Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders
Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders was a popular Hawaiian music band started by Felix Mendelssohn (1911 – 1952). It is best known for making Hawaiian music popular in England and throughout Europe during the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s.
Mendelssohn was born in Brondesbury Park, London. He claimed ancestry with the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn, but genealogy does not support this claim, though both Mendelssohns were of Jewish ancestry.
He worked for a while in his father's office in the London Stock Exchange before joining the Navy at the age of seventeen. On leaving the Navy he became an actor and managed various clubs in London (even opening his own Club Felix) and soon became the promotional manager for several band leaders including Mantovani, Sydney Lipton, Joe Loss, Lew Stone, and Carroll Gibbons. Despite a stammer and, by his own admission, "limited musical ability", he put together his own dance orchestra that played on Radio Luxembourg and BBC. It was in these performances that he would have them occasionally play a Hawaiian song, inspired by a visit to the South Sea Islands.
Realizing a long-standing ambition to form a Hawaiian band, in 1938 Mendelssohn took over a band led by Canadian steel guitarist, Roland Peachy and renamed it "Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders". While dressed in a white suit and always wearing a Polynesian garland of flowers around his neck, he merely stood by while the talent performed. In 1942 the Serenaders appeared in a variety show called the Yankee Clipper including a troupe of Hula Dancers from around the world which he called his "South Sea Lovelies" and for which he would make up a story about each dancer and would involve audience members in the show as well. At its peak, the troupe numbered about fifty people.
During World War II, Mendelssohn spent some time in the Life Guards, but still managed to regularly broadcast with his Serenaders on "Songs of the Islands", and later on "Hawaii Calling" featuring singer Rita Williams. After the war, the Serenaders appeared on radio shows like "Workers Playtime", "Variety Bandbox", and "Music for the Housewife", as well as many Variety tours. The group also appeared in two films: 1946 "Demobbed" starring comic Nat Jackley and the "Sweethearts in Song" Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, and 1951 "Penny Points To Paradise" starring Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan (the "Goon" trio).
In 1946 the band suffered financial problems which culminated in 1950 when Mendelssohn appeared in bankruptcy court. He put together a tour to The Netherlands to repay his debts, but it was a financial disaster as the expenses were more than the payment received, and this left the whole company stranded without the fare back to England. Mendelssohn negotiated with a local British Army camp, offering free shows to the servicemen in exchange for overnight accommodation and subsidised transport back home.
Mendelssohn began to have health issues, but the serenaders could perform without him. By October 1950 he had quit touring altogether, but continued with the broadcasts. Then in December, he underwent an operation for "glandular problems" and was back on the road by May 1951. Unfortunately, his health became worse and on 4 February 1952 after entering Charing Cross Hospital, he died from Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 40 and is buried at Golders Green cemetery.
The Hawaiian Serenaders, renamed as The Esme Lee Islanders, did continue for a while under the promotion of bandleader/songwriter Billy Reid.
Incomplete list of steel guitarists
- Roland Peachy
- Kealoha Life
- Ivor Mairants
- Wally Chapman
- Jimmy McCulloch
- Harry Brooker (father of Gary Brooker)
- Sammy Mitchell
Source: Felix Mendelssohn & His Hawaiian Serenaders on Discogs
Singles and EPs
|In The Mood / I Got Rhythm||Columbia||1940|
|La Paloma / La Rosita||Parlophone||1940|
|La Paloma / La Rosita||Decca||1940|
|Tiger Rag / Goodbye Blues||Parlophone||1940|
|Chant of the Jungle / The Sheik of Araby||Columbia||1940|
|Hawaii Goes To Town / Rumba Rhythm||Parlophone||1940|
|Who's Taking You Home Tonight / You Made Me Care||Parlophone||1940|
|Aloha Oe / Song of the Islands||Columbia||1941|
|Dinah / Nobody's Sweetheart||Columbia||1941|
|Felix Mendelssohn And His Hawaiian Serenaders, Louisa Moe – Maui Waltz / Hawaiian Love||Columbia||1941|
|Indian Love Call / Speak To Me of Love||Columbia||1941|
|Lover Come Back To Me / La Cumparsa Cubanas||Columbia||1941|
|St. Louis Blues / Crazy Rhythm||Columbia||1941|
|Waltz Time in Hawaii||Columbia||1942|
|Where The Waters Are Blue / Sing Me A Song of the Islands||Columbia||1942|
|Hawaiian Memories (No.3)||Columbia||1943|
|Romantic Waltzes Part 1 / Romantic Waltzes Part 2||Columbia||1943|
|Tabú / Little Star||Columbia||1944|
|My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua / Hawaiian War Chant||Columbia||1944|
|Serenata (Toselli's Serenata) / Lullaby (Brahms Lullaby)||Columbia||1945|
|My Old Hawaiian Home / Rose of Santa Luzia||Columbia||1945|
|Goodbye Hawaii / My Isle of Golden Dreams||Columbia||1945|
|Caprice Viennois / Intermezzo||Columbia||1945|
|Felix Mendelssohn And His Hawaiian Serenaders, George Barclay – The Woodpecker Song / Indian Summer||Columbia||1946|
|Mamula Moon / Hawaii Sang Me To Sleep||Columbia||1948|
|Now Is The Hour / Samoan Farewell Song||Columbia||1948|
|E-Liliu-E, Hula (Beautiful Queen) / South Sea Sadie (The Little South Sea Lady)||Columbia||1949|
|By The Sleepy Lagoon / Whisper That You Love me||Columbia||1949|
|La Golondrina / La Vie En Rose||Columbia||1950|
|Moonlight in Waikiki / Tiger Shark||Columbia||1956|
These singles were compiled into a dozen or so albums, and many of those were reissued on CD.