“In every note I’ll tell of the spell of my islands, for then I know that you’ll be in love with them too.” (Last two lines in Haole Hula by Robert Alexander (Alex or Andy) Anderson, Hnl Adv, June 5, 1984)
Anderson wrote around 200-songs, “He has a fond story for nearly every melody he’s composed.”
“Of ‘Lovely Hula Hands’: ‘It’s the result of a chap watching a hula dancer, and commenting, ‘Aren’t here hands lovely?’ That was the key line, and when I went yachting in New Zealand, I saw these gulls flying over the yacht – an observation that became part of the finished song.’”
Of ‘Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai’: ‘The song was written for a party honoring Warner Baxter (a film star of the 1930s) on Molokai: I thought ‘Kaunakakai’ and ‘cockeyed’ and created that one for a crazy occasion.’”
But this is about another of Anderson’s songs, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’. Of that he noted, “‘My stenographer at Vonn Hamm-Young told me that there was no Hawaiian Christmas song, and that was inspiration enough.’” (Anderson, Hnl Adv)
“‘Mele Kalikimaka’ has become R. Alex Anderson’s best-known composition, … No surprise, as it’s truly become Hawai‘i’s way to say a Merry Christmas. The carol is well known on the Mainland as well”. (HnlMag)
Written in 1949, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ was soon performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1950. (UCSB, Decca Matrix)
‘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. (Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame)
Jingle bells upon a steel guitar
Through the palms we see the same bright star
Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaiʻi’s way
To say Merry Christmas
A very Merry Christmas
To say Merry Christmas to you
“‘Of all hapa haole songwriters in recent years, Anderson probably comes closest to catching instinctively a Hawaiian sound. The fact that he has never.tried to sound like ‘Anderson’ would seem to bear out his striving for a Hawaiian sound.’” (Kanahele; Shishikura)
Anderson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on June 6, 1894. He attended Punahou School where he wrote the school’s football song in his junior year and the school song in his senior year (‘Go Punahou’).
At Cornell, he studied electrical and mechanical engineering and was a member of the Cornell University Glee Club. Despite lacking formal training as a composer, he wrote many songs as a Cornell student.
Alex’s musical career was temporarily side tracked while he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War I. (It was called ‘The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps’ in those days.) (Walton; Outrigger)
His exploits during World War I involved flying combat missions in France. After being shot down and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans, Anderson conceived of a daring and ultimately successful escape. This was later turned into a movie, “Dawn Patrol” starring Errol Flynn, David Niven and Basil Rathbone.
Although he had a very active business career, he turned his love of songwriting into a very successful avocation. While Anderson never studied theory or harmony and played a piano mostly by ear, many of his island songs have become standards.
He usually composed away from an instrument, although he sometimes used a piano or ukulele to work out a melody. (Crosby, BetaThetaData)
In 1998 Anderson was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. He died in May 29, 1995, a week short of his 101st birthday. He is buried in the Oʻahu Cemetery in Honolulu.