John Avery Noble was born in Honolulu on September 17, 1892. Called the 'Hawaiian Jazz King,'
Noble started out selling newspapers and whistling tunes on request on Honolulu street corners. The
'whistling newsboy' eventually
became accomplished on drums, piano and xylophone. He became an orchestra leader, performer, composer,
student of Hawaiian culture, impressario and arranger. Early on, he became friends with Sonny Kunha, and joined
him as one of the
leading forces in hapa haole music.
Like Harry Owens, Noble's first rise to fame came as the leader of a major hotel orchestra, in his case, the
Moana Hotel. He felt that jazz and Hawaiian music blended beautifully and immediately began to shape the
sound of the orchestra. He had no brass in the orchestra, and the mellow sound they produced became the
standard of the time. He later went on to supervise all types of entertainment for the beachside hotels and country
clubs, while also leading a number of amateur choirs.
But as a composer and arranger, Noble really became a great composer of hapa haole tunes; many
are still standards. He specialized in light, lively, and often humorous songs, including 'My Little Grass
Shack', 'King Kamehameha,' 'Hula Blues' and he is responsible for 'jazzing up' and making 'The Hawaiian
War Chant' hugely popular. As with the latter song, he also took many traditional Hawaiian songs and
published them for the first time, sometimes in their original form, often transcribed into modern musical idoms.
In 1935, he became the first Hawaiian composer inducted into ASCAP.
He made hundreds of recordings, including 110 songs recorded for the Brunswick label in 1928. In 1933, in
collaboration with Tommy Harrison and Bill Cogswell, Johnny published 'My Little Grass Shack.' In his
biography, a letter from famed humorist J. P. McEvoy is quoted. McEvoy complains that he can make no
sense of the words, which he transcribes thus:
I wanta go back to muh lil' grass shack in ka-wally-kawhoo ka-whyyah,
I wanta see with all the bonnies and the weenies that I blew long ago,
I can hear old ka-chewbas swayin' on the beach at Holdem Sow
I can't hear old Hawaiian sayin' 'Hokem my, hokem moo, reek hurray ya-hoolicky wow
It won't be long till my ships will be whaling back to Ramona
A grand old place that's always fair to see
I'm just a little Hawaiian, and a homesick Highland boy
I wanta go back to my Fishin' Foy...'
Johnny composed 'Remember Pearl Harbor,' and coordinated entertainment of service personnel. After an all
too short lifetime of entertainment and giving himself unstintingly to others, Johnny Noble
passed away in 1944.
Biography: Gurre Ploner Noble, Hula Blues: The Story of Johnny Noble, (1948), Tongg Publishing, Hawaii