version of “No Huhu” at least once. But here at Ho`olohe Hou, this marks the second time we have featured this song performed by Barney. Previously, when we celebrated the birthday of Barney’s father, Alvin Isaacs, I offered up a version of the song as Barney performed it live with the group led by cop-by-day-entertainer-by-night Sterling Mossman at the Barefoot Bar at the Queen’s Surf on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki in 1961 where Sterling held court every evening for many years making music and merry in his inimitable comic fashion. This time around we see the version Barney performed on a 1965 episode of the Hawaii Calls TV show. If you watch this version and then flip back to the earlier version with Sterling Mossman, you will hear that – just like his steel guitar playing – the versatile Isaacs changed it up a little bit every time he performed the song. The version Barney performed at a Waikiki night club in the wee small hours is clearly the unexpurgated version compared to his performance on such a family-oriented program as Hawaii Calls.  

As you listen, you will hear the origins of the 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.” 

And as you watch, remember to keep this recording in the unique context of place and time that may be required to listen with open, loving, and accepting hearts and minds. Such a recording will no doubt be considered politically incorrect in New York City in 2014. But as I watch for the hundredth time, I find myself wishing that it could be 1965 again and that everywhere could be Hawai`i… 

*I wrote that nobody performed this song as wonderfully as the composer’s son, Barney Isaacs. But many who were alive during this period say that there was perhaps only one other performer whose performance of the song rivaled that of Barney’s – his friend and Hawaii Calls steel guitar partner, Jules Ah See. And true to Ho`olohe Hou’s vaults, we will hear Jules’ version of the song when we celebrate his birthday next June. 

Next time: A rarity that will solve a long-held misconception about Barney Isaacs… (Hang on as we about to pedal faster…) 


Direct download: Barney_Isaacs_-_No_Huhu.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:12pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – The Versatile Barney Isaacs

One of the issues which Hawaii Calls struggled to overcome throughout its 40-year history was a somewhat limited repertoire. A song sung by one artist one week might be sung by a different artist on the very next week’s program. If you have sifted through dozens of hours of Hawaii Calls program in a very short period of time as I have for this tribute, then you will hear the same songs over and over and over again. If you are a musician and you undergo this exercise, then you will likely make some very interesting discoveries by hearing two different versions of the same song.

In our profile on Hawaii Calls bassist and vocalist Jimmy Kaopuiki, you heard him sing a version of “Palolo.” In fact, Jimmy performed that song on the program twice within a few months of each other in similar – but not entirely exact – arrangements. As I have put the two performances side-by-side in this set for the sake of comparison, the first thing you will notice is that one version is taken at a considerably faster tempo than the other. The next thing you might notice is that Jimmy gets a bass solo on only one of the versions. (This may, in fact, be his only bass solo on record and one of the few solos ever afforded a bass player in a Hawaiian band.)

But most importantly, since we are looking today at steel guitarists, in these two different versions of the song we hear Hawaii Calls steel player Barney Isaacs twice. And while he takes the intros, endings, and vamps (the two bars between each verse) largely the same on each version of the tune, he takes his all-too-brief solos on each version entirely differently. And this speaks to the steel guitar as a highly improvisational art form akin to jazz. While the songs on Hawaii Calls were heavily arranged (host Webley Edwards’ credo was that the cast “rehearse and rehearse the songs over and over again until they sound like they weren’t rehearsed”), hearing a song performed on the show multiple times over several months – or even several years – by different artists elucidates the reality that Hawaii Calls tended to recycle arrangements regardless of who was singing the song. They merely changed the key depending on the singer. But the steel guitarist is the lead instrument in this aggregation, and as such he has some degrees of freedom. Barney could have chosen to memorize a solo and recycle it every time the song was performed just like the rest of the arrangement. But the improvisational aspect of the steel guitar is what keeps performing fresh and new every time the steel player steps on stage.

It almost makes one pity the rhythm guitarist, the `ukulele player, and the bassist.

The improvisational aspect of steel-guitarist-as-lead-instrument is true regardless of the steel player. This could just as easily have been David Keli`i, Jake Keli`ikoa, Jules Ah See, or any of the future Hawaii Calls steel players we haven’t even gotten around to mentioning yet. But it was merely ironic that I popped two tapes on to the player practically back-to-back and heard the same song. For a moment I wondered if I had two copies of the same week’s broadcast. It was Barney’s solo that snapped me back into reality – that the show was (as it often did) recycling the songs and arrangements…

…Making me ever more thankful for Hawai`i’s long and colorful history of inventive and often comical steel guitarists.

Next time: Barney Isaacs’ comic side – captured on video…


Direct download: 23_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:37pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – The TV Show

We are one week and 15 articles into our tribute to Hawaii Calls in honor of its host and creator Webley Edwards. As the tribute transitions from the 1950s to the 1960s, I think now is the time to unveil Hawaii Calls on video. 

Few remember that for a brief period around 1965-66, Hawaii Calls made a brief entré into the world of television. Edwards felt that radio was a dying medium and that audiences deserved to see the real Hawai`i. Television was the perfect medium to portray paradise in technicolor, but as the radio program was already too costly to produce, a weekly live television show would by no means better the enterprise’s financial situation. The next best thing: Performances by the stars of Hawaii Calls shot at various locations around Hawai`i including junkets to film on Maui and Kaua`i. But this wouldn’t be easy or inexpensive either – lugging all of the instruments, hula costumes, and audio and video equipment around. So the decision was made to record the music tracks in a local Honolulu recording studio and only fly the show’s singing stars – and a few hula dancers – to various locations to film them performing to the prerecorded audio tracks. Today we call this lip synching. 

In other words, Webley Edwards invented the music video before music videos were hip and cool. (OK, arguably The Beatles beat him to it by a year with A Hard Day’s Night. And the French beat them by a few years with the Scopitone, the first video jukebox. But I digress. If not purely inventive, Edwards was at least truly cutting edge.) 

And because the videos were shot at various picturesque locations, the combination of setting, hula, singer, and steel guitars painted an irresistibly attractive portrait of the islands for potential visitors. For this reason, among collectors and aficionados, the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV shows are often referred to as the Travelogues. 

As was to be expected, even with the prerecorded audio and the lip synching the show was extremely expensive to create and yielded little or no revenue. So after only 26 episodes, the TV version of Hawaii Calls was cancelled. The footage remains – in bits in pieces – in private collections and university libraries. I freely admit that I purchased half of the episodes from a private collector in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago at such an outrageous price that I cannot even type it again lest I start to cry. Two decades later, Edwards’ biographer Allen Roy shared the missing episodes with me – an act of kindness for which I am eternally grateful. 

The rights to the TV show – or, at least, the Hawaii Calls name – are owned by somebody. So I remain appalled that to this day private collectors will post a snippet of one of these programs on YouTube and offer the rest for private sale at prices equally ridiculous as I paid 20 years ago (plus inflation). My intention over the next few days is to share a few choice snippets from the show with readers of Ho`olohe Hou since I think that seeing some of these artists in motion again is a historically and culturally important act. That does make it an entirely legal act. So if I am asked to remove these clips by their rightful owner, I will do so with contrition. In other words, enjoy them while you can. 

One of the curiosities of the TV version of Hawaii Calls was that it often featured performers who were not part of the regular cast and who would not have been heard on the weekly radio shows (which continued uninterrupted even while experimenting with the TV version). Having seen and documented the action on all 26 episodes of the program, I tend to think that Edwards enlisted Hawai`i celebrities who had nationwide exposure and appeal. This was not true to the radio show and might be considered “pandering.” Worse still, the TV show’s focus on entertainers who were not Hawaii Calls cast members meant that the world never saw some of the shining lights in local Hawai`i entertainment – the very names and voices that fans of the radio show tuned in to hear every week. At worst this might be considered a huge mistake, and at best it should truly be considered a pity. 

As this tribute begins to focus on the radio program in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we can at least augment our enjoyment of these voices with a little video. To be fair, these clips have seen the ravages of time. You may have difficulty believing they were filmed in color as they are now verging on black-and-white. But I believe they are worth seeing again, and I hope you do too. In the clip here you see Webley Edwards in the intro sequence that was seen at the beginning of every episode of the TV show. This sequence was not filmed anew for every episode, so if you’ve seen it once… But it is a rare opportunity to see the man we have been honoring in action once again. 

Next time: A rare listen at another side of one of Hawaii Calls’ steel guitarists – one we never heard on the radio show… 


Direct download: Webley_Edwards_-_Hawaii_Calls_TV_Show_Intro.mp4
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:22am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Stars and Steel Guitars

Since the 1970s, Hawaiian music has diversified and its sound evolved to allow such instruments as the slack key guitar and even the diminutive `ukulele to lead a large group. But in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the signature sound of Hawaiian music was the steel guitar. To this day, many who remember tuning into Hawaii Calls each week can barely remember the name of even one of its singing stars, but almost anyone can remember the two sounds that made the radio show iconic around the world: waves crashing on Waikiki Beach and steel guitars. 

As you have already read here, for a period of 15 years from 1937 through 1952, the sole steel guitarist for Hawaii Calls was the incredible David Keli`i. His departure marked the beginning of the reign of another steel guitar wunderkind, Jake Keli`ikoa. Regrettably, there is a gap in the Ho`olohe Hou archives, and so I have no programs from 1952 until 1957 – when Keli`ikoa was featured on the show. (As I am also a steel guitarist, that conspicuous gap is as conspiratorial as the Bermuda Triangle.) Then one day, a tragedy that changed Hawaii Calls – and Hawaiian music – forever. Keli`ikoa had an accident on the way to the taping of that week’s Hawaii Calls broadcast, and there was no steel guitarist available on such short notice to take his place. Host Webley Edwards had the brainstorm to allow the three female vocalists in the cast to sing the steel guitar parts that week. This forever changed the arrangements one heard on the Hawaii Calls show for now the wahine singers would often coo and sigh in three part harmony instead of (or even in addition to) the steel guitars. But it changed another practice of the show: Edwards vowed never to go live with fewer than two steel guitarists at the same time. For a short while, the pair was Keli`ikoa and Jules Ah See, the latter at the time known for his work with Alfred Apaka. But after Keli`ikoa’s departure from the show later in the decade, he was replaced by Barney Isaacs who was already one of the most widely respected steel guitarists in the islands. And, at least for my money, the duo of Keli`ikuihonua and Kalanikau (as host Edwards usually referred to Jules and Barney respectively by their Hawaiian names) are the iconic pairing that signified the sound of Hawaii Calls, Hawaiian music, and – dare I say – Hawai`i as mysterious island paradise in the 1950s and early 1960s until Jules untimely death. 

In Hawaiian music, the steel guitarist often has very little “space” in which to demonstrate his virtuosity – usually nothing more than a two-bar intro or ending or the ubiquitous two-bar “vamp” that connects one verse to the next in most Hawaiian song forms. But while the arrangements for the Hawaii Calls show offered am occasional solo for its steel guitarists – fully understanding that it was the sound its audiences relied upon, even demanded – there was always that interlude during the approximate middle of the program in which host Edwards read the air and water temperature at Waikiki and allowed the steel guitarists to weave their magic solo for a minute or so as they lead seamlessly into the next vocal number. This is always the highlight of the program for me. I have already spun a few of these as “connecting issue” previously when featuring Hawaii Calls vocalists. But here are a few moments from the show when Jules and Barney were not merely background or atmosphere, but the main course. 

In a clip from a 1959 broadcast, Webley introduces Jules in a number “by request” from the audience through their many cards and letters. Having just released their ninth LP as part of the cast’s contract with Capitol Records, the album entitled Hawaiian Strings which featured Jules and Barney, Web invites Jules to perform a song from that album, “Red Sails In The Sunset.” But those who have heard the album will understand immediately that Jules plays it completely differently here – in the more jazzy vein that characterized his sound when he recorded with such other artists as Alfred Apaka and Sterling Mossman. 

Then, in a clip from approximately the same era, Barney is permitted the solo on the hula standard “`Alika” which then segues into a vocal number for the cast. You will no doubt hear the difference in Jules’ and Barney’s styles. 

As we enter the period of the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s for the Hawaii Calls broadcasts, I thought I should introduce you to the steel guitarists of that period. Because, as they say, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. As we soon return to the show’s vocalists of this period, you will hear more and more of Jules and Barney. See if you can tell which one is playing when… 

Next time: Another look at Barney Isaacs who plays the same song twice – completely differently… 


Direct download: 22_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 4:57am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Sonny Nicholas (Part 2)

I began a tribute to one of the most distinctive voices in the history of Hawaii Calls, Sonny Halemano Nicholas, when it occurred to me that two tunes just weren’t enough. How about two more?…

As Web introduces the first number, we again hear the magic that he could weave with words – as he says himself, painting the picture “in color.” We can practically see the fictitious “Lani” before Sonny launches into the song written to honor her. The lovely song was written by Jack Pitman who is most well known for his “Beyond The Reef” (which was made famous by Bing Crosby in 1949) but who also composed such Hawaiian ­hapa-haole standards as “Goodnight Leilani E,” “Fish and Poi,” “Lovely Hula Girl,” and “The Sands of Waikiki.” Despite that he wrote songs with such a typically Hawaiian feel that continue to be beloved and performed by Hawaiian singers to this day, ironically Pitman was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. “Lani” is one of those novelty numbers perfectly suited to Sonny Nicholas’ mischievous and ever optimistic voice.

Every Hawaiian musician and hula dancer knows well the comic hula “Holoholo Ka`a.” While its intent is comedic, the poetry is deadly serious in its use of the songwriting technique known as kaona (layers of veiled meaning). While on its surface the song is about a joyride that may have gone awry, a closer inspection of the lyrics evinces the purpose for Jack and Jill climbing the hill. But the most revealing verse is rarely sung:

He mana`o ko`u i ke kani ko`ele / I worry about the clanking sound

Ua haki ka pilina a`o luna iho / Springs broken top to bottom

He la`i pono ke kaunu `ana / Passion calmed

He nanea mai ho`i kau / So delightful

Like most other performers, Sonny and the gang skip this verse which would require further explanation for most audiences. (Hawaii Calls was a family show, after all.) The song is often inaccurately credited to composed John Kamealoha Almeida but was, in fact, composed by Clarence Kinney. As the legend goes, Kinney composed the song but gave it to Almeida to settle a debt.

There are many, many more performances – credited and uncredited – by Sonny Halemano Nicholas. I hope these few tide you over until Ho`olohe Hou celebrates the 80th anniversary of Hawaii Calls in June 2015.

Next time: A look at the men behind the signature sound of Hawaii Calls – the steel guitar…

Sonny is pictured here with fellow Hawaii Calls cast member John Squeeze Kamana.


Direct download: 06_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:57pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Sonny Nicholas (Part 1)

I only recently finished paying tribute to the unheralded bassist and vocalist of Hawaii Calls for many decades, Jimmy Kaopuiki. But much of what I wrote about Kaopuiki would apply to other cast members as well. Take, for example, Sonny Nicholas. 

Because Joseph Papapa Halemano Nicholas, Jr. shared a name with his father, as often happens in such cases at some point family and friends simply began referring to him as “Sonny.” But as an entertainer, the name suited him because he could not help but spread sunshine wherever he went. Even when singing the saddest of songs, the joviality in Sonny’s voice shined through. Perhaps it is for this reason that they rarely handed him a sad song to sing. Like bandmate Kaopuiki, Nicholas often opened Hawaii Calls programs with an up-tempo ditty – the kind of song perfectly suited for him. And, like Kaopuiki, he often opened the program uncredited, and like Kaopuiki, this is likely because Nicholas was not one of the stars of Hawaii Calls, but a member of its rhythm section. And when he was credited, it was most often – as host Webley Edwards was wont to do – by his Hawaiian name “Halemano.” (Edwards did this with numerous members of the cast – as you will read eventually – but who among the show’s listeners could know if these were the musicians’ first names, last names, or middle names?) 

Edwards took great pains to combat the criticism that “All Hawaiian music sounds alike,” but more often than not, the critics were right. The show had such natural constraints as a limited repertoire and an expected instrumentation. (An accordion would have been novel, but also inappropriate.) That does not mean the music and presentation were any less beautiful. Sonny Nicholas already had a long and storied history in Hawaiian music – leading his own groups at times, and playing the supporting role for other Hawaiian music legends other times. Some of his old bandleaders – like Alfred Apaka and Pua Almeida – would eventually play more prominent roles on Hawaii Calls than Sonny would. But like Kaopuiki, Nicholas was a utility player, content to do whatever he needed to do to make the stars shine brighter. Known mostly as a bassist, Sonny played rhythm guitar with the Hawaii Calls group. But it was his vocals that added character to what at times might have been considered by some critics as an awfully repetitive show.  

If you have Googled “Sonny Nicholas” as I invited you to Google “Jimmy Kaopuiki” previously, you will find… next to nothing. Not a single profile or article referencing him. Not a single photo except, perhaps, as part of an ensemble like the cast of Hawaii Calls (and even then likely obscured by one of its stars). So while local Hawai`i musicians through the ages understand the myriad reasons why Nicholas should be considered Hawaii Calls’ MVP, for the rest of the Hawaiian music-loving world, while they might recognize his voice from having heard it every week on radio for years as well as on nearly every Hawaii Calls LP record from the second one (Webley Edwards Presents Hawaii Calls At Twilight on which he sings the lead on “I Wish They Didn’t Mean Goodbye”) through the twentieth, Sonny Nicholas remains a voice without a name. 

Ho`olohe Hou aims to right this wrong with selections Sonny led on a few late 1950s and early 1960s Hawaii Calls broadcasts – most of which have likely not been heard since they first went to air more than 50 years ago. There were many to choose from, but these are just a few of my favorites. 

The brilliant engineers Hawaii Calls employed – in this era, likely Bob Lang – attempted to capture every last nuance of a largely visual show somehow with an audio representation of it. Here you can clearly hear the flourish of the pu`ili ­– wands of bamboo split multiple times part of the way down their length so that when they are beaten against each other (or even against the hula dancer’s body) they make a percussive crash – as (an uncredited) Sonny Nicholas leads the orchestra and chorus on Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ composition “Analani E.” 

Webley does give Sonny the courtesy of an introduction before he launches into one of the comic hula songs for which he is best known – in this case, “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands,” a song which reminds the gentlemen (or, perhaps, their wives) where they should focus when watching the hula. Composed by Mary Johnson (often credited as “Liko Johnston”) and Tony Todaro (the pair also composed such hapa-haole favorites as “Somewhere In Hawaii” and “There’s No Place Like Hawaii), “Keep Your Eyes On The Hands” would have been very new at the time that Sonny performed it on this 1957 episode of Hawaii Calls. It made its debut in the 20th Century Fox film The Revolt of Mamie Stove just a year earlier in which it was sung by Jane Russell. You’ll notice that Web introduces Sonny as “Halemano” on this number. 

Hearing Sonny again only makes me want to hear more. One good tribute deserves another… 

Next time: A second look at Sonny Nicholas…


Direct download: 07_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:11pm EDT

Hawaii Calls - Celebrity Sightings

Of the many phenomena spawned by Hawaii Calls, one was its ability to attract the cream of the crop of the film, music, TV, and even sports worlds to the Moana Hotel on Saturday afternoons to see what all the fuss was about (and, perhaps, to plug a current project worldwide on one of the most popular radio programs). 

Ordinarily I would tell you what you are about to hear. But in this case that would spoil the surprise. So just click on the “PLAY” button and listen as history repeats itself and a number of celebrities you may old enough to remember pop-in for an afternoon with the cast of Hawaii Calls.

Direct download: 16_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:01am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Jimmy Kaopuiki (Part 2)

As we continue to celebrate Hawaii Calls in the 1950s, here are a few more from the show’s longtime bass player and frequently unidentified singer, Jimmy Kaopuiki. 

Jimmy opens a 1961 program with his rendition of “Ka`anoi.” This is a very old song that is often attributed to no composer in particular but simply to “Traditional.” But ethnomusicologist Keola Donaghy researched this song much more thoroughly. From his response to Hawaiian lyrics website huapala.org: 

This mele was published in a songbook "Ka Ho`onanea o Nā Home Hawai`i", printed in 1888, by the Honolulu Commercial Advertiser, forerunner of [the] Honolulu Advertiser. The composer is credited as Kamealoha, which may have been John [Kamealoha Almeida]'s adoptive father, Paulo Kamealoha. This song also appeared in the Hawaiian language newspaper "Ke Ko`o o Hawai`i", 29 Augate 1883, Buke 1, Helu 2, pg. 8. It is given as a meleinoa for Kapi`olani, is credited to Kamehaokalani, and includes different stanzas and lyrics from the mele credited to Kamealoha. The melody as it is sung today is different from the way it was sung then. 

“Hanohano Hawai`i” is one of many Hawaiian songs which take us on a tour of its major islands. Each verse is largely the same in its format – naming the island and its most famous flower. (For Hawai`i, it is the beautiful lehua, for Maui the roselani, for O`ahu the delicate ilima blossom, and for Kaua`i the mokihana berry.) Other similar songs (such as “Na Moku `Eha”) also extol the virtues of each island’s highest mountain peak. But the only peaks in this song are offered by Kaopuiki’s stunning falsetto – a facet of his many talents that has likely been forgotten by most as he has never used this singing technique on record. 

We will hear more from Jimmy Kaopuiki when we celebrate Hawaii Calls 80th anniversary in June 2015. 

Next time: Another unheralded support player of the 1950s and 60s Hawaii Calls cast whose voice always ensured a sunnier day… 


Direct download: 15_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:03am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Jimmy Kaopuiki

I have written here at Ho`olohe Hou previously – likely in reference to The Sons of Hawaii’s Joe Marshall – that while bass players in other musical idioms (such as jazz) are often revered, in Hawaiian music the bass player is an afterthought – a necessity, of course, but never the front man or the “star.” While this is true of all Hawaiian music throughout its history, a notable exception is the Hawaii Calls radio programs which perhaps made a more grievous error: It often featured their bass player’s vocal abilities but rarely credited him. 

Albeit more than 50 years late, that all changes today if I can help it. 

Google “Jimmy Kaopuiki.” Finished yet? Don’t give yourself carpel tunnel syndrome clicking away to solve the mystery of one of Hawai`i’s most seen, heard, and recorded bass players. You will find a few credits for him on the few vintage Hawaiian music albums that have been reissued as CDs. (And they are too few.) But you will not find a single portrait of the man, but you will find a scant few pictures where the caption indicates that he is present but likely hiding behind the steel guitarist. The bass player is part of the rhythm section in any band in any genre of music, and the mark of a good musician in the rhythm section is not merely that he knows his instrument. It is that he knows his instrument and is content to spend his career making others sound good while he remains largely anonymous. It is a support role that must be fulfilled admirably. 

And that is the best description I can offer of Jimmy Kaopuiki about whom there is little other information floating around. 

If you are a fan of Hawaiian music, you have no doubt heard Kaopuiki as he is probably the most recorded bass player in Hawai`i from the 1950s through the 1970s. His name appears on countless record covers, but that is not really a “credit” since those covers – especially those for LPs by the Hawaii Calls cast – usually offer long lists of names without clarifying which musician plays which instrument or which singers sing which songs. But make no mistake, Kaopuiki was the bassist on most of your favorite Hawaiian music albums, even those on which he was not credited – from the Maile Serenaders to the New Hawaiian Band, from Alfred Apaka to Hilo Hattie, from Vicki I`i to Bill Kaiwa, from Mahi Beamer to Danny Kaleikini, from Japan’s Ethel Nakada to Nashville’s Tennessee Ernie Ford. In fact he was so busy as a performing bassist with so many aggregations throughout the 1960s, one has to wonder when Jimmy had time to sleep. 

So by his associations we can assume that Kaopuiki was the musician’s musician, the consummate professional. Otherwise he would have been sitting at home waiting for The Lucky Luck Show to come on rather than rushing to his next gig. Long time boss Danny Kaleikini – for whom Kaopuiki served not merely as bassist but also as musical director and arranger for his long-running show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel starting in the mid-1960s – came closest to extoling the virtues of his long-time musical associate. In an interview with Linda Andrade Wheeler for her book Aloha: The Spirit Within You, when Wheeler asked how he became so polished as an entertainer, Kaleikini responded by watching, observing, and learning from local professionals like Kaopuiki. 

But while Kaopuiki’s distinctive voice was often the first one heard on a Hawaii Calls broadcast each week – kicking off the show with an up-tempo number – he was rarely credited by host Webley Edwards as the vocalist. We needn’t wonder why, however. This was not a deliberate slight. It was simply that Kaopuiki was not the star of Hawaii Calls. He was a member of its rhythm section. He was the bass player and occasional vocalist, and yet today he remains one of the most recognizable voices from the show – a voice without a name. Ho`olohe Hou sets the record straight today with a brief tribute to Kaopuiki with selections he led on late 1950s and early 1960s Hawaii Calls broadcasts – most of which have likely not been heard since they first went to air more than 50 years ago. And, surprisingly, on a scant few, Edwards identifies the man behind the voice. But on others, as you will soon hear, only the most ardent fan would know that it was Jimmy Kaopuiki at the microphone. 

Jimmy opens the set with Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ “Ta-ha-ua-la,” a peppy reworking of the song that came to be known as the “Hawaiian War Chant.” Originally composed by Prince Leileiōhoku, one of na lani `eha (or “the heavenly four,” the affectionate name for Hawai`i’s last reigning royal family, two brothers and two sisters who were also amazingly talented composers), the lyrics for “Kaua I Ka Huahua`i” speak of love and desire. How hapa-haole musician, composer, and arranger Johnny Noble co-opted the lyric, changed the tempo, and ascribed the exact opposite meaning to the lyric than what the composer intended remains beyond most ethnomusicologist’s comprehension still nearly 150 years later. It may have been for this reason that composer Isaacs wrested back the lyric and did some creative word play to give the song back its more sensual nature while retaining the jazzy feel. Kaopuiki’s playful voice is perfect for just such a junket. 

A fairly new song at the time Jimmy performed it on Hawaii Calls, “(Look Out For) The Girl In The Hula Skirt” was composed by Prince Kawohi (the stage name of Ernest Kawohilani) and Steve Graham (the pseudonym of Michael H. Goldsen). The songwriting pair only copyrighted the song in 1955, and it first appeared at about that same time on Prince Kawohi’s album At The Luau. Steel guitar aficionados will no doubt appreciate the efforts here of Jules Ah See. 

Finally, Jimmy performs the snappy love song “Palolo” from the prolific pen of Charles E. King. One source cites “Palolo” as a mele pana, or a song honoring a place. I have to take issue with this given the lyric content. Despite that the song takes place in Palolo Valley on O`ahu, the poetry clearly uses kaona (Hawaiian-style poetic metaphor) to describe something more intimate. In Hawaiian mele (song craft), the rain is often a veiled reference to love-making. Here King’s reference is not at veiled as in some other examples: 

Ka ua no ia olu ka mana`o / The rain is soothing to my thoughts 

Ho`oni a`e nei i ku`u pu`uwai / Despite my pounding heart 

Pumehana kāua i ke aloha / Warmed by our love 

I ka pili i ke anu o ke kuahiwi / We snuggle, the mountain is cold 

Ua lawa kāua e ke aloha / Our love making has ended 

Honi iho nei ho`i i ka pu`uwai / Kisses return to remain in my heart  

I laila no wau i ka po nei / Last night I was there 

A ua paia kou puka i ka laka ia / Trapped by rain 

I don’t think we have yet adequately given Jimmy Kaopuiki his due. But it’s an excellent start, I think. 

Next time: More of Hawaii Calls bassist and vocalist – including his knockout falsetto…


Direct download: 14_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:09am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Alfred Apaka (Part 5)

Just a few more classics from Hawai`i’s Golden Voice from the forgotten broadcasts of Hawaii Calls as found only in the vaults of Ho`olohe Hou. 

It is difficult to conceive that when Alfred Apaka performed “Bali Ha`i” on Hawaii Calls in the mid-1950s, it was not yet a Broadway classic, but still a relatively new tune. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific only hit Broadway in 1949. The duo wrote the song as the set piece for the musical as the song serves to describe an island that is spoken about – but never seen – since it is off-limits to anyone but the locals. So for the purposes of this show, the song is the place, and the place is nothing more than a magical song. Apaka lent his magic to it for this radio broadcast – encouraged to do so by host Webley Edwards after hearing him perform it during his then new engagement at the Hawaiian Village Hotel from which the show was broadcasting again that week. The song became so associated with Apaka that he recorded it a number of times – first for his Decca Records LP My Isle Of Golden Dreams, then again with the Hawaii Calls group on his Capitol Records LP entitled Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (which, for the record, was not a “hits” record at all, but brand new recordings never before released), and finally for his second LP of music from the Broadway stage entitled Some Enchanted Evening. (The latter remains out of print to this day and should not be confused with his other album of mostly show tunes, Broadway Wears A Lei.) 

Another song long associated with Apaka is “Beyond The Reef” which he performs to perfection here with the assistance of Jules Ah See who offers up some simply hypnotic steel guitar work. Apaka recorded this earlier in the decade for Decca Records with the group led by steel guitarist Danny Stewart and which was later re-released after his passing on the LP entitled Hawaiian Favorites. 

If you think you heard a version of “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” by Alfred Apaka with Hawaii Calls at Ho`olohe Hou previously, you are not mistaken. But the previous version was from a 1951 broadcast with a slightly different cast and in a slightly different arrangement than the version heard here with the 1957 cast which features Apaka’s own working group, the Hawaiian Village Serenaders, of which many members of the group were also regular Hawaii Calls cast members. (You might go back to the previous article on Apaka to compare the two different versions.) With lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Blaufuss, “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” was composed as the theme song for the 1940 film Lake Placid Serenade, a vehicle for Czech figure skating champion Vera Hruba Ralston. Apaka recorded the song earlier in the decade for Decca Records with the assistance of The Andrews Sisters and would record the song for the same label later in the decade for the album which took the name of this song as its title. 

While Apaka served his first two years at the then new Hawaiian Village Hotel starring in its Tapa Room, by 1957 property owner (and Apaka fan) Henry J. Kaiser would erect on the site a huge geodesic dome with Apaka in mind. Kaiser had no doubt that Apaka – whose fan base around the world continued to grow by leaps and bounds – would draw ever larger crowds. He also believed that Apaka deserved a room whose acoustics were better suited to his voice – hence the concept of a geodesic dome. Apaka was to headline the new Symphony Polynesia show which would feature a larger orchestra than simply the Hawaiian Village Serenaders who offered a modern, yet still very local “Hawaiian” sound. While there is no known film of Symphony Polynesia, we can imagine what that show might have sounded like if we listen to Apaka’s last album, recorded in the dome with a larger orchestra under the direction of conductor/arranger Don Costa (at the time best known for his work with such famed pop singers as Frank Sinatra and the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme). The LP Hawaiian Village Nights was released posthumously, and only history can decided whether or not the large orchestra and the string arrangements suited Apaka’s more pop-oriented style. 

Apaka was struck down in his prime by a heart attack on January 30, 1960 while playing handball. He was only 40 years old, and most appropriately he was buried with a microphone in his hands. But he left us a legacy of recordings that are proof that he may have been the greatest Hawaiian baritone of all time, and he helped put Hawai`i and Hawaii Calls squarely on the map despite that the latter was also cut down in its prime – the program seeing its end after 40 years, the same age as Apaka when he left us. 

There is a great deal more Alfred Apaka material to be mined. We will revisit these classic recordings when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates Apaka’s birthday in March. 

Next time: And now the other stars of Hawaii Calls shine…


Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 1) 

Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 2) 

Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 3) 

Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 4)

Alfred Apaka at the Lexington Hotel's "Hawaiian Room" in NYC 


Direct download: 09_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:17pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Alfred Apaka (Part 4)

As his nationwide popularity grew – in part due to his weekly appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio program –Apaka took a short hiatus from the show and did a stint on the mainland. This included several appearances on Bob Hope TV specials in which he showed fair acting chops and good comedic timing. But it was the voice that America really loved.

Apaka was back home in Hawai`i by 1955 – the result of the proverbial offer he could not refuse. Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser (of Kaiser Aluminum, Kaiser Permanente, etc., etc.) decided to set up shop in Hawai`i – fairly permanently. He began with the Kaiser Hawaii Kai Development Corporation which developed with luxury homes the area around Maunalua Bay on the Diamond Head corner of the windward side of O`ahu. (The “Kai” in “Hawaii Kai” is short for “Kaiser” – not the Hawaiian word for “sea” as many tourists incorrectly assume.) Then, with partner Fritz B. Burns (have you ever noticed how magnates insist on using their middle initials?), Kaiser purchased what was the Niumalu Hotel at the gateway to Waikiki at the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Kalia Road and began construction on the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The cornerstone of this newly renovated property was The Tapa Room, a showroom where Kaiser planned on hosting Hawai`i’s finest entertainment. However, some sources say that Alfred Apaka was not merely the spark that ignited Kaiser’s flame to create the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but was the catalyst for Kaiser to create his entire island empire. Kaiser hired Apaka as the hotel’s entertainment director – a post he held until his untimely passing only a few years later – and installed him as the permanent artist in The Tapa Room. In that now legendary showroom, Apaka employed a group of musicians which largely overlapped with the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio programs including Sonny Kamahele, Jimmy Kaopuiki, and Jules Ah See. Under the direction of arranger Benny Kalama – who would soon assume the same role for the Hawaii Calls show when Al Kealoha Perry would retire in 1957 – the group named themselves for their new musical home: the Hawaiian Village Serenaders.

When Apaka returned to the weekly Hawaii Calls broadcasts after his time on the mainland, he was now performing the material that he was making famous with his national contract with Decca Records and which he featured nightly in his Tapa Room act. Here are a few of those from some mid-1950s Hawaii Calls broadcasts.

As the first program opens, you hear host Webley Edwards announce that they are, in fact, broadcasting from the newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel. This dates this program to some time after September 1955. Apaka opens that week’s program with a number that would ultimately become his theme song, “Here In This Enchanted Place.” While perfect for setting the mood for an evening of Hawaiian entertainment, the song was not, in fact, composed for or about Hawai`i. It was a Top 5 hit the previous year for actor and singing sensation Tony Martin. And as you might be able to guess from its demanding melody line, the music was adapted from the aria “Caro noma” from Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi’s beloved opera. The song became a Hawaiian standard nonetheless – in part because of Apaka’s virtuoso performances.

Before the next song, Apaka himself congratulates Kaiser on the completion of the hotel complex. Edwards also allows Apaka to announce the song himself. The script was likely written by Edwards (who wrote all of the scripts), but allowing Apaka to speak was likely an attempt at capitalizing on Apaka’s growing mainland popularity. The sound of the band and its backing vocals – which are slightly jazzier than those usually featured on the radio show – is not unlike what you would have heard in Apaka’s evening shows at this same venue. Here he performs one of the all-time great hapa-haole songs, “Mapuana,” one of the few compositions from the pen of an all-around fine musician, Lani Muk Sang – known professionally simply as Lani Sang – who spent much of his career in the Los Angeles area working at Hollywood’s venerable Seven Seas Supper Club as well as with the West Coast’s finest Hawaiian music aggregation, The Polynesians (which at various points in its history was comprised of any combination of Harry Baty, Sam Kaapuni, Bob Nichols, Sam Koki, and brothers Ernie and Freddie Tavares). Apaka recorded “Mapuana” on his mid-1950s LP Broadway Wears A Lei which was produced and funded by – who else? – Henry J. Kaiser.

A simple song that expresses such deep sentiment with so few words, “My Hawaiian Souvenirs” was one of those heartbreaking songs of longing for the islands (before the era of “Honolulu City Lights”). From the pen of one of the kings of hapa-haole songwriting, Johnny Noble, Alfred Apaka would go on to wax this song for Decca Records as well.

Next time: Hawai`i’s golden voice is silenced too soon... 


Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 1) 

Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 2) 

Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 3) 

Alfred Apaka at the Lexington Hotel's "Hawaiian Room" in NYC


Direct download: 08_Hawaii_Calls_-_1957-1962.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 3:49pm EDT

Hawaii Calls – Alfred Apaka (Part 2)

Webley Edwards refers to a listener letter… She writes that the two most popular types of music in her mainland hometown are waltzes and Hawaiian music and poses the question… Are there any Hawaiian waltzes? There are, in fact, many since that was one of the most popular time signatures among Hawaiian composers at the turn of the 20th century. Alfred Apaka agrees to oblige by singing one and – although it goes unremarked by host Edwards – sings a second waltz later in the same program. And, to round out this set, I located a third waltz from an episode during this same period. 

Apaka opens this set with “Pā`au`au Waltz.” Composed by John U. Iosepa and published by Charles E. King, the beloved song is often simply referred to as “Pā`au`au,” but this would not be wholly accurate since there is also a “Pā`au`au Hula” by the same composer and published in the same Charles E. King folio. Both the waltz and the hula by the same title were composed by Iosepa for John F. Colburn and his home which was called Pā`au`au in honor of the pond by the same name in `Ewa near where the home stood. 

Mr. Apaka then graces us with the too seldom performed “What Aloha Means,” composed by the songwriting team of Merton H. Bories and Hugh Barrett Dobbs and published in 1931. Like many popular songs of that era by such composers as Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, or Ira Gershwin, “What Aloha Means” has an opening verse that is rarely sung which begins “Come along with me, drift across the sea…” But I have never heard that verse sung. 

“Pā`au`au Waltz” and “What Aloha Means” are both from the February 17, 1951 program broadcast from the Moana Hotel. 

This set closes with a song that would become an Apaka signature – another in 3/4 time. With lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Blaufuss, “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” was composed as the theme song for the 1940 film Lake Placid Serenade, a vehicle for Czech figure skating champion Vera Hruba Ralston. (The film also featured music by Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians.) Apaka would record the song for Decca Records later in the decade and – like “Sing Me A Song Of The Islands” before it – would also become the title of the album.   

Next time: The Apaka duet you thought you’d never hear…


Alfred Apaka on Hawaii Calls in the 1950s (Part 1)

Alfred Apaka at the Lexington Hotel's "Hawaiian Room" in NYC



Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_1951-1952_Alfred_Apaka_Hoolohe_Hou_Edit.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:42am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Alfred Apaka (Part 1)

Alfred Apaka appeared nearly weekly on the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts through the early 1950s. This is the first in a series of posts featuring some of Apaka’s 1951 appearances – rarities since Hawaii Calls was not recorded to magnetic tape in this era (so there are no “masters”), and most radio stations broke and disposed of the shellac copies of their shortwave transcriptions after each week’s broadcast (since there were no “reruns” of the program). 

This time around we look at songs Apaka would eventually record on LP records later in the decade. 

From time to time Hawaii Calls would take the show on the road – broadcasting from a remote location on another island for a change of atmosphere. From the broadcast dated March 3, 1951 recorded live at the Volcano House on the Big Island, Apaka sings the Mack Gordon (nominated nine times in eleven years for the Academy Award for Best Original Song) and Harry Owens (of “Sweet Leilani” fame) composition “Sing Me A Song Of The Islands.” Composed for the 20th Century Fox film Song Of The Islands and originally sung by Betty Grable, Apaka would eventually record the song for Decca Records for the album by the same title. 

From the February 17, 1951 program, Apaka sings from the usual setting of the Hawaii Calls broadcasts – the outdoor stage of the Moana Hotel in Waikiki. “The Palm Trees Sing Aloha” was composed by venerable steel guitarist Andy Iona (who was chronicled here at Ho`olohe Hou in our series on the Lexington Hotel’s “Hawaiian Room” in New York City where both he and Apaka once held court (although not at the same time). Apaka recorded the song on his last ever LP, Hawaiian Village Nights. 

Next time: Alfred Apaka waltzes through a few more episodes...


Alfred Apaka at the Lexington Hotel's "Hawaiian Room" in NYC


Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_1951-1952_Alfred_Apaka_Hoolohe_Hou_Edit.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:37am EDT

Hawaii Calls – The 1950s (Conclusion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hawaii Calls – The 1950s (Continued)

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

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

You made me dream once again, Maui moon 

Dream of a love that I lost all too soon 

Love haunts me yet like a gay gypsy tune 

Where is my sweetheart now? 

If you know, tell me, Maui moon 

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hawaii Calls – The 1950s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Webley Edwards

I was supposed to have published this article two days ago. But for two days I have been sitting in front of a mostly blank, white screen staring at the only three words I could think to type. 

I’ve got nothing. 

Webley Edwards is impossible to write about. Just ask biographer Allen Roy who has been attempting to compile a biography about Edwards for more than seven years. Roy and I met through the various internet chat boards dedicated to Hawaiian music and its history, and we bonded over our mutual love of the weekly Hawaii Calls radio show which was the brainchild of Edwards. A child of the Pacific Northwest, Roy relocated to Hawai`i where he attended Hawaiian Mission Academy. But like so many Hawai`i locals and transplants, he never attended a live Hawaii Calls broadcast despite that it was practically in his backyard. Like so many others, he took it for granted that it would always be there. 

Until it wasn’t. Hawaii Calls was never the most financially stable entertainment enterprise, and in 1975, the Hawai`i Visitors Bureau pulled its funding – ending the show’s 40 year run after more than 2,000 live broadcasts. 

Roy’s difficulty in writing about Webley Edwards is that there is little or no biographical information available about him – no diaries or journals, few first-hand accounts from those who knew him. He has even interviewed the few living stars of the Hawaii Calls shows, and while they unanimously have only the kindest of words about him, they didn’t really know him. He was simply the boss. 

But that is not my difficulty in writing about him. My problem is that my blog is about Hawaiian music and musicians, and despite that the music of Hawaii Calls has been in my home since I was a child – or more than 40 years now – I have never been clear on what Edwards’ contribution to Hawaiian music really was. That is not an attempt to discredit the man. It is merely that I couldn’t figure out what to credit him with. And this after rifling through the Ho`olohe Hou vaults and listening to the more than two dozen Hawaii Calls LPs produced and nearly 100 hours of the actual radio programs I have archived spanning more than 25 years from 1949 through the show’s demise in 1975. 

But with Mr. Roy’s unflagging and enthusiastic assistance, here is what I have managed to come to understand… 

Edwards is not the kind of guy I would typically write about. He was not a singer or a showman. He did not play an instrument. He did not arrange music. And he composed fewer songs than I can count on the fingers on one hand. 

But Edwards was an ardent supporter of Hawaiian music with the best of intentions. He aimed to bring real Hawaiian music to the world (after hearing a half-hearted attempt at so-called “Hawaiian music” on a mainland U.S. radio program). He is the one who recruited Hawai`i’s cream or the crop of musicians, singers, and dancers and gave them an audience outside of their island boundaries. He is the one who signed on more than 750 radio stations on five continents (often giving the show away to a station simply for the pleasure of reaching listeners in that region). He is the one who brokered the Capitol Records recording contract that took the voices and instruments of the Hawaii Calls cast farther faster with the advent of the long playing record. He is the one who wrote the scripts that augmented the music with his unique poetry-in-prose – each week’s broadcast a love sonnet to Hawai`i. And Edwards is the one who decided to report the air and water temperature at Waikiki and stick that microphone next to the ocean to transmit the aural grace of the waves in lieu of the visual grace of a hula dancer. 

For a period of time before Iz, the Brothers Cazimero, and Keali`i Reichel, Hawaii Calls was Hawai`i’s biggest entertainment export. Or, at least, it was its biggest export of purely Hawaiian music (since, arguably, Don Ho was bigger but did not actually perform Hawaiian music). The radio show painted a vivid picture of an island paradise that many felt they needed to see at least once in their lifetime – making Edwards at least partially responsible for the strong upticks in Hawai`i tourism first after jet air travel became more widely available (and less expensive) and again after Hawai`i became (for better or worse) the 50th state.  

So, in a sense, Edwards is not unlike me (or, at least, I see a little of him in myself): Two haole guys who loved Hawaiian music so much that they often did the wrong thing for the right reason in an attempt to gift Hawaiian music to those who have never experienced it or return memories to their rightful owners. 

Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long celebration of everything Hawaii Calls in June 2015 when the radio show celebrates its 80th anniversary. But for now, I thought the best way to honor Edwards’ birthday might be to spend a few weeks presenting the voices of the local Hawai`i entertainers who gained worldwide prominence thanks to his efforts. Because most of my reader audience is rooted in either of two Facebook groups – Waikiki & Honolulu in the 1950’s and 60’s and Waikiki & Honolulu in the 1970’s and 80’s – I am going to focus on the show and the stars it bore during that period. Not only do I propose to offer as many of their performances as possible from the live programs along with Edwards’ poetic introductions, I will also bring back three complete Hawaii Calls broadcasts, one from each decade of interest to my readers – the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And maybe – if you’re lucky – I may even produce some rare video of these entertainers you are not likely to find elsewhere. 

Only then will we together remember the real contribution of Webley Edwards to the Hawaiian music-loving world… 

Next time: Hawaii Calls in the 1950s and one of its first breakout stars…


Direct download: Hawaii_Calls_-_Webley_Edwards_Introduction.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:37am EDT

Alvin Okami

As I write this, the KoAloha `Ukulele Company headquarters is packing up for a move from their modest space in an industrial center on Kohou Street in Kalihi to a new, more luxurious factory/showroom in the `Iolani Sportswear building in Kaka`ako. Not a long trip, but a whole hell of a lot of work for the thoroughly sawdust-encrusted environment of an `ukulele factory. 

This is “Pops” Okami’s dream coming true over and over again. If you have seen the documentary film The KoAloha Story (and, if you haven’t, you should), then you already know that Alvin Okami is the original renaissance man who will transition seamlessly from inventing a device to more easily insert fret wire into the neck of an `ukulele (at just the precisely spaced intervals to ensure perfect intonation) to serenading you with a song he wrote (probably just this morning before breakfast). Always working, always thinking, always dreaming, ever diversifying, these are not merely the keys to Okami’s success. They are the secret to his seemingly eternal youth. 

Son Alan largely manages the operation for his dad, while another son Paul creates beautiful new `ukulele designs and creates the templates for making these by hand with utmost accuracy and precision by the handful of craftsmen who work in the KoAloha shop. On my last visit to Honolulu, at Alan’s suggestion I stopped by KoAloha’s old factory for a visit and tour. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Alan was busy with the business that afternoon, but he yelled up the stairs to his father who bounded down the stairs to greet us. And from that handshake grew a fast friendship that was rooted in our mutual love of the `ukulele as well as the Great American Songbook and songwriters like Cole Porter and the Gershwin Brothers. Before we knew what was happening, we were pushing tables out of the way for an impromptu concert from Pops who debuted for us some of the new compositions he wrote for his first ever CD release. (His wife, Pat – a hula student studying with kumu hula Tony Conjugacion – even graced us with the hula that Tony created for one of Pops’ new songs.) A successful businessman like Okami might have bankrolled and produced his own CD. But he didn’t. The septuagenarian was discovered – for the second time in his lengthy career – by a producer on the West Coast who helped bring Pops’ dream of a full-length recording of his compositions to fruition. 

The first time Pops was discovered he wasn’t yet old enough – or even father enough – to merit his popular nickname. Alvin was discovered the first time in the early 1960s by `ukulele virtuoso Herb Ohta (known professionally as Ohta-San). Back then Okami – who, perhaps egged on by his mentor, Ohta, went simply by his first name – was an up-and-coming singer who specialized in the popular standards he so loved – his voice reminiscent of Andy Williams and Matt Monro. It was a voice built to sing movie theme songs. But instead he was singing in the modest environs of Honey’s, the joint owned and operated for more than 20 years (at that time – the early 1960s) by James and Honey Ho. The ringleader of each evening’s musical madness was, of course, a then virtually unknown Don Ho. You have already read here the story of Waikiki Swings, an unauthorized recording made by Hula Records of an evening at Honey’s after its move to Kalākaua Avenue in Waikiki. Alvin was clearly the standout of that evening in the mind of Hula Records president Flip McDiarmid who personally made the tape that became the album – as evidenced by the fact that of the 13 tracks on the LP, three of them were Alvin Okami performances (one more than Ho got). And because Honey’s was also the proving ground for Kui Lee’s latest compositions, Alvin performed three of Kui’s originals that fateful evening – “Lahaina Luna,” “The Days of My Youth,” and “I’ll Remember You.” This means that Alvin – not Don Ho – premiered on record these three Kui Lee compositions – including the one that would put Ho on the map, “I’ll Remember You.” It just so happens that Ho’s versions were released first and were distributed worldwide by Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records, while Alvin’s were released on Hula Records which had little distribution outside of Hawai`i. Had it been the other way around, today we might be asking Alvin Okami for an encore of “Tiny Bubbles.” 

But everything turns out the way it is supposed to. For all of his success, Pops is the most even-keeled, modest, and – dare I say – happy human being I have ever had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of. And perhaps this is because it wasn’t handed to him, you know? Pops struggled, his family struggled, and so he never stopped thinking, dreaming, creating – until he created the thing on which he and his family could rely. When I asked Pops why he waited so long to release his first CD, he said it was because he was “too busy with other things.” Those other things, it turns out, were findings ways of surviving. Now that he and his `ohana are not merely surviving but thriving, Pops could turn his attention back to his first love. And the world should be glad he did for the CD is absolutely beautiful and a testament to Pops’ love not only of his Hawai`i, but his America. After all, he lived the American dream. Why shouldn’t he be a proud American?... 


Direct download: 03_Waikiki_Swings.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:22am EDT

Kui and Nani Lee

Like Don Ho, Kui Lee’s story has been chronicled over and over again. (I have heard that there has long been a biopic about him in the works, and this would be most welcome.) But most of what I learned about him I learned by spending endless hours talking story with his widow. To the world she was Nani Lee. But to me she was simply “Auntie Frances.” Through her I came to understand Kui’s life, his work, his motivation and inspiration, his politics, his time… Kui was a complex – dare I say “enigmatic” – figure. Like many local Hawai`i musicians before and since, he divided his people. Many thought that Kui wrote of the modern Hawaiian in a style to which his generation could no doubt relate. Others felt he had abandoned his roots – admonished him for writing songs in English. Unlike some other local musicians, Kui didn’t care. He pursued fame – it was in his blood – but was fairly certain he couldn’t find it in his Hawai`i home. He cared about being true to himself – the hallmark of an artist. 

Kui was not merely an amazing stage presence and musician. He was also an astute businessman. Kui continued to assemble his portfolio until he was appearing in the finest showrooms in New York City and making appearances on the Steve Allen Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Arlene Francis Home Show, and the Patti Page Show. But Kui was also practical. He combined his love of music and his need for a steady income by taking a position writing songs for other singers – and even commercial jingles – in the famed Brill Building in NYC where he rubbed elbows with such up-and-coming songwriting legends as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Sedaka, and Carole King. 

Kui returned to Hawai`i in 1961 bringing with him great success and an even greater prize – a wife. He met singer and hula dancer Rose Frances Leinani Naone – a Hawaiian girl born in New Jersey – when she auditioned to perform in the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City where Kui spent the last year and a half of his mainland career as a choreographer and knife dancer. The couple was earning $1,700 a week when Kui decided to pack it in and go home. The couple started over much more modestly in Hawai`i – at a small mom-and-pop joint in the neighborhood they made their home, Kane`ohe. The place was called Honey’s. Should it matter that the club was owned by a family named Ho and that the house band was led by their then unknown son, Don? It turns out it matters a great deal. In fact, it is the very definition of “serendipity.” 

It would be an understatement to say that in the early running Kui made a nuisance of himself at Honey’s. According to Jerry Hopkins’ “Don Ho: My Music, My Life,” Kui would show up at the club at 10 o’clock in the morning and urge Don to hear a new song he had written, and Don would tell Kui that the songs – because of their complex melodies and harmonic structures – weren’t “Hawaiian” enough for Honey’s local audiences. And the criticism was mutual. Kui – no stranger to large mainland showrooms – would offer Don unsolicited advice on everything from lighting and staging to his singing, remarking, “When you sing, you look like you’re constipated.” It is difficult to conceive that a relationship born in perpetual appraisal and fault-finding would culminate in a lasting friendship and artistic collaboration that endured until Kui’s early demise. But both became huge stars through this no doubt symbiotic relationship. With this bickering, each propelled the other on to greater heights – each becoming a legend in his own right, but the whole always remaining greater than the sum of its parts. Don needed Kui’s songs to become legend. And Kui – despite being the consummate showman – needed Don’s charisma and universal appeal to bring his songs to a worldwide audience. 

Despite Don joking to Nani that he would hire her for the band but “definitely not your husband,” both became regulars in the Honey’s Kane`ohe group – eventually moving with the venue and its entire entourage to Honey’s new location in Waikiki. 

Occasionally, Don would allow Kui to emcee the evenings at Honey’s, but he did so with great trepidation. Despite being first and foremost a musician, Kui was sharply funny – often turning his rapier wit on the audience, earning him the nickname “Hawai`i’s Lenny Bruce.” (In the Jerry Hopkins book on Ho’s life, comedian Eddie Sherman recounted that one evening at Honey’s in Kane`ohe, Kui spotted a haole couple at the front of the audience and quipped over the microphone that in Kane`ohe “the haoles sit at the back of the room.”) You will hear some of Kui’s political incorrectness on the first tune in this set – his own rewrite of the folk tune “Cotton Fields” which he recast for local audiences as “Taro Patch” – as well as near the end of the set, a duet with his wife, Nani, on Bina Mossman’s “He `Ono” during which Kui takes time out to provide some revisionist history of the "discovery" of Hawai`i and explain some of the ethnic make-up of Hawai`i (perhaps for the haole at the back of the room).  

But there are tender moments here too. Many of Kui’s fans believe that some of his finest compositions take on their poignancy because he composed them after he was already diagnosed with cancer. He knew that his life was to be cut short, and this resulted in such lyrics as “If I Had It To Do All Over Again,” made popular by Don. But more poignant than this is hearing him sing his own “When It’s Time To Go.” 

When it’s time to go 

Will I be a bore 

And react, my friend 

Like a fool once more 

I listen to this song and can't help but highly suspect that this is one of those songs that Don would not have liked when Kui brought it to him - with its meandering jazz chord structure and an unexpected shift from major to minor and back again. Don told Kui, "Just play five simple chords and you'll be surprised how beautiful the song can be." And yet I cannot imagine a more beautiful song in any genre from any land.  

And Nani sings her husband’s “Where Is My Love Tonight?’ like the seasoned pro she was – a vocal performance that would have stood comparison to such jazz chanteuses of the era as Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, and Morgana King. 

Kui and Nani would go on to headline their own act in Waikiki – most notably at the Queen’s Surf. And Kui would record one full-length LP of (mostly) his own compositions with New York City’s finest studio musicians. The Extraordinary Kui Lee was released in late November 1966, but he would never fulfill the promise of its title. He died less than two weeks later on December 3, 1966.  


Direct download: 02_Waikiki_Swings.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:42pm EDT

Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s & 60’s

Whether in my capacity as musician, record collector, or writer, I have always felt the 1950s and 60s were the golden era of entertainment in Hawai`i. Most of my favorite singers and performers hit their stride in these decades, and because of the increase in tourism spurred by the greater availability (and, therefore, ever decreasing cost) of jet air travel, Waikiki and Honolulu ensured that they rolled out the red carpet – one restaurant or nightclub after another popping up with the aim of serving up food, fashion, and frivolity Hawaiian style. And Hawaiian style begins with music and hula.

Sadly most of the entertainers are gone, but many of their fans are still here to tell the tale. It was with the goal of reminiscing in mind that entertainer Jeffrey Apaka spawned the wildly popular Facebook group Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s & 60’s with the mission of sharing pictures and remembrances of the people and places that made the era so very special. I have spent countless hours scrolling the page and learning from its more than 3,000 participants. Invariably when talking about venues that have been lost to the ravages of time and progress like so many grains of sands on Waikiki Beach, up pop the names of the entertainers who made those places so much more special. And then maybe a picture of them to jog the memory. And every time I think to myself… A picture of a musician is like a poem about a great meal. It is the wrong medium to describe such a fully sensory experience. What you really need to do is hear those musicians. But like the venues where they performed, most of the recordings have also been lost with time – many released on vinyl only once and never re-released in the digital era because the master tapes are long gone or their keepers feel that they no longer have any commercial value.

And it is with this aim that Ho`olohe Hou begins a new category of articles with related sound clips which I have simply entitled “50s and 60s.” I have scrolled back through months of activity on the Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s & 60’s Facebook page and noted all of the mentions of the great entertainment venues and the names that have been dropped who made those venues famous, and I will offer brief articles about those venues or entertainers with appropriate sound clips included to more fully recreate the era for those who were there to better reminisce and for those of who weren’t to try to put ourselves in that unique and rare moment in time.

I will also be resurrecting a segment that I have not addressed since the days when Ho`olohe Hou was a radio show. Inspired by the old radio program broadcast from the Moana Hotel in the 1960s – Waikiki After Dark – which did remote live broadcasts of the great musicians of the era. There is nothing that recaptures the atmosphere of those nights – glasses clinking, laughter, sing-alongs, applause – like a live recording, and there are many in the Ho`olohe Hou vaults. So from time to time I will offer up these recordings in the segment simply entitled “After Dark” since – after all – some of this magic happened outside of Waikiki , with legendary entertainers performing from Kane`ohe to Waianae to the North Shore, and even Maui, Kaua`i, and the Big Island.

If you’re clicking around www.hoolohehou.org, just click on the decade or topic in the navigation pane – “50s/60s” or “After Dark” - where eventually all of the entertainers from each of these great eras will be represented. And who better to start with than the creator of that fabulous Facebook group himself?...



Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:42am EDT