Skillfully blending Polynesian ingredients into a popular dance band format, Harry Owens (1902-1986) introduced Hawaiian music to a broad, receptive American audience. A prolific songwriter, his compositions include the Academy Award-winning 'Sweet Leilani,' a major 1937 hit for Bing Crosby.
Born in northeastern Nebraska, Owens was raised in San Francisco. Moving to Los Angeles to attend college, he played cornet with various dance bands and began writing songs, including 'Linger Awhile,' a major hit for Paul Whiteman in 1924. After forming his own band in 1926, Owens actively toured the west coast. In 1934 the manager of Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel approached Owens about forming a house band. Upon disembarking in Honolulu, Owens was immediately enamored by the islands, its culture and its music. Inspired, he wrote dozens of new hapa haole songs, reshaped dance band conventions into an appealing Hawaiian hybrid, and launched the first regularly scheduled trans-Pacific radio series. Between 1938 and 1940 Owens and His Royal Hawaiians primarily toured ballrooms across the American mainland, captivating dancers and promoting the islands’ alluring, romantic appeal.
Owens rejoined the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in August 1940, but was forced to return to the mainland after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943 Owens recorded sixteen tracks in Los Angeles. Eight numbers appeared on his first album, Hawaii, released in September 1944. Vocalist Ernest 'Prince' Kawohi is featured on 'Maui Girl' and 'The Laughing Song,' Owens’ rewrite of 'Hawaiian War Chant.' Bob Hamlin, later lead tenor for The Mellomen, sings 'Farewell, Malini' and 'Little Butch.'
Although he never again held a residency at a Hawaiian hotel, Owens remained America’s tireless ambassador for the islands and its music, frequently appearing on radio and television.
01 Maui Girl Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
02 Aloha No Wau I Ko Maka Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
03 The Laughing Song Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
04 My Tane Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
05 Down On Ami Ami Oni Oni Isle Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
06 Farewell, Malihini Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
07 Little Butch Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians
08 Sweet Leilani Harry Owens And His Royal Hawaiians