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As much as anyone, Webley Edwards brought Hawaiian music into American households during the Space Age Pop era. For over 37 years, Edwards produced and hosted the radio series, "Hawaii Calls," featuring live performances broadcast from Honolulu.
Edwards came to Hawaii in 1928 as a car salesman, but in 1935, he arranged for a two-week trial run for a radio show of "authentic" Hawaiian music. With Harry Owens as musical director, "Hawaii Calls" was first heard on Saturday, 3 July 1935, from the Moana Hotel. The show was accepted by stateside listeners, but Edwards was forced to get state funding from the Hawaii Tourist Bureau to break even. In the early years, the performers often went unpaid.
Edwards also faced the problem of material. With the help of Al Kealoha Perry, who took over from Owens in 1937, Edwards slowly accumulated the world's largest collection of Hawaiian songs, over 3000 total, culled from the libraries of Charles King, Johnny Noble, and other "haoles."
Edwards took a break from music to work as a reporter for CBS Radio in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. Among his exclusives was the first interview with Col Paul Tibbetts, pilot of the Enola Gay, after dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Beginning in the early 1950s, Capitol Records signed him to an exclusive deal that resulted in over 20 albums of Hawaiian music released under his name and the "Hawaii Calls" moniker. Edwards was not a perform; rather, he was an impresario who arranged for Hawaiian performers such as Alfred Apaka, Haleloke, Simeon and Andy Bright, and George Kainapau to record for "Hawaii Calls" compilation albums.
Edwards was criticized for bastardizing Hawaiian music to appeal to the continental audience, but his response was, "The songs are not so important. It's the atmosphere we're striving for."
"Hawaii Calls" hung on longer than most shows through the declining days of network radio (the public funding didn't hurt), but after Edwards suffered a heart attack and left the show in 1972, it lost what little listenership it had and its new owners were forced to put it "on vacation" in 1975.
Edwards' Capitol recordings are more noteworthy now for their packaging than for their content. Fire Goddess, for example, features a dramatic native maiden holding up two strategically-placed flaming cocoanuts. But the music is a pretty uninspiring assortment of chants and songs.
You can now listen to archived recordings of "Hawaii Calls" radio shows online at the Hawaii Calls Hawaiian Music page, www.hawaiian-music.com/radio/index.html.
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