Hapa Haole Songs Background


Click on the first letter of a song title for index

Until 1912, most Hawaiian songs were written in the Hawaiian language. That year, a stage play opened on Broadway, Bird of Paradise, which featured five Hawaiian musicians. Songs included in the show were "Mauna Kea," "Old Plantation (Kuu Home)" and "Waialae." The play was a success, and The New York Times called the music "weirdly sensuous." The play toured extensively and has been filmed twice.

The Bird of Paradise Sheet Music Then in 1915 a troupe of Hawaiian entertainers went to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and, in the Territory of Hawaii pavilion, the main attraction proved to be a show of Hawaiian music and hula performed by The Royal Hawaiian Quartette, led by George E. K. Awai. >> (Continue reading "Collecting Hapa Haole Songs")

Suddenly, every Tin Pan Alley tunesmith decided to write Hawaiian songs--with English words, a few words in Hawaiian, and often, pseudo-Pidgen gibberish. By 1916, there were hundreds of Hapa Haole (half "foreign") tunes written. That same year, more Hawaiian records were sold on the mainland than any other type of music. And they came in all the popular styles of the day: in ragtime, blues, jazz, foxtrot and waltz tempos, as "shimmy" dances and--even--in traditional hula tempos, but jazzed up a bit.

Over the years, most of these songs with English lyrics reflected the music of their times. There were silly, wacky songs in the 20s, swing in the 30s, rock 'n' roll in the 50s, surf-style in the 60s and so on. Many New York and Hawaiian composers provided the introductory verse common to published pop songs, but that part was rarely performed. The rest--usually put to hula rhythms--became the songs everyone heard.

Kodak Hula Show in the 1930s But always, there were the romantic songs. Songs often written by local composers or musicians far from their island paradise. Their poignant longing for home comes hauntingly through not only in the lyrics, but in the melodies.

The major exception to the dates and parameters of this website was "Sonny" Cunha, a Hapa Haole himself. He wrote what is regarded as the first Hapa Haole song, "Waikiki Mermaid" in 1903 and continued with several songs which remain popular today, including "Hula Blues" and "My Hapa Haole Hula Girl." In the 30s, Hawaiian troupes including Hilo Hattie [Clara Inter], Harry Owens and many, many others took their entertainers and bands on tours of the mainland. Goodwill ambassadors and tourism promoters second to none, these entertainers spent decades away from their beloved Hawaii to fill the public's seemingly inexhaustible appetite for hula and island music.

In 1935, a radio program began, broadcasting live from the Banyan Court of the Moana Hotel on the beach at Waikiki, and radios nationwide tuned in to hear Webley Edwards host Hawaii Calls. Not only did nearly every island entertainer cut his or her teeth on the program, many went on to become well known. Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, Nina Keali'iwahamana, Pua Almeida, Harry Owens, Sol Bright, Al Kealoha Perry, Lena Machado, Benny Kalima, Danny Kaleikini, Palani Vaughn, Bill Kaiwa and many more are now legends in Hawaii. And the musicians themselves, inspired by an avid radio audience, wrote many of the songs most people today associate with Hawaii.

Hawaiian Music and Musicians

Mention must be made of a wonderful book for those interested in Hawaiian music, George S. Kanahele's Hawaiian Music and Musicians: An Illustrated History (University Press of Hawaii, 1978). This invaluable book is beyond the price of many collectors. Many quotes on this site are from interviews done by his staff of the Hawaiian Music Foundation and biographical information on composers has also come from this source. No copyright infringement is intended, but the book is so difficult for scholars and researchers to obtain, I felt it necessary.

The same applies to songwriter Tony Todaro's mammoth work, The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment: 1874-1974 (Tony Todaro Publishing, 1974). Very rare and expensive when found, it contains biographies and photos of nearly every major Hawaiian entertainer of the period. Performer information has been taken from this source when unavailable elsewhere. No copyright infringement is intended.

A more readily obtainable book invaluable to those seeking recordings of specific songs is The Island Music Source Book, written by Brett C. Ortone and published in 1999. Recently out of print, copies should be available from used book sources. This 737-page large format paperback is standard equipment at every store in Hawaii selling island music. You may look up songs by title and artists by name. If you want to find a recording of a particular song, this is the best way to do it.

A new addition to the scant library of books on Hawaiian performers is a biography of R. Alex Anderson, From a Joyful Heart.