Noho Banjo & Ukulele Musings–“Princess Poo-Poo-Ly . . .”

BRUCE’S UKULELE MUSING NUMBER 21–25 MAY 2019: “PRINCESS POO-POO-LY HAS PLENTY PA-PA-YA,” A COMIC SONG OF YESTERDAY THAT LIVES ON (SORT OF) TODAY

Most of us have glanced (askance?) at the tune “Princess Poo-Poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-Pa-Ya” in our yellow book as we flip past while looking for other tunes we actually play.  I don’t think that many of us have heard this one performed so it has never been chosen at any of our strum sessions.  While musically obscure, I do think that it’s worth a listen, if not a strum.  And, it does gives us an interesting back-story.

Princess Pupule has plenty papayas
She loves to give them away
And all of the neighbors they say
Oh me-ya oh my-ya you really should try-ya
A little piece of the Princess Pupule’s papayas ….

Published in 1939, the sheet music for “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya” credits the song to Harry Owens (1902-1986), well-known conductor of the then popular Royal Hawaiian Band.  But did he really write it?  

A tradition of the time was that a few music publishing experts, like Owens, would assist local songwriters in publishing their works in exchange for a co-writing credit that would then get them a share of any royalties.  It was actually written by one Donald McDiarmid (1898-1977), a member of Owen’s orchestra and a songwriter who, in a bar, wrote the whole tune in one evening.    

Owens and his orchestra recorded it, but rarely if ever played “Princess . . .” at any of the sophisticated tourist hotels in Waikiki.

Owens considered it as “low-brow, mildly ribald, comic hula,” and was simply content with the royalty money.  He and his hotel band stuck with the sweet and haunting island ballads and love songs that Mainland tourists came to Hawaii to hear and dance to.

Owens was not just another big band leader, however.  He tried to learn all he could about the local culture by mixing and working with native Hawaiians and local musicians.  He wanted “a marriage between the music of Hawaii and the Big Band sound on the mainland.”  His best-known song is “Sweet Leilani, written for the 1934 movie “Waikiki Wedding” starring Bing Crosby. 

The song, which became the first Hawaiian song to win an Academy Award, was named after Owen’s daughter.   

Owens was an early devote of what became known as “hapa-haole.”  Literally “half foreign,” this was music with a Hawaiian theme and sound written and performed by non-natives.  

Ensconced at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki, his live shortwave radio broadcasts were transmitted around the world.  

Using tricks like a microphone planted on the beach to underscore his show with surf sounds, his show was instrumental in building up the Hawaiian mythos—and attracting ship- and plane-loads of tourist cash.  

 At the same time, however, a lot of hapa haole perpetuated a somewhat benign, but still stereotypical, view of Hawaiians and island visitors.  Among many other tunes, think of our Yellow Book favorite: “Ukulele Lady.”  

In retrospect, the period from 1900 to 1940 was a period in which hapa haole ripened into its own in all the popular styles of the day—ragtime, blues, jazz, foxtrot and waltz tempos—often with a hula tempo, but jazzed up a bit. 

It was a unique period marked by the enormous response by mostly Tin Pan Alley songwriters (who seldom set foot on a beach let alone one in Hawaii) to write, and Mainland bands to perform, songs—a few tasteless, many simply humorous, and a lot quite romantic—about life and love in the islands and, particularly, with those lovely hula girls.

Pearl Harbor and World War II eased this a bit as comic and caricature songs about Hawaii were seen as unseemly in wartime.  Since the 1970s, however, there has been an increasing effort by Hawaiian musicians and Mainlanders to focus on those songs that reflect the indigenous music of the Hawaiian people and the beauty and traditions of the islands—even if hapa haole

In recognition of his pioneering contribution to this, the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts awarded Harry Owens its 1987 Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Anyway, our song, “Princess . . . ,” had legs, so to speak, and while it wasn’t played that often in the upscale hotel ballrooms of tourist Hawaii, it did find a home in Honolulu “tiki-tonks” and with increasingly popular “Hawaiian” bands on the Mainland.   

It’s a catchy tune with novelty lyrics and in a style described by some as “Hot Hula”—certainly not indigenous Hawaiian music but, nonetheless, a song of the islands. 

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Still, many observers and critics writing today point out that many Hawaiians themselves celebrate hapa haole for helping to preserve their history and language. 

There were silly, wacky songs in the 20s, swing in the 30s, rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, surf-style in the 60s and so on.  It’s a testimony to the Hawaiians’ grace, humor, and sense of perspective that they make room for this music in their polyculture society of today.

After all, we mainlanders still play ukuleles and wear Hawaiian shirts.  Go figure. 

Oh Yes.  “Poo-Poo-Ly” is a play on the Hawaiian word “pupule” (pu-PU-lee) which translates as “crazy; mad; insane.”  Also, her “papayas” is Hawaiian slang for, well, your guess is as good as mine . . .

Stay Tuned!

MUSICAL MUSING: No. 2, October 2022: Colorful Days and Songs in New and Old New England

Those of us who live in New England—whether or not we grew up here or chose to live here—recognize it as a special place in American culture as well as history. It wasn’t just the Mayflower of 1620; remember the Winthrop Fleet of 1630 as well as those who arrived well before and well after! 

We can take pride in the fact that many of our towns date back to the 1600s and that New England has long been a leader in manufacturing, commerce, and education.  All this with a colorful, rolling landscape from the hills and valleys to the shore. 

Needless to say, a lot of musical pride has been exhibited over the years giving us a nice segue into this seasonal musing.

Here’s an early take on romantic New England from one of the original “crooners” of the 1930s. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to listen and look at the full moon!

Alas, we don’t have a period sheet music cover for this next one, probably because it dates from about 1630! In fact, it’s considered by some historians and scholars as “America’s first folk song.” It doesn’t paint that pretty a picture of New England but here it is! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to be taken way, way back in time to learn about “New England’s Annoyances.” Have things changed that much?

Make’s you want to ask: “Tell me again why we chose to live in New England.” Just kidding, of course . . .

Let’s just move on to other New England states and their contribution to musical lore. There are so many tunes to choose from so I’m going to cull down to just a few. That gives me more to post at a later date!

Let’s start a counterclockwise musical “bus tour” through New England pivoting around our home state of Massachusetts. As we make those twists and turns–no Midwestern grid system here in New England–so don’t forget to “USE YA BLINKAH!”

Heading due south . . .

This song doesn’t have much to do with the State of Connecticut but it is a fun reminder of the Bing Crosby film of the 1950s based ever so loosely on Hartford dweller Mark Twain’s opus. Click or tap on the next image or link to make yourself “busy doing nothing.” I guess that musing is a form of not doing much of nothing.

And, of course, the Connecticut state song–a ukulele version, no less. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to strum along. It’s pretty much an all-New England tune but Connecticut claims it as their own. I guess they get the “macaroni.” Go figure.

Continuing our tour east along the coast . . .

Here’s the Guy Lombardo version from 1945 of this most well known of all Rhode Island songs. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear it on an early 78.

Alas, nothing about Rhode Island from the state’s most famous musical son–George M. Cohan. Go figure. Moving on . . .

But, don’t chicken out. Just click or tap on the next image or link to hear a rather silly song of the 1950s but, it’s about Rhode Island, of sorts.

Moving a bit farther north around Cape Cod, Boston, and the North Shore of our home state on our musical trek . . .

Alas, pretty fuzzy photos with this one but the early wax recording doesn’t sound that bad. To be transported back to the 19th century, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link.

Now, I’m going to break my musing rules a bit and add a new New Hampshire song that’s too good not to include. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to see what this state is all about!

Moving way up north now, even if it is known as “down east” . . . Again. Go figure!

Here’s a jazzy version of this 1920s musical Maine treat. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for the music, lyrics, and visuals!

Sometimes a “state” song has more to do with something other than nostalgia and more with real history. Folks probably “Remember the Maine!” more than they think about the State of Maine. Such is the power of song, history, and a famous American rallying cry.

This isn’t a recording of the above song but it is one of the more famous old-time folk songs and, after all, it does have something to do with the sinking of the battleship Maine! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for a nice version of this one.

And, of course, we need the quintessential Maine song from the 1930s. Here it is performed by a bunch of “Mainiacs” (I guess they prefer “Mainers”)! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link, grab a stein of Harpoon or Alagash, and join in on this campus rouser!

Time to sober up (buuurrrp,) and head southwest . . .

Now here’s another song from a few hundred years ago, again without a period sheet music cover. But, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for a ballad of Vermont’s own “Green Mountain Boys.

Here is what has become a jazz standard in daylight as well as moonlight, played on the ukulele, no less! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to float away on a moonbeam of sorts.

As a bit of a digression, we folks from Northampton, Massachusetts, can proudly claim Calvin Coolidge as one of our own, but the folks in Vermont do hang on to the mere fact that he was born and grew up there. We have the Massasoit Street home and the Presidential Library; they can have the birthplace. Credit goes where credit is due! Besides, Massachusetts has better Maple Syrup! Nya, nya, nya . . .

And now, let’s “flip the blinkah” and head back home to Massachusetts!  

There are a few relatively new songs that are decidedly Massachusetts in origin and lore if not in title. Suffice it to say that if you want to dig into these on your own, head over to our friends at YouTube and there will be all sorts of fun waiting for you!

But, back to our favorite little musical instrument and musing.

Here’s a nice ukulele version of this Massachusetts tune played on an eight-string baritone uke. Nice sound! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.

While “Alice’s Restaurant” is probably Arlo Guthrie’s most well known song about Massachusetts, did you know that he wrote the official state FOLK song? Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for his rendition of “Massachusetts.”

Now, to put the cherry on top of the Massachusetts part of our musical tour, here is one of the strangest musical performances you’ll ever see. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to take the statewide tour!

So, as the sun sinks slowly in the west (that is, non-New Englandy New York), we end our musical bus tour.

And, even if we remain sequestered and safe, we can look out the windows of our bus (or home) and take in New England in all its Autumnal glory.

So, STAY TUNED! And, remember, in New England we welcome folks of all proclivities and persuasions!