Selections from the John Henry Wilson Manuscript Collection

Selections from the John Henry Wilson Manuscript Collection

John Henry Wilson (1871-1956), of Scottish and Tahitian descent, was born in Honolulu as a Hawaiian Kingdom subject on December 15, 1871. His father, Charles Burnett Wilson (1850-1926) served as Marshall of the Kingdom under Mōʻīwahine (Queen) Liliʻuokalani.

Wilson came of age in the Hawaiian Kingdom during the vibrant and cosmopolitan musical renaissance of the latter 19th century. Working from a young age selling newspapers amongst the bustling harbor side streets of Honolulu’s waterfront district, Wilson, like many in his generation, found himself steeped in an incredible diversity of musical styles, cultures, and traditions. In addition to the regular performances of the Royal Hawaiian Military Band at the many grand royal soirees and balls held at ʻIolani Palace, the wild and rowdy sounds of the waterfront saloons and Vaudeville theaters also surrounded young Wilson and his circle of friends. During his childhood, Wilson befriended two people with whom he would form intimate lifelong relationships: Mekia Albert Kealakai, a brilliant young composer and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist; and Kini Kapahu, a dancer in the royal court of Kalākaua and the future Mrs. Johnny Wilson. By 1895, Wilson found himself in San Francisco after attending Stanford University under the patronage of his queen, Mōʻīwahine Liliʻuokalani. A visit in May of the same year to visit Claus Spreckels coincided with the arrival of several of his childhood friends touring as members of the loyalist Hawaii National Band (or Ka Bana Lāhui) at the beginning of their world tour to spread the message of their queen and the Hawaiian Kingdom. Wilson was appointed ad hoc manager and booking agent of the band by Mr. Spreckels, launching a lifelong interest in promoting Hawaiian music and musicians throughout the United States. His subsequent tours featuring Hawaiian string ensembles over the next several years would introduce the continent to Hawaiian musical styles, that in time would herald many of the major trends in popular America, and toward global music. Upon becoming Mayor of Honolulu in 1920, Wilson called on his childhood friend, Mekia Kealakai, to return from his international touring schedule to reassume leadership of the Royal Hawaiian Band and in his own words, “to save Hawaiian Music” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, Sat Dec 4 1920). Under Kealakai’s tenure as bandmaster and with the support of Wilson, the Royal Hawaiian Band regained a focus on songs composed in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, nurtured robust Hawaiian membership, and returned to a string ensemble style in the form of bands and Glee Clubs, launching the careers of numerous notable composer/performers like Lena Machado and Lizzie Alohikea, who were also dear friends of Johnny and Kini Wilson.

The journal, photographs, correspondences, and other personal and business materials presented below are selections from the John Henry Wilson Manuscript Collection (Series M182) at the Hawaiʻi State Archives that offer a fascinating look at a life that spanned the wide gulf between the Hawaiian monarchy and near statehood. The records are presented as PDFs that can be downloaded.

Included in this collection are:

  • A 1913 letter and postcard from Mekia Kealakai, a former Royal Hawaiian Band member under the Hawaiian Monarchy who Wilson, in 1920 as Mayor, recruited to serve as Conductor
  • 1913 correspondence to Wilson from the prominent musicians July and Toots Paka
  • 1930s correspondence to Wilson from Lena Machado

Nā koho ʻana mai ka ʻOhina Palapala
a  John Henry Wilson

Hānau ʻia ʻo John Henry Wilson (1871-1956), he Kekokia a he Kahiki, ma Honolulu, he kupa Hawaiʻi ma Kēkēmapa 15, 1871. ʻO kona makuakāne, o Charles Burnett Wilson [1850-1926] kekahi Ilāmuku o ke Aupuni Mōʻī ma lalo o ko Mōʻīwahine ʻo Liliʻuokalani noho aliʻi ʻana.

Ua hānai ʻia ʻo Wilson i ke Aupuni Mōʻī o Hawaiʻi i ka hōʻeuʻeu mele puni i kō ke ao nei i ke kenekulia he 19 hope iho. Kūʻai aku ʻo ia i nā nūpepa ma nā alanui ʻaoʻao awa o ka ʻāpana makai ma Honolulu, ma ko Wilson wā kamaliʻi, nui nā ʻano like ʻole o nā mele, nā moʻomeheu, a me nā hana a ka wā kahiko ma puni o Wilson. Me nā hōʻike maʻamau ʻana o ka Pūʻali Puhi ʻOhe O Ka Mōʻī O Hawaiʻi ma nā hoʻolauleʻa aliʻi a me nā ʻaha hulahula ma ka Hale Aliʻi ʻo ʻIolani, nui nā kani wawā o nā hale inu lama makai a me nā hale keaka Vaudeville ma puni o Wilson a me kona mau hoaloha. I kona wā kamaliʻi, ua hoʻomakamaka ʻo Wilson i nā kānaka he ʻelua no ka wā e ola ana: ʻO Mekia Albert Kealakai, he haku mele a me loea ʻōpio ʻakamai me nā pila he nui; pēia pū ʻo Kini Kapahu, he mea hula ma ke aloaliʻi a Kalākaua a me ka wahine mua a Johnny Wilson. Ma 1895 i San Francisco i noho ai ʻo Wilson ma hope o kona hele ʻana ma ke kula nui ʻo Stanford ma lalo o ka mahalo pānaʻi o kona Mōʻīwahine ʻo Liliʻuokalani. Ua hoʻokipa ʻo ia iā Claus Spreckels ma Mei o kēlā makahiki, i ka manawa hoʻokahi o ka hōʻea ʻana o kona mau hoaloha kamaliʻi, e mākaʻikaʻi ʻana kona mau hoaloha ma ke ano he mau lālā o ka Bana Lāhui Hawaiʻi ma ka mua o kō lākou kaʻapuni ʻana i ka honua no ka hoʻolaha ʻana i ka ʻōlelo hoʻouna ʻia o ko lākou mōʻīwahine a me ke Aupuni Mōʻī o Hawaiʻi. Ua hoʻokohu ʻia ʻo Wilson i Haku Nui Kūikawā a me ka ʻĀkena o ka pāna e Spreckels. Ua hoʻoulu kēia mau hana i kona hoihoi i ka hoʻopiʻi ʻana i nā mele Hawaiʻi a me nā mea hoʻokani pila ma puni o ka ʻAmelika Hui Pū ʻIa. I kona mau mākaʻikaʻi ʻana me ka hui hoʻokani pila Hawaiʻi ma nā makahiki hope iho, ua hoʻolauna ʻo ia i nā mele Hawaiʻi ma mua o ka ʻāinapuniʻole. Ua weheʻana kēia mau mele Hawaiʻi i nā mea i ke au ma ka ʻAmelika a me ka honua. Ma hope o kona hoʻokohu ʻana i ka meia o Honolulu ma 1920, ua noi ʻo Wilson i ka hoʻi ʻana o kona hoa kamaliʻi, ʻo Mekia Kealakai, mai kona kaʻapuni o nā ʻāina ʻē no kona alakaʻi ʻana i ka Pūʻali Puhi ʻOhe O Ka Mōʻī O Hawaiʻi, a ma kona ʻōlelo waha ʻana, “ka hoʻōla ʻana i nā mele Hawaiʻi” (nūpepa ʻo Honolulu Star Bulletin, P6 Kēk. 4 1920). Ma lalo o ko Kealakaʻi alakaʻi pāna ʻana me ke kākoʻo o Wilson, ua hoʻokani ka Pūʻali Puhi ʻOhe O Ka Mōʻī O Hawaiʻi i nā mele ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, ua hoʻoulu ʻia nā lālā Hawaiʻi, a ua hoʻi i ka hui hoʻokani pila ma nā kino o nā pāna a me nā Papa Hīmeni. Ua hoʻokaulana ka pāna i nā haku mele kaulana he nui e like me Lena Machado lāua ʻo Lizzie Alohikea, he mau hoaloha na Johnny lāua ʻo Kini Wilson.

Aia nā puke hoʻomanaʻo, nā kiʻi, nā leka, nā palapala pilikino, a me nā palapala ʻoihana (i hōʻike ʻia ma lalo) mai ka ʻOhina Palapala a John Henry Wilson (Pūkaʻina M182) ma ka Waihona Palapala Aupuni o ka Mokuʻāina ʻo Hawaiʻi. Ua wehewehe kēia mau palapala i ka noho ʻana mai ka wā a ke Aupuni Mōʻī Hawaiʻi ā hiki i ka hoʻolilo mokuʻāina ʻana. Ua hōʻike ʻia kēia mau palapala ma ke ano he mau PDFs no ka hoʻoili ʻana.

Aia ma loko o kēia ʻohina:

  • He leka 1913 a me ke kāleka poʻoleka mai Mekia Kealakaʻi, he lālā mua o ka Pūʻali Puhi ʻOhe O Ka Mōʻī O Hawaiʻi ma lalo o ke Aupuni Mōʻī o Hawaiʻi i; Ua hoʻokohu ʻo Wilson i Meia, iā Kealakaʻi i Alakaʻi Pāna ma 1920.
  • He mau leka 1913 no Wilson mai nā mea hoʻokani pila kiʻekiʻe ʻo July lāua ʻo Toots Paka
  • He mau leka 1930 iā Wilson mai Lena Machado
John Henry Wilson’s Correspondence
Ref No. Item Description
M182-6-34 Personal and Business, Music, no date
M182-7-1 Correspondence, 1913-1933
M182-7-2 Correspondence, 1934-1935
M182-7-3 Correspondence, 1936
M182-7-4 Correspondence, January-March 1937
M182-7-5 Correspondence, April-July 1937
M182-7-6 Correspondence, August-December 1937
M182-7-7 Correspondence,1938
M182-7-8 Correspondence, January-March 1939
M182-7-9 Correspondence, April-December 1939
M182-7-10 Correspondence, 1940
M182-7-11 Correspondence, 1941-1943
M182-7-12 Correspondence, 1944-1945
M182-7-13 Correspondence, 1946
M182-7-14 Correspondence, 1947
M182-7-15 Correspondence, 1948
M182-7-16 Correspondence, 1949
M182-7-17 Correspondence, 1950-1951
M182-7-18 Correspondence, 1952-1956
M182-9 Journal (Diary), 1889
M182-9 Appointment Book, 1901
M182-9 Appointment Book, 1901-1903

See also other Archives Month 2020 Exhibitions:
      Hawaiian Music Online Photograph Exhibition
      [Ref No. M11] Henri Berger Manuscript Collection
      [Ref No. KAHN] Mele from the Paul Markham Kahn Collection

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