A Quantitative Approach to “Signature Songs” within the Native Hawaiian Folksong Genre

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Ethnomusicology | Music | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


A “signature song” is a text that is intimately associated with a particular performer—so much so that the song and the performer become a single semiotic unit. Using a dataset of Native Hawaiian folksong performances available on compact discs, this study sought to answer the following questions: (1) How does one define a “signature song” within the Native Hawaiian folksong genre?; (2) Are there “signature songs” within the genre?; if so, (3) what are the “signature songs” within the genre? Theoretical and methodological issues for creating quantitative measures of signature song “space” are discussed. Three approaches were compared: proportional performance, probability threshold, and information content. Lists of signature songs using each of the three approaches were produced. For methodological and interpretive reasons, the information/future value growth strategy was deemed to be superior to the others. Not only was the information approach significantly correlated with the results of the other two approaches (though the latter approaches were not significantly correlated with one another), the information approach also defined a signature song—performer tandem as occupying more than “half” of the song space.