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.
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.
Suddenly, every Tin Pan Alley tunesmith decided to write Hawaiian songs--with English words (and maybe a few words in Hawaiian). By 1916, there were hundreds of Hapa Haole (half "foreign") tunes written. In 1916, 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, peppered with some Hawaiian or Pidgen English words, 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 tempos in the 60s and so on. But almost always, they ended up in a hula tempo. Many New York and Hawaiian composers provided the introductory verse common to published pop songs, but that part was rarely performed. The rest--put to hula rhythms--became the songs everyone heard.
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.
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 Hawai'i to fill the public's seeminly 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 and Bill Kaiwa and many more are now legends in Hawai'i. But the musicians too, spurred on by an avid radio audience, wrote many of the songs most people today associate with Hawai'i.
The lyrics have been taken from the original published sheet music where possible. Transcriptions suffer from mis-heard words, performance variations and poor memories. If anyone has corrections, lyrics for a song listed but without words, or any information about a song that is not included, please contact the author of this website. Copyright dates are often approximate as many songs were self-published then later picked up by a large music publishing house. The most common sheet music might then have a later date.
This website is for research purposes only. All lyric copyrights remain with the original copyright holders.
Where sheet music or recordings of songs are available, the LP, 45 or CD is listed and if still in print, links have been provided to sources for these recordings and sheet music.
Mention must be made of the greatest book ever 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 has become so rare, it is beyond the price of most collectors, if a copy should be found. The only copy known for sale is over $600. Most 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 infrigement is intended, but the book is so difficult for scholars and researchers to obtain, I felt it necessary.
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. 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 only way to do it.
This site would not have been possible without the help of Kawika Trask and Keao Costa, two superb Hawaiian musicians who are among the few who truly strive to keep this kind of music alive. They and Kawika's group perform at the Ilikai Hotel's poolside bar. Anyone interested in this type of music is encouraged to stop by the Halekulani Hotel's bar any evening from 6:00-8:30 p.m. where several groups of island musicians perform, including sensational steel guitarist Alan Akaka and the incomparable Sonny Kamahele. Dancing with them is one of the lovliest hula dancers in Hawai'i, Kanoe Miller.
Lastly, this site is dedicated to Dorothy Fonte, Gard Kealoha, Gerry Robinson and Jimmy Ai
LINKS--Huapala is a superb Hawaiian music lyric site. The other three are excellent sources for Hawaiian Music CDs.