"Now Is the Hour" is a popular song from the early 20th century. Often erroneously described as a traditional M?ori song, its creation is usually credited to several people, including Clement Scott (music), and Maewa Kaihau and Dorothy Stewart (arrangement and lyrics).
The tune of the song first became known in 1913 when it was published by W.H. Paling and Co as a piano-variations piece in Australia, called Swiss Cradle Song and credited to "Clement Scott". Some sources say that, after a tour of New Zealand, the British music critic and travel writer Clement Scott wrote the tune to the "Swiss Cradle Song". However, the family of an Australian, Albert Saunders, has long claimed that the "Clement Scott" who wrote the tune is a pseudonym for Saunders. In any event, the piece consisted of eight variations to the main 16-bar theme. Paling sold 130,000 copies of Swiss Cradle Song.
M?ori words were added around 1915 and the tune was slightly changed. It became known as Po Atarau and was used as a farewell to M?ori soldiers going to the First World War. After this, some white New Zealanders "mistakenly thought [the song was] an old Maori folksong". One claim attributes the first words to two M?ori groups of sheep shearers, the Grace and Awatere families, of Tuparoa.
In 1920 Maewa Kaihau wrote an opening verse in English as "This is the hour.." for her daughter who had become attached to a member of a visiting royal party, who was shortly to leave. She also modified the Po Atarau tune and added another M?ori translation. When it became popular, Maewa Kaihau claimed the words and tune as her own work, but then Paling asserted their copyright for the tune. Nevertheless, Maewa Kaihau's words were copyrighted in 1928. In 1935 Kaihau modified the Po Atarau version again to become the Haere Ra Waltz Song, which was performed as the last waltz at dances and farewells.
The song was first recorded by Ana Hato in 1927 with minor variations in the lyrics. English singer, Gracie Fields, learnt Haere Ra on a visit to New Zealand in 1945 in Rotorua. While travelling in her car, her driver taught her a version of it and it became a world-wide hit in 1948. Fields's manager, Dorothy Stewart, is credited with amending to the opening line to Now is the Hour, and with adding another verse. The tune, commonly named MAORI in hymnals, is also used with the lyrics "Search Me, O God" by J. Edwin Orr.
New Zealand Maori singers, Ken Kincaid and Deane Waretini have both recorded versions of the song. The version by Kincaid appears on the Mauri Hikitia album, and was also the B side of his single. The version by Waretini is on his Now is the Hour album released in 2012.
The song achieved world-wide popularity in 1948 when no less than seven recordings of the song reached the Billboard charts in the USA. These were by Bing Crosby (recorded November 8, 1947 with the Ken Darby Choir and Instrumental Group, No. 1 for three weeks during 23 weeks in the charts, and was also Crosby's 45th and final #1 hit of his career), Margaret Whiting (No. 2), Gracie Fields (No. 3), Buddy Clark (No. 6), Eddy Howard (No. 8), Kate Smith (No. 12), and Charlie Spivak (No. 14). Numerous other artists have subsequently recorded the song including Frank Sinatra, Gale Storm, Burl Ives, Connie Francis and the Everly Brothers. Hayley Westenra, a soprano from New Zealand, sang the song at the closing of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.