A Tribute to the Legendary Sol K. Bright (Hawaii's Musical Ambassador)
The following is a reprint of a 1992 article by Dirk Vogel.
Sol Bright was born on November 9, 1909, in Honolulu of Spanish-Hawaiian parents. His father, Andrew Iaukea Bright, came from Kailua-Kona and was 1/2 Hawaiian and 1/2 Spanish. His mother, Alice Kekipimaia, came from Makapala-Kohala and was full-blooded Hawaiian.
Andrew and Alice Bright met and were married in Honolulu. They became the parents of nine boys and five girls. Three of the children died at an early age, leaving seven brothers and four sisters. They were (from oldest to youngest): John, Andy, Hanna, Sol, Simeon, Alice, Lei, Weeden, Sybil, Benny, and Simpson. Every one of the boys received their schooling at St. Louis College and all the girls went to the Sacred Hearts Convent and Academy. In Hawaii, as on the Mainland, it was not uncommon for a protestant family to receive their education in Catholic Schools.
Mother and father Bright were religious people and served as pastors of the Ke Alaula Oka Malamalama church which was founded by Mrs. Bright's father, John Kekipimaia. It was located on Cooke Street in Honolulu. Today it is the Hawaiian Congregational Church, also known as the Hoomana Naauao Church.
By the time Sol was born, his father Andrew was pastor and his mother Alice played the organ. When he got a little older, Sol was altar boy, and his Sunday School teacher was Clara Inter, later known as "Hilo Hattie".
At the time, Sol never dreamed that some time in the future he would be performing on the stage with Clara Inter.
At age 13, Sol taught himself how to play the drums, and soon after that, he learned to play other instruments and get into Hawaiian dancing.
Following the Hawaiian tradition of taking to music like fish to water, the eleven Bright children could never remember exactly when they started to play musical instruments, sing and dance. Hannah once answered the question by saying: "I guess we always played, sang and danced." At the early age of 13, Hannah formed a 5-piece dance band. They performed at school dances, social clubs, and Army Officers clubs. At age 14, Sol was playing drums in his sister Hannah's orchestra.
The Hannah Bright Orchestra made its professional debut with a melodious 9-piece group in 1926. The orchestra rapidly became the most popular dance band in Hawaii. The group was judged as the top dance band in a contest sponsored by the Elks Club and was also awarded the grand prize of $ 100 - a big purse in these days - at a contest held at the Hawaii Theater.
About the time Hilo Hattie (Clara Inter) moved into the spotlight, teenager Sol Bright got his first taste of fame. He won the Territory of Hawaii Charleston championship, a title he held for two years.
The year 1928 was a milestone in Sol's musical career. The great Sol Hoopii, King of the Steel Guitar, came to Hawaii for a series of concerts. Hoopii had contacted Hannah Bright's orchestra to do shows with him in the Islands. At the time, Sol Bright was a drummer/dancer in his sister's orchestra and he remembers stealing the spotlight with his dancing on many occasions during those shows
Hoopii invited Sol to come to California, but Sol's father would not let him go until he promised that he would finish High School in California. "He vas very strict with us children," Sol remembers. "He always said: before you do anything, you have to consult me first."
When Sol left for Hollywood in 1928 at age 18, his mother gave him a Hawaiian bible and his father reminded him about his promise to finish High School.
In Hollywood, Sol Hoopii and his wife Georgia were his guardians. He called them his Mainland daddy and mommy. They enrolled him at Hollywood High School, but Sol was more interested in playing football and having a good time. He also concentrated on mastering the steel guitar, the spanish guitar, ukulele, bass, drums, and even bagpipes!
Sol learned a lot from Sol Hoopii. In In his opinion, Hoopii was the greatest steel guitarist who ever lived. He remembers watching him play "12th Street Rag" while talking and laughing, and not missing a note while he was playing.
In 1930, Sol Bright returned to Honolulu where he formed his own band. After one short year of successful engagements in Hawaii he returned to the West Coast of the Mainland where he began his extraordinary rise to stardom.
First, he joined the Royal Samoan Troupe in Los Angeles. However, that group broke up not too long after that so he started to look around for some musicians to start his own group. That was the beginning of "Sol K. Bright and his Hollywaiians." The group became so popular that they were contracted by Victor records to make recordings. Early in 1934, their first Victor records came out on which Sol was using an acoustic steel guitar. (ed.: he told me on his talk tape that it was a guitar Sol Hoopii had given him). Many records followed on Victor that year. They are considered classics to those who collect records.
According to Sol, their recording of "Papa" was the first Tahitian song recorded on the Victor label. Likewise, their recording "Oi Oi E" was the first Samoan song on Victor.
In the early 1930s, Sol started to change from acoustic steel to electric. Already in 1934, he was using an electric steel guitar in various night clubs.
Sol never took formal music lessons and could not read or write music. He would hire someone from the music Union to write out the musical ideas that came into his head. And he had some great ideas! His compositions "Hawaiian Cowboy" (which saw the light in 1933) and "Hawaiian Scotsman" made him very popular through his inimitable renditions. These two sensational numbers have been used by other entertainers to lift themselves up the ladder of success. Hilo Hattie watched Sol use a dummy horse in his Hawaiian Cowboy act back in 1938 and added a dummy horse in her comical acts. Brother Andy Bright borrowed the Hawaiian Cowboy song from Sol and made such a big hit with his hula dancing version of the song that his name was synonymous with the Hawaiian Cowboy.
Sol's creation, the "Hawaiian Scotsman", is a hilarious interpretation of a Hawaiian doing Harry Lauder's "Roamin' in the Gloaming'." Sol used the bagpipes in his version. He learned to play them while on a tour in Canada which included entertaining the famous Dionne quintuplets.
Bill Akamuhou, band leader of the Royal Hawaiian Orchestra, adopted the song and popularized it in Hawaii.
What the Cowboy song did for Andy Bright, the Scotsman song did for Bill Akamuhou.
Some of the other songs that Sol Bright composed included the following: "Tahiti ", "My Hawaiian Rosary", "Ke Ahi Kuo ", "In the Master of the Moon", "Rena Awapuhi", "Duke Kahanamoku", "At Waikiki", "Sophisticated Hula", "Polynesian Love Song", "Hinane", "Sapphire of the Tropics", "Goodbye Hawaii, I Love You", and many others.
Sol also appeared in movies and had speaking roles in four of them: "South Sea Rose" (1929), "Charley Chan's Greatest Case" (1933), "Flirtation Walk" (1934), and "White Woman".
He produced, directed, and performed shows at: Club Royal Hawaiian, at one time considered the most famous nightclub in San Francisco (one year: 1936-1937), and at the Hawaiian Paradise, the finest Hawaiian nightspot in Hollywood (one year: 1937-1938).
Sol Bright co-produced shows at the Hawaiian Pavilion during the San Francisco World's Fair in 1939 and 1940.
In 1940, he toured many cities on the West Coast. While serving in the Merchant Marine for two years (1943-1945) Sol managed to entertain at casuals in every port.
From 1946 until 1950, Sol was entertainment director at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco, California. He produced shows for five rooms simultaneously: Blue Room, Gold Room, Hawaiian Room, Terrace , and Tonga Room.
At first, Sol was able to play steel guitar, but due to the pressure of having to provide all the entertainment for the various Rooms of the hotel, he had to give up playing steel. It was much easier for him to play the ukulele while doing the announcing. For two years (1947-19489) his shows from the Tonga Room were broadcast to Hawaii.
In 1951, Sol moved to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco where he was in charge of providing the Hawaiian entertainment for six months.
It is impossible to list all the cities where Sol Bright has performed. He has been seen all over the United States, Canada, and even in some foreign countries.
Sol Bright's recordings are known all over the world. He has made many records with his own group, the Hollywaiians (see his list of recordings at the end of this article) and he has recorded with many other famous Hawaiian musicians such as Sol Hoopii, Dick McIntire, etc. In 1977, he could be found playing guitar with the great David Kelly on the patio of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Honolulu.
The name of Sol Bright is properly honored in Tony Todaro's book "The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment" with a place in the section "Hawaiian Entertainment Hall of Fame."
Sol's contributions to Hawaiian entertainment are enormous! Master Showman - Contractor - Producer - Director - Performer - Musician - Recording Artist - Radio - Television - Stage - Movies - Composer - Dancer: Sol Bright did it all!
But Sol's contributions to Hawaiian civic and social clubs - and toward all groups preserving Hawaiian music - were the traits of a genuine soul expressing his total love for his native Hawaii.
In 1986, Sol Bright came to Winchester, Indiana. All those who met him were impressed by his genuine sincerity and his down-to-earth manners. He was truly a gentleman who had a kind word for everyone he met.
On April 27, 1992, Sol died of a heart attack at his home in Honolulu, after undergoing successful surgery for a brain tumor. He was 82 years old.
This has been a farewell aloha to Sol K. Bright, the "Hawaiian Cowboy."