SOBOLESKI: Nani Malina Alapai, prima donna of the Royal Hawaiian Band

Born in Lihu‘e, the daughter of Filipino paniolo John Malina Sr. and Keokilele Halemanu Punana Ukeke, Nani Malina Alapa‘i (1874-1928) was for over 20 years the prima donna soprano of the Royal Hawaiian Band.

She had no formal musical training.

Instead, she taught herself to sing while entertaining audiences.

And, in 1897, when Bandmaster Henri Berger hired her as a soprano soloist, she embarked upon her long singing career with the Royal Hawaiian Band.

As the prima donna soloist of the band, Madame Alapa‘i, as she was known, gave numerous performances throughout Hawai‘i and the mainland United States.

The Oregon Daily Journal noted in 1905 that “Her voice is naturally sweet and her talent distinctively native. She is ambitious for operatic work, and there is just a prospect that she may lead a native opera company in Honolulu within a short time.”

Charmian London and her husband, the famous writer Jack London, heard her sing at a lu‘au in 1907, and remarked that “She sang for us without reserve, out of her very good repertory. Her voice is remarkable, and I never heard another of its kind, for it is more like a stringed instrument than anything I can think of — metallic, but sweetly so, pure and true as a lark’s, with falls and slurs that are indescribably musical and human.”

Nani Alapa‘i also recorded, and thus preserved for posterity, a number of Hawaiian songs for the Victor Talking Machine Company and Columbia Records.

When she died on Oct. 1, 1928, her obituary in The Honolulu Advertiser noted that she “possessed a rich voice of wide range and excelled particularly in the rendition of the sweet songs of her native land. In her prime and even until very recently, her services were in much demand at concerts and parties, particularly where Hawaiian music was featured.”

Her first husband was William J. Alapa‘i, and when he died she married W. C. Luke, whom she later divorced.

Cecelia Kuliaikanu‘uwai‘ale‘ale Waipa, who would become the wife of Prince David Kalakaua Kawananakoa, was her adopted daughter.

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