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John Pi'ilani Watkins and His Heavenly Hawaiians - Songs To Remember Hana-Maui

Songs To Remember

John Pi'ilani Watkins
and His Heavenly Hawaiians


Available from Cord International's web site.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Arthur Berman

Cord International has released a collection of 1950's Hawaiian music, Songs To Remember Hana-Maui with John Pi'ilani Watkins and his Heavenly Hawaiians. The cover features two women in grass skirts dancing to the bongo drums played by the only musician depicted. This is one of those don't fully judge the book by its cover situations as there is some fine music, along with some dross, on this CD clearly intended for the tourist trade.

Most of the tunes on this project were written by Pi'ilani who also made his name by bringing 48 dancers to Broadway in 1955 where he also choreographed and starred in Paradise Island with June Taylor and Guy Lombardo. In Hawaii he had his own television program, Lucky Luau, as well has headlining in various hotels. This music dates back to a time when culture had not been completely compromised to commercial interests so there is much to be gleaned for the listener interested in a type of music we don't hear much.

The CD begins with a lovely chant with layered harmonies with a call and response style reminiscent of gospel music although the translation of The Hana Chant indicates it is a tribute the Hawaiian king and queen. We then hear more lush harmony in Waikaloa this time with the wailing steel guitar sound one associates with this type of Hawaiian music.

The vocals are high but not lonesome. Pi'ilani manages high notes with falsetto without sounding strained. As the CD moves along some of the tunes seem to be more obviously directed to an audience which will listen to them to remember a trip which, at the time these recordings were made, was more exotic than today when air travel is more common. Tunes like "Hawaiian Isles" would probably be more enjoyable for this group or people who like pop music of the 40's and 50's than the more authentic sounding folk pieces also on the CD. On Manu O-O we even get bird sounds in the background (and occasionally foreground) which might distract most listeners from the music.

Overall there is much worthwhile on this CD for those who enjoy easygoing Hawaiian luau music, not to be confused with slack key material although the vocals have much in common for those cuts done in the Hawaiian language. The remastering is good given the source material and provides an enjoyable and different listening experience.

The liner notes are a bit hard to follow, some are reproduced from the material that accompanied the original 78's. Cord International produced the CD which may be hard to find at your local store but their website is:


  • The Hana Chant
  • Waikaloa
  • Heavenly Hana
  • Meka Nani Ao Kaupo
  • Hawaiian Isles
  • Manu O-O
  • Hana No Ka Oi
  • Hamoa
  • Waipio-Makalapua Medley
  • Noho Paipai (The Rocking Chair Hula)
  • Mahalo E Hilo Hanakahi
  • Farewell, Hana Bids You Aloha

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2006, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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