Aloha and welcome to Finnley’s Audio Adventures, where we dive into the heart of musical marvels and extraordinary tales! Today, we’re soaring through the skies of history with Aloha Airlines, but with a twist—our journey takes us through the enchanting melodies of “The Wonderful World of Aloha.” This unique album was a harmonious blend of music and marketing, crafted to celebrate Hawaii’s rich Polynesian heritage while promoting the airline. So, fasten your seat belts, ensure your seat backs are in their full upright position, and tray tables are locked as we prepare to drop the stylus on this musical masterpiece, exploring the artists who brought it to life and its lasting impact on the cultural soundscape of Hawaii.

Aloha Airlines, an emblem of Hawaiian spirit and aviation history, embarked on its maiden voyage in 1946, charting a course that would define inter-island travel for over six decades. Guided by the visionary leadership of Hung Wo Ching, Aloha transformed from a modest charter service into a pioneering force in the airline industry, renowned for its commitment to innovation, customer service, and familial corporate culture. This narrative explores the remarkable journey of Aloha Airlines, from its pioneering days to its challenging demise, underscoring its enduring legacy in the hearts of those it served.

Aloha Airlines, originally named Trans-Pacific Airlines, marked its entry into the aviation industry on July 26, 1946, with a war-surplus DC-3, undertaking its first flight from Honolulu to Hilo and back, carrying 21 passengers. Founded by Honolulu businessman Ruddy Tongg, the airline was born out of frustration with the existing inter-island services, aiming to provide a more inclusive and friendly option for Hawaii’s residents. This venture quickly earned the nickname “The Aloha Airline,” setting the tone for a service that would become synonymous with the Aloha spirit.

As the airline evolved, Hung Wo Ching took the helm in 1958, rebranding the company as Aloha Airlines. Under his leadership, the airline underwent significant transformations, shifting from unpressurized DC-3 turboprop airplanes to pressurized Fairchild F-27 jets. This move not only improved the comfort and capacity of the flights but also demonstrated Ching’s forward-thinking approach in modernizing the fleet to better serve the islands.

Aloha Airlines was often first in adopting new technologies and services. It became the first inter-island carrier to offer first-class service, e-ticketing, and innovative check-in options such as drive-through and curbside services. These advancements not only enhanced customer convenience but also cemented Aloha’s reputation for pioneering in customer service.

The airline’s familial approach to business, championed by Ching, was another hallmark. Employees were treated as family, a sentiment reinforced by Ching’s personal visits to thank his staff every Christmas. This culture of care and recognition was integral to the airline’s identity and contributed significantly to its high levels of staff loyalty and customer service.

However, Aloha Airlines also faced its share of challenges. On April 28, 1988, a significant incident occurred when a Boeing 737 jet suffered a massive fuselage tear in flight from Hilo to Honolulu. The aircraft managed a miraculous landing on Maui, but the accident led to the tragic loss of flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing and prompted a major overhaul of industry inspection standards.

Despite such setbacks, Aloha continued to innovate. It introduced services to new destinations and maintained a competitive edge with unique offerings like tour flights over Kilauea Volcano during eruptions and various discount programs. Yet, intense competition, particularly from Hawaiian Airlines and later from go! airlines, alongside rising fuel costs and external economic pressures, led to financial struggles.

The culmination of these challenges was reflected in the airline’s financial distress, leading to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2004, followed by a second filing in 2008. The airline’s operations eventually ceased on March 31, 2008, marking the end of an era for this beloved carrier. Despite its closure, the legacy of Aloha Airlines—characterized by innovation, a commitment to community, and the true spirit of Aloha—continues to resonate across Hawaii and the aviation world.

In a harmonious blend of commerce and culture, Aloha Airlines orchestrated the creation of “The Wonderful World of Aloha,” an album that sang the praises of Hawaii’s rich Polynesian heritage. This venture was more than just a musical compilation; it was a cornerstone of a larger marketing campaign designed to imprint the image of Hawaii as an idyllic paradise on the minds of travelers, positioning the airline as the premier conduit to the islands’ unique cultural and natural splendors.

The album, a mosaic of contemporary Hawaiian music, sought to encapsulate the islands’ vibrant spirit of freedom, youth, and vitality. At the heart of this musical endeavor were illustrious artists like Chet May, a percussionist celebrated for his rhythmic dexterity, and Octaviano Almeida, whose guitar strings danced between traditional and modern tunes. Together with a cadre of talented musicians, they crafted a soundscape that whisked listeners away to the Hawaiian islands, amidst visions of lush landscapes and the serene ambiance of the Pacific.

Recorded in state-of-the-art studios, the album was a testament to high production values, utilizing master tapes and enriched by the symphonic harmonies of orchestras and choirs. It also featured specially crafted English lyrics, aimed at forging a deeper connection with an international audience. This musical project did double duty, serving both as a promotional spearhead for Aloha Airlines and as a cultural ambassador, weaving the enchanting musical fabric of Hawaii into the hearts of listeners globally.

Chet May’s illustrious percussion skills were not confined to this project alone; his career, vibrant and varied, spanned numerous collaborations and performances, making him a pivotal figure in the evolution of modern music. His involvement in “The Wonderful World of Aloha” was a highlight, celebrated for its rich, immersive sound that effectively captured the spirit of the islands.

Similarly, Octaviano Almeida’s journey through the strings of his guitar painted a broad spectrum of musical styles, from classical to contemporary, making him a versatile and much-respected figure in the musical community. His contributions to the album added a depth and local flavor that significantly enhanced its portrayal of Hawaii as a vibrant musical paradise.

Willie Kamoku, another virtuoso, left his mark on the Hawaiian music scene by blending traditional slack-key guitar techniques with modern influences, enchanting both locals and tourists alike. Percy Robinson, the orchestrator, and Alexander Giovanini, the conductor, each played their parts in weaving the orchestral threads that enriched the album’s soundscapes.

The album also benefited from the poetic lyrics of Nancy Martens, whose evocative writing resonated deeply with listeners, and Russ Freeman, whose harp strings echoed through the melodic wind, adding to the album’s eclectic and dynamic nature.

Most notably, the orchestra and chorus were directed by Jack de Mello, a prominent figure in the realm of Hawaiian music production who reshaped how the world perceived and appreciated the musical traditions of Hawaii.

Jack de Mello was born in 1916 in Oakland, California, but moved to Hawaii in his youth. His interest in music began early, and he pursued formal training in music theory and composition. His studies and innate talent equipped him with the skills necessary to blend different musical styles seamlessly.

De Mello’s most notable contribution to Hawaiian music was his innovative approach to arranging and composing. By incorporating orchestral elements into traditional Hawaiian music, he created a unique sound that was both rich and expansive. This approach not only modernized Hawaiian music but also made it appealing to classical and popular music audiences worldwide.

In the 1960s, recognizing the need to support and promote Polynesian artists and their music, Jack de Mello founded the Music of Polynesia label. Through this label, he produced numerous recordings that showcased a broad spectrum of Hawaiian and Polynesian music, helping to preserve these traditions and promote them on an international stage.

Throughout his career, de Mello collaborated with many renowned Hawaiian artists, including Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. His work helped to launch and enhance the careers of many musicians, and his recordings remain pivotal in the history of Hawaiian music.

Jack de Mello also composed music for film and television such as “The Flinstones”, “The Jetsons”, and other Hanna-Barbera productions, which further broadened his influence and the reach of his musical creations. His scores often featured Hawaiian themes and were noted for their ability to evoke the islands’ atmosphere and beauty.

In 1966, Henry Mancini expanded his repertoire with the release of several albums, including Music of Hawaii, which featured a mix of easy listening tracks embellished with Hawaiian themes. This album, alongside others such as A Merry Mancini Christmas and Henry Mancini Presents The Academy Award Songs, showcased Mancini’s versatility in adapting various musical styles. Notably, Music of Hawaii was assembled with contributions from his orchestra and chorus, featuring tracks like Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”, Mancini’s own “Driftwood and Dreams”, and “Blue Hawaii”, famously performed by Elvis Presley.

Despite its thematic focus, the album’s approach was more about mainstream appeal than authentic Hawaiian music, leaning on popular tropes rather than genuine cultural representations. This stylistic choice was typical of the era’s easy listening genre, which often prioritized palatable soundscapes over ethnographic accuracy. The album was further noted for incorporating Elmer Bernstein’s film music from Hawaii, which, while not authentically Hawaiian, served as a commercial lure for its predominantly white audience.

Amidst these creative endeavors, controversy arose when Jack de Mello, a respected name in Hawaiian music, sued the Radio Corporation of America. De Mello alleged that RCA had previously contracted him to produce an album similarly titled Music of Hawaii, which he recorded but was ultimately rejected by RCA. Following this, de Mello released his work under his own label, Music of Polynesia. He then challenged RCA’s use of the title for Mancini’s album, but his legal efforts to halt its distribution in Hawaii were denied by Circuit Judge Tom Okino. This legal battle underscored the conflicts that can arise from commercial representations of cultural music, highlighting the tension between artistic interpretation and cultural authenticity.

De Mello’s endeavors were not limited to studio recordings. In the heart of Honolulu, amidst its bustling downtown and just a stone’s throw from the serene beaches of Waikiki, the Honolulu International Center hosted an extraordinary event in 1969: the Rotary International Convention. This prestigious gathering, strategically set within a complex that included an expansive 8,000-seat arena, a sprawling 50,000-square-foot exhibition space, and a concert theater accommodating over 2,000 attendees, emerged as a significant cultural and social affair.

The convention was not just a routine assembly; it was an elaborate celebration of Rotary’s global community and its commitments, brought to life under the vibrant leadership of Jack de Mello. Known for his profound influence on Hawaiian music, de Mello took the central stage on a Monday evening, bringing with him a promise of an unforgettable night. His production was one of the most lavish spectacles ever witnessed on the islands, weaving together symphonic renditions of ancient Hawaiian chants with his signature modern orchestrations.

This grand event aimed to immerse attendees in the rich tapestry of Hawaiian culture, showcasing the islands’ heritage through its music and dance. As Rotarians from around the world converged in this tropical paradise, they were offered a unique opportunity to experience the local customs and traditions, deeply integrated into the convention’s programming by the masterful hand of Jack de Mello. This fusion of global fellowship and local tradition made the 1969 Rotary International Convention a landmark event in the annals of Rotary history.

Jack de Mello’s work received numerous accolades, and he was revered not just as a musician but as a cultural ambassador for Hawaii. His dedication to blending musical traditions while respecting their origins made a lasting impact on how Hawaiian music is composed, performed, and perceived. His arrangements have been performed by many renowned orchestras including the London Philharmonic, the Victor Concert Orchestra, and the Tokyo Symphony.

Through his innovative spirit and enduring dedication, Jack de Mello’s legacy continues to influence musicians and composers in Hawaii and beyond, ensuring that the cultural heritage of Hawaiian music is celebrated and preserved for generations to come.

Together, these artists created more than just an album; they crafted a musical journey that continued to resonate, promoting both the beauty of Hawaii and the cultural tapestry that Aloha Airlines sought to showcase through “The Wonderful World of Aloha.”

As our musical journey on Finnley’s Audio Adventures comes in for landing, we’ve uncovered the magic woven into “The Wonderful World of Aloha.” This album was more than just a collection of songs; it was a vibrant symphony of Hawaiian culture and the Aloha spirit, brought to life by talented artists like Chet May, Octaviano Almeida, and the visionary Jack de Mello. Their work transcended mere promotion, creating a legacy that continues to resonate with listeners worldwide. Through this harmonious blend of music and heritage, we’ve seen how Aloha Airlines left an indelible mark on both the skies and the hearts of those who cherish the sounds of Hawaii. Mahalo for joining us on this captivating adventure. Until next time, keep the Aloha spirit alive in your heart!


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  2. “Advertisement for ‘The Music of Hawaii’.” Billboard, 18 May 1968, p. H-21.
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  12. Berger, John. “Composer, Arranger, Producer Jack de Mello Dies at 102.” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 27 Apr. 2019, Accessed 25 May 2024.

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