Robert Alexander Anderson (composer)

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Robert Alexander Anderson (R. Alex Anderson) (June 6, 1894 – May 29 or 30, 1995) was an American composer who wrote many popular Hawaiian songs within the Hapa haole genre including "Lovely Hula Hands" (1940) and "Mele Kalikimaka" (1949), the latter the best known Hawaiian Christmas song.[1]


Anderson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He attended Punahou School where he wrote the school's football song in his junior year and the school song in his senior year. He graduated from Cornell University in 1916, where he studied electrical and mechanical engineering and was a member of the Cornell University Glee Club. Despite lacking formal training as a composer, he wrote many songs as a student there, including "When Twilight Falls on Blue Cayuga". In 1927, he wrote his first hit song, "Haole Hula". Another well-known song of his was "Punahou" (1966).

His exploits during World War I involved flying combat missions in France. After being shot down and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans, Anderson conceived of a daring and ultimately successful escape. This was later turned into a movie .[2]

Although he had a very active business career, he turned his love of songwriting into a very successful avocation. While Anderson never studied theory or harmony and played a piano mostly by ear, many of his over 100 island songs have become standards. He usually composed away from an instrument, although he sometimes used a piano or ukulele to work out a melody. In 1939, as a result of a chance remark, Anderson was inspired to write his most popular song, "Lovely Hula Hands". After watching a hula dancer at a party, he heard someone say, "aren't her hands lovely?" After it was performed by Harry Owens and his band on a Honolulu radio station, it became an instant hit. It has been recorded by dozens of artists, including Bing Crosby and Alfred Apaka.[3]


  1. ^ Robert C. Allen (2004). Creating Hawaii Tourism: A Memoir. Bess Press.
  2. ^ Scott Stone (2001). From a Joyful Heart: The Life and Music of R. Alex Anderson. Island Heritage.
  3. ^ Tony Todaro (1974). The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment 1874-1974. Tony Todaro Publishing Co.

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