Uke Books for Ukeland (1925)

[From Presto, 4 July 1925, page 22 — reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International]

New York Publishers Send Quantities of Ukulele Folios to Home of “Jumping Flea.”

You’ve heard of the American who tried to sell linen to Madeira, and his pal, a salesman for a Milwaukee brewery, who used to take in Pilsen and Munich, in Germany, on his selling trips. All related to the lad who carried coals to Newcastle.

Well, none of the aforementioned gentry has a thing on Robbins-Engel, Inc., New York, publishers of ukulele books. For, in the year that that firm has been developing and exploiting its famous ukulele catalog, it has sold  more than 50, 000 “uke” folios to no less a place than Hawaii — home and natal place of the ukulele, or “jumping flea,” as they call it on the much publicized beach of Waikiki.

An order for five thousand books, received last week from the Hawaii Sales Co., Ltd., 1009 Nunanu Street, Honolulu, included “Ukulele Ike’s Comic Songs for the Ukulele,” Nos. 1 and 2, “W. C. Handy’s Famous Comic Blues,” and the following famous books by Hank Linet, — “Hank’s One Hour Course in Ukulele Playing,” “Hank’s College Ditties,” “Hank’s Songs of the Sunny South” and “Hank’s Comic Camp Ditties,” all of Robbins-Engels publications.

Hank who … ?

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The perils of teaching ukulele in Australia, 1920s

Just browsing for ukulele news, and found a number of bits of information converging on Henry Alexander Peelua Bishaw (born 1889 — death 1972?). 

 Henry authored at least two instruction manuals for ukulele and steel guitar. The Albert Ukulele Hawaiian Guitar: complete instruction for accompaniment and solo work (ca. 1919), and The Albert Steel Guitar: complete instruction for accompaniment and solo work (ca. 1920s).

Henry was a native Hawaiian who came to Australia in 1917 under a 12 months’ contract to perform with Miss Muriel Starr in “The Bird of Paradise”, for which he was paid $25 a week [Henry was possibly involved in “Music on Wheels”, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 1918, where Hawaiian ukulele players from the ‘Bird of Paradise Company’ joined other musicians to play in a motorcade]. Once that contract expired, he gave lessons in ukulele and steel guitar in rooms at Kings Street, Sydney, making between $1700 and $3000 a year for the first few years. As interest in the ukulele fell, so did his income. He spent quite a bit in advertising to no good effect, and, in May 1923, found himself in bankruptcy court (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1923, page 7).

This was not the end of his troubles. In September 1923, Downs Johnstone took Henry to court to prevent Henry from “advertising or otherwise offering, to teach ukulele and steel guitar, or either of such instruments, on his own account, or for any other person or persons, other than” for Downs Johnstone. Johnstone got his way (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 1923, page 11).

Life can be hard, even for a ukulele player [UPDATE — The Argus (23 October 1923) — that paper of good ukulele news — ran an ad. in which it was stated that Mr. Henry A. Bishaw and his Hawaiian Trio. would play on Henley Day (some boat gig); and he was giving daily demonstrations at Suttons in Melbourne, as advertised in The Argus, 8 December 1923.]

From one of Mr. Bishaw’s ads

A Warning to Intended Students

There are numerous so-called teachers of these instruments [uke and steel guitar], therefore students should look for real qualifications before they decide to take lessons.  Hear Mr. Henry A. Bishaw demonstrate and play ukulele and steel guitar. They will convince you that he is the only expert teacher and player in Australia.

Ukuleles, Sunlight and Southport, 1933

A special representative for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, 11 December, 1933, gives some advice for young hopefuls with ukuleles.

Castles in the air

Life savers, with features and form of classic gods, struggled for supremacy in the sport that typifies more than any other the sunlit beaches and the open-air life of Australians.

Tiny children … built their sand castles.

Young women, slender and golden as sunflowers, stretched luxuriantly on the burning sands, revelled in the sun god’s wanton glances, and built their castles (in the air) too.

Young men, with unruly mops of lank hair, strummed guitars and ukuleles, and sang mournfully, “I wanna give my happiness to you-oo-oo.”  But the fair ones heeded them not. Those who were not shooting the breakers were too engrossed in the stalwart life-savers, or some other sun-browned surfers, or, mayhap, they were merely lost in girlhood’s indolent trances. The beach is not the place for young men to sing mournful dirges with any great degree of success.

A mournful dirge is not best played on a ukulele, anyway. A guitar is so much better at being mournful. BTW, this link leads to a less than mournful version of “Let me give my happiness to you“.

From 1933 movie ‘The Good Companions’
(Furber / Posford)

I’ll be happy making you glad
I’ll be sorry when you are sad
Let me give my happiness to you, please do
All the sunshine here in my heart
Take it, keep it, just for a start
Let me give my happiness to you

I can do without it just a little while
I’ll be happy when you smile
Don’t ever doubt it, we’ll win through
Take it from me, please do

I’ll be happy making you glad
Can’t be happy when you are sad
Let me give my happiness to you

Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A ukulele at the north pole 1926 — and a minor mystery

I read on page 57 of Jim Beloff’s excellent book, The Ukulele: a visual history, about Richard Konter and his smuggling of a ukulele onto Commander Byrd’s expedition to the north pole in 1926. Konter, adventurer and ukulele enthusiast, wanted to introduce the ukulele to the Eskimos — noble fellow. We’re told that the uke was a koa Martin, and the very uke is now (complete with 1926 trekkers’ signatures) in the Martin Museum. I had no reason to doubt this, until I read the following report from The Music Trade Review of 10 July 1926 (reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International):

An Exploring Uke

An Epiphone ukulele made the trip with Lieut-Commander Byrd to the North Pole, according to Epi Stathopoulo, head of the House of Stathopoulo, Inc, manufacturer of Epiphone Banjos, Long Island City, N. Y.   A dinner was tendered by the Greenwich village Historical Society last week to Dick Konter, the well-known ukulele teacher and song arranger, who reported to Mr. Stathopoulo how well his miniature Epiphone ukulele stood the trip.

Was it not a Martin that Konter took to the NP? Is an Epiphone in the Martin Museum? Was Epi Stathopoulo trying to steal Martin’s thunder? (Surely not!) Of course, as an enthusiast, Konter might have taken more than one ukulele with him (afterall, he was hoping to meet Eskimos and share the joys of ukulele with them). So it remains a Mystery…

[UPDATE: the MTR of 3 July 1926 tells how the story of Konter and his ukulele at the north pole was picked up by several newspapers, including the New York Times (30 June 1926, page 30). Neither this report in the MTR, nor the extract from the NYT it provides, gives any indication of the brand of uke that was taken over the pole on 9 May 1926. The MTR was naturally more concerned with the boost the publicity gave to sales of Konter’s ukulele instruction book.]

Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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The ukulele and war secrets

The Argus newspaper of Melbourne, Australia, was finally permitted to reveal on the front page (27 of September, 1940) that the ukulele was played as a ship, carrying Australian trainee airmen, left for Canada some months before.  After the young men were safely in Canada, it could be reported that the tallest of the trainees was 6 feet 5.5 inches tall, and one of them was a leading long distance runner.

Their departure was a closely guarded secret, the men themselves not being informed of their destination until 24 hours before departure time…

Half an hour before the liner pulled out from an Australian port, an airman with a ukulele accompanied a group singing “Wish me luck.” “Oh, Johnnie!” and “Till the lights of London shine again.” As the grey ship swung down the stream the notes of “Waltzing Matilda” came back to the little group on the pier.

So, you may know what tunes he played on the ukulele, but you may not know the Quay (sorry).

Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 7:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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The New York Times and the death of the ukulele


New York Times, February 3, 1929, (Sunday Section: Arts & Leisure), Page 123. The ukulele has gone the way of all fads. One may look forward to a Summer minus the tinkling of “Aloha, O” throughout a ferry ride and a night’s attempt to slumber. The college boy no longer considers the ukulele an indispensable part of his equipment for higher learning. The high school girl has shelved her “uke” with her slave bracelet.

This perception of decline in the popularity of the ukulele might have inspired one plank of a presidential candidate, Mr. Plushbottom, in 1928. But there is evidence that some college boys saw the advantage of ukuleles in higher learning, at least at Duke University, in the year 1950.

Sophomore, Duke University, 1950 -- with ukulele

Picture from Chanticleer, Duke University, 1950, p. 200 (search — I suspect (but cannot be sure) that the ukist might be identified on p. 169 of the same publication.

Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saying ‘ukulele’ the right way

A concerned citizen of Fitzroy, Victoria (Australia) wrote in 1941 to correct  a grave error in the way Australians pronounce Hawaiian names.

In 1913, on a trip to New Zealand, I meet Professor Cunninghame, an expert in Polynesian languages, and he told me the simple rules for pronouncing island names. As a result, when later I met an Hawaiian, I astonished him by pronouncing his name correctly. He said that I was the first Australian to do so.

Every letter is pronounced, and always in the same way. AU, as it is in kauri; U, as the oo in “boot”; E, like our E in “merry”; I, like our E; AI, like our I. Thus Emirau should be “emmy-row” (noise). Hawaii should be “Ha – wy -ee”, and Hawaiian is “Ha – wy – ee – an”. The ukulele should be “oo – kulele”; we usually pronounce the “U” correctly in Honolulu…

The fact that some American singers, on records, and the BBC mispronounce Hawaiian words does not make their method correct, as at pronouncing foreign words the BBC, and their servile imitator the ABC, are tiresome jokes.  We always have to wait till we see “The Argus” to find out what they are babbling about.

So, there you have it. From the letters to the editor, The Argus, Monday, 6 January, 1941,  page 8.

Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 8:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Ukulele in ol’ Blue Eyes’s Closet

Life magazine did a feature on Frank Sinatra (3 May 1943), which included the following (on page 58):

Sinatra, the son of middle-class parents of Italian descent, was born in Hoboken, N.J.  His childhood, as he remembers it, was not especially eventual.  “I was just an average kid,” he says. “But I always wanted to sing.”  His summer vacations were spent with his aunt at a New Jersey beach resort. At moonlight bathing parties he used to play the ukulele and sing. All available sources fail to indicate that either his voice or ukulele playing were anything out of the ordinary. But it was an age of crooners — an age of Crosby’s Where the Blue of the Night and Vallee’s Vagabond Lover — and Sinatra responded to the influence that was everywhere around him. That it was, at the moment, a subconscious response in no way lessens its importance.

Maybe I should look up Freud on the ukulele…

Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 6:58 am  Comments (1)  
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Dame Nellie Melba and Ukulele Envy

The Argus of 6 March 1928 (page 16) noted that Dame Nellie Melba has offended the city of Sydney.

Sydney feels keenly Dame Nellie Melba’s inferential slight on this city and its beaches in her laudation of Honolulu and its attractions. It is thought that Dame Nellie Melba became mesmerised by the ukulele and the moonlight, for she speaks of the ukulele almost with reverence. That, however, would not matter a great deal. Sydney claims that in beaches and moonlight it is unsurpassed. Its people are peeved by the revelation that Melba surfed twice a day in Honolulu. There is no record of her having done so here once a day as a regular practice. Her determination to buy a bungalow home on Waikiki Beach is the greatest advertisement that Honolulu resort has had in recent years, and it will be fully availed of in the publicity of the clever people who boom the Hawaiian moon, the ukulele, the surfing beaches, and the volcanoes. Manly has yet to be heard from in connection with the transference of affection of Australia’s best known citizen. Probably a score of its residents are even now writing the newspaper on the subject. 

Wikipedia has failed to note Melba’s love of the ukulele — shocking omission.

[Update: The Sydney Morning Herald of 5 March 1928 (page 10) noted Dame Nellie’s return to Sydney after a seven week holiday in Honolulu. It reported that there “she had enjoyed one of her finest holidays”. (But no talk of the 67 year old surfing twice a day.)

Everyone in Honolulu was happy, she said, no long faces there. The SMH noted that “the eminent singer was greatly interested by the ukulele music. The playing of one of these orchestras, she said, had a fascination of its own.”]

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yet another ‘ukulele’ at war

The battle of Okinawa commenced 1 April 1945 and ended 22 June that year. This battle had one of the highest casualty rates of World War 2.  Ernie Pyle, who was killed in action 18 April 1945, told the following story in one of his reports from that battle. It appeared in The Argus, Tuesday, 24 April 1945, page 2.

 At one of our halts word was passed back that we could sit down but not take of packs. From down the line came the music of a French harp and a ukulele playing, “You are My Sunshine”. When it was finished the marines would call back request numbers, and the little concert went on for 5 to 10 minutes out there in the Okinawa fields…. [a bazookaman, William Gabriel played the harmonica, and Lieutenant ‘Bones’ Carsters played ‘ukulele’] … He strummed the cords on the sort of ukulele common to Okinawa. It has three strings and the head is always stretched snake-skin. It gives you the willies just to look at one.”

The instrument referred to was probably a sanshin.

Sanshin (image from Wikipedia)

Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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