U is for UKULELE

                                                                A – Z

I’m proud to be a part of a wonderful organization called the Writers of Kern. They are having a “Blog Challenge” and I’m participating. I’m writing my normal two blogs per week but challenging myself to be prompted by the alphabet. Hope you can read all twenty six from A-Z. For more good reading check out the Writers of Kern’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/95572300558/


U is for UKULELE

So are they back again? Another go round again? The history of the ukulele in America has been a hot and cold item for 100 years.

It all started where the instrument was born, Hawaii. The Portuguese settlers brought a musical instrument to Hawaii called the Machete. Here is one of the originals.
Machete from Portugal

Around 1880 some Hawaiian cabinet makers started producing copies of the machete and the instrument became extremely popular. King Kalakaua wanted the instrument played at all major functions. According to the last monarch in Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, the name was derived from two Hawaiian words…uku (gift) and lele(to come)…Ukulele…the gift that came here.

In 1915 San Francisco hosted the Panama Pacific International Exposition and the Hawaiian Pavilion was quite popular because of the unique music. Suddenly America had two new musical instruments, the ukulele and the lap steel guitar, both Hawaiian made. Songwriters started turning out Hawaiian themed songs featuring the uke, and a couple vaudevillians took up playing the uke in their act. The most famous uke player in the ‘20s was Ukulele Ike.

The ukulele is an easy instrument to learn to play and its popularity spread throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s. Sheet music which normally had the piano parts for right and left hand began printing the ukulele chords above the music lines.

Then, in the ‘50s, along came Arthur Godfrey. He not only played the uke on his daily 90 minute television show, but he featured an Hawaiian Hula dancer and singer named Haleloke. They cashed in the uke craze with albums.
Arthur Godfrey and HaleokeArthur and Haleoki album

And of course old Arthur started selling cheap ukes in newspaper ads. It was yukky.
1951 ad selling Ukes

I was so happy when Rock and Roll came along and the guitar replaced the uke…almost overnight. I wasn’t a big Arthur Godfrey fan. I didn’t dislike the ukulele, just the performers.

Yet, every generation has some kind of musical breakdown and buys and supports some kooky aberration of music and we have to endear it for a year or two. A few years ago it was William Hung on American Idol. He lasted almost two years.

Well in 1968 it was Tiny Tim. Playing his left-handed uke and singing in falsetto, we all had to listen to “Tip-toe through the Tulips” for about two years. Even Johnny Carson fell for his weirdness and allowed him to have a big sham wedding on his show. Big Ratings too.
Tiny Tim

Tiny Tim made the uke popular again and it has never left us.

Canada started teaching the uke in public schools in the ‘60s, and it proved very successful.

I’m for teaching every person to make music in some form. Any form. Playing the uke is fun, easy and anyone can do it.

Right here in Bakersfield, over 4000 kids in the Panama Buena Vista Union School District are learning to play the Ukulele and loving it.

The past fifteen years or so have produced some amazing talents playing the uke.
“Bruda Iz” recorded Over the Rainbow and Wonderful World in 1993 and it went Platinum. A platinum Uke album!

Jake Shimabukuro, from Hawaii of course, may be the greatest Ukulele player ever. Google him playing the Bohemian Rhapsody at a “Ted Talk.” It is amazing!

James Hill sells out concert halls all over the world doing amazing sounds and songs on the Ukulele. He also runs the Canadian Ukulele Music Institute. His Uke instructional books are the best books to study Uke.

My two favorite performances on the ukulele follow:

The first are two young girls from Hawaii playing “Wipe Out” on their Ukes. https://youtu.be/2keZjbn4C6k


Here is the famous Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Watch them play the theme from
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.




About bakoheat

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