R. Alex Anderson
Very few Hawaiian composers can claim as many "popular standards" translated into as many different languages as R. Alex Anderson. If you hear a familiar Hawaiian tune with English words chances are very good that Robert Alexander Anderson is the composer. In fact, during the Christmas holiday just past, you were probably among the thousands around the world who sang "Mele Kalikimaka" at least once.
R. Alex Anderson was born in Honolulu in 1894, and from high school on to his passing in 1995, composed nearly 200 songs. He was considered the "most Hawaiian" of the hapa haole composers. No Island composer had a longer career writing English lyric songs.
"Andy", as he was called by close friends, or "Alex" by those who simply felt close to him because of his music, wrote songs based on traditional Hawaiian themes telling of flowers, scenes, islands, seas, people, events and customs. His ear for the Hawaiian music's special sound and rhythm was exceptional, and he was regarded as a successor to Charles E. King in maintaining the melodic and lyrical qualities which are Hawai`i's musical identity
A prominent businessman by vocation, and a WWI veteran, Alex Anderson had no formal music training and spoke no Hawaiian, yet his compositions still give rise to dreams of Hawai`i as "paradise" for people all over the world. He called himself "a composer who writes without knowing the rules", and "wrote" most his lyrics "in my head". In addition to being a natural composer, he was also an original one who never consciously borrowed a tune.
His first composition, "Haole Hula", written in 1927, was a hit, and remained his personal favorite. Among the most familiar of his compositions are "Lovely Hula Hands", "Lei of Stars", "Coconut Island". He wrote "Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai", in the 1930's for a party to fete movie star Warner Baxter. "White Ginger Blossoms" was written at the suggestion of film star Mary Pickford, and "I Will Remember You", while a student at Cornell University, homesick for his Island home.
His most famous song, "Mele Kalikimaka", Hawai`i's Christmas song, went around the world on the back of Bing Crosby's recording of "White Christmas". Crosby, Andy Anderson's frequent visitor and golf partner, liked the tune so much when Andy played it for him that he surprised Anderson with the recording.
According to Pam Anderson, his daughter, the family still receives revenues every year from such favorites as "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Lovely Hula Hands" from all over the world: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Greece, Japan, Ireland.
Perhaps the best description of R. Alex Anderson's love for making music and for his homeland is found in two lines from "Haole Hula": "I love to dance and sing of the charms of Hawai`i, and from a joyful heart bring aloha to you."
On this theme, R. Alex Anderson's life is described and photographed in a new book by Scott Stone, "From a Joyful Heart" by Island Heritage. With the book is a CD of twelve of R. Alex Anderson's best known songs (again, hopefully) as sung and recorded by Andy himself, who had a fine voice and through his lifetime sang with quartets and groups around Honolulu.
R. Alex Anderson was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998. His biography and photos are found in the 1998 Hall of Fame koa-framed exhibit located in the Lawrence Newbold Brown room at Bishop Museum.