Sweet Leilani

written by Harry Owens in 1934

Original version(s)


FZ album(s) in which song has appeared


Tour(s) on which song is known to have been performed (main source: FZShows, v. 7.1)



A partial list of "Sweet Leilani" quotes, compiled by Charles Ulrich

2/16/69 Stratford (stand-alone, as heard on YCDTOSA 1)
9/2/73 Zurich (Farther Oblivion)
9/14/73 London (Brown Shoes Don't Make It)
5/4/74 Washington (Advanced Be Bop Jazz Session)
5/12/74 South Bend (Dupree's Paradise)
7/15/74 Chalmette (Dupree's Paradise)
10/31/74 (early) New York (Tush Tush Tush, Stinkfoot)
11/8/74 (late) Passaic (Big Swifty)
5/20-21/75 Austin (Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top, as heard on Bongo Fury)
3/3/76 (late) Copenhagen (Filthy Habits)
6/14/80 Nantes (Easy Meat)
11/30/80 Des Moines (Illinois Enema Bandit)
6/29/82 Linz (Pound For A Brown)
12/8/84 (late) Kansas City (Let's Move To Cleveland)
2/9/88 Washington (Bamboozled By Love)

Any more?

Marc De Bruyn (emdebe@village.uunet.be), August 23, 2003

"Sweet Leilani" was written by Harry Owens (1902-1986), on the occasion of his little daughter's birth (October 19, 1934).

The lyrics went as follows: "Sweet Leilani, Heavenly Flower, nature fashioned roses kissed with dew, and then she placed them in a bower, it was the start of you. Sweet Leilani, Heavenly Flower, I dreamed of paradise for two; you are my paradise completed, you are my dream come true. Sweet Leilani, Heavenly Flower, tropic skies are jealous as they shine; I think they're jealous of your blue eyes, jealous because you're mine. Sweet Leilani, Heavenly flower, I dreamed of paradise for two; you are my paradise completed, you are my dream come true."

The problem is, that "leilani" means "heavenly garland" (lei = garland + lani = heaven), not "heavenly flower" as in the lyrics; "pualani" means "heavenly flower" (pua = flower + lani = heaven). Just to confuse the Russians I guess...

Bing Crosby discovered "Sweet Leilani" in Honolulu while preparing for the movie "Waikîkî Wedding", to the chagrin of Robin and Rainger, who were writing the songs for the movie. Crosby insisted that "Sweet Leilani" be included in the soundtrack. It was, and ended up winning the Academy Award for "Best Song of the Year". Crosby recorded the song on February 23, 1937, with Lani McIntire & his Hawaiians. The song spent 25 weeks on the pop charts, including 10 weeks at the top the charts; it became the first of Crosby's 22 gold records. The flip side of this record, "Blue Hawaii" (later made enormously popular by Elvis Presley) also charted as high as No. 5.

Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Lawrence Welk called Harry Owens "Mister Hawaii", because he wrote hundreds of Hawaiian songs (he is credited with composing some 300 songs and made over 150 records for Decca alone), including "To You, Sweetheart, Aloha", "Hawaiian Paradise", "Hawaii Calls", as well as some novelty numbers, "Princess Poo-poo-ly has Plenty Papaya", and "The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai".

In 1937 George and Ira Gershwin wrote the song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" for the seventh of the Fred Astaire—Ginger Rogers RKO film musicals, "Shall We Dance". This song was the only song by the Gershwin brothers to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song. But they didn't get the award: it was awarded instead to Harry Owens for "Sweet Leilani". It inspired Oscar Levant (a friend of the Gershwins) to make a famous venomous remark: "I'd like to say something about the composer of 'Sweet Leilani', Harry Owens: his music is dead... but he lives on forever".

Harry Owens' autobiography was called "Sweet Leilani: The Story Behind the Song" (1970, Hula House).

Harry & Leilani


Conceptual Continuity

Hawaiian Music:



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This page updated: 2018-11-06