Sonja Edsman asked me recently when the original Trapp Family Singers first performed in Hawaii.
“I would see a woman in a dirndl (Bavarian dress) in Honolulu in the 1960s and was told she was an original Trapp Family member. Are there members of the current generation of the Trapp Family who live in Hawaii?”
The 10-member Trapp Family Singers, world famous before the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music,” first came to Hawaii in 1952. They put on nine concerts on five islands.
“The six radiant faced girls and two boys in Tyrolean costumes, sang rollicking folk songs, lusty yodels, and lilting madrigals,” The Honolulu Advertiser reported.
The Trapp family fled Nazi-occupied Austria and considered living on a South Seas island. Baron von Trapp had sailed the Pacific on a training cruise in the Austrian Navy and owned a 70-foot boat.
Maria, the girl who had left a convent to care for the widowed baron’s children, reminded him that many of them would soon be of marriageable age.
‘I would not mind having those kind and friendly Polynesians as in-laws,’ Hedwig Trapp recalled him saying.
However, the offer of a singing engagement in America changed their plans. They settled on a 1,700-acre farm in Stowe, Vt. On it they built a replica of their Tyrolean mountain chalet.
A resident of Stowe had aided St. Damien at Kalaupapa. Brother Joseph Dutton took over Damien’s mission when he died and carried it on for another 40 years.
While in the islands, the family traveled to Kalaupapa and sang over their graves. They also sang to the patients there.
The Trapp family returned to Hawaii for more concerts in 1953.
Rosemarie Panko told me her family lived on Kauai and met the Trapps. Her parents had a station wagon, Panko recalled, and helped drive them around.
“Daughter Hedwig Trapp lived with my family for several months (maybe even a year) in the 1960s. We called her ‘tante,’ meaning aunt. She taught my sisters and me to play the recorder.” Hedwig was called Brigita in the movie.
“Our family was involved with the Fort Ruger Theatre, as Diamond Head Theatre was known then, in the 1962 production of ‘The Sound of Music.’ Hedwig was an adviser to the show.
“She later lived in Kailua, Oahu. I recall always seeing her in her Austrian dirndl outfit, a woolen skirt, white blouse with a bodice, and red kerchief.”
Theater historian Lowell Angell said the Trapp Family Singers disbanded in 1956, and Hedwig taught music at St. Anthony School in Kailua through the 1960s and lived in a small cottage next to the school grounds. In 1972 she went to Austria to visit her aunt and died there at the age of 55 from asthma.
Hedwig recommended local families spend time singing together each day. Music makes you happy, she liked to say.
“As of 2015, Bourgi von Trapp, who is a granddaughter of patriarch Georg von Trapp, was living on Kauai and working as the coordinator at Kealia Farms on Kauai’s Eastside,” Angell continued.
Nona Beamer adopted Kaliko Beamer Trapp, a British-born descendent of the Trapp Family. He taught Hawaiian-language courses in 2019 at the Volcano Art Center.
“The Sound of Music,” by the way, was shown at the Kuhio Theatre for over 18 months in 1965-66. An estimated 330,000 people paid over $1.4 million to view it there.
Bob Shane, the last surviving member of the Kingston Trio, died last month. My trusty researcher Steve Miura found some interesting things about his career.
Shane, born Bob Schoen in Hilo, was a great- grandson of missionaries. He said he took up the guitar to gain popularity with girls. He attended Punahou and graduated in 1952.
A year before the Kingston Trio formed, Bob Shane, Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and several others played at the Cracked Pot in San Francisco, where they attended college. Shane played a four-string tenor guitar.
Shane found it hard to perform at night and get to 8 a.m. classes, and flunked out in his senior year.
In the summer of 1956, he returned to Hawaii and began working in his dad’s athletic supply business, but that lasted only a few weeks. Shane then got a job at Sears.
“I heard that Pearl City Tavern was doing auditions on Tuesday nights, once a month,“ Shane said.
He sat at the bar with the owner, George Fukuoka, and downed eight shots of tequila before the audition. He later said he had no recollection of it, but the next day Fukuoka offered him a job.
In his solo act, Shane played calypso, folk, rock ’n’ roll and country-western music. All he wanted to do was be a good nightclub entertainer, he said.
Shane sang many Elvis songs like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender.”
“Unfortunately, it was well received,” Shane said. The audience wanted more. “Personally, I can’t stand him, but I guess the only reason is, he makes more money than I do.”
A friend of Shane’s, Ben Serkin, said, ”Bob once told me that he met Elvis. He stated that he started out as an Elvis impersonator and that they called him ‘Hawaii’s Elvis Presley.’”
Elvis didn’t like it and said, “Why did ya want to do that?” Shane didn’t have a good response.
Over the next six months, Shane played at the Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, the Ocean View Club at the Hotel Palm Terrace, and the Marigold Club in Waipahu. He was paid $155 per week, union scale (about $1,800 in today’s dollars). It was good money, and Shane was doing what he loved to do most.
“One of the highlights of Shane’s solo club career was meeting one of his heroes, blues legend Josh White, who was appearing in Honolulu,” William J. Bush wrote in “Greenback Dollar: The Incredible Rise of the Kingston Trio.”
Josh saw Shane’s four-string tenor guitar and suggested that he could get a better, fuller sound with a six-string guitar. Josh gave him instructions on how to play it.
“He handed me his Martin, and within 45 minutes Josh taught me how to play three chords in four keys,” Shane said.
Shane bought his first Martin D-28 six-string guitar at the Bergstrom Music Co. in Honolulu.
In the following years, Shane so popularized the D-28 Model that Martin had to build a whole new factory wing to keep up with demand, Toby Kravet told me.
Shane’s nightclub career was going well until he got a draft notice from the Army. He reported for his physical exam … and flunked it.
A few months later, in the spring of 1957, Dave Guard (also from Punahou) and Nick Reynolds persuaded Shane to drop the Elvis act in Hawaii and join them on the mainland.
The group solidified in May 1957. They settled on the name Kingston Trio, inspired by Kingston, Jamaica, where calypso music originated, and Kingston, R.I., evocative of the Ivy League.
A mainstream engagement at the San Francisco Purple Onion nightclub led to a recording contract.
In February 1958 the group recorded its first album, titled simply “The Kingston Trio.” It included “Scotch and Soda” and “Tom Dooley.” It sold more than 3 million copies and earned them a Grammy. Both Billboard and Cash Box magazines voted them Best Group of the Year for 1959.
The Kingston Trio’s other hits included “Greenback Dollar,” “MTA,” “Tijuana Jail,” “Worried Man” and “Wreck of the John B,” later covered by the Beach Boys as “Sloop John B.”
Two years later their earnings topped $1 million a year. They were at the time one of the top acts in the country.
Ten years later they estimated they had sung “Tom Dooley” over 3,000 times. Their audience wanted the old songs, and the trio wanted to move forward. So they decided to disband.
“The thing I’m most proud of, next to my kids, is that I have played live to over 10 million people,” Shane concluded.
Have a question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at Sigall@Yahoo.com.