Royal Blood, Jazz, and Rock & Roll

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Mary Kaye 1924-2007

Last weekend, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty passed away. Her American name was Mary Kaye, but she was born Mary Ka'aihue, the daughter of Johnny "Ukulele" Ka'aihue ( a pure Hawaiian) and granddaughter of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, brother (by adoption) of Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliu'okalani. The Queen was a musician and composer, and wrote the world famous song "Aloha O'e". Her monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by US businessmen.

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Prince Kuhio

After Hawaii was annexed by the USA, Prince Kuhio (a very well educated man who had attended university in California and England) was the delegate in the US House from the Territory of Hawai‘i from 1903 to 1922. His life story is worth at least a post of its own.

Johnny Ukulele was one of the original group that Olympic Gold Medalist Duke Kahanamoku brought to the mainland USA in 1916 as part of the band that played at his surfing demonstrations. Johnny stayed on the mainland and pursued a career in music.

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Johnny Ukulele played with the Harry Owens Hawaiian Band. Shown here (top right) with the 1916 Duke Kahanamoku 'Swimmers'

Mary was born in Detroit on January 9, 1924. She starting performing at age 3 (at which tender age she lost her mother) dancing hula to the ukulele strummings of her brother, Norman. By age 12, Mary and Norman were performing with their father's band, Johnny Ka'aihue's Royal Hawaiians. Later she formed a trio with her brother and husband and started playing jazz - that's right, jazz - in Las Vegas before it was a show town. The trio is credited with starting the Las Vegas lounge scene.

After WWII, Norman returned from the service and suggested they change group name from the Mary Ka'aihue Trio to Mary Kaye Trio so that people would not expect to hear Hawaiian music every time they played. They did of course, also play Hawaiian tunes. Early patrons of the Mary Kaye Trio included Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. Later, Elvis Presley would listen to them from backstage. Over the years the trio cut 13 albums and 21 singles and earned about a million dollars a year - that's in 1950's dollars. A Los Angeles Times review of a 1949 performance at the Orpheum Theatre declared the trio "atomic when they get into full swing" and concluded: "They have style, energy, ingenuity."

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Mary Kaye Trio album "Our Hawaii"

You can see some of their other discography here.

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Mary Kaye Trio at the Sahara in 1956.

Mary Kaye could also be said to be the "first lady" of rock and roll and even had a guitar named for her. In 1956 she posed for and ad with a white ash Fender Stratocaster, which became a favorite instrument of many stars and was known in the music business as the "Mary Kaye Strat". Fender introduced a Mary Kaye Tribute guitar a few years ago. Ironically, she usually played D'Angelico guitars. In 1959, they had their first rock & roll hit with a rendition of "You Can't Be True, Dear".

Hawaiian Royalty, jazz star, rock star, and Las Vegas legend, Mary Kaye, passed away on February 17, 2007. Aloha O'e.


Old Broad said...

OK, off to find a vid of the Mary Kaye Trio.

Pandabonium said...

Food luck finding that clip. If you're successful let me know.

Happysurfer said...

Thanks for sharing that, PandaB.

I'm not familiar with Hawaiian royalty. Do people still accord them high respect or are they being treated as like common folks?

Pandabonium said...

Hi Happy!

Well, the people of Hawaii respect the royalty of old, but their descendants are treated the same as anyone else.

It must be remembered that the monarchy was overthrown by business intrests who had only economic goals in mind and did not care anything for the Hawaiian people.

Thus, the royals were the only ones with any influence on events who could defend their rights. The royalty of Hawaii in the 19th century were, in my opinion, looking out for the interests of their people, but were overwhelmed by outside powers. In no way did they "sell out". They were defeated, and deserve great respect.

The significance to me of someone like Mary Kaye, is the loss of the Kingdom and what might have been.

I'm not fond in general of monarchy as a form of government, but in Hawaii it was done democratically and was a way to protect the Hawaiian people from being overwhelmed by America and Europe or Japan. A people should be able to determine their own path.

Swinebread said...

Thanks for this post

YD said...

Woohoo!! At last, royals who rock! I am impressed by liberal & democratic way the Hawaiian royals behave, and from your tone of respect, I believe they have done their responsibility has state rulers well.

If only some other royals at some other part of the world could stop doing things that bring more shame than praises...

Hypatia said...

Although I did know know about Mary Kaye's music, it's always sad when a touchstone from the past is gone forever.

BTW, didn't the last Queen of Hawaii also set up a trust fund for the native children/orphans of Hawaii? The last thing I heard is there was a scandal that the trustees pay themselves obscene amounts of money to serve on the board, and the amount going to programs/kids is not very much. But this was years ago, so I could be totally wrong!

Hypatia said...

I'm a dufus, it's "Although I did not know...."

Pandabonium said...

swinebread - you're welcome.

YD - they had their foibles as well. King Kalakaua for example ended democratic election of the king and returned it to hereditary, but as royals go they were better than average bunch.

Hypatia - you're no dufus. Everyone makes mistrakes. ;^)

You are thinking of the Bishop Estate which was started by Lokelani Pauao Bishop who was a princess, great granddaughter and last royal descendant of Kamehameha the Great. The Bishop Estate trustees do get huge salaries, but are elected the Hawaiian public. Also, they would argue that their income is not out of line with other people who manage similarly huge assets.

My granddaughters, having Hawaiian blood, will attend a school funded by the estate. It is a new one, only a few years old now. Lahaina Luna High School on Maui is the oldest school west of the rockies at 175 years. The Bishop Trust educates something like 5400 kids throughout the state.

Old Broad said...

Panda, no luck in finding a vid of Mary Kaye Trio.
Although I did find several vids of Mary Kay Letourneau (pedophile teacher) and Mary Kay Cosmetics (crap make-up).

Pandabonium said...

Thanks for checking Old Broad. I didn't have any luck either. They were too far in the past I think. The only CD I found available new was the one pictured. Other albums are probably only available used - on vinyl.

Hypatia said...

Panda - Thanks for the update on the Bishop Estate. It's very good to know that a new school is forming; I hope they will have a native language component as well. I'm very supportive of schools w/strong languange and cultural education programs.

There has been alot of brain research into the acquisition of language in young children, and learning a 2nd or 3rd language, (starting around 3 yrs old) before the age of 10 has been shown to increase alot of neural activity. Also, as we age, it seems the more languages we know helps to keep the brain active and alert.

The Europeans seem to have no problem learning several languages, why not folks here in the USA?

Now, I'm babbling, so I'll get off my soapbox now!

QUASAR9 said...

Her monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by US businessmen.
And the US annexed Hawaii.

Seems US Businessmen are still trying to annex more lands 100 years on

Pandabonium said...

Hypatia - that's quite a topic.
Well, the Kamehameha Schools (Bishop Estate) do teach Hawaiian language and culture. In fact, Hawaii's public schools also do, starting in early grades.

The US tried to stamp out Native American languages in the 19th century as you know -even taking the kids out of their families. At the same time, there were so many Germans living in the area between Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St.Louis that it was called the great German triangle and the states involved passed laws that made it OK to teach all subjects in German. My father's side of the family were from Germany. 4.9 million Germans came to the US between 1840 and 1890 at a time when the total population of the country was only 50 to 60 million. It was WWI that put a stop to teaching anything that had to do with Germany, and I read somewhere that it even became illegal to speak any "foreign" language in public.

Growing up in California it was natural to learn at least some Spanish. But now, just as there was xenophobia about Germans 100 years ago, now there is fear (or something worse) of Mexicans.

My humble opinion is that everyone would benefit by learning at least two languages and that bi-lingual schools help immigrant families to become part of the society and build understanding between groups of people from various national/ethnic backgrounds.

Quasar9 - yes indeed. The history of the USA is one of conquest, starting with the natives, then Mexico, Hawaiian Annexation, the Spanish American War (where they started going overseas big time)and a series of interventions literally around the world on behalf of corporations that has never stopped. Of course its is called "spreading democracy and the benefits of free markets". In UK history, Cecil Rhodes was at least more forthright about the true goals of empire.

Pandabonium said...

Old Broad - I said "Food luck finding that clip". I must have been hungry.

Old Broad said...

Panda, I noticed the Food luck thingie. I just figured it was code.

Martin J Frid said...

Learning at least one second langauge should be mandatory. It is fun for the kids and useful in a millon ways. I think rock'n'roll probably plays a huge role in helping people in other countries learn English...

Thanks for the photos of the vintage record covers, they are adorable.

Robin said...

Royalty (being noble) and business...

Hmmm... which remind me:

No man is noble by birth.
No man is ignoble by birth.
Man is noble by his own deeds.
Man is by ignoble his own deeds.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - words of wisdom from the Buddha. very appropriate for this story.

Elisha Phillips said...

Pandabonium and Old Broad, My name is Elisha and I am the granddaughter of Mary Kaye. I wanted to share with the two of you that you will be able to find video of the Mary Kaye Trio on YouTube. I wanted to thank you for the article. It is always nice to learn about your family history.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks, Elisha. What an interesting person to have in your family lineage. Glad to hear that some of her songs are on YouTube. That's great.