HONOLULU: Guests strolling the great lanai at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel on Saturday, March 19, 2011, may have not known exactly what they had wandered into, but those who indeed paused to watch or who stayed to join the celebration knew they were encountering something very, very special.
Over 100 kama`aina (Hawai`i born or long-time residents) had filled the space to honor the late Alfred Apaka on what would have been the legendary Hawaiian romantic baritone’s 92nd birthday. The 3 1/2 hour journey back through time to the “Golden Age” of Hapa Hawaiian music (1940s and ’50s) and classical Hawaiian song and hula was hosted by Hilton Hotels in the resort’s famous Tapa Bar. Hilton is celebrating their 50th Anniversary in the island state.
The sound of the pu (conch shells) being blown by Kai Markell and Baby Bell announced the procession of Apaka ohana (extended family) to the magnificent life-sized bronze statue of Alfred Apaka where Alfred’s sister, Jeff’s 91-year old aunt Frances Mahelona was seated with other family and friends by the fountain beneath.
Considered the dean of Hawaiian language, Ka’upena Wong offered a special oli (Hawai`ian chant), Halau Hula O Maiki offered a kahiko hula, and Curtis Pa’alua Kekuna, Senior Pastor of the historic Kawaiaha`o Church offered a pule wehe (two-part Hawaiian prayer) before Jeff and Hilton’s Jerry Gibson, Area Vice President & Managing Director of Hilton Hawaiian Village, draped Alfred’s statue with his trademark red carnation lei. Then the music and dance began. Mihana Aluli-Souza, Aaron Mahi, aunty Ethlynne Teves, aunty Mona Teves, Kanoe Miller and Hailama Farden serenaded. What followed was equally extraordinary by any measure.
Alfred Apaka’s son Jeffrey had assembled a “dream cast” for the Hilton’s Tapa Bar stage. Original and current Hawai`i 5-0 star Al Harrington helped as MC and the Jeff Teves Trio accompanied Teves’ mother Ethlynne and auntie Mona. Kealoha Kalama danced throughout the afternoon, as did Pikakae Enos, Shelby Oshiro, Dr. David “Doc” Paperny and Birdie Wong with members of her Halau Pohaikealoha.
Led by Ha`a Heyer, Hala`i & Friends played and sang in their enchanting classic Hawaiian falsetto, long-time island favorite Melveen Leed worked her vocal magic and danced, and Clayton Naluai of the original Surfers wowed the crowd.
Grammy winners Cyril Lani Pahinui and Jeff Peterson then took the stage with George Kuo, Greg Sardinha on steel and former Royal Hawaiian Band conductor Aaron Mahi on stand up bass. And the best was still to come as Jeff Apaka & The Village Islanders joined Mahi, Kuo, Nahinu, Sardina and Scot Furushima.
Jeff stopped the show singing “Here” (In This Enchanted Place) and “In A Hawaiian Village” — written for Jeff’s father by Leon Pober especially for Henry Kaisers original Hawaiian Village Hotel. Yet another magical moment occurred when the glamorous Queenie Ventura danced “Lovely Hula Hands” with Jeff. Queenie was a regular performer with Alfred Apaka in the late 1940s. Another beautiful dancer, Kawena Mechler, performed “Mapuana” before a special appearance by former Broadway star, lyric soprano Cathy Foy. Apaka and Foy sang his Dads “Now Is the Hour” asking everyone to hold hands and sing the closing, “To You Sweetheart Aloha” and “Aloha `oe”. And the curtain rang down on an extraordinary moment in time which may never come again.
ABOUT ALFRED APAKA
Before Don Ho, there was Alfred Apaka, The Golden Voice of Hawai`i. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Apaka was Hawaii’s most famous entertainer and his show was a “must see” for all visitors. Alfred Apaka was indeed the most influential local performer of his time, setting the standard for all modern Hawaiian music. His voice, masculine good looks and personality truly put Henry Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village Hotel “on the map.” During the statue’s dedication in 1997, long-time family friend, the late Gladys Brandt said, “His ability to render a Hawaiian melody was unduplicated for the time, and perhaps forever.” George Kanahele, a critical observer of Hawaiian music later wrote, “Alfred Apaka possessed one of the most remarkable voices to ever come out of Hawai`i.”
Born into a musical family, Apaka came from Hawaiian royalty. His great-aunt, Lydia Aholo, was an educator and the daughter of another great Hawaiian musician — Queen Lydia Lili‘uokalani. Apaka’s son, Jeffrey, also a fine musician, says of his father, “I like to think that dad’s musical training came in a direct line from the Queen.” Alfred Apaka’s father, Alfred Sr. was himself an accomplished musician and later recorded with his son for Capitol records.
Alfred Junior’s great talent eventually landed him a spot as a featured singer on the famed Hawai‘i Calls radio broadcasts — and then came regular shows with the Moana Serenaders at Waikiki’s stately Moana Hotel. From the Moana, he moved to Don the Beachcomber’s where in 1952, Bob Hope “discovered” him. Appearances on Ed Sullivan’s prestigious Talk of The Town and The Dinah Shore Show followed giving national television exposure for both Apaka’s golden voice and for Hawai‘i.
In Hawai`i Apaka was best known for his lavish shows in the Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Room and later in the property’s enormous gold aluminum geodesic dome constructed by Kaiser to accommodate Apaka’s large crowds. As Apaka’s fame grew, he became a well known recording artist, spreading the appreciation of Hawaiian music to the world. Apaka was planning his own national television special at the time of his unexpected heart attack and death at the age of forty in 1960. He was buried with a microphone in his hands before his casket was closed. In 1997, Alfred Apaka was honored by a prestigious Nā Hōkū Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1999 the album, Lost Recordings of Hawai‘i’s Golden Voice was released.
Former This Week Magazine publisher Ron Cruger once wrote, “Because Hawaii is a land far removed from all others, the most distant populated place on earth, the people of Hawaii hold on to their traditions – their history – dreams. The splendid voice of Alfred Apaka remains in the memories of the Hawaiians. His magical voice filled the sweet Hawaiian air with thoughts of love and dreams of what could be. When Apaka sang a hush fell over those listening. Most had never heard such beauty weave through the air. It was romantic and strong. It made you dream. Hawaiians hold close to their hearts the feelings and the sounds of Alfred Apaka’s music.”
Son Jeffrey Apaka notes, “Somehow, the romantic hapa haole music of Hawaii’s golden era of entertainment that once captivated and enthralled the world has been lost. My great hope is that the music my father once sang — the classic music that exemplified Aloha, set Hawai`i apart from the rest of the world, and attracted so many visitors — will someday be heard again in the empty showrooms of Waikiki.”
Writer and communications consultant Scott Foster is a 25-year Hawai`i resident and continues to provide public relations, communications and design services for a host of local and multinational clients. See scottfoster.org