Harry Owens wrote the song on October 20, 1934 for his daughter Leilani, who was born the previous day. Leilani is a popular Hawaiian name, meaning "heavenly garland of flowers" (not "heavenly flower"). It also has a figurative meaning: Small Hawaiian children were carried on their parents' shoulders like a lei (garland), so the name took on the meaning "heavenly child."
Harry Owens and his daughter Leilani
Prior to Waikiki Wedding, the song had been recorded by Sol Hoʻopiʻi under the title "Leilani" as the B-side of "Hawaiian Honeymoon" (Brunswick Records 55085).
Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians performed "Sweet Leilani" in the 1938 film Cocoanut Grove starring Fred MacMurray.
Though best known for his "Hawaiian" music, Harry Owens was born in Nebraska. However, he became musical director of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, in 1934, where he mixed traditional instruments with those more commonly used by American dance bands. That same year he wrote "Sweet Leilani" for his daughter. The name Leilani is made up of two Hawaiian words, Lani, meaning heavenly, and lei, meaning a wreath or garland of flowers.
Sol Ho'opi'i recorded the number on October 6th, 1935, released on Brunswick 55085 with the title "Leilani (Wreath of Heaven)".
Click on the next link for info and a photograph of Sol Hoopii:
Sol Ho'opi'i is considered to have been one of the greatest exponents of the Hawaiian guitar and was at least influential in the development of the electric guitar in the early 1940s.
"Sweet Leilani" became a big hit for Bing Crosby in 1937, when he sang it in the film "Waikiki Wedding," earning an Academy Award for Song of the Year and giving Crosby his first gold record.
Elvis Presley's cover-version from 1960 is a home recording, never intended for release.
A year removed from the German demos, Elvis is completely back, 1960 being a year of chart-topping records, a TV shot with Frank Sinatra and a hit movie. Surrounded by friends like gal pal Nancy Sharp, Presley tackles nine tunes, including "Sweet Leilani" twice. One try at the Bing Crosby classic is mostly instrumental, the other a real highlight, as Elvis takes the harmony and allows Nancy a gorgeous lead vocal.
But the ORIGINAL version was recorded October 6th, 1935 on the B-side of "Hawaiian Honeymoon" with the title "Leilani" by Sol Hoopii & his Novelty Quartette (Brunswick 55085)
Brunswick 55085 (matrix BLA 429B)
Recorded October 6th, 1935
Brunswick 55085 (matrix BLA 431B)
Recorded October 6th, 1935
Listen here :
The exact same recording (See matrix : BLA 431) was re-released in 1940 on Columbia 35526
23-07-36 - Dick McIntyre's Harmony Hawaiians (Decca 945);
19-02-37 - Ted Fio Rito & his Orchestra (Decca 1176);
21-02-37 - Jan Garber & his Orchestra (Brunswick 7839);
03-03-37 - Tommy Tucker & his Orchestra with vocal R. Hoskins (Vocalion 3489 / Conqueror 8805 / Melotone 7-05-17);
04-03-37 - George Hall & the Hotel Taft Orchestra with Dolly Dawn (Bluebird 6859);
12-03-37 - Ruby Newman & his Rainbow Room Orchestra (Victor 25543);
23-03-37 - Bing Crosby (Decca 1175 / Decca 11012 / Decca 25011);
30-03-37 - Bob White & his Orchestra (Variety 548);
06-07-37 - Billy Cotton & his Band with vocal Alan Breeze (Rex 9078).
(c) Don Redman 1939
(c) Harry Owens 1944
Released on Capitol 20004 as part of a 4 record album set (Capitol A-4)
Re-released in 1950 on Long Playing Album Capitol H 238
(c) Marty Robbins 1957 on album "Song Of The Islands" (Columbia CL-1087)
(c) Sam Cooke 1960 on album "Cooke's Tour" (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2221)
(c) Platters 1963 on album "The Platters Sing All Time Movie Hits" (Mercury MG-20782/SR-60782 )
(c) Pat Boone 1963 on album "Days of Wine and Roses" (Dot DLP 25504)
(c) Duane Edy 1963 on CD: "Deep In The Heart Of Twangsville - The RCA Years 1962-1964"
(c) Burl Ives 1965 on album "On The Beach At Waikiki" (Decca DL-4668/DL-74668)
(c) Henry Mancini 1965 on album: "The Academy Award Songs of 1965"
(c) Kilima Hawaiians 1968
Covered by Frank Zappa: http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/songs/Sweet_Leilani.html
FZ album(s) in which song has appeared:
- You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1 (1988) as Sweet Leilani, performed in Stratford, February 16, 1969
- quoted in Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top on Bongo Fury (1975), performed in Austin, Texas, May 1975
- shorter, faded-out version included in the Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band compilation The Dust Blows Forward (1999)
Covered by Chris Isaak 1996