Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

The Bird of Paradise Show of 1912

August 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kika Kila.

This month we look at the story of the Bird of Paradise show of 1912!

In 1912, the first Hawaiian Broadway show called the "Bird of Paradise" went on stage at Daly's Theatre, in New York City. The play written by Richard Walton Tulley is set in Hawai‘i and is about a doctor caring for leper patients who falls in love with an island beauty.

Its brilliant Hawaiian scenery, dazzling costumes and authentic music made it an instant hit! The 5-piece Hawaiian band showcased Walter Kolomoku on the steel guitar. One reporter described the music as "weirdly sensuous music of the island people."

The Bird of Paradise Show of 1912

The music for the play was chosen by the band and included songs written by Hawaiian royalty including King Kalakaua's "Hawai‘i Pono‘ī" and Queen Liliuokalani's "Aloha ‘Oe." Other songs include "Wai‘alae," "Ua Like No A Like," "Pua Mohala," "Ahi Wela," "Ku‘u Home Old Plantation," and "Tomi Tomi."

These songs were recorded by Victor Records under "Kolomoku's Hawaiian Quintette" and 78 rpm records were sold in large numbers to enthusiastic music fans.

The "Bird of Paradise" staged 112 performances by the time it completed its successful run on Broadway. The show then went on the road with dozens of theatre companies all traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The Bird of Paradise Show of 1912

By 1913 it headed West, playing in towns of all sizes, from Anaconda, Montana to Reno, Nevada. Other troupes worked their way through the Midwest to Xenia, Ohio and DesMoines, Iowa. In the South they played at Greenville, Mississippi; Anniston, Alabama; and Hartford, Kentucky.

The Bird of Paradise played to packed houses everywhere, to audiences who had never heard Hawaiian music and the Hawaiian steel guitar. Through these tours, the Hawaiian steel guitar seeped into the vision, the imagination, the musical palette and the consciousness of the American populace.

When the show was reorganized to tour Europe in 1919, its steel guitarist was virtuoso Joseph Kekuku. The Bird of Paradise show toured throughout Europe for years, playing before the crown heads of many countries. It was a total sell-out and European hearts were captured by the sweet teasing sound of the steel guitar. No other instrument in history became the darling of so many countries so quickly!

For Hawaiian steel guitarists on tour, it was a great challenge to make the voice of the wooden, acoustic steel guitar heard sufficiently from the stage over large audiences. The guitar was not amplified and there were no microphones.

The Bird of Paradise show was so popular, it was made into a Hollywood movie in 1932 with Dolores del Rio. It was re-filmed again in 1951 with Debra Paget.

Today we can compare the popularity and societal impact of the Bird of Paradise to "Hamilton," the popular hip-hop Broadway musical play about America's forefathers.

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kika kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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