Ukulele packs troubles off to Leavenworth

The St. Joseph Observer of 22 June 1918 reported the following heart-warming story:

Eleven men in Khaki marched from an incoming train into the Union Station. One carried a ukulele and played as they marched, and only a few of those watching noticed that they were under guard. When they were seated the man with the instrument struck up a tune and four others formed a quartet and began to sing. In clear mellow tones they sang “Over There.” and people from all over the waiting room left their seats and moved forward. “Singing as they go to war,” remarked a man. The audience grew. A man started to talk to one who was not singing, but three husky sergeants stepped forward and ordered the crowd to keep back. They were not men singing on their way to war, but prisoners from Camp Wheeler, Ga., on the way to the federal prison at Leavenworth to serve sentences ranging from one to twenty-five years, but they had not forgotten the spirit of the army of which they had been a part and left the station singing “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.”

It might be that they were singing because they were not going to war. It’s a sad thought that there was only one ukulele among the eleven prisoners.

The ukulele and hard work

The Independent (of Hawaii) on 23 June 1899 printed the following letter from a reader (one from a number of letters on the topic of Over Education):

We cannot blame the youngsters. It is a great deal more pleasant to sing Tira Mola with the accompaniment of an Ukulele, to standing over the wash tub or broiling a piece of steak. And it is far more interesting to play baseball in the presence of admiring girls than to stay at the bellows in the blacksmith shop or hit a hot iron on the anvil. It is natural for the young people to shirk work.

Then, The Jasper News in its Christmas edition (sometime after 1918) provided the following anecdote:

“Your son has settled down to hard work.”

“Yes,” said the proud father. “I’m glad now that I had confidence in the boy. When he took to playing the ukulele and ‘stepped on the gas’ when he wasn’t dancing, I got a bit discouraged, but I kept telling mother not to worry, that he’d make a man out of himself yet.”

 Just seems that the ukulele is associated more with fun than work, even when the uke is only a means of recreation after a hard day at the anvil (or the English Channel).

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Did the ukelele inhibit her free-style?

Ms Gertrude Ederle denied  that her ukulele playing in anyway contributed to her failure to make the swim across the English Channel (The News, 17 September 1925).

Her trainer, Jabez Wolffe, claimed that she neglected her training to play the happy little instrument. “That’s a lie,” said Ms Ederle. “I played my ukelele only during the evening after the day’s training had been concluded. It was my relaxation.” She insisted that she had done everything in training that her coach had required. Ms Ederlie’s first attempt failed when her trainer ordered another swimmer to take her out of the water. He claimed that she was in difficulty; she denied that too.

Trudy Ederle -- without ukulele (Wikipedia)

Happily, in 1926, she succeeded in her second attempt at the channel, finishing the swim in 14 hours 30 minutes and breaking the previous record (held by Enrique Tiraboschi) by about 2 hours.  Her record stood 24 years.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ukulele or Ukelele — what the papers said

Two graphs reveal how newspapers used the word ‘ukelele’ and ‘ukulele’ as the name of the four-stringed wooden instrument (graphs are not at the same scale, each show the relative numbers of news articles etc. using one or the other word):  





The graph for ‘ukelele’ doesn’t seem to follow my perceptions of the ups and downs in the popularity of the uke quite as well as the graph for ‘ukulele’, that is: —  

– rise to peak from 1900 to 1926 (Hawaiian craze then the jazz age),  

– a fall during the 1930s (depression),  

– a blip up in the 1940s (WW2 in the Pacific) followed by  

– a more solid return in the 1950s (Arthur Godfrey) and mid 1960s,  

– then down again until the more recent rise in the 1990s.  

The word ‘ukelele’ seems to appear at a more constant rate across the years with peaks in the 1920s and 1990s/2000s and dip in the 1930s.  

Why the difference? Who knows. Personally, it could simply mean that I’ve misunderstood things, which is a common happening.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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There is hope for the ukulele yet

The Argus of 6 February 1936 related the news that a chair of guitar playing had been set up in the music conservatory of Madrid by the Spanish Government. The argument for this move was that it would preserve the playing of the guitar against the onslaught of movies and jazz music — apparently young people were voting with their feet, listening to the radio rather than the strumming of folk tunes.

This seems to put the idea of a conservatorium in an unfavourable light. It is then the case that, once a thing cannot support itself in the popular imagination, it has to be conserved by government decree.  Nevertheless, did the headline of this article (with now forms the title of this post) mean that the jazzy ukulele would now be the popular choice of the young Spaniards, or did it mean that since the guitar has now made the grade for ‘conserving’, the ukulele might someday be ‘preserved’ in a similar way?

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Instrumentalist’s Creed

The Music Trade Review included this advice in one of its issues of 1915:

1. Keep your instrument clean

2. Remember that slow practice is the study of the gods.

3. Honor your teacher — even if you do believe you know more than he does.

4. Less practice on your instrument — but more thinking and studying away from it will be conducive to greater results and higher development.

5. Embrace every opportunity to play concerted music. If there are no opportunities create them.

6. Keep your ears and eyes open to everything and everybody; in other words, study carefully the method of every artist.

7. Be a musician as well as an executant.

8. Remember that though you may be able to play everything from A to Z it does not mean that you are a musician.

9. Remember that an ounce of tonal quality is worth a ton of technique.

10. Work for your health while working to achieve artistic ambitions; for fresh air, deep breathing and long walks mean renewed vigor and mental activity. — From the Australian Bandsman.

Reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International.

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Getting Serious with ukuleles

The Mohave County Miner and Our Mineral Wealth of 27 November 1920 reported on the potentially serious nature of ukulele music:

“Do you think that jazz music will be taken up by serious composers?” someone recently asked Emil Oberhoffer, conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

“I am told,” replied Oberhoffer, that Percy Grainger is writing a composition for eleven ukuleles and one mixed voice.”

If only the American Federation of Musicians could have known about this, Ms Breen’s life would have been more peaceful.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Black Belt in Ukulele

The magazine Black Belt ran on page 21, in the April 1965 issue, a picture of Mike and Mary-Anne, a couple who share an interest in Karate and Ukulele. The domestic scene shows Mike strumming an authentic Hawaiian ukulele while Mary-Anne reads Black Belt — not only does she now cook rice to Mike’s liking, she has already picked up enough Karate to have left a half-inch scar below Mike’s right eye. It obviously wasn’t enough to deter him from playing ukulele. She’ll have to hit him harder the next time.

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Play ukelele? Just like one of them beach boys

In 1938, Mickey Rooney — youthful movie star — was 17, and he’d let nothing stop him. The St. Petersburg Times of 11 June that year tells how Master Rooney was told by a director that he’d have to strum a ukulele in a scene after lunch that day. Asked whether he could play ukulele, Mickey reportedly replied — “Boy, and how!” and he followed up with the words in the title of this post.  Mrs Nell Pankey, [Wikipedia says Mrs Nellie W Yule, nee Carter] Mickey’s mother, was surprised to hear it, as her boy didn’t play. But Mickey missed lunch to run to a local music shop and get a quick lesson, by the time the dishes were being wash back at the studio, his strumming was close enough for jazz. Don’t ask me in which movie, he made seven that year:

Love Is a Headache
Judge Hardy’s Children
Hold That Kiss
Lord Jeff
Love Finds Andy Hardy
Boys Town
Out West with the Hardys
Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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If you are drunk, blame the ukelele player

Three young party goers were a little under the weather when officer O’Connell found them changing a tyre, according to the Lewiston Evening Journal, 25 May 1926.  They were on their way to a dance. The fellow who had been driving the car, obviously intoxicated but bright enough to want to avoid loosing his license, blamed one of his passengers. In court, Edgar Rivard was accused of drunk driving, but he claimed he didn’t have time to drive as he was too busy sitting in the back sit playing the ukelele. Judge Manser was impressed by the fact that the two activities were incompatible, especially if one were tanked. Noble Edgar told the court that, if he had been driving, he “would take [his] medicine like a man”. But all he was guilty of was wobbly strumming in the back of a Ford Sedan.

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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