Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Queen Liliuokalani

Today is the 171st birthday of Queen Liliuokalani, the last royal ruler of Hawaii. She composed more than 165 songs and chants, several during her imprisonment in the Iolani Palace following the overthrow of her government by US interests acting without federal authorization.

In 1898 she published Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, which was a combined history and autobiography. Regarding her music, she wrote:

To compose was as natural to me as to breathe; and this gift of nature, never having been suffered to fall into disuse, remains a source of the greatest consolation...

Her most famous song was Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee), a song about two lovers parting. The melody of this song (which you can hear online) was later adapted into at least three gospel songs:

Go and Tell (1916)
(arrangement by Clarence Kohlman, words by C. Austin Miles)

He's Coming Soon (1918)
(words and arrangement by Thoro Harris)

He Lives on High (1921)
(words and arrangement by B.B. McKinney)

Liliuokalani's melody is also said to bear a resemblance to two songs by Charles Crozat Converse (Rock Beside the Water) and George Root (There's Music in the Air).

In 1896 she was baptized and confirmed into the Episcopal Church, leaving her native church which she felt had not been supportive during her trial and imprisonment. She also supported other religions, attending a celebration of Buddhists and Shintos in 1901 that helped to bring acceptance of those faiths in Hawaii. The deposed Queen Liliuokalani died on November 11, 1917 following a stroke. In 1997, the Liliuokalani Trust finally published a collection of her musical compositions titled The Queen's Songbook.

There is one surviving member of the Hawaiian royalty, Princess Abigail, and she remains devoted to the legacy of her forebears.

One Year Ago: Queen Liliuokalani

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