Whom to believe? A ukulele controversy?

The Pittsburgh Press in 1927 happily published contradictory views on the ukulele.

1 May — Ukulele Ike (jazzy uke player) said…

“It is a purely modern instrument that appeals to the person who enjoys music, and desires to play some instrument, but who does not care to spend many hours in study.”

5 June — Nawahi (the champion uke player of the world) said (and I paraphrase) …

The ukulele is really a Hawaiian instrument that was never meant for the jazz tunes that you hear played on it in this country.

Nawahi played classical tunes and previously had won a Chicago Championship.

It seems there was a little ukulele tribalism going on (and the uke can suit any tribe).

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Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They were both wrong.

    Many uke players do desire to spend many hours in study in pursuit of mastery of the instrument. Ukulele Ike was correct to a point in that a person can get up-and-running quite quickly, yet that same person may spend as much time in pursuit of mastery as with any other instrument.

    Nawahi was incorrect as well. It is a traditional Portugese instrument, adopted by Hawaiians, then adopted my mainlanders and others. The idea that an instrument was never intended for playing certain songs is ludicrous. Once jazz, blues, classical, rock, country, bluegrass etc. have been played on an instrument you can’t really unring that bell.

    The ukulele is a deceptively simple traditional multinational/multiethnic instrument with implications and potential for both traditional and modern musical forms.

    • yep — and thanks for dropping by!

  2. Did they duel over it?

  3. If it’s a King Benny Nawahi interview, he was then well known for his hot interpretations of jazz tunes on both ukulele and Hawaiian guitar. So, it would be nice to read his exact words on the subject.

    • Thanks for Nawahi’s full name — the report gives little more than I have (in reported rather than direct speech). People who had heard him play say that he made the ukulele ‘talk’. He was referring to original intent, perhaps, and not what he himself was doing with it.

  4. found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  5. In the modern idiom King Benny could be said to ‘own’ the hot Uke swing vibe!

    I need to talk with cyril LeFebvre about the Selmer built resonator instruments from the 40s and 50s, if you have an email for him please pass mine on..

    And, after a recent converstion with Ralph Shaw about ‘why is there no May Singhi Breen page yet on wikipedia’, we’re starting one. If anyone had any input please add your bit when it appears. Or, off course start one we can add to!

    Aloha nui loa,

    Colin McC


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