First recorded (in English) by The Hawaii Calls Orchestra & Chorus (1962).
Performed (as “Pupu a ‘o ‘Ewa”) in Donovan’s Reef (“1963).
Hit version by Burl Ives (US #60/MOR #12 1964).
Also recorded (as “First Night of the Full Moon”) by Jack Jones (US #59/AUS #8 1964).
Hit album version by Don Ho (1965).
From the wiki: “The song’s history can be traced traced to the discovery of pearl oysters at Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor), Hawaii. Webley Edwards, of ‘Hawaii Calls’ fame, and Leon Prober wrote English lyrics to the traditional Hawaiian song ‘Pupu a ‘o ‘Ewa’, creating the popular hapa-haole hit ‘Pearly Shells’, first recorded in 1962 by the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus for the album Webley Edwards Presents: Hawaii Calls, Waikiki After Dark.
“In 1928, Edwards had relocated from Oregon to Hawaii where he became an auto salesman. It was during this time he developed a keen interest in native Hawaiian musical traditions. In 1935 he became the producer for a radio show which showcased authentic island music, Hawaii Calls, originating from the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach and later distributed to radio stations worldwide.
“In 1963, the last John Ford movie to star John Wayne, Donovan’s Reef,was scored by the legendary Cyril Mockridge. The opening main title theme uses ‘Pupa O Ewa’ as its basic motif, appearing throughout the movie.
“The light-hearted comedy, filmed in Kauai, Hawaii (but set in French Polynesia), was what director Ford termed ‘a spoof picture – a whammy, crazy sort of thing. We [were] not going for any prizes.’ Although it became only a modest financial success, Donovan’s Reef was still the 24th highest-grossing film of 1963 (a year with included such stellar releases as Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Tom Jones, and The Great Escape among the top ten).
“Burl Ives recorded a modest MOR hit with the song in 1964; Jack Jones enjoyed Top-10 chart success in Australia with a completely lyrically-different rendition titled ‘First Night of the Full Moon’ he recorded in 1964. But, ‘Pearly Shells’ has its strongest association with Hawaiian singer Don Ho who recorded several different versions during his long career, including one for the Japanese market 1967.
“Don Ho was a singer of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and German descent, born in Honolulu. In 1954, Ho entered the United States Air Force and spent time flying C-97s with the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). Transferred to Travis AFB, California, he went to the local city of Concord and bought an electronic keyboard from a music store, and recalls, ‘That’s when it all started.’
“Ho left the United States Air Force in 1959 due to his mother’s developing illness and began singing at her club, ‘Honey’s’, in Kaneohe. Honey’s became a hotspot for servicemen from nearby Kane’ohe Marine Base. In 1963, Ho moved the Kāne’ohe Honey’s to Waikīkī. After much success there, promoter Kimo Wilder McVay sought Ho to play at a night club called ‘Duke’s’, owned by surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, where he caught the attention of record company officials. Signed to Reprise Records, Ho released his debut album, The Don Ho Show!, in 1965, on which was included ‘Pearly Shells’.
“In the 1970s, C&H Sugar used the melody for their jingle. (The ‘C&H’ in the brand name stands for ‘California” and ‘Hawaii’.)”
‘Pupu a ‘o Ewa’, from Donovan’s Reef (1963):
Burl Ives, “Pearly Shells” (1964):
Jack Jones, “First Night of the Full Moon” (1964):
Don Ho, “Pearly Shells” (1965):
Don Ho & Glen Campbell, “Galveston” and “Pearly Shells” (1969):