Buddy DeSylva: encouragement for the incorrigible ukulele player

Buddy DeSylva, part of the famous DeSylva, Henderson and Brown song writing team of the 1920s, missed out on a college education because of his ukulele playing — and it was a college professor’s daughter who taught him to play.

According to an article in Life magazine (30 December 1940, page 52), DeSylva’s academic career was ruined because he preferred to spend his days singing his own compositions to young ladies at the beach, accompanying himself on the ukulele. A talent scout spotted him, offered him $60 a week as an Hawaiian (?) entertainer, which, after only a brief delay, he accepted. He met Al Jolson at the night club, was taken by Al to New York, sold his first song, and his first royalty check was for $16000. He was 22 years old (1917), and he never looked back.

Of course, he had talent.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shades of the ’20s … in 1949

Life magazine noted in its 15 August edition of 1949 (page 26) that things were looking like the 1920s again. Only the previous week, it said…

A man went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A young woman is preparing to swim the English Channel. Ukulele sales were booming, and 38 new midget golf courses were going strong around New York City alone. Best of all, a man in Cleveland was sitting atop a flagpole.

What! No typewriters?

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Play the ukulele in 10 Minutes … (ad from 1928)

Apparently, in 1927-28, Ferry & Co. of Chicago was marketing a device that would allow people to play the ukulele by numbers. No knowledge of music, no practice required. All you needed to do was to strap the thingy to the fretboard over the first four frets, strum and press the numbered buttons (16 buttons, numbered 1 to 16).

Which buttons, when? Ah! You’d have to send for the free booklet “Ferry E-Z Playing Stringed Instruments”, which, I suppose would reveal enough to have people hand over the money (the price was not revealed in the advertisement).

Mail the coupon and learn “how I can get more fun out of life, make more friends, have greater opportunities for getting ahead by learning to play my favorite stringed instrument in 10 minutes. No obligation.”

Ad. spotted in Popular Mechanics, November 1928, page 186.

[Update: Popular Mechanics, September 1926, page 393, shows the device on a “Topsy” ukulele. From the illustration shown there, it seems that the buttons only ‘help’ in fingering the standard chords more easily.]

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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