This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
Interview by Ken Pratt
April 10, 1981
Robert Alexander Anderson was born on June 6, 1894, at Honolulu, the son of Dr. Robert W. and Susan Alice Young Anderson. His grandfather was Alexander Young. After he graduated from Punahou with honors in 1912, he attended and graduated in 1916 from Cornell University. He served in World War I as an aviator in Europe, and he was shot down, captured and escaped during that conflict. In the period after the war, he worked on the mainland before returning to Honolulu in 1923. On November 14, 1919, he and Margaret Leith Center of Honolulu were married in Chicago. Mr. Anderson joined the Von Hamm-Young Company, Ltd. in 1923, and became chief executive of the company in later years. Mr. Anderson is one of Hawaii’s most noted composers of popular songs. His “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula” are two of his most popular of over 100 compositions. He has contributed his talents to productions at Punahou on many occasions, most notably for the centennial pageant in 1941.
Margaret Leith Center was born on August 17, 1895, at Spreckelsville, Maui, the daughter of David and Flora Allen Center. As a young girl, Margaret Center had been interested in voice. She met Dame Nellie Melba in Honolulu and became a protege of Madame Melba. Miss Center lived in Australia for three years where she studied voice under the great singer, after which she returned to Honolulu in 1919 and gave many concerts in Honolulu and on the neighbor islands. She left the Islands again to join Madame Melba in London, and was in New York preparing to sail for England, but instead, she decided to marry Mr. Anderson and to remain in Chicago. They returned to Hawaii in 1923 and have resided here ever since. In Hawaii, Mrs. Anderson has been active in music associations and has acted in several musicals produced by community organizations.
Their children are Robert Alexander Anderson Jr., David Leith Anderson, Allen Willis Anderson and Pamela Susan Anderson.
KJP: This is an interview with Robert Alexander Anderson (RAA) and his wife Margaret (Peggy) Leith Center Anderson (MLA). Andy attended Punahou School from 1900 to 1912 and was a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club as a youngster. Peggy attended Punahou from 1904 to 1911. This interview is being conducted on April 10, 1981 at the home of Ken Pratt, 4817 Aukai Avenue. The interviewer is Ken Pratt (KJP), representing the Outrigger Canoe Club Historical Committee.
KJP: Now, Andy, to start off with we’d like to hear about your early recollections at the Outrigger Canoe Club and Waikiki Beach in general.
RAA: Yes, Ken, I relate back to . . . I’m trying to think back as to the time . . . the Club was established in 1908?
KJP: That’s right.
RAA: And it must have been just about that time — that I have a recollection of Alexander Hume Ford out in what we called Cornucopia Surf. In coming in contact with him — I was learning how to surf — Let’s see, by this time I was fourteen. They had these thin little boards in those days for the kids. And we’d catch the waves in Cornucopia Surf.
KJP: That’s where I learned to surf.
RAA: Yes, and I have a recollection that somebody said that I should be a student member of the new club. And I believe I was so enrolled.
RAA: I don’t know how long that lasted — until I went to college I guess, which was in 1912.
KJP: I see.
RAA: And after that I didn’t come back from college for many years. World War I, and four years in Chicago and a year in Pittsburgh, and I didn’t get back here to live until 1923. That’s when Peggy and I, having been married in Chicago, came back to Honolulu to make our home. So that’s an early recollection.
KJP: Peggy, do you remember? Now Peggy, I understand that you lived out not too far from the present Outrigger Canoe Club. Now you must have been on the beach a great deal — what are your recollections?
MLA: Just that it was a beautiful beach and I loved to swim — and I swam there. My mother’s home was nearby. And finally as a young girl Louise Dillingham (Mrs. Walter F.) gave a beautiful party and asked me to come to it. And she said, “I want you to meet the great Madame (Nellie) Melba. And she’s here during the war on her way back to Austalia.” And she said, “I’m going to have a dinner party for her at home and I want you to meet her accompanist Frank St. Leger.” So I went to the party and Melba said to me “I hear you sing”. And I said “I play the ukulele and I perform with local people and things and enjoy it very much.” She asked me to sing for her and after testing my voice said “I’m going back to Australia and I’d like to take you back with me!”
KJP: Well, that’s great.
MLA: So I went to Australia during the war and I spent three years there. And when I got back I went to the Outrigger and sang and played for everybody and had a wonderful time. And Andy, you came back from the war — you remember?
MLA: You had been taken prisoner by the Germans — shot down. And we met, played and sang together and had fun, and we fell in love. And you went on to Chicago and I followed. I was on my way to Europe and you and I were married in Chicago — do you remember?
RAA: Oh, sure –1919.
MLA: 1919, November 14 and we came back to Honolulu.
RAA: We were four years in Chicago and came back in 1923.
KJP: Who were you working for back in Chicago?
RAA: I got started in the refrigeration industry with a company named Isko first, which was bringing out a machine to go on top of the old icebox.
KJP: I see.
RAA: In place of ice. That company failed and then I went to McLellan Refrigeration Company, also in Chicago. They refrigerated meat markets and that sort of thing.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: Then in 1923 I came home and started the same sort of business with the Von Hamm-Young Company.
KJP: I remember Von Hamm-Young had an extremely large refrigerator. What was the brand?
RAA: We brought in the Frigidaire.
KJP: Frigidaire — of course.
RAA: And I came in 1923 and started developing all this meat market business that you see today. We were the pioneers in that — and also we pioneered air-conditioning.
KJP: Ah yes.
RAA: All over town. And then to get back to the Outrigger I can remember going to the Club when the Club was there near the Royal, going for lunch or going for dinner. We must have been members during some of that time. I can’t fix dates.
MLA: “Dad”, and what’s his name — “Dad’s great friend?
KJP: “Dad” Center, you mean?
MLA: My brother “Dad” (George D.) Center.
JPK: Uh huh.
MLA: His friend . . .
KJP: One of the Cook boys? Ernest Cook, Edric Cook?
MLA: Edric Cook, but Duke Kahanamoku was “Dad’s great friend.
KJP: Yes of course, yeah. A wonderful man.
RAA: Didn’t “Dad” teach you how to swim along with other kids around the Outrigger?
MLA: Oh yes, he did.
RAA: And to surf?
RAA: He was a great person, you know, he got his name “Dad” because he befriended all the youngsters.
KJP: He was my coach at Punahou and he worked me half to death. I remember I used to go up after water polo practice, lie down and almost pass out. Before water polo he used to have us swim about fifty laps too. And then he’d have us hold on to the side of the tank and kick. Great, great man.
RAA: He made tough people out of you.
KJP: Now Peggy we don’t have too much material on “Dad” Center. And he was a hero to many of the lads growing up at the Club and also at Punahou. Since you’re the sister could you give us some background on this wonderful man?
MLA: Well, the Seaside Hotel down here on the beach was the place he used to go out in canoes with people. Do you remember? Take them out in canoes?
RAA: That’s when the old Outrigger was located there next to the Seaside.
MLA: And there was a stream (Apuakehau); what was the name of the stream that came down there?
RAA: No, I don’t (remember), but it polluted the ocean every time there was a thunderstorm up in the mountains. Mud would come down right next to the Club.
KJP: Yes, there was a lagoon there.
MLA: A lagoon, lagoon is the word.
KJP: But there was a stream that went underneath Kalakaua Avenue.
MLA: It did.
RAA: Yes, and its outlet was right next to the Club, and it would pour dirty mud into the ocean there every time there was a storm. That, of course, was cleared up when the present Ala Wai Canal was constructed for that purpose, to take all of the flood waters from up mauka and keep them away from the beach.
KJP: You know, some of the lads used to paddle a small canoe from the lagoon up under the bridge and up to the duck ponds. They’d go by what is now the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.
KJP: Did you ever do that?
RAA: I never did that but I know the area.
MLA: I know the area, too. Out in front of the Moana Hotel there was a bridge that came out there. Remember?
RAA: Uh huh.
MLA: And people used to go out there. “Dad” was one of them. He used to go out, paddle out.
JKP: A pier out in the ocean.
MLA: A pier, yes.
KJP: It was quite long as I recall.
MLA: Yes, quite long.
RAA: Yes, the old Moana Pier it was called.
MLA: Yes, the Moana Pier.
RAA: And there were always Hawaiian musicians out at the end of the pier, there, serenading. But, your brother “Dad”, tell how he helped support the family.
KJP: Where did he work? Did he quit school early?
MLA: He went to Davies and Company.
KJP: He left Punahou early, did he?
RAA: I don’t know if he completed that or not. But he started at quite a young age, as I understand it, to earn money to help his mother and her large family. You see there were five children: there was “Dad” and his brother “Ted” (Edmund), then there was Jean, Nadine and you, and Helen. There were six children. And their father died at quite a young age and left Mrs. Center to bring up the family. And “Dad” was a great help to her.
KJP: He was in the Sporting Goods Department, would you say?
MLA: And he lived over here, at their home over here.
KJP: You lived on Kalakaua Avenue?
MLA: Yes, over here at mother’s home.
RAA: That was on Kalakaua Avenue not far from the present Club.
KJP: Oh yes.
RAA: Where the “Dad” Center Apartments are today. That was a lovely, little bungalow type of house, a story and a half, we had quite a big attic. We occupied it for several years later in our married life. And we were there when the new Club was started next to the Elks Club.
KJP: Oh, yeah.
RAA: When the Club moved.
KJP: In 1964 . . .
RAA: Yes, 1964.
KJP: Well, that’s interesting. Now getting back to the Outrigger, did “Dad” ever compete against Duke Kahananoku? This would have been around 1911 or 1912?
MLA: Yes he did — do you remember — he used to swim with him, swim against him.
RAA: Yes, in Honolulu Harbor — that’s where they used to have these regattas on Kamehameha Day, I think it was, the big holiday. The Healani and Myrtle boat clubs were along the edge of the harbor there. It was really a very gala time. There were parties at each of the boat clubs. Your brother was at Myrtle, red and white colors. They had rowing races, canoe races, and swimming races. “Dad” was a great competitor in the swimming. He went on to accompany Duke to the various Olympics when Duke was at his height and “Dad” was his trainer at that time.
KJP: Great! Now 1912 would have been his first Olympics?
RAA: Yes. Right. ’12 and ’16.
KJP: There wouldn’t have been one in 1916 I don’t think, because of the war.
RAA: Yes, That’s right.
KJP: But the ’20, I know the Duke was in.
RAA: Yes and I know “Dad” went to one in Australia.
RAA: Was Duke still competing? I don’t remember that.
MLA: He went out to Australia.
RAA: Yes, “Dad” was always coaching swimming and part of the management of the team.
KJP: He was a coach at Punahou for many, many years and I don’t think he lost a championship during the whole stretch he was there. He was a fantastic leader.
KJP: And everyone worked hard for him. He also coached “Buster” (Clarence L.) Crabbe, I think.
MLA: Yes, he did.
KJP: Around ’24 and ’25.
MLA: “Buster” got into the’27 Nationals and the’28 Olympics I believe. And was the outstanding American entry in the ’32 Olympics.
RAA: Yes, that’s right.
KJP: Well, can you think of anything else that we can put down on “Dad” Center? He finally went into golf, didn’t he?
RAA: He became quite a golf enthusiast. He used to play a lot. I never played with “Dad”. We were in different groups and . . .
MLA: Where did he play? Out at Waialae, or on the other side of the island?
KJP: I think it was the Oahu Country Club.
RAA: Oahu, mostly.
MLA: The Oahu Country Club.
KJP: He was a member there for many years. He probably had you up there for dinner many times.
RAA: Yes, that’s right. I was a member too.
KJP: Andy, Atherton Gilman, an old time member of the Outrigger, and also a former student at Punahou, is the only one of All-American fame who was selected by Walter Camp as the top tackle in the nation at the time. Now he was about your vintage, a year or two older, I think. Could you tell us about him?
RAA: Yes, I think he was about three years ahead of me at Punahou. Of course he was a star there. Then he went on to Harvard and while I was at Cornell, I was at Cornell from 1912 to 1916. And in about 1914 I went to Cambridge, Cornell was competing with Harvard and I went to see the game. Took “Bud” (Elizabeth) Carter with me, she was living in Boston. And Atherton was on the Harvard team, and Withington, Paul Withington.
KJP: Yes, Paul Withington.
RAA: Honolulu was well represented. Atherton was a star. I was pulling for Cornell, of course, and I think we beat them that time.
KJP: Ha-ha-ha. You weren’t playing at Cornell at that time?
RAA: I played at Punahou but at 140 pounds, when I got to college, I figured I was a little on the light side. I did turn out for practice the first year but I found that the other fellows were a lot bigger than I was.
KJP: Ah yes.
RAA: And so I stuck to track. I had been in track at Punahou and I ran four years at Cornell. Never a star, but always getting into the meets for a third or fourth place.
KJP: Made your letter anyway.
RAA: Yes, so that’s my recollection of Atherton. He was a great credit to Hawaii and in Hawaiian athletics.
KJP: Now when you were playing football and baseball and running in track who were you competing against?
RAA: The schools that you have today: McKinley, Saint Louis and Kamehameha. I guess those three.
KJP: I guess there weren’t too many. They didn’t have Iolani. Just Saint Louis, Kamehameha and McKinley. I guess they were the only ones. Did you go out to Kam School track when you had the track?
RAA: We’d go back and forth.
KJP: Alexander Field and then out there.
RAA: Yes, and football the same way.
KJP: Ah yes. How successful were you in football?
RAA: Well, our teams were always up there, I’m pretty sure we won a championship during my time. I played quarterback, end and fullback at various times.
KJP: All around, eh?
RAA: At 140 pounds. And we were just beginning the forward pass. We started it with a shuttle pass, underhand. I think it was “Scotty” (Gustav W.) Schuman who began throwing it like a baseball.
KJP: I think it was Atherton Gilman who told me it was difficult to throw the football in those days because it was a different shape. It was round, more like a volleyball. ha, ha.
RAA: Well, they were oval but much fatter.
KJP: Oh, I see, you couldn’t get your hand around.
RAA: Yeah, that’s right — you couldn’t grasp them.
KJP: How was your equipment back in those days? Did it protect you pretty well?
RAA: Yes, we had shoulder pads, shoulder harness and head guards. The helmets weren’t as rugged as they have today. You get better protection today than we had. But there weren’t too many injuries.
KJP: Yea. Now the Outrigger Club hadn’t gone into sports that early, I don’t think.
RAA: No, not at that time. I don’t know just when — Well, I guess “Dad” did a lot to start sports at the Outrigger.
KJP: I think it was closer to the early twenties that they started. They had some pretty good teams back then.
RAA: During that period we were away on the Mainland until 1923, so we missed some of that.
KJP: Yes. Now Andy, “Hawaii Calls” was inaugurated about the mid-thirties. Could you give us a little of the background on that? And Peggy if you can add to it, great!
RAA: Well, I recall, of course (Webley) Edwards starting it and Al (Kealoha) Perry being (in) the first group to perform as the regulars, you know. Then they would bring in soloists on various concerts. They started there in the Moana Hotel, the Banyan Court.
KJP: Oh, yes.
RAA: And that was very famous for quite a long time. Now I remember one December Irving Berlin was in town and they got him as a guest on the show. And they asked me at the same time because my “Mele Kalikimaka” had just been introduced and it was going very big as the Hawaiian Christmas song. And his “White Christmas” was the famous mainland Christmas song, so we were both introduced on the same program. And I remember that very well. I was quite honored to be associated with Irving Berlin.
KJP: Now, you had a recording made of “Mele Kalikimaka”, did you, or a record?
RAA: Oh, yes, there’ve been many.
KJP: They didn’t put “White Christmas” on the other side, by any chance?
KJP: That must have helped a little on your sale.
RAA: Yes, it helped especially a couple of years ago when Bing Crosby died, right after that, the next Christmas, there was a big boom in his records. The “White Christmas” records sold very big and I “rode in” on that one, on the back side of it.
RAA: Yes, I was very pleased when Bing recorded it.
KJP: Now talking about Bing, I recall vaguely that he was a member of our old Kamaaina, well, at the time it wasn’t called Kamaaina, but the Beachcomer Group.
RAA: Oh yes.
KJP: Do you remember Bing joining the group in some of its functions?
RAA: No, I guess I wasn’t in on that.
KJP: Maybe you were away at the time. Did you know Bing?
RAA: Yes, quite well.
KJP: Could you tell us something about this guy?
RAA: I got a nice letter from Bing, which I had framed under plastic, in which he said how much he liked “Mele Kalikimaka” and that he was going to record it.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: And subsequently he did. He sort of made Decca Records. Jack Kapp who was president of Decca Records made Bing, and vice-versa, Bing made Decca Records. And Jack Kapp became a good friend of ours, he and Freda his wife. And any song I would write and send to Jack Kapp he would record in those days.
RAA: On Decca Records. He started the Decca Record Company and he was an awfully good friend. Most of the artists were like Ray Kinney and people like that of that day, doing the recording. Oh, let me see — it was Renny Brooks who did “Red Opu”, he used to feature that. And Hilo Hattie and the “Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai!”
KJP: Oh yeah.
RAA: So that was an era. The “Hawaii Calls” show Web continued right up until the time he was incapacitated. He certainly did a great job. At one time he had over five hundred stations taking the program.
KJP: Well, I’ll be darned.
RAA: In the United States, Canada, and even Europe.
RAA: And he was sending it to the Armed Forces Radio, what’s the name of the program of the U.S. Armed Forces? They have a military program.
KJP: I can’t think of the name either.
RAA: But they were putting on Hawaii Calls, too. It’s a shame that we don’t have it today, that it had to wash out.
KJP: Yes, strange. You know, the Kodak Show started way back about the same time, but it’s still going strong.
RAA: Yes, 1928, I think was the start of the Kodak Show. And that started Louise Akeo’s group, they started serenading at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel at the twilight hour.
KJP: Oh, is that right?
RAA: In the garden of the Royal Hawaiian. At sunset time they would stroll around, she and a group of singers.
KJP: Ah, yes.
RAA: And she introduced “Haole Hula” which I had written in 1927.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: And that was the beginning of what is known as the Kodak Group, Kodak Show.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: And to this day they sing four or five of my songs on every show.
KJP: Wonderful. Now Fritz Herman started that, didn’t he?
RAA: Yes, Fritz started that, and it’s been a great thing for the company, I think, and for the tourists and for the Islands.
KJP: Very popular.
KJP: I think they’ve moved from the old location near down near the beach to near the (Waikiki) Shell.
RAA: Yes, next to the Shell. They have a special area there set up to accommodate 4,000 people.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: These bleachers. They have three or four shows a week.
KJP: Fill them up, huh? That’s great!
RAA: I was at a show just recently — it was their — well, what anniversary would it be, 1928 to now?
KJP: That would be fifty-three years, yes.
RAA: Yes, something like that — and you remember we went to lunch afterwards celebrating the anniversary. Fritz Herman was there and Mr. Mitchell who is now the emcee of it. He’s a Kodak man.
KJP: Yea. It’s a great program
KJP: Fritz is still a very active Outrigger Canoe Club member. He’s always there when I go down. He’s a great man. He lives not too far from here.
KJP: Peggy, how about your recollections of “Hawaii Calls”?
MLA: Just that I’ve enjoyed every moment of them.
KJP: You used to attend them pretty regularly?
MLA: Oh yes.
KJP: Was “Hawaii Calls” on Sunday?
RAA: No, on Saturday, I think.
KJP: Now, talking about broadcasting reminds me of something. Someone told me, it was Ron Higgins. Ron was in the third grade when you were in the eigth grade. He said he was impressed by your putting on a show with wireless equipment. Could you give us a little background on that–do you remember it?
RAA: Yes I do very plainly. A couple of years before the eighth grade I got interested in “wireless” and was reading everything I could get on it. We had magazines in those days, technical magazines. There were half a dozen of us around town who began building little spark sets to communicate with each other. And we’d flash our signals at night in Morse Code, you know. Call each other up and talk for a little bit — saying nothing, you know, but just that contact.
RAA: So, what was his first name, Sinclair. Oh, anyway, Archie Sinclair and I . . . He had started a little ahead of me and was a little more advanced technician. But I came along and learned a lot from him and from others. On the stage at Charles R. Bishop Hall we set up two stations, one at either end of the stage. Transmitters you know, you’d press a key and a spark would jump between the spark gap and that emitted the signal out into the atmosphere.
KJP: Oh yes.
RAA: And so we gave a demonstration. I gave a talk on the subject of wireless, its origin with Marconi and so forth. And then he at one end of the stage and I at the other, we started flashing back and forth messages to each other. The sparks crackled and I guess it made an impression.
KJP: Now Ron also had the impression that your equipment was run by water power, a faucet of some sort that ran the dynamo, not a dynamo but a generator.
RAA: We did have a water powered generator, that’s right. But for that demonstration I think we must have had storage batteries.
KJP: Oh, I see.
RAA: But the batteries had been charged by this little generator.
KJP: Now how far could you contact someone?
RAA: Well, I lived at Keeaumoku and Beretania and one of our group was up in Pacific Heights.
KJP: Yes, that’s a good distance.
RAA: One was down at the old Oahu Ice Works which was on Cooke Street, you know.
KJP: Oh, yes.
RAA: A guy named Sing Chong (William Sing Chong Pung) was out in Kalihi — and Dick (Richard) Catton was up on Lunalilo Street near the Art Academy.
KJP: I see.
RAA: That was about the range, about five or six miles.
KJP: You couldn’t contact the Matson liners or anything like that I guess.
RAA: Couldn’t what?
KJP: You couldn’t contact the wireless people aboard the Matson liners, could you?
RAA: No, our equipment wasn’t strong enough. We could listen in and then as the art progressed, I kept building new sets. When the big bands started up on the mainland, that would have been in the Twenties, I would listen with headphones to the various bands on the West Coast.
KJP: Isn’t that fantastic? Did you have some heavy equipment? Did you have a pole of some sort?
RAA: Yes, the pole stuck up in the air above the trees. There at Keeaumoku Street we had quite a big kiawe tree and I was quite a monkey climbing up to the top of that tree to put up my antenna.
KJP: Ha ha ha.
RAA: I’d put a pole up so it was above the foliage and then a wire into the house, that was the antenna. I did all of that myself.
RAA: My grandfather, Alexander Young, was an engineer and he saw what I was doing. And grandpa said, “Do you need any additional equipment to improve your set here?” And I said, “I’d just love to buy a quarter kilowatt transformer for my transmitter”. And he asked “How much is that?” And I said “Thirty dollars” and he pulled out three ten dollar gold pieces . . .
KJP: Oh, no!
RAA: And handed them to me. In those days it was gold and silver in your pockets, there wasn’t any paper money, so I bought my transformer and it greatly improved my set.
KJP: It would have been great if you could have paid in paper and kept the three coins.
RAA: I didn’t know enough to do that.
KJP: Ha ha ha.
RAA: I don’t have any gold today.
KJP: Well, that’s interesting. Now Andy, all of us at the Outrigger Canoe Club who attended the last meeting heard you sing your song, “Outrigger”. Would you sing it for us?
“When the waves are up for surfing
and the sea is running high,
Our canoes and boards are out there
Where the waves are rolling by.
When we meet our competition
On the land or on the sea,
Always out to win — Outrigger
Bring home the victory.
Swimming meets and surfboard races,
There you’ll find our guys and gals.
Volleyball, a sport we go for —
It’s a game that brings us fame.
From the shores of Molokai
to the sands of Waikiki
Ho-e ho-e hoe ho-e Outrigger
Bring home the victory.
Ho-e ho-e hoe ho-e Outrigger
Bring home the victory.”
KJP: Hey, that was great (clap clap clap). Now could I ask you one more favor — I recall that you wrote the graduation song for Punahou your senior year, I think it was called “1912”. Would you be able to remember that?
RAA: In order to remember that I’d have to review it.
KJP: One other favor. Now this is a tremendous song, everybody has enjoyed it. I understand the singers at the Club are asked this more often than any other song.
RAA: I believe they do.
KJP: How long did it take to prepare for this?
RAA: You know a thing like this — you get ideas — and you think about it a little bit — and you put it aside and you — I don’t work continuously on the thing. I get a lot of my ideas driving in the car — back and forth to town.
KJP: I see.
RAA: Melodies come into my mind. I rehearse them and get them set, the way I like them. And the words, I try to think of the subject matter, and things related to the subject matter, ideas and they generally formulate into rhymes. Then, I don’t know, it’s a gradual process evolution.
KJP: That’s interesting. Now one of my favorites is the “Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai” and possibly because Hilo Hattie used to dance to it a lot.
KJP: Now what gave you the ideas of this?
RAA: Well, I was told by Paul Fagan, who owned property on Molokai, that he was going to entertain Warner Baxter, famous movie star of that era, this was 1935. He was having a luau for him over on Molokai at Kaunakakai. They were going to have a parade of school children and some broken down nags and so forth, put Warner on a horse. At the end of the one block long street they had a tent erected and had a little ceremony and presented Warner with a big wooden key and called him the Mayor.
RAA: Paul told me this in advance. He said, “It would be a lot of fun if you could write a song about him and come over to the party and sing it.” Well, I was pretty well hemmed down to business in those days, but I wrote the song, got the idea, just a silly sort of thing. I thought it was only going to be played this one time. I gave it to Paul. I didn’t go myself. He gave it to Hawaiian musicians and the first thing I knew it was being played all over Waikiki. And then it went to the mainland and Hilo Hattie took it up and it became a hit. So it was a gag song to entertain Warner on his party. It was the intention.
KJP: Well, that’s great!
RAA: Would you like to hear it?
KJP: I sure would. We all would.
RAA: I’ll see if I can remember it.
“He wore a malo and a coconut hat
One was for this, and the other for that.
All the people shouted as he went by;
‘The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai’.
He was just a lazy malahini haole boy.
All the girls were crazy to share his fish and poi.
He wore a lei — he wore a smile
Drank a gallon of oke to make life worth while.
He made them laugh — he made them cry.
He was the ‘Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai’.
The horse he rode was skinny
A broken down old female
He placed a green panini
Right under the horse’s tail
He made her buck and he made her fly
All over the island of Molokai.
You could hear the kanes and wahines cheer
They gave him a lei of kekania.
So now you’ve heard my story
About the Mayor of Kaunakakai
All his fame and glory
On the island of Molokai
Where he wore a malo and a coconut hat,
One was for this and the other for that.
All the people shouted as he went by
He was the ‘Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai’.
KJP: Great! That is tremendous! Now Peggy, just one last question. You have a very musical family, which is very natural, because you are a great singer, professional, and Andy of course. I think they’re all Outrigger members, aren’t they?
RAA: Yes, that’s right.
KJP: Now, I noticed two of them graduated from Punahou the same time, were they twins?
KJA: Close together, I guess.
RAA: They were separated, three years, two years, five years.
KJP: Could you give us a little idea of what they sing and play and so forth?
RAA: You mean our youngsters?
RAA: Well Allen is a Dixieland buff, he plays with, what’s the Dixieland guy?
MLA: Someone was talking about that the other night, what a wonderful person Allen is.
RAA: Yes, he’s really a pro on the clarinet. Of course he’s a businessman. He’s president of Hawaiian Bitumuls and Paving, one of Dillingham’s subsidiaries. But his hobby on the side is music and he plays with Ken Alford’s Dixie Cats.
KJP: Uh huh.
RAA: And he can play the clarinet, saxophone or trombone, he’s equally good on each of them.
KJP: Fantastic! Now Bob was past president (of the Outrigger Canoe Club), wasn’t he?
RAA: Yes, Bob is a past president. Bob has a very fine voice, an untrained, natural voice he got from his mother.
KJP: And father.
RAA: A true pitch. He’s got a true ear.
KJP: Isn’t that great!
RAA: He accompanies me, sometimes, to the Bohemian Grove up in California.
KJP: Ah, yes.
RAA: I sing with the ukulele and he accompanies me. He sings too, we sing duets. Leith for several years was a pupil of the organist at Waikiki, Ed Sawtelle.
KJP: Oh yes, very famous!
RAA: He took organ lessons there at the Waikiki Theatre. He used to go there and practice and became quite proficient. He also played the steel guitar for a while. He doesn’t do any of those things now. But he had a period of musical ability. Pam, our daughter, plays the accordian, ukulele, the guitar. Fiddles around on the organ a bit.
KJP: You must have a great time when you get together for a family get together.
RAA: Yes, we do, we have a lot of music.
KJP: That’s wonderful!
MLA: We’ve got grandchildren, dear little fellows that play.
KJP: Do you teach them anything?
RAA: They are learning.
KJP: Well Andy, do you have another song that we might hear?
RAA: Well, I think one in particular might be appropriate that Peggy and I like to sing called “Remember We Give Our Aloha”. A feeling of Aloha for the islands and for our friends.
RAA: And this it it.
“Remember we give our Aloha
For as long as the waves meet the sand
And remember when we say we love you
Stars look down and they understand
The whispering breeze tells the mountains
The flowers and trees they all know
Remember we give our Aloha
For as long as the tradewinds shall blow.”
KJP: Great! Great! And thanks a million.
KJP: This has just been fantastic! We at the Outrigger appreciate it. Many, many thanks.