The Published Hawaiian Songbooks of Charles E. King

When I was growing up, Kingʻs Blue Book and the Green Book enjoyed the status of “bibles” of Hawaiian music. One or both volumes could be found in many a piano bench across the islands. Seekers of songs were often directed to those venerable volumes.

When I began pursuing research, I discovered that these two volumes were but the tip of an iceberg. Charles E. King was a prolific publisher. There were quite a few other volumes in his catalog, as well as sheet music. Mr. King was a prolific and important songwriter, and his publishing enterprise was an outlet for his work.

There was, by the 1960s, a widespread perception circulating in Hawaiian music circles that many of the songs published by Mr. King in his songbooks were songs that he had stolen from other songwriters, and that in his songbooks, he put his name on these songs as if they were all his. He would publish songs and put his name on them, when in fact other songwriters had written those songs, and were not getting credit.

Charles E. Kingʻs Book of Hawaiian Melodies–what continues to be popularly called “Kingʻs Blue Book” because of its original blue-colored cover–was my gateway into a publishing maze. I started at the University of Hawai‘i’s Hawaiian collection. Back in the 1970s they had several copies of the Blue Book, published in different years. I noted the years, but presumed, like so many others at that time, that the contents of those volumes was the same. We did not have any reason to suspect otherwise. Ah, presumptions–they certainly can get in the way of seeing things for what they are, rather than what we want them to be.

During my student days at UH, I struck up an acquaintance with Dennis Ladd, a staff member in the A/V library. Originally from the Washington DC area, Dennis would visit the Library of Congress on his visits to family. He very kindly shared with me xeroxes of Hawaiian music items he was finding there. Among those items was a xerox of a book whose cover was lost, but the title page said “The Latest Hawaiian Hulas” and it was published in 1917. Note to self–I sure hoped that someday I might get to Library of Congress to see this myself, because there sure wasnʻt anything like it in Honolulu at that time.

Several years later, after I had moved to Harvard for doctoral studies, I got to the Library of Congress, and continued my odyssey of documenting Hawaiian music. The Library of Congress collections were rich with Hawaiian music. And no wonder–the U.S. Copyright Office is located in the Library. Applicants would submit works. And after the Copyright Office registered these works, the works were then sent on to the Music Division

Kingʻs Book of Hawaiian Melodies first appeared in 1916, and the copy at Library of Congress was at that time the only known copy in a public collection. The last volume of the Book of Hawaiian Melodies was published in 1948. The Library of Congress card catalog reported, too, that the 1948 volume was “the twenty-second edition.” The big finding: between the 1916 and 1948 volumes, there were 20 more editions to locate. And more: In addition to the “Blue Book” and “The Latest Hawaiian Hulas,” there were several more discoveries. The so-called “Green Book,” properly titled Songs of Hawaii, first appeared in 1942, and the second and final edition is the 1950 volume that is familiar to many of us. In 1925 Charles E. King produced an operetta titled “Prince of Hawaii.” The musical selections were published in a volume of the same title in that year, and reprinted the following year. And finally, there is one other volume, Songs of Honolulu, published in 1917.

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6 Responses to The Published Hawaiian Songbooks of Charles E. King

  1. Jody Schucart says:

    I have a song book titled “Favorites from The Prince of Hawaii” published by Chas. E. King copyright – 1925 It was given to my mother in 1956 by Mrs. King. Can you tell me anything about the book. I might be interested in donating it to the University of Hawaii or some other institution. Thank you.

    • amykstillman says:

      Thank you for your message. Your book is the first of two printings of that particular collection. “The Prince of Hawaii” was an operetta by Charles E. King, and the book you have is a collection of the songs he used in the production. The songs were drawn from his songwriting oeuvre, so they had been published in his Book of Hawaiian Melodies (the “blue” book). Thank you especially for your considering making sure your copy is available for future generations. The Hawaiian Collection at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa already has copies of this songbook in its collections. However, there are also Hawaiian music topics being taught at UH Hilo and UH Maui College, whose libraries (and students) would be grateful to have valued historical resources available on their respective islands. Mahalo!

  2. Aloha Jody, I’m the faculty coordinator at the Institute of Hawaiian Music, UH-Maui College. We would love to have a copy of that book for our collection here. My email address is donaghy (at) hawaii (dot) edu, if you can contact me there we can discuss this further. Mahalo

  3. Jim says:

    Have there been more first edition copies of Hawaiian Melodies identified? I see lots of copies of the book on eBay but not first editions. Are they valuable or just hard to find? If I found one what should I expect to pay for it? What about the Songs of Honolulu book? Are they as rare as first edition Hawaiian Melodies? Thanks.

    • amykstillman says:

      Hi Jim — the 1916 first edition of Kingʻs “Blue Book” is extremely rare. In nearly 20 years of trawling on ebay, I have only ever seen one copy of the 1916 volume come up, and the bidding war was heated and intense. (Alas, I was not the winning bidder.) Just to note, The Hawaiian Collection at Univ. of Hawaiʻi Library was able to obtain a photocopy of the 1916 volume from Library of Congress. The Library of Congress copy is the only copy that I know of in a public collection. I would welcome knowing about additional sightings of the 1916 volume in publicly-accessible library collections.

  4. Ben janken says:

    I’m wondering if there has ever been a recording made of Prince of Hawaii, or perhaps a film? I’ve always though that Ke Kali Nei Au was a superb suet, and if the quality of the rest of the opera is as good, then it is something that should be heard.

    Sorry this is nearly two years since the publication of this article. But I was just in Hawaii, heard the HWS again and thought– time to do a little research!

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