Hilo Hattie

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Hilo Hattie
Anonymous photo of Hilo Hattie, 1941.jpg
Hilo Hattie in 1941
Background information
Birth nameClarissa Haili
Also known asHilo Hattie, Mrs. Carlyle Nelson
Born(1901-10-28)October 28, 1901
Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
DiedDecember 12, 1979(1979-12-12) (aged 78)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Occupation(s)Singer, musician
InstrumentsVocals, Ukulele
Years active1920–1979
Associated actsHawaii Calls
Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians
Easter Seals Hawaii

Hilo Hattie (born Clarissa Haili, October 28, 1901 – December 12, 1979) was a Hawaiian singer,[1] hula dancer, actress and comedian of Native Hawaiian ancestry.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Hattie was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She loved to dance the hula and sing in the church choir. She began teaching at Waipahu Elementary School[3] in 1923, entertaining her students with what would become her comedy hula routines. In 1930, she married Theodore Inter. By 1936, she had joined Louise Akeo's Royal Hawaiian Girls Glee Club[4] singing at venues around Oahu. The group got $25 per appearance[5] to distribute among the 25 members.

The Don McDiarmid Sr-Johnny Noble song When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop[6] became her signature tune. McDiarmid intended the 1935 song to be danced by the typical beautifully smooth hula dancer. But in 1936, while the band was performing as shipboard entertainment on a cruise to Portland, Oregon,[5] the seductive dancer meant to perform it fell ill. Hilo Hattie, who claimed to have never had a hula lesson in her life,[5] ran with it as a comedy piece, and it became a monster success in its time. Clara legally changed her name to Hilo Hattie, when she performed her second signature song, The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai, in the movie Song of the Islands. From 1939, Hilo Hattie was a favorite[7] among the military.

Fame, film, and television work[edit]

By 1940, Harry Owens was conducting the Royal Hawaiian Hotel orchestra and hired her. Hattie joined the Webley Edwards-hosted Hawaii Calls[8] broadcasts that went out to 600 radio stations around the world. From that point on, she became a global household name, touring the world and performing in movies and on television, with a recurring role in Hawaii Five-O as Mrs. Pruitt. In 1945, she was referred to as "the Polynesian Sophie Tucker"[9] when she entertained at the Holland Supper Club in Eugene, Oregon. The divorced Clara married bandleader and violinist, Carlyle Nelson, in Las Vegas in 1949.[10]

She was still touring the mainland in 1956,[11] when she performed four days and nights at the Merced County, California Spring Fair. Hilo Hattie and her Hawaiian Revue played the Peabody Auditorium[2] in Daytona Beach, Florida in January 1959. Hilo Hattie began doing two shows a night, six nights a week, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Tapa Room[7] in 1960. It was an arrangement that continued for more than a decade. In 1961, she appeared in the motion picture Blue Hawaii [12] with Elvis Presley. In June 1963,[13] she entertained at the Sportsmen of Stanislaus luau in Modesto, California.

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1972,[5] she recalled having once made an attempt at retirement but live performing was too much fun. Hilo Hattie died of cancer[14] on December 12, 1979.

Hattie's first husband was Ted H. Inter whom she divorced in 1946. She married musician Carlyle Nelson in 1949. He survived her.[15][16] She is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Section U, Grave 653-A) under her married name, Clara Nelson.

Retail Stores[edit]

Hilo Hattie is the brand name of a group of stores selling Hawaiian and Hawaiian-themed merchandise. The stores were founded by Richard and Evelyn Margolis in 1965 and operated by the Margolis Manufacturing and Retail Company (Hilo, Hawaii) until the Sale of the company to James Romig of Pomare Ltd in 1979. As of 2010, there were seven Hilo Hattie stores in the state of Hawaii; at one time the firm operated stores outside of Hawaii as well, primarily in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The store filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and has subsequently been acquired by its principal creditors, exiting bankruptcy in 2010.


  • Hilo Hattie at the Tapa Room (1965) LP album LSP-3442 (RCA Victor)
  • Hilo Hattie at the Hawaiian Village LP album HH-100 (Paradise)
  • South Seas Sadie / Hasegawa General Store (Decca)
  • Hawaii's Favorite Music (2000) CD (Hula)
  • Hawaiian Melodies (Columbia)
  • My Hawaii (Hui)


Television work[edit]


The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts awarded Hilo Hattie the 1978 Na Hoku Hanohano Sidney Grayson Award[17] for lifetime achievement.

Further reading[edit]

  • Singletary, Milly (2006) [1979]. Hilo Hattie: A legend in our time. Mutual Publishing. ISBN 1-56647-780-8.


  1. ^ "National Memrorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Grave of Hilo Hattie". Find A Grave. Retrieved 18 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Personality Is The Word For Hattie". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. 25 January 1959.
  3. ^ "Waipahu Elementary School". Waipahu Elementary. Archived from the original on 14 May 2010. Retrieved 18 May 2010.
  4. ^ Allen, Robert C (2004). Creating Hawaii Tourism. Bess Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-1-57306-206-0.
  5. ^ a b c d "Hilo Hattie Still Active at 70". Reading Eagle. 11 October 1972.
  6. ^ "Hilo Hattie". Square One. Retrieved 18 May 2010.
  7. ^ a b Hillinger, Charles (4 Sep 1969). "Hilo Hattie Down". The Tuscaloosa News.
  8. ^ Austen, Jake. "Aloha Hilo Hattie!". Roctober Magazine. Retrieved 18 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Hilo Hattie Due at the Holland Monday". Eugene Register-Guard. 19 August 1945.
  10. ^ McWhorter, A. J., "Hilo Hattie's Name and Fame Came with Lots of Laughter", Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Nov. 11, 2012, p. G9
  11. ^ "Hilo Hattie Entertains at Merced County Spring Fair". The Modesto Bee. 9 May 1956.
  12. ^ IMDb.com. "Blue Hawaii (1961) -IMDb".
  13. ^ "Hilo Hattie Will Appear at the SOS". The Modesto Bee. 30 June 1963.
  14. ^ "Hilo Hattie Dead at 78". Tri-City Herald. 13 December 1979.
  15. ^ "Hilo Hattie marriages". Honolulu Advertiser at Newspapers.com. December 13, 1979. p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved May 31, 2018.Free to read
  16. ^ "A long and happy hula is pau; Hilo Hattie is dead at age 78". The Honolulu Advertiser at Newspapers.com. December 13, 1979. p. 3. Retrieved May 31, 2018.Free to read; "Hilo Hattie's happy hula reaches an end". The Honolulu Advertiser at Newspapers.com. December 13, 1979. p. 7. Retrieved May 31, 2018.Free to read
  17. ^ "Na Hoku Hanohano Award". Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts. Archived from the original on February 27, 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2010. Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts

External links[edit]