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  • Writer's pictureBill Wynne

Hal Aloma

Aloma of the South Seas

Hal Aloma was born Harold David Alama on January 8, 1908. He attended Kalihi-Waena School and McKinley High School in Honolulu before dashing off to the mainland and New York City where he became extremely popular for his modernized hybrid of Hawaiian music.

A composer, singer, and eventually bandleader, Hal Aloma was first and foremost a steel guitar player with a style like no other. Upon his arrival in New York City, he started out as the steel guitarist with Lani McIntire at New York’s famed Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room,” and then later led his own band in this same location as well as the Luau 400 and various night spots up and down the east coast. He appeared on television shows hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, and Perry Como, and was even a mystery guest on the game show To Tell The Truth. Aloma also appeared in the MGM film Ship Ahoy with Tommy Dorsey. He capped off his amazing career as the first band leader at the Polynesian Village for the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Although born Alama, Hal changed his name to Aloma – presumably to capitalize on the popularity of a Polynesian-themed film of thatera, Aloma of the South Seas. He was the brother of another Hawaiian entertainer, Sam Alama, a singer and composer who left a lasting legacy with a song still sung today, "Kanakanui Hotel." Hal began his musical career in partnership with his brother Sam at the Alexander Young Hotel and Moana Hotel in Honolulu.

As a songwriter, Aloma composed more than five dozen songs. While not as prolific as, say, Harry Owens or R. Alex Anderson, Hal’s paeans to his homeland are often just as beautiful – a few even catching on with local Hawai’i artists. I have heard his “Echoes of the South Pacific” covered by such Hawaiian music traditionalists as Violet Pahu Liliko’i, and his “Wikiwiki Mai” has been recorded over and over including a memorable rendition by Charles K.L. Davis.

Aloma was an extremely popular recording artist – recording for Decca and Columbia Records through the 1940s and landing a coveted record contract with Dot Records from the late 1950s through mid-1960s which yielded (according to my discography) at least eight LP records. One of the most interesting artifacts in Aloma’s discography – and in the discography of Hawaiian music at large – is two sets of 78 rpm records from the 1940s called King’s Serenade in which Aloma and his group perform only compositions by venerable Hawaiian composer Charles E. King complete with English-language translation and narration by none other than King himself.

His recordings sold extremely well on the mainland and are now ubiquitous at flea markets and garage sales, but you will rarely find one in the used record shops throughout Hawai’i. This may be because the local Hawai`i music trade was focused on its local artists and their more “traditional” sound, whereas Hal Aloma’s brand of modernized, mainland-influenced Hawaiian music may not have been the appetite of local Hawai‘i listeners.

Recordings from Aloma’s Dot Records period often featured two steel guitars - a sound typically closely identified with the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts. The second steeler is Hal’s great friend, New York City local Sam Makia who also left an enduring legacy of recordings after his initial stint as bass player in the “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel with the band led by Lani McIntire and later as one of the last bandleaders in this same room. Because of their various recording contracts with major mainland labels, Aloma and Makia did several recordings – together and separately – as “ghost” artists for other budget record labels under such ridiculous pseudonyms as Johnny Poi. You likely have an Aloma or Makia record in your collection and didn’t even know it (unless – like so many steel guitarists – you identified one or both of them by their unique playing styles).

Aloma’s style was characterized by a wide, fast vibrato, a tone that leans heavily toward the treble side of the dial, and a really wet reverb. Beyond this, it can be difficult to describe a steel guitarist’s style in words. The best way to understand a steel guitarist is to listen. Visit the following link – to visit the Ho`olohe Hou Radio website where you can hear a few sides by Aloma ranging from his earliest recordings with Lani McIntire through his Decca, Columbia and Dot Records periods.

Note: AISGC is unaffiliated with external websites that may be linked in its articles. The link provided is for informational purposes and does not constitute an endorsement.


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