Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders

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Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders was a popular Hawaiian music band started by Bartholdy 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, into a theatrical and entertainment family. He was the son of a stockbroker, Martin Mendelssohn (1877 - 1957) and Kate Lazarsfeld Warner (1889 -1944) whose father was Dick Warner, the head of Warners International Theatrical Agency. Dick Warner changed the culture of popular entertainment, moving away from singing saloons and contracting more classical performers by utilising his Jewish cousinhood in Vienna, Prague and his birthplace, Bohemia.[1][2] He claimed ancestry with the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn, though all Mendelssohns are of Jewish ancestry and claim cousinhood due to endogamy of the closed Eastern European shtetels. Mendelssohn's aunt, Miriam Warner, was a West End theatrical and musical agent, as were his cousins Jack Somers and Ernest Warner, in Tottenham.

Mendelssohn 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, including his self-named venue, Club Felix. He 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.[3]

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[edit]


Source: Felix Mendelssohn & His Hawaiian Serenaders on Discogs[4]

His first recording for Parlophone was in November 1939 then Mendelssohn got a two-year contract with the parent company, Columbia Graphophone Company records in 1941.

Singles and EPs[edit]

Song Titles Publisher Year
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
Romantic Waltzes-No.6 Columbia 1949
E-Liliu-E, Hula (Beautiful Queen) / South Sea Sadie (The Little South Sea Lady)[5] 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.


  1. ^ Warner, Dick (16 August 2021). Kehelia https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/teplice/Dick_Warner.htm. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Alltree, George, W. (1934). Footlight Memories. London: Sampson Low. pp. 38–99.
  3. ^ "Deaths". The Ottawa Journal. 5 February 1952.
  4. ^ "Felix Mendelssohn & His Hawaiian Serenaders". Discogs.com. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  5. ^ "45 Worlds: 78RPM Record". 45worlds.com. 24 April 2015. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2019.

External links[edit]