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.
Prince KuhioAfter 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.
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."
You can see some of their other discography here.
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.