100 Years of Hawaiian Music
Hawaiian music, however flexible, has its own distinctive personality.
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Unnamed musicians play on the street in this 1949 photo.
Photo: Hawai‘i State Archives
The Forties: Local Music For Local People
The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor put an abrupt damper on the party. Not only did the ensuing citywide blackouts kill nightlife and the live music scene, wartime rationing of shellac and other materials made it next to impossible to manufacture records.
But the slowdown also coincided with a shift in where Hawaiian music was being recorded. Before World War II, Mainland labels such as Decca and Victor produced the majority of Hawaiian music records. Hawaiian Transcription Productions had begun releasing 78-rpm singles for the Hawai‘i market in the late ’30s, but after the war, Hawai‘i’s own record industry blossomed, with a new focus on local music for local people.
Between 1944 and 1950, Bell Records in Honolulu released a wealth of seminal cuts by soon-to-be-legendary artists such as Bill Lincoln, George Kainapau, Johnny Almeida, Andy Cummings, Gabby Pahinui, the Kalima Brothers and the Richard Kauhi Quartet.
Bell’s unofficial successor, 49th State Records, produced even more music, with an even more local bent, cementing Hawai‘i’s ability to control its own music scene. Michael Cord, of record company Cord International, says, “As the story goes, [local record store owner] George Ching couldn’t get enough local music. People kept asking him for local stuff and different kinds of singers, so he got a wire recorder and Johnny Almeida as producer, and he started recording folks in his house every night. He gave them a few dollars each, and he owned the master, and the musicians were happy to get the money.”
The record contract terms might not have been great, but the songs being put to wax were destined to become classics.
Johnny Almeida, a prolific composer and musician who was blind from birth, became known as the dean of Hawaiian music, thanks not only to his own songs, but his popular radio show and his production work with 49th State Records.
Thanks to hula staples such as “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula”, R. Alex Anderson was often called “the most Hawaiian of the hapa haole composers.”
Essential Cuts of the Forties
 R. Alex Anderson’s “Lovely Hula Hands”,  Helen Desha Beamer’s “Kawohikukapulani.”, [ 1948 ] Jack Pitman’s “Beyond the Reef”, [ 1948 ] R. Alex Anderson’s “I’ll Weave a Lei of Stars for You”, [ 1949 ] Winona Beamer’s “Pupu Hinuhinu”