Haleloke Takes The Big Apple

There is woefully little information about a Hawaiian songstress once so popular on stage and TV across the country that like Madonna or Cher she was known by just her first name: Haleloke.

Perhaps you have already read that Haleloke Kahauolopua was born on February 2, 1923 in Hilo on the island of Hawai’i into a musical family. It was only natural that she would be discovered. And discovered she was – over and over again, first by the Hawaii Calls radio program which she joined in 1945, and soon after by Arthur Godfrey who whisked her away from the Big Island to the Big Apple to join his wildly popular radio TV programs in 1950. While Godfrey almost single-handedly repopularized the ‘ukulele on the mainland U.S., through her weekly appearances Haleloke became the symbol of Hawaiian song and hula for an entire nation. She eventually became so popular that a Haleloke doll was produced.

During this period of tremendous acclaim, Haleloke recorded some records with mainland musicians and produced by Godfrey who accompanied her on ‘ukulele and occasional vocals. I keep one of these sets close by as it is one of the most prized possessions in my vast collection. On this 1951 set of four 78 rpm discs entitled Hawaiian Blossoms, Haleloke delivers seven Hawaiian standards and one mainland take on a hapa-haole song in her deep, husky alto. Her voice is most striking and unusual for that time since so many Hawaiian vocalists of that period – both the men and the ladies – were known primarily for how high they could sing (called “falsetto” or “ha’i”).

An issue we will revisit from time to time again is the question of what is Hawaiian music? Hawaiian Blossoms lacks certain essential Hawaiian qualities – possibly because the only Hawaiian involved in the recording was Haleloke herself. The musicians all hailed from the mainland as did Archie Bleyer who was the arranger for Arthur Godfrey’s TV show. Haleloke delivers each song in a distinctly Hawaiian way, but the musical settings may not seem as Hawaiian. This is not to say that those without Hawaiian lineage cannot deliver a song in the Hawaiian style. But we might argue that doing so requires a lifetime of study and practice – that “Hawaiian” cannot be summed up to notes on a page that just anybody musician should be expected to pick-up and be able to recreate Hawaiian feeling and emotion.

This should not imply that Hawaiian Blossoms is not worth a listen. To honor Haleloke on the anniversary of her birth, throughout the week of February 2nd Ho`olohe Hou Radio will feature selections not only from Hawaiian Blossoms, but also a few from a slightly earlier era in Haleloke’s career with Al Kealoha Perry and the group with whom she performed on the Hawaii Calls broadcasts that made her famous. If you are so fortunate as to catch one of these segments, you may hear two selections which represent seldom heard compositions by any artist – “Ku’u Ipo” (often associated with George Kainapau and composed by steel guitarist Andy Iona and bandleader Johnny Noble) and “Lei Aloha” (an oft forgotten beachboy song written by an oft forgotten beachboy, Chick Daniels).

Perhaps because she did not enjoy the life of a superstar or the fast pace of New York City, by the mid-1950s Haleloke retired to Union City, IN.

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