Wellington Scoop

Two music pioneers to be honoured at National Library

Press Release – Blue Smoke Records
Two of New Zealand Aotearoa’s musical pioneers, Pixie Williams and Ruru Karaitiana, are being honoured at a special commemoration event at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington on Thursday.

That date marks the 70th anniversary of the release of the iconic New Zealand song Blue Smoke, recognised as this nation’s first pop song and marking the birth of the New Zealand recording industry.

Written by the late Ruru and sung by the late Pixie, this poignant ballad was the first record wholly written, recorded and manufactured. It was commercially released by TANZA (To Assist New Zealand Artists), a newly established label by Radio Corporation who built New Zealand’s first recording studio available for public use. Previously any locally sold records had to be manufactured overseas.

Appropriately, Blue Smoke was launched during Matariki – the time to celebrate new life, reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future.

Selling over 50,000 records, Blue Smoke was a surprise debut hit for Pixie, Ruru and the newly established record label. Overseas it also packed a punch with overseas artists recording cover versions including Dean Martin.

The endurance of this love song is testimony to the beauty of its music and its story, the warmth of Pixie’s voice, as well as its iconic status.

John Shears, another music pioneer who one of the team who worked on the original recording in 1949, will be a special guest at the event. “My memory of Pixie is still quite clear from those distant years: a very pleasant, quiet, cheerful girl from rural Hawkes Bay, known for singing in the shower and at Sunday evening sing-a-long sessions around the piano,” John recalls.

“She was asked to sing Blue Smoke by Ruru after being introduced by his girlfriend who roomed at the same hostel as Pixie. Pixie at first said no, but eventually said yes, and the rest is history.”

John notes that Pixie’s full name was Pikiteora, which means to ‘climb or transcend, lift up with life, health and vitality.’ “How apt for the young lady I knew all those years ago. It seems to me to be a coincidence that was meant to be.”

The National Library is providing the venue for free along with other support in recognition of the historic significance of this occasion. “We are proud to be part of honouring the Blue Smoke story, ” says the National Library’s Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Another major sponsor for the event is Massey University. The Head of its School of Music and Creative Media Production André Ktori says, “To mark such an important occasion in the music history of Aotearoa is our absolute honour.”

And Patrick Moore, CE of the third major sponsor Endev Software Development, says “My company is thrilled to support this event in recognition and celebration of the ground-breaking achievements of our local music pioneers.”

Other sponsors are companies noted for their pioneering spirit: Resene Paints, Denzien Gin, Tuatara Breweries, Joiy Wines and Field and Green, located on the site of the former recording studio.

Blue Smoke was not Pixie’s only recording. In 2010, her daughter Amelia Costello managed the production of re-mastered versions of Blue Smoke and 12 other songs on the critically acclaimed album For the Record – The Pixie Williams Collection 1949 – 1951, generating renewed interest in her music.

This year, to celebrate the seventh decade since Blue Smoke was released, Amelia has gathered an impressive team around her to launch another project: re-recording all her mother’s songs from For the Record with some top contemporary New Zealand performers. The album is being created under the direction of Executive Producer Mike Gibson of Munki Studios and Producers Riki Gooch and Lisa Tomlins. It is scheduled for release later this year, bringing Pixie’s music to life for a new generation to enjoy. It is supported by Creative New Zealand and Massey University, which donated use of its state-of-the-art $20 million recording studio.

With support from New Zealand On Air, a documentary featuring the story of Blue Smoke and of Pixie’s life is also being filmed, to screen on Māori Television.

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