One of the most famous hapa haole songs from Hawai’i, “My Little Grass Shack (in Kealakekua, Hawaiʻi)” was introduced in Kona, Hawaiʻi at the July 4th canoe races in 1933. Tommy Harrison gave the song to Johnny Noble to publish, who revised the music to give it a new melody without changing Bill Cogswell’s words. This was done to dispel the claim that others had written the song.
The title refers to Kealakekua Bay where Captain James Cook was killed in 1779. The song mentions Hōnaunau (City of Refuge), site of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, also located in the Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. The lyrics are of a Hawaiian homesick island boy who misses his home in Hawai’i. Once published, Noble turned over the royalties to the Sherman Clay Company in San Francisco for $500 advance royalty, giving the credit to Cogswell and Harrison.
The first ever recording of My Little Grass Shack (in Kealakekua, Hawai’i) was in September 1933 by the Noelani Hawaiian Orchestra under the Victor record label on a 10 inch, 78 rpm speed vinyl record. Instant success, the song was a smash hit. Orchestra’s took their turn recording the song under record labels Brunswick, Columbia, Decca, Regal, Bluebird, and Vdisc. Since then, various vocal and instrumental renditions and titles of the song have been recorded many times by Hawaiian & non-Hawaiian bands and musicians. Some cover recordings became classics, others less than desirable. Interestingly, many versions of the song mispronounce “Hōnaunau” as the melody flows with the wrongly “Ho’onaunau”.
Johnny Noble was one of the key figures behind the development of the hapa haole style of music in Honolulu, and played a leading role in introducing Hawaiian music to the United States.
I want to go back to my little grass shack (back) in Kealakekua, Hawaiʻi
I want to be with all the kane’s and wahine’s that I knew long ago
I can hear the old guitars playing on the beach at Hōnaunau
I can hear the old Hawaiians saying komo mai no kāua i ka hale welakahao
It won’t be long till my ship will be sailing back to Kona
A grand old place that’s always fair to see, you’re telling me
I’m just a little Hawaiian, a homesick island boy
I want to go back to my fish and poi
I want to go back to my little grass shack (back) in Kealakekua, Hawai`i
Where the humuhumunukunukuāpua`a go swimming by
Sol Ho’opi’i and his Novelty Quartette