A Brief History of


: : Although the U.S. annexation of Hawaii occurred in 1898, mass awareness of Hawaiian culture did not permeate North America until much later. The official start of the Hawaiian craze can be traced back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal a year earlier. The Panama Canal had not only provided quicker inter-oceanic access for shipping and trade but also allowed easier access to the exotic locales of the South Seas. : :

: : The exposition became a stage for Polynesian culture in general. Hawaii had put a lot money and effort into their contribution and did a very good job of bringing their culture to the American mainland. It was here that the first ukulele was heard in the U.S.! It was also here where the first Hawaiian dancing girls could be observed doing the hula. People went nuts, and a continent-wide Hawaiian music boom was set off. : :

: : During this craze, Hawaiian culture entered every level of popular culture: from sheet music sales to hit records, from radio programs to major motion pictures, and from exotic Polynesian drinks to full-fledged tiki-themed restaurant chains. America just couldn’t get enough! Some of the big films included Waikiki Wedding with Bing Crosby and Sing Me A Song Of The Islanders with Betty Grable. Broadway also saw hit shows such as 1916’s Robinson Crusoe, Jr. featuring Al Jolson singing “Yaaka Hoola, Hickey Doola”. : :

: : Historically the islands of Hawaii were exposed to many foreign influences due to their location right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. These various influences were all brought together to form a “new” Hawaiian tradition. For example, the guitar was introduced in the early part of the 19th century via the cowboys of Mexico and South America. Hawaiians adapted it by slackening the strings and creating the ki ho alu or slack-key tradition. The latter part of that century saw the arrival of Portuguese immigrants who introduced their “braguinha”, later to be transformed into the Hawaiian ukulele. : :

: : It is widely believed that the slide steel guitar style was invented by Joseph Kekuku during the 1880s – by mistake, when he accidentally dropped an object onto his guitar! The interesting sound created as it slid along the strings prompted him to explore further. He later refined his technique by using a steel comb and ultimately a steel bar. Steel slide guitar playing caught on, especially by integrating the ragtime style at the turn of the century. The blend with American culture created the hapa haole style, or “half-white” songs, which were sung in English and catered well to the increasing number of tourists in Hawaii. : :

: : The Hawaiian style of music formed an integral part of American popular music during the 20s. Many Hawaiians – such as Gabby Pahinui, legendary singer, steel and slack key guitarist, or Sol Hoopii, considered the greatest steel guitar player ever – enjoyed enormous popularity and success in the States. Hoopii was very much in demand due to his blending of Hawaiian music with blues and jazz. He also became involved in the Hollywood film industry, not only acting in, but also booking Polynesians for South Seas movies. : :

: : People were so crazy about this music that novelty songs also started emerging, such as Tin Pan Alley’s “Wicky Wacky Woo”, which featured made-up words! Caucasians were also writing Hawaiian-style songs, such as R. Alex Anderson’s very popular “Little Grass Shack”. : :

: : But unfortunately, by the 1950s, Hawaiian music became increasingly diluted and turned into an easy-listening commodity, losing respectability among more discerning music lovers. It became one of the many flavours of background music, especially for the tiki restaurant and martini lounge setting. Later generations were subsequently turned off the newer, more polished and saccharine-sweet face of Hawaiian music... except, of course, for the members of The Montreal Tiki Appreciation Society who worship its every form no matter how wicky, wacky or woo... : :

Fred Sarli © 2002

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