Sam Freedman, New Zealand’s Irving Berlin, passed away this week, aged 96. But he shared a lot of aspects with Berlin apart from reaching a great age and being a Russian-Jewish immigrant. Totally self taught, Freedman was New Zealand’s pioneering popular songwriter in the modern sense. Before him, people had written songs that spread by word of mouth or public performance, such as Henare Waitoa and Tuini Ngawai. Freedman wrote for the pop music industry, such as it was in the 1940s and 1950s. And they were hits for singers such as Daphne Walker.
He wrote more than 300 songs, among them ‘Haere Mai (Everything is Ka Pai)’ recently movingly revived for an airline advertisement, and ‘When My Wahine Does the Poi’ (the title is half the battle, Sammy Cahn might say). Walker had the hit version of ‘Haere Mai’ - she is pictured here on the sheet music - and other musicians who recorded it include Peter Posa and Johnny Cooper.
Freedman’s peers and contemporaries were Ruru Karaitiana (‘Blue Smoke’) and Ken Avery (‘Paekakariki’ and ‘Tea at Te Kuiti’). Although many people had written songs about New Zealand before, they didn't really reach the public (‘Waiata Poi’ was no ‘Haere Mai’). Together this trio brought popular songs about New Zealand into New Zealand homes.