Sunday, September 4, 2016

Song Of The Islands

Hans Koert (1951-2014)
On this day it has been two years since my good friend and orginator of the Keepswinging website and associated blogs, Hans Koert (1951-2014), passed away all too soon. Hans left us a precious legacy of knowledge, enthusiasm and wit regarding the music he loved and generously documented and shared with the readers of his many articles still accessible. Before it was too late, I promised him to continue his work the best I can, a task I felt and still feel honored to fulfil. Hans and I shared many interests in music, thus, today I'll focus on a subject I know would have pleased him. In remembrance of a dear friend and a great friendship, this entry concerns the music of the popular English bandleader Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders.

Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn (1911-1952)
Felix Mendelssohn was a huge pioneer in helping make Hawaiian music popular in Europe throughout the 1930's and 40's. Born in London in 1911, he originally wanted to become a stockbroker but fate took him on a different journey as his love for Hawaiian music grew. Felix started out as a manager for various clubs and soon became the promotional manager for several band leaders. Felix formed his own dance orchestra that played on Radio Luxembourg and BBC as well as recorded for DECCA. It was in these performances that he would occasionally play a Hawaiian song. In 1938 Felix took over a band led by Canadian steel guitarist, Roland Peachy and renamed it "Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders". The band was successful in several recordings, but in 1940, Peachy left the band. Felix arranged for a stage tour and a two year contract with Columbia records in 1941. In 1942 the Serenaders made their first appearance in a variety show called the Yankee Clipper and at this time the Serenaders were becoming increasingly popular. The band made 50 short films and their music was reissued and famous all over the world. Felix built up an entire troupe of Hula Dancers from around the world  which he called his "South Sea Lovelies" in which Felix would make up a story about each dancer and would involve audience members in the show as well. In 1946 financial problems overcame the band which continued until 1950 when Felix appeared in bankruptcy court. After promising to repay his debts, he arranged another tour but it was a financial disaster and he had to arrange a free show for the Army so he could get back home. In the fall of 1950, Felix became ill with a stomach ailment and although he continued to work, his health became worse and on February 4, 1952 after entering the hospital, he died of Hodgkins' Disease at the age of 40. (Kanahele, George. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1979. Qoted from this source)

Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders ( photo courtesy this source)
I first heard the music of Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders on a LP reissue of some of the band's recordings associated with the popular swing jazz repertoire of the 1930s and early 1940s and was instantly caught by the high quality of the performance by this English ensemble - ever since I have been a fan of these recordings made 1940-41.
LP front, World Records, SH 394
Fortunately, a lot of material featuring Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders has since been reissued on CD, a discographical overview is available here

As mentioned in the quoted paragraph above, Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders made a considerable number of short films during the band's career. The British Pathé archive has saved a selection of these shorts which also have been uploaded on YouTube. Below I'll insert some examples here to share some memorable musical moments with Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders. - Here is first a performance of Song Of The Islands from 1939

As mentioned, the repertoire of the orchestra also included popular swing tunes of the time, here is a great performance of In The Mood from 1941

The steel guitar player of the Hawaiian Serenaders until 1941 was Roland Peachey -  Enjoy his excellent contribution to this performance of String Harmony from 1940

From 1944, here's a performance of Sophisticated Hula by the Hawaiian Serenaders which by this time had extended its members and replaced Roland Peachey with another steel guitar player (Harry Brooker?)

To end this small presentation of some of the music saved on screen by Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders, here is the ensemble's version of Aloha Oe featuring a hula dancing maid, paper moon and shady cardboard palm trees in the background - enjoy


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