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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12 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!

  5. Gary says:

    I am actually inquiring about the copyright of two songs, Ka Ulua, and Pidgin English Hula. Are these songs in the public domain yet? I know any song published before 1924 is, but I don’t know if these songs were in his operetta, or the Hula book? I can’t find any copyright renewal after 1950 for his book. But, the new copyright law states if it’s published before 1924 it’s in the public domain now. I would like to use these two songs, but I don’t want to get sued.

  6. amykstillman says:

    Hi Gary — bad news, Iʻm afraid. “Ka Ulua” first appeared in the Blue Book in 1930, and “Pidgin English Hula” first appeared in the Blue Book in 1933, meaning that both are still under copyright. Neither are in the 1917 Hulas volume. While I donʻt have access right now to the table of contents for the Prince of Hawaii collection, that collection drew on songs already published in earlier editions of the Book of Hawaiian Melodies (“Blue Book”).

    • Gary Stewart says:

      Do you know who owns the rights, or how I could contact them? I think Charles’ wife, Regina, kept renewing the copyright. But, I cannot find out who owns the copyrights now, or if the family still owns the remaining catalog that isn’t in the public domain. Typically, especially if a family owns the rights, I have been able to buy a limited copyright for publishing arrangements fairly cheaply for music before 1950. Thank you for your reply.

  7. Gary Stewart says:

    The last known copyright renewal for Charles King’s music I can find was in 1964 by Regina King. But, the family could have sold off the rights to another publisher. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to know who owns the rights when it goes out of print. Especially when a book has been out of print for decades. And the copyright office charges a cool $200.00 an hour to research it for you. Too rich for my blood. But, I do love his music, and I hope I can find out who owns the copyrights.

  8. Gary Stewart says:

    Hi Amy, my name is Gary Stewart, and I would love to pick your brain on several subjects concerning Hawaiian music. But, I don’t feel comfortable hogging your blog. If you could give me an e-mail contact I could ask my questions directly to you. I hope you are doing well.

  9. amykstillman says:

    Hi Gary — my email is

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