Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe

A vocal ensemble sings Hawaiian songs, strums ukulele and guitars, toots their flute, and dances hula — Toots Paka and Hawaiian musicians introduced the Hawaiian culture through its easy-going music to the U.S. mainland and in the first quarter of the 1900s.

Toots Paka, originally a Broadway actress until she broke her ankle, met and married July Paka, a Hawaiian musician touring the mainland. She saw potential in July Paka and his musicians, so she learned how to dance the hula, learned some Hawaiian words, and came up with responses to the media’s questions.

Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe performed in the most exclusive vaudeville productions at major cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco, and even in the Orpheum circuit in New York for seasons.

San Francisco papers criticized Toots Paka’s dancing, partially due to the perceived lack of authenticity:

“She’s a headliner not for what she does evidently as what she represents in the minds of the average citizen east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. If people only won’t mistake her and her act as ‘typifying’ the islands. She’s not our best representative.”

A paper even described her musicians as “brown enough Hawaiians” while Toots was a “rather fair-looking woman of the South Seas.”

In the Day Book, Toots Paka claimed she had Hawaiian, Haole (Caucasian), and Native American ancestry when she did not have Hawaiian ancestry and has never been to Hawaii. However, she said an old priest taught her the worship dances when she was a little girl. She said Hawaiians girls don’t get old because they swim and don’t wear corsets or bandages, and the climate and coconut oil preserves their hair.

Columbia Records, Victor Records, and Banner Records, national music record companies, featured Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe in their Hawaiian music records. Songs included “Aloha Oe,” “Toots Paka Hawaiian Medley,” and “Rain Tuahine (Rain of Manoa).” In its ad, Columbia Records describes the “haunting charm of Hawaiian music”:

“Hawaiian music has a fascination that grows. Listen to the strange, sobbing plaintiveness of voices, the all-but-human notes of the Hawaiian guitar and the rhythmic throbbing of the ukulele in these Columbia Records, and you will feel the weird enchantment of night in the South Sea Islands.”

Here’s what Victor Records’ ad says:

“Have you heard the new fascinating Hawaiian music? There’s a quaintness and charm to Hawaiian music that makes it appeal to almost everyone who hears it.”

Some might have questioned Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe’s authenticity and expertise in Hawaiian music, dance, and culture. But with its charming, kitschy Hawaiian music, one of the most famous Hawaiian troupes popularized Hawaiian music and paved the way for other Hawaiian entertainers. The popularity of Hawaiian culture surged on the U.S. mainland in 1915 and afterwards.

-Alice Kim

Listen to the music by the Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe at the Library of Congress National Jukebox: http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/artists/detail/id/810/.

Articles and Ads on Chronicling America:

“Hawaiian Dancer Tells Why Native Women Kept Beautiful”
The day book., June 08, 1912, Image 11
http://chroniclingamerica.com/lccn/sn83045487/1912-06-08/ed-1/seq-10/

“Our San Francisco Letter: Advertising the Islands in Vaudeville–Toots Paka’s Tame Hula–Whole Show Kindly but Candidly Criticised by the Press”
The Hawaiian star., May 13, 1912, SECOND EDITION, SECOND SECTION, Image 9
http://chroniclingamerica.com/lccn/sn82015415/1912-05-13/ed-1/seq-9/

Toots Paka Show Ad
The Morning Tulsa daily world., January 28, 1921, FINAL EDITION, Image 11
http://chroniclingamerica.com/lccn/sn85042345/1921-01-28/ed-1/seq-11/

Columbia Record’s Hawaiian Song Record Ad
The evening herald., February 17, 1917, Page Eight, Image 8
http://chroniclingamerica.com/lccn/sn92070582/1917-02-17/ed-1/seq-8/

Victor Record’s Hawaiian Song Record Ad
The Evening Herald, June 9, 1916, Page 4, Image 4
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99063812/1916-06-09/ed-1/seq-4/

Work Cited

“Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe.” Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Ed. George S. Kanahele. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1979. Print.



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