Friday, July 27, 2012

The Edison Files: Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. No one knows for sure who the very first recording artist was. Here is a look at the early recording artists I have in my collection.

Steel guitar virtuoso Frank Ferera, called Palakiko Ferreira on early Edison recordings, was born on June 12, 1885 in Honolulu. Ferera was featured on the cover of the December 1916 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly, and an article states, "Frank Ferera has the distinction of being the one who first introduced the Hawaiian style of playing the guitar into the United States. It was in 1900 that he brought the first ukelele [sic] here and commenced to charm vaudeville audiences. For quite a while he had the field to himself" His first wife was named Eva Perkins, but they divorced. He married Helen Greenus, who played ukulele as well as guitar. The two performed widely in vaudeville as Helen Louise and Frank Ferera. When Hawaiian records became incredibly popular in 1916 and 1917, Louise and Ferera recorded prolifically, benefitting from the sudden craze for Hawaiian records but also providing fuel for the craze with their many records featuring charming, always polished but never flashy performances. Ferera was a crossover artist from the beginning. In fact, the debut record of Louise and Ferera featured a Stephen Foster song. The duo often recorded songs that had originated in Hawaii but other times recorded songs of other genre. Louise and Ferera made their recording debut in New York City for Columbia in late July 1915. The four songs recorded were "My Old Kentucky Home," "Medley of Hawaiian Waltzes," "Honolulu Rag," and "Kaiwa Waltz." For Edison, Frank Ferera made his recording debut as a solo artist in September 1915 with "Ua Like No Alike and "Medley of Hawaiian Hulas." In 1917 Louise and Ferera made recordings for virtually every company, including Victor, Columbia, Edison and others. Their Edison recording debut was "Medley of Hawaiian Airs--No. 1," issued on Blue Amberol 2917 in July 1916. Ferera managed the Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra, which often recorded for Edison, but neither Edison literature nor labels credit Ferera for leading the orchestra. Louise and Ferera did not record as often in 1918 as they had in 1917, perhaps partly due to touring engagements, perhaps also due to the demand for war songs far exceeding that for any other type of music. Frank Ferera recorded for most companies in the 1920's. One Edison recording made in May 1924 and issued on Diamond Disc 51361 in August (then issued as Blue Amberol 4898 in September) helped popularize "hillbilly" music: Frank Ferera accompanied Vernon Dalhart as he sang and played harmonica on "The Wreck On The Southern Old 97." Ferera died on June 26, 1951.

To listen to the Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra, or recordings by Frank Ferera, visit the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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