Hawaiian Music & Musicians - An Encyclopedic History
SORIA, HARRY BROWNING, JR
Musicologist, broadcaster, liner notes writer, and record producer.
Harry B. Soria, Jr. is neither a musician nor a vocalist, but no one did more during the final decades of the 20th century to preserve and perpetuate the musical legacy of the Territorial Era (1900-1959). Soria launched his Territorial Airwaves radio show on KCCN in 1979, a time when many island residents considered much of the music of that era as either old fashioned or as “tourist music”. Self-anointed cultural commissars of the time dismissed the popular music of the Territorial period as being part of a very bad time in Hawaiian history. Some found the names of some of the groups of the era as offensive or “colonialist”. Others took offense at the matching uniforms. Some denounced the entire hapa-haole genre as “non-Hawaiian”.
Soria himself had grown up without much interest in the music, even though his father, Harry B. Soria, Sr., had been a prominent local broadcaster and hapa-haole songwriter. Soria was attending college on the mainland when he met a group of record collectors who consider Territorial Era music “cool”. When Soria returned to Hawaii, he asked his father to share his memories.
Soria thereafter became a voracious and knowledgeable collector of Territorial Era records; his personal archives include thousands of 78-rpm records and the “unbreakable” 33-1/3-rpm vinyl albums and 45-rpm singles that replaced 78s in the 1950s.
He first appeared on KCCN as a guest in 1976. Three years later, he was invited to do Territorial Airwaves on a weekly basis. The first broadcast was on June 13, 1979.
Soria developed a large and loyal following. The music came from his personal collection and covered everything Hawaiian and hapa-haole from 1915 through 1959. The show also featured interviews with the entertainers and composers of the period. Almost everyone – from R. Alex Anderson and Gabby Pahinui to Genoa Keawe and Randy Oness – joined Soria at least once or twice over the years.
By the time Soria and KCCN 1420 AM celebrated the 20th Annivesary of Territorial Airwaves in 1999, the station had been sold. When KCCN-AM adopted a talk radio/sports format, Territorial Airwaves was moved to “sister station” Hawaiian 105 KINE and Soria continued the tradition he had started over 20 years before.
Territorial Airwaves moved for a third time after the corporate “suits” decided that the show no longer fit the target market of Hawaiian 105 KINE. On January 15, 2006, the show was moved from Hawaiian 105 KINE to AM940 (“All Traditional Hawaiian, All The Time”). For the first time in the show’s history it was pre-recorded – although this change allowed Soria more freedom to work as an emcee at Hawaiian music events in Japan and on the U.S. mainland.
The new version of Territorial Airwaves was also made available “on demand” at www.territorialairwaves.com.
Territorial Airwaves celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 12, 2009.
Although Soria is most visible in Hawaii as a radio personality, his work as a record producer and musical historian is even more important. By the early 1990s, technological advances in computer restoration programs and digital re-mastering techniques had made it possible to electronically remove the surface noise from badly worn old 78-rpm records and re-release the restored recordings on modern compact discs. Long-out-of-print Hawaiian recordings for which no master recordings existed could be made available once again, by electronically restoring “unplayable” 78-rpm recordings. Soria was the facilitator of a small scale project of this type as producer and annotator of the “Hawaiian Masters Collection” series for Los Angeles-based Tantalus Records; the recordings were from his personal collection.
Record producer Michael Cord envisioned a much larger series of CD anthologies that would bring as much of the old music back into print as possible, with state-of-the-art restoration and extensive annotation as well. Soria was the obvious choice to produce and annotate the series.
The albums, released on Cord’s HanaOla label, set the standard for all similar projects in both sound quality and annotation. Cords’s tech people are unmatched at audio restoration. Soria’s erudite annotation includes the basic background information on the songs and the artists, while often adding such details as the street addresses of the long-vanished clubs and bars where the artists performed. Everything Soria has produced for HanaOla has been a valuable addition to the growing library of classic Hawaiian recordings available on CD.
The importance of Soria’s work with Cord as a producer and annotator cannot be overstated. His willingness to share the information in his archives with other researchers is another valuable contribution to the overall preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian music and our knowledge of it.
The seven Hoku Awards Soria received between 1996 and 2008 by no means reflect the full extent of his work with Cord, but are at least indicative of its quality.
-- John Berger (2012) Hawaiian Music & Musicians – Ka Mele Hawai’i a Me Ka Po,e Mele