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Charles KL Davis

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  • Years Active: 1990s

Albums

Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

The Hawaiian musician Charles K.L. Davis was perhaps not taken as seriously as he might have been during his career, often the lot of performers who utilize comedy in their acts. The latter description seems downright understated in terms of the way Davis took a musical package known as a "hapa haole" song and dropped it on the listener's lap like a still quivering jellyfish, minus the stings. Experiencing one of his performances was perhaps not the way to be convinced as to the breadth of his musical education or the staggering amount of work he had put into his career. Even some members of his musically active family were apparently surprised at the course his career took, expecting that his serious childhood training as a vocalist, pianist, and cellist, and on an instrument that sounds about as far from Hawaii as Leipzig, the pipe organ, would have led to a classical career. Which, for a time, it actually did.

Despite problems caused by the Second World War years, Davis completed a full education, the finale of which was attending the Juilliard School of Music in New York. His performing career began after graduation with the momentum of a falling coconut. He collaborated with James Shigeta, actor and singer, on a duo that worked nightclubs on the lively Sunset Strip. When his partner was drafted, Davis headed back to New York as a solo performer and became the first Hawaiian to triumph at a Metropolitan Opera audition. Thus began an opera career that included a tour of Russia, a command performance at the White House, and co-starring roles on Broadway. This he all left behind for a career performing Hawaiian music that seems best described as raising hell, unless the specifics of one of his publicity biographies seems more specific: "...he left it all behind and performed for many years at Kemoo Farms near Schofield Barracks, delighting crowds with his prodigious memory for the most obscure lyrics, always ready with a joke or a bawdy tune."

Apparently this had been the material that he had really been studying when wandering the earth with opera repertory companies. It has been boasted that Davis knew every Hawaiian song in existence, a claim that if stupid at least symbolizes a massive repertoire, the essence of which consisted of the songs dating from the '20s and '30s known as "pidgen/oriental." He began recording 78s in the '40s and continued on vinyl during subsequent decades, documenting a portion of his knowledge of songs that included works by Sir Noel Coward. His albums appeared on big labels such as Decca as well as classical budget lines. In the mid-'90s a new campaign of reissues began, and Davis tracks also show up on a variety of Hawaiian music compilations.