At the start of December Sean Munger had a week of posts about Hawaiian history in his wonderful blog. For me, Hawaii is immediately synonymous with ukulele music. Not to neglect such a strong association, Sean reblogged a post from If It Happened Yesterday, It’s History about the history of the ukulele. Based on the Portuguese machete (or braguinha), a small member of the guitar family, the ukulele was first introduced to Hawaii in 1879 – around the time Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park and Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratories were developing and refining the first phonograph machines thousands of miles away. The use of lap-steel guitar also gave Hawaiian music a very distinctive sound. Lap-steel guitar originated in Hawaiian music (Hawaiian Joseph Kekuku is credited with its invention in 1885) and it was later borrowed by country music, bluegrass, rock, jazz and blues, especially once the innovation of electrical amplification arrived. The lap steel guitar was placed across the player’s lap and played using a metal or glass slide. In the twenty years between the introduction of the ukulele and Hawaii’s annexation to the United States in 1898, ukulele and lap-steel guitar became incredibly popular in Hawaii and came to redefine their musical sound. Those years also spanned the phonograph’s development from scientific curiosity to commercially viable entertainment system. The stage is set for the twentieth century.
1905 saw the first Hawaiian music releases from Victor Records. Their huge popularity led Columbia Records and others to follow suit with their own Hawaiian artists a few years later. By 1916, according to a quote from Hawai’i Digital Newspaper Project, Hawaiian music was preferred over classical music “ten to one” by the inhabitants of Tacoma, Washington. America’s newest state was seen as an exotic paradise and its cheerful relaxed-sounding music was adopted enthusiastically by people in mainland United States. In 1914, the Hawaiian music craze was in full swing. And from this period we have several wonderful recordings to listen to. One of the biggest names in Hawaiian music at this time was the Irene West Royal Hawaiian Band. There is a collection of recordings on National Jukebox from December 1914 and January 1915, a number of instrumentals performed by Irene West Royal Hawaiians, solo performances from band member Pale K. Lua and instrumental duets with Pale K. Lua and David K. Kaili.
The song Aloha ‘Oe was written by Hawaii’s last queen, Liliʻuokalani in 1877 or 1878. Lyrics (including English translation) and a link to sheet music are available on the Wikipedia page for this song, along with the charming story of how Queen Lili’uokalani hummed the song into existence with her royal party as they made their return trip to Honolulu on horseback from the Boyd ranch in Maunawili on the windward side of Oʻahu. The song is one of Hawaii’s most famous, it’s often been described as the leitmotif of Hawaii. I found a really great version from 1914 by the Toots Paka Hawaiian Company. I also decided to include a couple of more modern versions, one by Elvis Presley in 1961 (from the movie Blue Hawaii) and below is the version from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch in 2002. If anyone knows of any other notable modern versions, please leave a comment.