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50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii

An esteemed panel of musicologists, producers and artists select the 50 greatest songs in Hawai‘i music history.


(page 6 of 7)

38. Lovely Hula Hands

By R. Alex Anderson, 1940 

Songwriter R. Alex Anderson and his wife, Peggy, were married 71 years.


In a 1984 interview with HONOLULU Magazine, Anderson recounted the inspiration for “Lovely Hula Hands.” “I was at a private party,” he said, “and a hula girl was dancing. The guy next to me suddenly said, ‘Aren’t her hands lovely!’ And right away it hit me: I thought, there, that’s the key to a good hula.” Fittingly, Anderson’s composition has become a indispensable part of any hula dancer’s repertoire.


39. Lei Aloha Lei Makamae

​By Charles E. King, 1934

PHOTO: courtesy of honolulu star-bulletin


Although Charles E. King composed this song almost a decade after “Ke Kali Nei Au,” many refer to it as the “real” Hawaiian wedding song. Noelani Mahoe, author of Na Mele o Hawai‘i Nei, says, “‘Lei Aloha Lei Makamae,’ to me, is more a wedding song than ‘Ke Kali Nei Au,’ when you look at the lyrics.” But others refuse to take sides. Mahi Beamer says, “They’re equally beautiful, and have both become popular because they are romantic duets to sing at weddings.”


40. Ka Ulu Wehi o ke Kai

By Edith Kanaka‘ole, 1979

Kanaka‘ole, a famed Hawaiian chanter and kumu hula, wrote this lively mele about gathering various types of limu, a ritual she enjoyed with her mother and, later, her own daughters. “She was a staunch Mormon and would relish the drives to the temple in Lā‘ie because of the fragrant limu as we passed Ka‘a‘awa and Punalu‘u,” recalls her daughter Nalani. “It was down to a science in knowing the different limu and how they smell as we passed these places.” 


41. My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua

​By Bill Cogswell, Tommy Harrison and Johnny Noble, 1933

This light-hearted ditty exemplifies composer and band-leader Johnny Noble’s talent at creating hapa-haole tunes tailor-made for tourists’ tastes, but palatable for locals as well. In a 1944 Paradise of the Pacific article, Noble said of his style, “I decided that if I didn’t change the style of playing Hawaiian music, my band would be just another Hawaiian orchestra. Visitors to the Islands thought that Hawaiian dance music was too slow, and the younger set had been infected with the jazz rhythms of the Mainland bands.”


42. Ka Makani Kā‘ili Aloha

By Matthew Kāne, 1916

Written by a Maui composer, this oft-interpreted song—translated as “The Kīpahulu Zephyr”—tells of a wind that snatches away a man’s wife. The heartbroken man consults a kahuna, who helps the man lure his wife back home through supernatural means. “I’ve often considered that to be one of the most beautiful Hawaiian songs ever written,” says musician Keola Beamer. “A beautiful melody, great intervals, gorgeous chords—truly an inspired work.”


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Honolulu Magazine August 2020