Ukulele Roots

Marily ukeWhen uke players are asked what made them take up this particular instrument, there is invariably some story behind it. “Gag gift” and “inherited” are occasionally reasons. Some people just heard one being played and fell in love with the sound and look of it. Others were already playing musical instruments and when introduced to an ukulele, made the transition for such reasons as ease of play, sound, convenience and enjoyment. Still others found the community of ukulele playing the allure.

I have been told by several individuals, most of them men, that seeing their Hollywood icons playing a uke made them run out to purchase one and start playing. These are stars such as Elvis Presley, George Harrison and Marilyn Monroe – yes, Marilyn!!!! Before them, mainland America was influenced by such greats as George Formby and Arthur Godfrey, even though we had already been enjoying the culture of so-called Hawaiian music since the 1800’s.

For me, my inspiration came from discovering that George Harrison was a uke lover. My high school years were ’79 to ’84 and although the Beatles were no longer together as a band, they were enjoying successful solo careers. I often listened to songs by John Lennon and Wings (Paul McCartney) over the radio. But the entertainment buzz that affected me strongest was about George Harrison and his love for ukuleles, and the fact that this British sensation pop star owned hundreds of acres in far-off Hawaii – the land of ukuleles!

In my little Canadian world of back woods rural Ontario – where country music reigned supreme – I had never even heard the word ukulele before. When I looked it up in the school library, I felt this connection with George Harrison that I had never experienced with anyone or any thing before. It was like I was in on his big secret! And from that moment on, I wanted to play one.

Recently my sister-in-law Liz sent me a link to Open Culture, which had a really great article posted on George Harrison and some video’s of him with a band and with Paul McCartney. I really enjoyed it and here is the link Why Everyone Should Play the Ukulele.

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Now-a-days, “they say” we are experiencing a resurgence of ukulele popularity right now. NOW, our influential stars are performers like Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill, just to throw a couple of familiar names out there, and there are many more colourful and aptly named ukulele performers all over America, the UK, Australia, etc. Playing the ukulele in the 20th century even created some world-famous musical legends, such as IZ – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – who gained international fame with his recording of Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World.

Bands like Walk Off the Earth – Gang of Rhythm – and Train – Hey, Soul Sister – among many others, have also been immensely successful with the ukulele as well as becoming influential in current music culture. Last year I discovered Lucky Uke, another Canadian band, who have actually recorded a song with Colby Callait called Please, Please Stay. Love it!!

Other famous people of our day who play the ukulele include Zooey Deshanel, who performs regularly in her duo She & Him, William H. Macy (the movie Wild Hogs, among others) who performed once on Oprah, Steve Martin in the movie the Jerk, and one of my faves, Dwayne Johnson aka the Rock, who played What a Wonderful World in the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth.  And Adam Sandler! I have to admit, YES, I am a Sandler fan, and I think that guy has either played a ukulele in every one of his movies or at least held one. I loved his song Forgetful Lucy in the movie 50 First Dates, but my favourite is the Billy-Idol-introduced Grow Old With You from The Wedding Singer, which any good child of the ’80’s can play by memory on a uke!