DEAR JERRY: Back when it was a hit, I bought the single of “Hula Love,” by Buddy Knox, and I still have it. And a few things about it still mystify me.
It would be great to ask Buddy Knox for help, but since he is no longer with us I'll ask you.
They concern just three words in the first verse:
“On the isle of Fillalilla out Hawaii way
A hula maiden gay, strolled by a moonlit bay
There come-a to court her over the water
From a savage Zinga Zula land
A bolo chieftain grand, sang her this lei”
1. My world atlas lists no island, town, area, or anything named Fillalilla. I've even checked other possible spellings.
2. It does have a Zinga and a Zula, two separate towns in Africa but nowhere near each other, and both are thousands of miles from Hawaii.
3. I know what the Hawaiian lei is, but how do you sing one?
What am I missing?
Lena Mazurski, Baltimore
DEAR LENA: Just a few details that complete the “Hula Love” story.
Roulette and other labels list only “Buddy Knox,” with no composing specifics, but the sheet music takes the credit to the next level with “Words and music written by Buddy Knox.”
What very few people in 1957 knew was that the music and many of the same lyrics were written and recorded in 1911, over 22 years before Buddy was born.
With lyrics by Edward Madden and music by Percy Wenrich, they titled it “My Hula Hula Love.” They first offered the tune to a promising newcomer, a contralto performing as Dolly Connolly. It would soon be her debut single.
Connolly's good fortune is attributed less to her being in the right place at the right time, and more to her being the wife of Percy Wenrich.
In May, Columbia Records recorded “My Hula Hula Love” and “Red Rose Rag” (A-1028) by Dolly, and it became the first of several hit records for her.
Victor quickly covered “My Hula Hula Love,” but as a duet by Ada Jones and Billy Murray (Victor 16910), two of their biggest stars at the time. Still, their effort didn't match the success of Connolly's.
Other singers plus a few instrumentalists waxed the song in the years ahead, all properly credited to Edward Madden and Percy Wenrich.
Why Buddy Knox received sole credit for both words and music has never been made public. Though he clearly created some new lyrics, enough of the original work is retained to warrant crediting all three composers.
Regardless, nothing much about the case made news because a confidential out-of-court settlement averted any potential litigation.
To this day, BMI still credits Knox with no mention of Madden or Wenrich, and that is appropriate if he in fact purchased ownership from the previous writers.
Now to that first verse of “Hula Love” (1957). Note the similarities and differences between it (above) and “My Hula Hula Love” (1911):
“It was silent on the isle of Il-o-ila, down Hawaii way,
A hula maiden gay, strolled by the moonlit bay
There came to court her o'er the water
From a savage Zinga Zulu land
A bolo chieftain grand, who sang this lay”
It seems that neither Il-o-ila nor Fillalilla are real places, at least not “out Hawaii way.” There is, however, a Philippine Province named Iloilo in the Western Visayas region.
As for the lay/lei homophone mix-up, “lay” was a common synonym in the 18th and 19th centuries for “song.”
The first example of this usage that comes to mind is Walter Scott's famous poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” (1805). It is about the Song of the Last Singer.
Click here for some Hula Love!
IZ ZAT SO? Edward Madden wrote a lay titled “The Zinga Zula Man” for the 1910 Broadway musical, “He Came from Milwaukee.”
That moniker may have inspired the Zinga reference in “My Hula Hula Love,” but if so, why is it Zulu in “My Hula Hula Love” (1911), yet Zula in “Hula Love” (1957)?