DEAR JERRY: Lately I've been having a blast with a fun and very inexpensive hobby; collecting 78 rpm singles.
I find them in thrift and second-hand stores, as well as at yard and estate sales, and they usually cost a quarter or less.
One recent find is “On the Beach at Waikiki-Medley,” backed with “Moe Uhane Waltz,” by Helen Louise and Frank Ferera (Victor 17880).
The A-side label indicates a medley, yet only mentions “On the Beach at Waikiki.” Are there other tunes played that are not named? I can't tell by listening.
These two Hawaiian guitarists are great, and I'm on the lookout for more of their records.
Having never heard of them before, what can you tell me about their place in Hawaiian music history?
Jamie Evans, Greendale, Wisc.
DEAR JAMIE: A native Hawaiian, Frank Ferera (nee: Palakiko Ferreira) is to Hawaiian music as Django Reinhardt to jazz guitarists, or to Edith Piaf who took the music of France far beyond French borders.
With regard to significance and his place in Hawaiian music history, it's hard to rank anyone above him.
Ferera (1885-1951) came to the U.S. in 1902, where he soon added the Hawaiian steel guitar to his repertoire. He even became a fine singer, though most of his recordings are instrumentals.
In 1915, he met Helen Louise Greenus and her sister Irene Lilliam Greenus, two gals from Seattle who played Hawaiian music on guitar and ukulele. With so much in common, Frank and Helen connected instantly, soon married, then toured the vaudeville circuit as a duo.
Irene often joined her sister and brother-in-law in concerts and on recordings, though this trio is always credited on record labels as Louise, Ferera and Greenus. Best known among their Columbia titles are: (#2405) “La Paloma”; (#2450) “Little Alabama Coon”; (#2614) “Funiculi Funicula”; and (#2916) “In the Heart of Hawaii.”
Victor Records signed the newlyweds in 1915, and their first release is the record you just found: “On the Beach at Waikiki-Medley.”
After a portion of “On the Beach at Waikiki,” the medley continues with: “My Honolulu Tom Boy”; “Waikiki Hula”; “Kawaihau”; “Mauna Keala”; and “Ninipo.”
Tragedy struck the Fereras on December 12, 1919. Frank and Helen were traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle aboard Pacific Steamship's SS President, to spend Christmas with her family.
At around 4:00 a.m. on that Friday morning, with the ship steaming toward San Francisco, Helen reportedly walked out of their room, giving no reason for leaving.
She was never seen again.
After searching from bow to stern, and finding no clues to Helen's unexplained disappearance, authorities concluded she somehow ended up overboard and was lost at sea. Apparently, neither suicide nor foul play seemed likely.
According to Pacific Steamship, adverse weather also played no part in whatever happened to Helen. After the vessel docked in San Francisco, a company superintendent told reporters “the seas were as smooth as a mill pond.”
Based on what information, we don't know, but one week later Helen's mother - who was in Washington and not on board the ship offered a much different opinion to the Seattle Daily Times:
“There was a strong wind blowing when my daughter left her stateroom and we believe she was washed overboard.”
Truly an unsolved mystery.
IZ ZAT SO? In the years following the loss of Helen Louise, Frank Ferera continued to record, often with sidekicks Anthony J. Franchini and John K. Paaluhi.
He also provided Hawaiian style backing for the immensely popular vocalist Annette Hanshaw, as well as many other lesser known artists.
During Frank's 15-year recording career (1915-1930), he is heard on no less than 2000 records, on numerous labels. Among them are: Brunswick; Cameo; Columbia; Conqueror; Edison; Gennett; Harmony; Perfect; Puritone; Velvet Tone; and Victor.
Ballpark estimates credit Ferera as being involved in about 25% of all Hawaiian music recorded during those years.
Prices for Ferera's 78s vary widely, with most selling in the $30 to $300 range. Any of these would be a steal for 25-cents.