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Most Famous Hawaiian Songs You Need to Hear

Are you looking for Hawaii songs for a party or just want something fun to listen to while you plan your Hawaii vacation? Keep scrolling to find out the 20 most famous Hawaiian songs!
This post about the most famous Hawaiian songs was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

I have heard thousands of Hawaii songs throughout the years. Most of that is because I was a professional hula dancer for 20 years.

Not only that, but I used to stream Hawaiian music at work for years and always listen to Hawaiian radio stations when I’m visiting Hawaii.

Previously, I’ve written about popular Hawaiian musicians that I think people should know about before heading to Hawaii.

But today, I thought I’d break down the top Hawaiian music, from traditional Hawaiian songs to Hapa Haole classic Hawaiian songs to Hawaiian pop music of today. There’s even a song or two from Elvis Presley!

There are SO many great songs from Hawaii, so I narrowed it down to my top 20 of all time.

These are awesome to add to your luau playlist or to get yourself pumped for your next trip to Hawaii!

Be sure to find out the top Hawaiian musicians to add to your Spotify List!

Hawaiian Music FAQs

What is Jawaiian music?

Jawaiian music is a hybrid of Hawaiian and Jamaican/Reggae music that is popular in Hawaii. It’s got an island vibe and usually a beat you can dance to. It was super popular in the 1990s, but you can still hear it today. Sean Na’auao has a lot of Jawaiian songs.

What is Hapa Haole music?

While traditional Hawaiian music is all in the Hawaiian language, Hapa Haole music is mostly in English. This type of music became popular in the 1930s and 1940s as more travelers from the Mainland started vacationing in Hawaii. It’s usually has a jazzy style.

Who is the most famous ukulele player?

Jake Shimabukuro is a genius ukulele player who has tons of albums. While you might not immediately recognize his music, you’ll be impressed with the intricacies and the beautiful melody. He plays lots of popular Hawaiian songs on the ukulele.

Why is the ukulele so popular in Hawaii?

The Portuguese brought over small guitar-like instruments to Hawaii. They morphed into the popular Hawaiian instrument. Because there are only 4 strings and the size is small, it’s an easy instrument for kids and adults.

20 Super Famous Hawaiian Songs to Check Out

1. Aloha ‘Oe

I had to start this list with Hawaii’s most famous Hawaiian song written by the last queen of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani.

She originally wrote Aloha ‘Oe during a horseback ride when she saw two people embrace and bid each other farewell.

Image of a woman standing on stage wearing a muumuu with the words Hawaii Nostalgia on it.
This is my favorite version of Aloha ‘Oe

However, this song became most popular while she was imprisoned in her home during the annexation of Hawaii.

She used this song as a farewell to her people. You can feel her sorrow in the lyrics and melody.

Kids will recognize this song from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch! It’s the song Nani sings to Lilo.

It’s definitely one of the most well-known Hawaii songs and the epitome of traditional music from Hawaii.

2. Hawaii Aloha

This is probably one of the most special songs in Hawaii of all time. That’s because it’s all about bringing people together.

It was written by a missionary named Lorenzo Lyons and uses the melody of the hymn “I Left It All With Jesus.”

Image of an album cover that says Mana Mele Eia Hawaii Part 1 on it.
There’s a great version of Hawaii Aloha on this album.

It’s customary to join hands and sing Hawaii Aloha at the ends of events, parties, celebrations, etc. It’s always a crowd favorite.

And it’s not just in Hawaii. If you attend a Hawaiian cultural event or listen to live Hawaiian music anywhere in the world, you will most likely participate in a Hawaii Aloha sing-a-long at the end of the event.

3. Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

This is hands-down one of the most recognizable Hawaiian songs across the world. It’s been featured in tons of movies and TV shows (I still cry at that ER scene.)

Image of a large Hawaiian man looking away from the camera in Hawaii with a rainbow in the background.
The entire Facing Future album is fabulous.

It was recorded by legendary Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (aka IZ) in just one take. The arrangement is absolutely brilliant and it’s special because he recorded it for his daughter.

While the song itself is pretty amazing, it’s also a bit haunting because IZ died so young.

It’s one of the most popular Hawaiian songs and this rendition is magical. Once you’ve heard it, all other versions will pale in comparison.

4. Hawaiian War Chant

First of all, this isn’t a chant. And the original version is actually a love song.

This has been a popular hula song where the dancer uses hula implements (like the split bamboo or feather rattles.)

Image of a sunset in Hawaii with the words 50 Hawaiian Songs written on it.
The Hawaiian War Chant is one of the many songs on this album.

While the song is in both English and Hawaiian, most of the time you’ll just hear the Hawaiian version of it.

Usually, you’ll hear this song at free hula shows in Hawaii and the melody speeds up as the song goes on, making it a show-stopping number.

If you are a Disney fan, you’ll recognize this tune from the Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.

5. Pearly Shells/Tiny Bubbles

Don Ho is one of the most famous Hawaiian musicians from the 1960s. He used to perform in Waikiki and became a global sensation.

Even though these Don Ho songs are different, I listed them together because they have the same melody and sometimes musicians perform them as a medley.

Image of a Don Ho record album with his face on the cover.
Yes we had this Don Ho record growing up!

The song Pearly Shells is a popular song for people to learn how to hula dance. The lyrics are simple and it’s easy to do the hand motions depicted in the song.

And Tiny Bubbles is all about drinking wine.

6. Blue Hawaii

If you don’t already know, Elvis Presley loved Hawaii and filmed a few movies there (Blue Hawaii, Paradise Hawaiian Style, and Girls!)

Out of these, Blue Hawaii is probably the most famous of all time and the title song is definitely iconic.

Image of Elvis Presley wearing a lei and an Aloha shirt while playing the ukulele.
This Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii album is iconic.

It’s the kind of song you’ll hear at just about every bar in Hawaii, especially if they have live music. It’s a crowd favorite among the older generation.

The last time I was on Kauai, they invited a bunch of us hula dancers up to perform our own versions of Blue Hawaii. It was really cool!

7. Hawaiian Wedding Song

While this song was originally written in the 1920s, it was Elvis Presley who made it popular in his 1961 film Blue Hawaii. And Bing Crosby and Andy Williams recorded their own versions of it.

This beloved classic is mostly in English, but there’s a verse in Hawaiian.

Image of the Hawaii Calls album featuring the Hawaiian Wedding Song.
The Hawaiian Wedding Song is perfect for weddings and anniversaries.

As the name might suggest, it’s a super popular song to play at weddings. I actually walked down the aisle to the Hawaiian wedding song at my own wedding in Seattle!.

You’ll also hear this song at luaus in Hawaii dedicated to all the newlyweds, honeymooners, and people celebrating anniversaries.

While Elvis Presley made it famous, many Hawaiian artists have recorded their own versions of it.

8. Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai

This is actually a traditional Hawaiian song that became super popular after the group Hapa recorded it. They even added their own special Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai ending.

Image of the Hapa album with people sitting in a sugar cane field.
The whole album is worth a listen.

On the surface, it’s about collecting seaweed from the ocean. But Hawaiian songs are known for having “hidden meanings” and this is actually comparing the different types of seaweed to different lovers.

Almost all hula dancers know a version of this song and you’ll see it performed in lots of Hawaiian cultural festivals.

And lots of popular Hawaiian singers cover Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai.

9. Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride

If you have kids and watch Disney movies, you’ll recognize Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride from Lilo & Stitch. It’s in the scene where Lilo is swimming in the ocean at the beginning of the movie.

Image of the Lilo & Stitch album cover.
Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride is probably the most popular song on this album for kids.

It also gets played on Disney Pandora ALL THE TIME.

What’s special about this song is that it was recorded by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu (a hula teacher and musician) and the Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus.

The whole song is about surfing (aka Hawaii’s version of a roller coaster ride!)

10. My Little Grass Shack

When a lot of people think about Hawaiian music, they’re really thinking about the Hapa Haole music from the 1930s and 1940s.

My Little Grass Shack was originally meant as a parody of the 1920s song “Back in Hackensack, New Jersey.” However, after a lot of tweaking and adding in local flavor, it morphed into an iconic Hawaiian song.

Image of a vintage hula dancer on an album surrounded by a yellow lei.
This is a great retro Hawaiian album.

This old Hawaiian song takes place in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii and it’s hard to drive through the town without this song popping into your head.

My Little Grass Shack is basically about someone being homesick for the Big Island and all the things that make it special.

11. I’ll Remember You

I get teary-eyed just about every time this song plays. That’s usually because it’s played at a lot of funerals or in remembrance of someone who has passed away.

Both Don Ho and Elvis Presley recorded popular versions of this song. But there are lots of other versions that are hauntingly beautiful.

Image of Don Ho album Moonlight Lady.
Another Don Ho album featuring I’ll Remember You.

The origins of the song are also somber. Kui Lee wrote the song after his wife left him and then he got cancer and died young.

It’s one of the most beautiful, yet sad Hawaiian songs you’ll hear.

12. Fish and Poi

Ok, this might have been my jam back in the 90s! It’s a really fun song that’s all about Hawaiian food and island life!

It’s by Sean Na’auao and it’s definitely in the Jawaiian style with a slight reggae beat. And there’s a whole reggae verse in the middle.

Image of Sean Na'auao playing the guitar on his album cover.
This is one of my all time favorite Hawaiian albums!

It’s about a guy from Hawaii who is missing all his favorite foods from home. He reminisces and lists off all kinds of tasty dishes like Beef Stew, Lomi Salmon, and Lau Lau.

It’s so catchy and easy to sing along with friends! And it’s one of the best Hawaiian songs for a party!

13. Better Together

Jack Johnson is one of my favorite musicians and he lives in Hawaii. His songs aren’t in the Hawaiian language, but they definitely have a chilled-out island vibe.

Image of a yellow album cover with a tree on it.
One of the best Jack Johnson albums.

He’s got a lot of awesome songs, but my favorite is Better Together. This was the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding.

Because Jack Johnson was born and raised in Hawaii, you’ll hear him a ton on the radio there.

This is another popular Hawaiian wedding song.

14. You Ku’uipo

So, the term “ku’uipo” literally translates to “sweetheart” in the Hawaiian language. You’ll also see it on a bunch of jewelry.

Image of Willie K holding a guitar on his album cover.
One of the best island style albums.

This song is actually a love song to the island of Maui. The composer fell in love with Hana, Maui back in the 1980s and then partnered up with top Hawaiian singer Willie K. to release it.

It’s still one of Willie K.’s most recognizable songs about island life from his career. And it’s one of the most upbeat songs perfect for a Hawaiian playlist.

15. Honolulu City Lights

I admit, I always hum this song anytime I hear about the Hawaiian Christmas festival on Oahu with the same name.

The song has nothing to do with Christmas, however.

Image of a vintage Hawaii music album called Honolulu City Lights.
Honolulu City Lights album.

It’s an island style song about a guy (Keola Beamer) who’s leaving Hawaii to go to the Mainland and he’s feeling a bit sad to leave behind his beloved city.

While Keola Beamer was one of the most famous Hawaiian singers, this was one of his most famous Hawaiian songs.

16. Hi’ilawe

Hi’ilawe is one of the most classic Hawaiian songs. It was written a long time ago and has become a hula dancing standard song.

Image of George Clooney on the Descendants soundtrack.
The Descendants soundtrack has a lot of awesome music.

It’s all about a scandalous love affair that takes place at the Big Island waterfall Hi’ilawe. The song complains about people gossiping about the lovers, but that doesn’t deter them.

It’s a really popular Hawaiian slack key guitar song made famous by Gabby Pahinui. And it’s on The Descendants soundtrack.

17. Henehene Kou ‘Aka

This is one of those traditional Hawaiian songs that you’ll hear on the radio, in stores, and at Hawaiian music shows across Hawaii. It was copyrighted by Andy Cummings, however, no one really knows why wrote it.

It’s based on a true story where a couple is riding on a streetcar in Hawaii back in the 1920s. It talks about the different places they go and what they do when they get there.

While it’s always been one of those old Hawaiian songs you hear, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole made this beloved classic even more popular.

It was also recently featured in the new Netflix movie Finding ‘Ohana!

18. Kawaipunahele

I had a hard time picking which Keali’i Reichel song to include in this list. He’s written SO many popular Hawaiian songs that it was hard to choose.

Image of Keali'i Reichel standing on a mountain holding gourds.
The entire album is amazing!

I ended up listing Kawaipunahele because it’s the title track to his debut album and the song that kicked off his celebrity status.

It’s a Hawaiian love song that’s basically about a guy begging his partner to come back to him. Instant classic.

19. Mele Kalikimaka

This Hawaiian Christmas song is now known all over the world. This island style Christmas song was made popular by Bing Crosby in the 1950s.

Image of Bing Crosby on the White Christmas soundtrack.
Mele Kalikimaka is my favorite song on the White Christmas soundtrack.

What made it so special is that it was the first Hawaiian Christmas song. And of course, it gets played a LOT every holiday season both in Hawaii and on the Mainland.

The whole song is in English, except for the phrase “Mele Kalikimaka” which is the Hawaiian translation for “Merry Christmas.”

While there are lots of versions, Bing Crosby’s is definitely the most famous.

20. Beyond the Reef

I’m ending this list of famous Hawaiian music in kind of a weird way.

Beyond the Reef isn’t really a Hawaiian song. It was written by a Canadian (Jack Pitman) and there is no mention of Hawaii in the lyrics.

Image of the Hawaiian Favorites Alfred Apaka album.
This has a bunch of retro Hawaii songs.

But, famous Hawaiian singer Alfred Apaka made it super popular in the islands.

It’s really a heartbreaking song about someone who loses their true love. It’s played at a lot of funerals.

Hawaii Songs Wrap Up

If you’re planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands, this list of my top 20 favorite songs from Hawaii will make it feel like you never left. You can listen to these before your vacation starts and throughout your stay in Hawaii.

When you get back home, keep listening for that authentic Hawaiian sound to remind yourself why people love living in Paradise! From Don Ho and Elvis Presley to more modern Hawaiian artists, we have you covered.

To learn more about Hawaiian culture and traditional music, check out some of the other blog posts we have published.

Love this post and want to learn more about Hawaiian culture? Find out the best traditional Hawaiian food, how to make a lei on Oahu, top Hawaiian musical artists, and how to celebrate Lei Day!