“Hawaiian” music, America and the ukulele (1917)

The Evening Ledger, 2 June 1917, reported the following vital information on page 9:

By the phonograph editor

It was “The Bird of Paradise” which first brought Hawaii prominently before the eyes of Americans. Once the craze for the Pacific Island was established in the United States, the ukulele and the lai retained their grip on popularity. It has been impossible to dislodge them from their vogue in this country. But with all the furor over Hawaiian music, very few persons have troubled themselves to find out the source of this insinuating, smoothly flowing, sensuous melody.

As a matter of fact, strictly pure Hawaiian music is never — or at least rarely — heard in America. [I snipped out a bit] The Hawaiian ditties strummed on ukulele by young chaps at college and played by restaurant orchestras come from Hawaii right enough. But they are not essentially Polynesian.

About 1820, when the language was being formulated [?], the island was visited by groups of missionaries bent of Christianizing the people. These purveyors of the Gospel, like all religious teachers, were accustomed to sing hymns, most of them German, since the missionaries were, in many cases, themselves of Teutonic origin. The brown skinned pupils quickly took up the hymn tunes, adapting them very slightly to measures that were natural to the Hawaiian mind and love of rhythm. The result today is the sort of thing you heard in “Stop, Look, Listen!” and in the vaudeville specialties of Toots Paka and her troupe.

This reminds me a little of a comment in The Argus of 1935.

Advertisements