One of the first - if not the very first - marketing of the islands as a tourist destination was born at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The big hit of the exposition was the song "On The Beach at Waikiki."
It was written by Henry Kailimai and G.H. Stover and was accompanied by hula girls and an island invention, the ukulele, which can be translated as jumping flea. The song was the epitome of exotic but readily accessible by Mainland audiences.
Each stanza began with "Honi kaua wikiwiki," loosely translated as stay with me and kiss me quickly. The rest of the song is in English and included "She was surely teasing me / So I caught that maid and kissed her / on the Beach at Waikiki." The song traveled - via sheet music - to the East Coast within months.
Kailimai and the Royal Hawaiians played for Henry Ford, at the wedding of Thomas Edison's daughter and made several recordings at the Edison Studio in New York.
Tin Pan Alley songsmiths picked up on the craze and began churning out faux, ricky-ticky island songs. The ukulele turned up in hundreds, if not thousands, of homes across the USA. Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin stole Broadway shows with "Hawaiian" songs.
Credit the national craze to "On The Beach at Waikiki." The fascination with Hawaii music continued through the 1930s with Hollywood using the tunes in movies. Six-year-old mop-top Shirley Temple danced a little-girl hula topless in 1935. She wore a grass skirt and only had a lei topside. In 1937, Walt Disney turned out a cartoon called "Hawaiian Holiday," starring Minnie Mouse doing a hula.
Then, of course, there was Hawaii Calls, a weekly radio show broadcast across the country, and New York's Lexington Hotel, where all of the top island performers, including the likes of Kui Lee and Hilo Hattie, entertained audiences for weeks on end. Those audiences often included contingents of island boys and girls attending school on the East Coast
A homesick Lee wrote "The Days of my Youth" during a cold winter in the Big Apple.
All of this history was touched off by a party Tuesday night in a side room of the Coconut Grill at the Maui Seaside Hotel. The host was a Hilo boy with strong Maui ties. William Baldwin Young lives in New York City but his heart is in the islands where he grew up listening to Hawaiian music.
To friends and family, Young unveiled a CD he had put together. "Just a Little Hawaiian" includes the sentimental and the ridiculous with asides in some of the songs, particularly in "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii." He explains he's a Hilo boy, not from Kona, but "it's a nice tune." One of those songs on the CD is "Keep Your Eyes on the Hands," complete with nonsense sound effects.
The sentimental includes "Waikiki," an island standard that was always included in one of Ed Kinney's shows in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian hotel in Waikiki. Perhaps Young's strongest performance comes in a heartfelt "Hawaii Aloha."
The ridiculous - but enjoyable - includes "Since Maggie Dooley Leaned the Hooley Hooley." Yep, that's the way it was spelled. And, on the CD is Young's tenor warbling "Okolehao" from the film "Waikiki Wedding." For the uninitiated, okolehau was a ti plant-based home-brew popular during Prohibition. Okolehau literally means bottoms up, which is the way a drinker in his cups might be found.
There weren't that many indulgers at Young's party. The most popular beverage was iced tea. The participants ran from the aged, many of whom sang hapa-haole songs in their youth, to knee-high grandchildren. Most of the keiki were blond. It was an island reunion of sorts for "the cousins," all members and friends of the Baldwin family.
In his liner notes, Young explains his fascination with island music and his discovery of sheet music dating back to the early decades of the last century. The CD was recorded in New York. See alaarecordingcompany.com. Interestingly enough, my computer classifies the music as jazz. Just goes to show you how much Mainlanders know about island music.
Since the Hawaiian Renaissance and the resurgence of the language, some of the novelty tunes might be considered less than politically correct. Even with those songs, Young displays his island heart.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.