I’ve just finished reading Ian Whitcomb’s Ukulele Heroes: the golden age (Hal Leonard, 2012), and it is a very good read.
Beautifully produced, with a great many fine photographs, it retells the stories of many ukulele greats. Apart from the usual suspects (Queen Lili’uokalani, Cliff Edwards, Wendell Hall, Johnny Marvin, May Singhi Breen, Formby, Godfrey and Smeck), Whitcomb has also includes Frank Crumit, Tessie O’Shea and Billy Scott. I might say that the usual suspects do not always receive the usual treatment in this book. The good is given its due place, but where honesty is required (as it is), the bad and ugly appear too.
Ian seems to have his favourites. Tiny Tim and George Formby receive a good deal of space compared to Roy Smeck, for instance. This might be because the former two have left more material to work with, or it might be that Ian was a ‘competitor’ of Tiny Tim (in a nice way) and a fan of Formby.
Ian himself (justifiably) makes several personal appearances in his book, which has its autobiographical side. The story of Ian’s commitment to the ukulele as an instrument for a professional entertainer during the dry years (late 60s to the early 90s) is told with heroic humility.
There is one omission which I feel might be corrected in a 2nd edition, and that is of the work of Alan Randall. Randall was a multi-instrumentalist who fell into George Formby imitation in a fit of absent-mindedness. His ukulele playing was top class (in the Formby tradition), and the popularity of his Formby act overshadowed his other virtuoso musical abilities. He authored a biography of Formby, recorded many of his songs, and published a comprehensive Formby song book and a ukulele instruction book.
Ukulele Heroes is well worth reading for the enjoyment of Ian’s prose, and worth keeping for its wealth of information and ukulele appreciation.