Who Was Hilo Hattie?

Hilo Hattie, album, 1941If you’ve heard of Hilo Hattie, your first association is likely to be the Hawaiian tourist shop known selling “aloha wear” clothing and souvenirs.

But the name Hilo Hattie originated with a real person. “Hilo Hattie” was the stage name of Clarissa “Clara” Haili, a Hawaiian singer and comedienne who was born in Honolulu in 1901.

Her humorous live rendition of the hapa-haole song “When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop,” which she first performed in the late 1930s, was such a hit that she began using “Hilo Hattie” in place of her own name. (Hilo, pronounced hee-loh, is a town on the east coast of the Big Island.)

Some sources claim she made Hilo Hattie her legal name in the early ’40s, but the records I’ve seen don’t support this idea. Billboard was still calling her Clara Inter (her first married name) in the late ’40s, and she’s identified as Clara H. Nelson (her second married name) on her headstone.

Clara passed away in 1979. The same year, the Hawaiian fashion company now known as “Hilo Hattie” bought the rights to her name.

Source: Hawaii retailer Hilo Hattie sold


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