Hula Time

Posted by Sherwin Dunner, December 15, 2011 03:40pm | Post a Comment
Sometimes you never know where the next batch of 78s will be coming from and it's often from unexpected places. Recently, we were contacted by San Francisco's Market Street Railway, an advocate for San Francisco's historic streetcars which run on the Market Street Line. One of their members bequeathed his books on trolley history to them, and included in the donation were the 78s bought by his Hawaiian wife back in the 1920s. Having no use for the records, they contacted us, and we were delighted to find a strong run of records by one of the great early Hawaiian bands that recorded in the late 1920s – Kalama's Quartet. Many other obscure Hawaiian 78s were part of the collection, but by far her favorite group was Kalama's Quartet, and for good reason. Along with steel guitars, ukelele, harp guitar and bass, they featured deeply moving four part harmony singing – raw and forceful, but delicate and beautiful at the same time.

The collectors of early Hawaiian 78s are mostly drawn to the steel guitar giants Sol Hoopii, King Benny Nawahi, and the rare as hen's teeth discs by Madame Riviera's Hawaiians featuring Tau Moe. In addtion to the traditional vocals, Kalama's Quartet features twin steel guitars, playing lead and harmony – more bang for your steel guitar buck, plus the exquisite Hawaiian falsetto singing of Mike Hanapi. Along with Hanapi (front) singing tenor and falsetto, their core personnel included the deep resonant bass voice of Bob Nawahini (left), the baritone of Dave Munson or Dan Pokipala (right) and the lead voice of Bill Kalama (behind Hanapi). They didn't bother to change their name to Quintet when somewhere along the way Bob Matsu was added as a second steel guitar.

Touring native Hawaiian troups became popular following a successful New York Hawaiian revue called “Bird of Paradise” in 1904. Hawaiian musicians made their way to the mainland and found work in nightclubs, on vaudeville circuits and any place where novel and exotic music might have been a good fit. Kalama's Quartet happened to be working in New York in January 1927 just when sound films were in their infancy and like many long forgotten comics, bands and eccentric vaudevillians, their act found its way in front of the sound cameras. In an extract from this film, here's an example of Mike Hanapi's Hawaiian falsetto on a traditional Hawaiian melody, “Sweet Lei Lehua.” 


On their record labels, the Okeh company had no idea how to describe Hanapi's singing and took a stab with “Yodeling,” but there's no kinship here with country singer Jimmie Rodgers' blue yodels or the alpine Swiss variety.

In this film, they finish their act with the crowd pleasing up tempo “Hapa Haole Hula Girl” with Bob Nawahini singing the verse followed by Dan Pokipala on the chorus, shaking his hips for the camera thirty years before Elvis caused a stink on the Ed Sullivan show. The haole hula girls and their ukelele strumming pals augmenting Kalamas Quartet in the film were not walk-ons from a tropical themed party at a local college – they were actually part of the act as it was being booked in New York at the time.

Kalama's Quartet recorded for several labels beginning with Edison in 1926 and finished with Victor in 1932, but most of their recording was done for the Okeh label, and almost all of the Kalamas we found were on Okeh. We will be offering these and the other Hawaiian 78s, mostly from the late 1920s through mid-1930s in the 78s section of, listing some on eBay, and putting some out on the floor for sale in our Hollywood store.  Along with the Kalamas we have 78s by Sol K. Bright, Sol Hoopii, Joseph Kamakau, Charles Alamu, and even Hoot Gibson – the silent film cowboy star loved Hawaiian music and fronted a small group in the recording studio.

And next time you're up in San Francisco, hop on one of the Market St. trolleys. They have an amazing collection of vintage cars maintained in tip top shape keeping trolley history alive in the present.

Besides Hawaiian, we'll be continually adding 78s to our 78s section on from several genres and periods including blues, gospel, country, jazz and more. We recently added clean discs by Jimmie Rodgers on Victor, a Tiny Grimes be-bop 78 on Savoy with Charlie Parker, one of Bix Beiderbecke's greatest sides with Paul Whiteman, R & B stars Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thornton in a rockin' duet on Ace, and the beginning of our Hawaiian listings with Paul Summers and his Waikiki Players on Columbia, recorded in Honolulu in the late 1920s.

Jimmie Rodgers
Those Gambler's Blues / Pistol Packin' Papa

The proverbial father of country music on a clean Victor scroll. "Those Gambler's Blues" is Jimmie doing his version of "St. James Infirmary." 


Tiny Grimes Quintette With Charlie Parker
Romance Without Finance / I'll Always Love You Just The Same

Early be-bop. Tiny Grimes on electric tenor guitar leading his small group augmented by and featuring Charlie Parker.  

Paul Whiteman Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke
Lonely Melody / Ramona

If you collect 1920s jazz 78s and like Bix Beiderbecke, this is an indispensable Bix item, one of his great records with the Paul Whiteman band. Whiteman recognized that Bix was at the peak of his musical powers and featured him prominently. On "Lonely Melody" he was given two solo opportunities.

Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thornton / Johnny Ace
Yes, Baby / Saving My Love For You 

Virtually new copy of a rocking R&B side "Yes, Baby" by the duo of Johnny Ace and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Johnny Ace goes it alone on "Saving My Love For You."

Paul Summers and his Waikiki Players / Lizzie K. Alohikea
Hula Blues / Liliu E

Both sides recorded in Honolulu, Hawaii in the late 1920's. The Summer side is a popular Johnny Noble tune from 1920 with lead steel guitar backed up by the Waikiki Players string band. Second half of record has vocal although label describes it as an instrumental. "You wiggle, you giggle, you wiggle to the Hula Blues." Lizzie Alohikea sings a traditional Hawaiian hula on the other side.


Also, check our eBay name ameobablowout for regular 78 listings as well – you never know what may show up. You'll mostly see CDs, but you can select 78s from eBay's drop down menu on the left side.

We're always interested in buying 78 collections. You'll find all the info on what we're looking to buy on our 78s page. If you hear of anyone thinking about selling any choice 78s, be sure to give me a call (917) 797-2513 or drop me an email: [email protected]

And if you are an active 78 collector, let us k

Relevant Tags

78s (8), Kalama's Quartet (1), Steel Guitar (2), Okeh (1), Jimmie Rodgers (4), Tiny Grimes (1), Charlie Parker (3), Bix Beiderbecke (1), Paul Whiteman (1), Johnny Ace (2), Big Mama Thornton (3), Paul Summers And His Waikiki Players (1)