Wednesday, March 9th, 2016...10:30 am

Queen Liliʻuokalani’s composition “Aloha ʻOe” and American sheet music about Hawaiʻi

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In honor of Women’s History Month, we invite you to look at some examples of sheet music composed by Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaiʻi. The Historical Sheet Music Collections are home to a great number of songs about Hawaiʻi, many of them written by popular music composers in the period following the annexation of the islands by the United States in 1898. Hawaiʻi was described as a paradise, and often Hawaiian women were portrayed as amorously inclined to foreign visitors. Whether or not these composers and lyricists had ever visited Hawaiʻi was not seemingly relevant, as each new song seemed to inspire a dozen more; the allure of “exotic” sweethearts and a romantic Eden was a major theme. The Hawaiian idea of aloha āina – love of the land/place – is somewhat reflected in these American compositions, whether intentional or not. “Aloha āina was, on one hand, physical and intellectual and, on the other, emotional. Aloha āina was a sentiment which pervaded Hawaiian poetry.”1

One of the best known songs associated with Hawaiʻi is “Aloha ʻOe”, composed by Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaiʻi; she was a talented and prolific composer, as well as an author and musician. The English title, translated by Liliʻuokalani in an 1878 handwritten manuscript, is “Farewell to thee.” Here are the complete lyrics and translation and the origin of the song. OCLC lists versions with Liliʻuokalani as the composer published in San Francisco as early as 1884.


Aloha oe (my love to you): march
composed and arranged by J. Thomas Baldwin ; incorporating the popular song “Aloha oe” by the Princess Liliuokalani

In this version, J. Thomas Baldwin is given as the composer of the march, which incorporates the melody of “Aloha ʻOe” throughout; Liliʻuokalani is also credited. The music was published in honor of the Queen and then Princess’s visit to Boston. Their 1887 trip to the United States as representatives of Hawaiʻi to the US also included visits to San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Washington D.C., [Boston] and New York, and then on to London for Victoria’s Jubilee – but the Bayonet Constitution imposed by the Hawaiian League on King Kalākaua forced an early return to Hawaiʻi.

During her house arrest (1895-1896) in ʻIolani Palace Liliʻuokalani transcribed the song again and it was published in America: “At first I had no instrument, and had to transcribe the notes by voice alone; but I found, notwithstanding disadvantages, great consolation in composing, and transcribed a number of songs. Three found their way from my prison to the city of Chicago, where they were printed, among them the “Aloha Oe” or “Farewell to Thee,” which became a very popular song.”2

Here is a later publication from 1914, with a variant English version of the title first. Toots Paka was a singer who with her husband July Paka popularized Hawaiian music in America with recordings for Columbia and other labels. Here is the Toots Paka Hawaiian Company from 1914 singing “Aloha Oe”.


Farewell my love/Aloha oe
lyric translation from the original by Charlotte P. Austin ; composed by H.M. Queen Lihuokalani [sic]; arr. by Chas. H. Roth.

And another, with the English translation subtitle “Farewell to thee”.


Aloha oe: farewell to thee
composed by H.M. Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliʻuokalani died in 1917 following complications from a stroke. Her efforts to reinstate Hawaiian control of the islands were unsuccessful; her perseverance and leadership were inspirational to the Hawaiians of her lifetime and the generations following.

The ukulele craze sweeping America gave momentum to songs about Hawaiʻi (the exhibition at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where Hawaiʻi hosted a pavillion, began the phenomenon with ukulele demonstrations). Many sheet music songs were published with ukulele arrangements. Some examples of American composers’ songs about Hawaiʻi:


Hula Lou
words by Edward Grossmith, music by Ted D. Ward

Hula Lou with a heart that’s fond and true
Oh how I’m sighin’ love for your undyin’ love
That sweet Hawaiian love that has won my heart away


Sweet Hawaiian Moonlight
lyric by Harold G. Frost ; music by F. Henri Klickmann.

Dreaming of Hawaiian moonlight,
Seems I hear her say:
“Come back to me, come back to me,
I love but thee, I love but thee.
Here by the sea, at Waikiki,
Come back to me, come back to me.”

The lover usually leaves his Hawaiian paramour behind in these songs of nostalgia.

From 1929 (with ukulele arrangement):


Blue Hawaii
Words & music by Abel Baer, Irving Caesar & Ira Schuster

And a tune published in Honolulu in 1936 with a Hawaiian title:


Kuu ipo
words and music by Andy Iona Long & Johnny Noble

You were sent from Heaven above
You were meant for someone to love
With you in my arms I still feel your charms
Of the days that used to be
Your love keeps beating in my heart forever
While the mem’ries linger
Forever more my Kuu Ipo

Our copy is inscribed by a previous owner and the composer/publisher, Johnny Noble.

More on Liliʻuokalani and Hawaiʻian music:
The Queen’s songbook and recordings, He Buke Mele Hawaiʻi, compiled in 1897
Recordings of Liliʻuokalani’s songs
Buke Mele Lahui, or or Book of National Songs published in 1895

1 Stillman, Amy K. “History Reinterpreted in Song: the Case of the Hawaiian Counterrevolution.” Hawaiian Journal of History, volume 23, 1989. Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society. Online. evols at University of Hawaii, Manoa 3/7/2016

2 Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii (1838-1917). Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898. Chapter XLVI. Online. 3/7/2016

[Thanks to Dana Gee, Project Sheet Music Cataloger, for contributing this post; special thanks to Dore Minatodani, Senior Librarian, Hawaiian Collection and Acting Department Head, Hawaiian & Pacific Collections, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, for online references]

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