The Ukulele and the Prince of Wales

Of the musical members of the British royal family, Edward — Prince of Wales from 23 June 1910 – 20 January 1936 — played the bagpipes, the banjo and the ukulele, but not all at once. On 9 march 1935, page 8, The Argus (*the* Australian source of historical information for most things ukulele) reported that the Prince of Wales had mastered the ukulele under the instruction of Kal Keech, “an acknowledged expert”.  The Argus also shared the rumour that this Prince of Wales (while an Oxford undergraduate) had once played “The Red Flag” on the banjo at meeting of young communists. Who knows how the history of world might have been changed if he’d played that tune on ukulele.

By the way, the Hobart Mercury (19 April 1920, page 5) gives an extended account of the Prince of Wales’ visit to Honolulu. At a special entertainment, he heard Ukalele, “the principal singing girl”, perform with “a voice of much sweetness and charm”.

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 6:40 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Ukulele, Canned Music and the neglect of Wind Instruments

The Argus of 1934, Friday, 11 May, page 8, lamented the popularity of canned music, as opposed to home-made music, and looked back to the days when the piano — the ‘ambition of a working class family’ in 1900 — would be learned and played by at least one member of the family. Music un-canned in 1934 came from other sources:

Today one may buy in a saleroom a cottage piano for 2 [pounds]. New amateur virtuosos of the ukulele and steel guitar have arisen to supply uncanned music. Is there no room for wind instruments — outside of the seven parliaments of Australia?

How unkind…

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith plays ukulele

The Argus newspaper reported (2 November 1934, page 10) that Australian aviator Kingsford-Smith (1897-1935) bought a ukulele in Honolulu on 31 October 1934. He and his co-pilot P.G. Taylor intended to fly from Wheeler airfield to Oakland California on 1 November — it was the third and last stage of their trans-Pacific flight which started in Brisbane, Australia. 

The Argus stated that:

he is practising on a ukulele he bought to-day, saying that he intends to play it to keep Captain Taylor from going to sleep, as he did on the way from Suva. 

[Update: The Montreal Gazette (5 November 1934) reports P.G. Taylor as saying. “Sir Charles didn’t play the ukulele he got in Honolulu. Nor did he have time to sing.” They didn’t even drink the liqour they had on board, as nothing went wrong…]

Aviator and Ukulele Player

Aviator and Ukulele Player

According to Wikipedia: ‘Kingsford Smith and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge were flying the Lady Southern Cross overnight from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, as part of their attempt to break the England-Australia speed record, when they disappeared over the Andaman Sea in the early hours of 8 November 1935.’

Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Three-in-one Banjo, played like a ukulele

An advertisement appeared in Popular Mechanics of February 1928 (page 230) for an aluminium ‘thing’:

Features of a tenor banjo, a banjo mandolin and the ukulele banjo are combined in a recently introduced instrument which has a metal keyboard [fretboard?] to simplify playing, an aluminum bridge in place of the ordinary wooden one and several other distinctive details. It is strung like a ukulele and is constructed like a banjo. A metal resonator and an adjustable metal tone chamber and head tightener are special features. The calf-skin head is adjusted with a nut. The instrument is said to be very easy to play and produces a wide variety of pleasing tones.

Marginal notes in the magazine indicate that the ‘thing’ was called a Tivolette, and it was distributed by Bee-Jay Products Co at a price of $9.50.

Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 8:52 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Ukulele and High Fashion

Need a necklace for that special outing? Well, I hope you’ve got your ukulele handy. Popular Science (August, 1942, page 219) gives the following tip:

A five-cent ukulele E string of the catgut type makes an excellent cord for restringing a bead or pearl necklace. Thread the parts on the dry catgut, then soak the ends of the latter for two hours between the folds of a damp cloth before tying the knots at the clasp ends. — K. F. Keith.

Apart from providing a stylish fashion accessory, this Popular Science article might be evidence for the general use of G C E A tuning in 1942, and, perhaps, for the growing use of nylon strings. BTW — how much are single strings sold for these days?

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Bobby Goldsboro and the ukulele

According to an article in Billboard (5 October 1974, page 1961), Bobby Goldsboro’s interest in performing music was given a boost by a ukulele. When he was twelve years old, he visited a neighbour who had scored a ukulele for Christmas — one that had an Arther Godfred push-button gizmo to help make the chords. Now Bobby had an ear for music. He could remember tunes he heard on TV, complete with instrumental arrangement. So…

here I was with this ukulele, fooling around, trying to play something. As it turned out, I found a song the first time through, and everyone in my friend’s family ended up standing there staring at me, wondering where I’d learned to play.

The neighbour loaned the uke to Bobby permanently, ‘who promptly figured out how to play it without the chordmaker and continued to teach himself.’   Bobby recalled that

Over the next few years I got a series of improved instruments. Finally, I was looking through the Sears catalogue … I thought a bass-guitar was a big ukulele [but] I chose a guitar, which I played like a ukulele for a while anyway. Left the lower strings untuned and strummed [the top four strings] very carefully.

But the interesting thing, for me, is that Bobby originally really wanted to be a baseball player.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

The Ukulele and US Baseball Players

At least three US baseball players have had their names linked to the ukulele.

Joe DiMaggio’s photograph (with ukulele and a number of young women) appeared in Life magazine of 1 May, 1939, page 67. But it’s ok, he only pretends to play.

Baseball Digest revealed, in March 1973, that Norm Cash, who played for the Detroit Tigers, was a “ukelele strummer and a singer of Texas songs” off the field, and that “he’s not averse to doing solo dances either.”

Babe Ruth is featured in the New York Magazine of 7 March 1983 (page 48). It was reported that, in his spare time, Babe Ruth used to drop bars of soap from his penthouse into a fountain below, hoping to splash those passing by. “When he wasn’t bombing strangers, Ruth liked to party with friends … entertaining them by playing his ukulele (badly).”

If he had to do something badly, it might as well have been ukulele playing.

Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 8:11 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,