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92 C hap t e r 6 A Craze of the Frisco Exposition The country has all of a sudden gone mad over Hawaiian music. —San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1916 Among the thousands of exhibits at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 was a koa table inlaid with the Hawaiian coat of arms, a gift to Queen Victoria from Kamehameha III. At the queen’s direction, it was placed on display “so as to shew to the vast assemblage of foreigners now in London the Beauty of the Woods grown in the Hawaiian Dominions.”1 The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations launched the world’s fair movement, and Hawaii quickly realized the value of such exhibitions as a vehicle to sell itself and its products to international markets. “In our estimation, their usefulness and importance cannot be overvalued,” one Honolulu newspaper editorialized in 1876.2 Although the kingdom’s plans did not always come to fruition, Hawaii had some kind of presence in at least ten international expositions in Europe, the United States, and Australia by the time the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago in 1893.3 Up to that point, the Hawaiian presence at fairs had always been static—displays of sugar, coffee, and other agricultural products, collections of ferns, shells, and lava, native manufactures including tapa, kahili, capes, and calabashes lent by the Hale Naua Society, photos of island scenery, and in Paris in 1889, a surfboard.4 When music first appeared in the Hawaiian exhibit at New Orleans in 1884, it was in the form of sheet music and a showpiece guitar made of eight kinds of native woods, “which is not only beautiful to look at, but pronounced, by those who know, to be of very fine tone.”5 Although the overthrow of the monarchy dashed Hawaii’s elaborate plans for the Chicago fair, Lorrin Thurston’s privately funded concession marked a major departure—the first time Hawaii had been represented by live music.6 Rather than a sedate display under glass in an exhibition hall, the Volcano Singers appeared on the A Craze of the Frisco Exposition 93 Midway—the mile-long amusement zone that included villages of Africans, Native Americans, Japanese, Turks, Egyptians, “South Sea Islanders,” and other peoples, ostensibly operated under the formal auspices of the fair’s Ethnology Department.7 “What an opportunity is here afforded to the scientific mind to descend the spiral of evolution, tracing humanity in its highest phases down almost to its animalistic origins,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.8 However much the Midway served to reinforce white Americans’ feelings of racial superiority, it also signaled a major shift in the official attitude toward popular culture. As Robert Rydell has shown, officials at the Philadelphia fair in 1876 had barred such entertainment from the fairgrounds and actively fought to eliminate it outside the Centennial Exhibition’s gates.9 Despite the Volcano Singers’ positive reviews, it was the hula that initially made the biggest impression on mainland audiences. In Chicago, Kini Kapahu (Jennie Wilson) remembered standing on the Midway, playing the ‘ukulele, wiggling seductively, and singing, On the Midway, the Midway, the Midway Plaisance Where the naughty girls from Honolulu do the naughty hula dance.10 She and her troupe also performed at the Madison Street Opera House as part of Sam T. Jack’s Creole Co., performing with “queer native instruments” as well as “mandolins and guitars of native make, but well-tuned and finely finished.”11 Wilson and some of her fellow dancers went from Chicago to New York, where they performed at Doris’s Museum on Eighth Avenue with acts that included a legless gymnast and a two-headed cow, before traveling to Boston and eventually to Europe for a prolonged tour.12 Hula dancers became a regular feature of Hawaiian villages at other American fairs, to the extent that one turn-of-the-century newspaper commentator writing in anticipation of the latest fair remarked that “the hulahula dance . . . by many, has been thought to be about the only fruit that grew in that portion of our national domain. But the Midway without the h-h won’t seem like the same old smile.”13 The ‘ukulele-playing musicians that accompanied the dancers drew mixed reactions. In Omaha, at the Greater America Exposition of 1899, Johnny Wilson brought a “crack native quintet club”—Jim Shaw, John Edwards, W. B. Jones, Thomas Hennessey, and Mekia Kealakai—that played in...


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