War and the Ukulele

A friend of mine in Brisbane pointed me to an ANZAC Square memorial of the South-west Pacific Campaigne, 1942-1945. 


Apart from its historic significance, it also has something for the ukulele players of the world, as can be seen from the photograph below.


I tried unsuccessfully to find a reference to a soldier in the field with a ukulele, but I did find a picture of Driver D. Dixon entertaining the staff of 112 (Brisbane) Military Hospital with his ukulele before Christmas dinner, 1944.085384

Used with permission of Australian War Memorial

An internet search on ‘ukulele’ and ‘kokoda trail’ only led me to ads by tour guides who take people along that famous trail today. The guides apparently refresh weary holiday trekkers at the end of the day by strumming ukuleles.

Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bob Dyer and the Ukulele

I’ve learned recently that Bob Dyer, an American-born entertainer who made it big in Australia, once worked the  Tivoli circut in Sydney as a hillbilly ukulele player in the late 1930s  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dyer).


The lyrics to one of the songs he sang — The Death of Willie — may be viewed here (http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=33707&messages=7), together with the comment that Bob was (at the time) perhaps the third best ukulele player around.

Bob later hosted a television game show called BP Pick-a-box which ran for years (1957-1971).

Picture from Tivoli (Lothian, 2003), page 154, used with the kind permission of Frank van Straten.

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Popular Mechanics and the Ukulele

I was browsing through google books and came across this article: ‘A Homemade Hawaiian Ukulele‘ in Popular Mechanics June, 1917 (pages 946-947). 

S.H. Samuels gives instructions on making a cigar-box ukulele.  If you’re handy, it might be worth a look.

In 1917, Samuels could say, “This neat ukulele was made at a cost of 30 cents, by careful selection of materials from the shop scrap stock.”

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy Girls with Ukuleles — 1926

Came across this happy snap at www.shorpy.com, and then found it on the Library of Congress site.

Happy Girls with Ukuleles

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

UPDATE (more information from Shorpy site): ‘July 9, 1926. Washington, D.C. “Girls in bathing suits with ukuleles.” Identified in the caption of another photo as Elaine Griggs, Virginia Hunter, Mary Kaminsky, Dorothy Kelly and Hazel Brown.’

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Victory to the Ukulele

The following extract comes from a book by the Rev. Henry T. Cheever, Life in the Sandwich Islands, 1851 (p.107).

We arrived at half-past twelve the first night at a village where we thought to have stayed until day; but the kamaainas, inhabitants, were all away, and so we had to lay down as we were, supperless, (our man with food having fallen behind,) upon the round-stone floor of the meeting-house. Hard as it was, it would have been a grateful resting-place, but for the warfare of merciless fleas, ukulele, who, when they found what we were, and what a royal supper they might make on the blood of two haoles, set to so fiercely, that, after many vain struggles, we were forced to enter a nolo contendere, and leave the honours of the field to our insatiate foes.

We decamped about three, and rode on to Nuu, in Kaupo, where they hospitably entertained and lomilomied us, and I drowned several flying detachments of the ukulele tribe, by a bath in the sea.

This is the earliest European reference to the ukulele that I have found.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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