Bali Ha'i

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"Bali Ha'i"
Song from South Pacific
Published 1949
Writer(s) Oscar Hammerstein II
Composer(s) Richard Rodgers

"Bali Ha'i", also spelled "Bali Hai", is a show tune from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. The name refers to a mystical island, visible on the horizon but not reachable, and was originally inspired by Espiritu Santo's sighting of Ambae island in Vanuatu, where author James Michener was stationed in World War II.

In South Pacific[edit]

In the musical, Bali Ha’i is a volcanic island within sight of the island on which most of the action takes place. The troops think of Bali Ha’i as an exotic paradise, but it is off-limits — except to officers. The matriarch of Bali Ha’i, Bloody Mary, conducts a lot of business with the troops, and she meets Lt. Joseph Cable right after he arrives. She sings to him her mysterious song "Bali Ha’i", with its haunting orchestral accompaniment, because she wants to entice him to visit her island. She doesn’t tell him that she wants him to meet, and fall in love with, her young daughter, Liat.

Resemblance to score for Bride of Frankenstein[edit]

Several commentators have noted that the opening melody of Bali Ha'i bears a resemblance to the "bride motif" in Franz Waxman's musical score for the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein.[1][2][3][4] Both melodies share an identical three note pattern.[3]

Cover versions[edit]

Several versions of the showtune made the bestsellers list in 1949. Perry Como's version was the most successful at #5. Other versions appearing on the charts were by Paul Weston and his Orchestra (#10), Bing Crosby (#12), Peggy Lee (#13), and Frank Sinatra (#18).[5] Later, Harry James released a version on his 1955 album, Jazz Session (Columbia CL 669); Andy Williams released a version on his 1958 album, Andy Williams Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein; and Sergio Franchi included this song on his 1965 RCA Victor tribute to The Songs of Richard Rodgers.[6]

Connections to actual islands[edit]

"Bali Ha'i" was based on the real island of Ambae (formerly Aoba Island). Ambae is located in Vanuatu (known as New Hebrides at the time the song was written).[citation needed]

Ambae is visible on the horizon from Espiritu Santo island, where James A. Michener was stationed in World War II. Michener referred to the island in his book, Tales of the South Pacific, which is the basis for the musical South Pacific. The author used the tranquil, hazy image of the smoothly sloping island on the horizon to represent a not-so-distant but always unattainable place of innocence and happiness. Hence the longing nature of the song.[citation needed] In his memoir, The World Is My Home (1992), Michener writes of his time in the Treasury Islands: "On a rude signboard attached to a tree, someone had affixed a cardboard giving the settlement's name, and it was so completely different from ordinary names, so musical to my ear that I borrowed a pencil and in a soggy notebook jotted the name against the day when I might want to use if for some purpose I could not then envisage: Bali-ha'i."

In the 1958 film adaptation, Bali Ha'i is portrayed by the real-life island of Tioman in Malaysia. However, the scene[clarification needed] was filmed on the north shore of Kauaʻi; Mount Makana was used as Bali Hai and is still known as Bali Hai today. Tunnel's Beach is often referred to as "Nurses' Beach", and the scene where Bloody Mary sings "Bali Ha'i" is set on Hanalei Bay.[citation needed]

Subsequent uses of song or name Bali Hai[edit]

The song has appeared or been referenced in many works following South Pacific, and several products have adopted the name.

Art, entertainment, and media[edit]

Excursions and shows[edit]


  • Samuel L. Jackson sings "Bali Ha'i" in the shower after waking from a coma in the feature film Sphere (1998).
  • "Bali Ha'i" is played in the background of the first dinner scene of the film American Beauty (1999)
  • "Bali Ha'i" is played in the background in the film The Dressmaker (2015). The characters mention the South Pacific record and the cover is shown.


  • Steampunk musician Doctor Steel uses "Bali Ha'i" as a euphemism for his fictional island laboratory in his song, "The Dr. Steel Show".


  • In the Better Call Saul season 2 episode, "Bali H'ai" (March 21, 2016), Jimmy McGill sweetly sings the song to his estranged, sometime-girlfriend Kim Wexler, on a telephone voice message, in an effort to maintain contact with her. Kim waits for Jimmy's call and secretly listens to the song as he is recording it, but does not pick up the phone.[7]
  • In the Northern Exposure Season 3 episode "Wake-Up Call" (1992), Shelly Tambo mentions a place (most likely a restaurant) called Bali Hai in Kipnuk, Alaska that "got a new band".
  • In the "3rd Rock From The Sun" Season 2, episode 7, titled "Fourth and Dick," which originally aired on November 3rd, 1996, Mrs. Frost, played by actress Brenda Strong, sings a portion of the song "Bali Ha'i" to her music class, effectively exciting Tommy Solomon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.


In the 2013 video game Life is Strange, a fishing boat is named "Bali'Hai".


Brands and enterprises[edit]



  1. ^ Pratt, Douglas (2004). Doug Pratt's DVD: Movies, Television, Music, Art, Adult, and More!, Volume 1. Sag Harbor, NY: Harbor Electronic Publishing. p. 195. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  2. ^ Senn, Bryan (1996). Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 282. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  3. ^ a b MacDonald, Laurence (2013). The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 40. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  4. ^ Bond, Jeff (2000). "Bride of Frankenstein". Film Score Monthly. 5 (9-10): 27. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. p. 474. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 
  6. ^ Sergio Frenchi's The Songs of Richard Rodgers at
  7. ^ Bowman, Donna (March 21, 2016). "Better Call Saul: Bali H'ai". AV Club. 
  8. ^ Bali Hai Beer
  9. ^ Lusitain. "Bali Hai Cocktail Drink Recipe ¤ 1001 Cocktails". Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  10. ^ Mendelson, Richard (2009), From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America, University of California Press, p. 134 
  11. ^ "Ballet Bali Hai" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  12. ^ Bali Hai Golf Club
  13. ^ Bali Hai restaurant website