Sure, February 2 is Groundhog Day but it also happens to be National Ukulele Day, and for reasons that should be obvious, that will always take precedence where I live. I had planning on performing a little live streaming uke concert for today, but there was a cluster of other stuff that had to drop yesterday (including our Taylor podcast among other things), and so I’m only partially rehearsed. We’ll try and present that next year, if not before. Meantime, I thought I’d offer up this little truncated post based on the talk I gave to Danno Sullivan’s audience on Play It Daily Ukulele last National Ukulele Day.
The uke comes from Hawaii of course. The peak of the original American craze seems to have been launched in the wake of the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Fransciso in 1915, where there was a Hawaii exhibit amidst all the pavilions. Hawaii had only been annexed in 1898, so this was all over new stuff. Famous vaudeville performers who have especially been associated with the instrument have included the Keech Brothers, Uke Hanshaw, Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards), Roy Smeck, George Formby Jr, Tom Patricola, and Ming and Toy, among dozens, hundreds of others (just follow the links to learn more about these ones). The portability and ease of learning to play the uke, meant that nearly every vaudeville performer had rudimentary skills on the instrument. Comedian Joe Cook played one in his “Four Hawaiians” bit. Buster Keaton plays and even sings along with it in some of his talkies of the ’30s. In the ’40s the uke went back to being a novelty instrument in kooky bands like Spike Jones’, rather than a universal craze. Tiny Tim revived it in the ’60s, and kind of OWNED it while he was alive. At present the uke is having a kind of Rennaisance that’s been going on around 10 or 20 years. I picked it up in the wake of the release of my book No Applause, mostly so I could do this–
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