Ukulele the real deal at last

The San Jose News, in June 1941, tells how Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards) will have to join the Musicians’ Union to play in his next film “Flight Patrol”, as the ukulele had finally been accepted as a “regular orchestral instrument”. Rah, Rah.

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 7:36 am  Comments (2)  
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Tired of your boyfriend? Swap him for a ukulele…

The troubled reality of youth during the 1950s is revealed in an article from The Spokesman Review of 23 January 1954.

The author tells how his junior-high daughter was accused by her younger sister of trading her former boy friend Ralph for a corduroy skirt. Molly (the older girl) denied doing such a despicable act. What she had done was to trade Allen for a ukulele. Far more reasonable thing to do. Upon being asked what Allen thought of this, the father was told that he didn’t know anything about the deal — boys are too dense about stuff like that. Apparently Carol thought Allen was worth a ukulele, so she could on-sell him to Christine for a radio — Carol wanted the radio so she could organise dancing at a family reunion which several distant male cousins were to be attending (cute ones, is seems). And what about Ralpf — poor guy; he just wasn’t worth a ukulele.

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (1)  
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Andres Segovia slates the ukulele

The Pittsburgh Post of 1 January 1955 reports that Andres Segovia, who was in town to play with the Pittsburgh symphony orchestra, admitted that there was a family resemblance between uke and his axe, but the ukulele — in his view — was AWFUL.

This revelation is a little disappointing, as he himself had to combat the prejudices that many had against the guitar when he began playing at the age of 14.

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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Ukulele is of German origin…

The Buckingham Post of 9 December 1938 told the locals that the ukulele was not of Hawaiian origin after all.  It found its way to Honolulu via Portuguese sailors a while back, and the natives liked it. But further back, the Portuguese apparently sneaked it from the Germans. This revelation came via the Royal Library at Stuttgart, where drawings and descriptions of a uke-like instrument have been found dating back to AD 1180. 

I don’t know if I buy that view — maybe the Germans modelled their ancient uke on the Chinese Zhong Ruan which seems to date from the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC). But then again, maybe I invented it and used a time machine to give the impression that its origins were ancient and mysterious … curiouser and curiouser.

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ukulele with helicopter — Ma! He’s making eyes at me!

A tune from 1921 interrupted by traffic chopper.

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ukulele left in Honolulu

The Pittsburgh Press of 29 June 1916 tells of Ms Emme Williams, a forgetful Miss who while holidaying in Honolulu bought a ‘rare type of Hawaiian musical instrument’ — a ukulele. While packing to return to California, she omitted to slip the uke in her trunk. Half way home on the boat, she discovered her error, sent a wireless message to the hotel she had stayed in, and planned her return trip from San Francisco back to Hawaii. 5000 miles later, she had her uke again. “Of course.” said she, “I could have ordered it expressed to me but I was afraid it would be broken. Anyway, I enjoyed the trip on the Pacific to Honolulu.”

I hope she learned how to play it after all that, but I don’t suppose there was much money left for lessons.

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rose of Washington Square (on ukulele) 1920

The Rose of Washington Square was introduced by Ms Fanny Brice during the Mid-Night Follies. The title of this song also became the title of a movie musical, featuring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Al Jolson. Apparently, the plot of the film was so similar to the events of the life of Ms Brice that she took offence (she hadn’t been asked) and sued 20th Century Fox, Mr Power and Ms Faye (for their representation of Fanny’s former husband and herself) — for $750 000, according to the Ottawa Citizen of 15 July 1939. She also sued Mr Jolson (just because he was there — she never liked him; in her early days on the stage, his show stopping often stopped her going on at all). For his part in the film, Al was only getting $6000 a week, and the occasional smile from Ms Faye — not enough in his view (Evening Independent, 7 Feb 1939).

The song has two versions of the words, the nice and the not so nice.

Version 1:

They call me Rose, of Washington Square
A flower so fair, Should Bloom where the sunshines Rose,
for nature did not mean — That you should blush unseen
But be queen of some fair garden Rose
I’ll never depart, But dwell in your heart
Your love to care — I’ll bring the sunbeams from the heavens to you
And give you kisses that sparkle with dew My Rose
of Washington Square.

Version 2:

They call me Rose of Washington Square
I’m withering there. In basement air I’m fading, Pose,
with or without my clothes. They say that my Roman Nose
It seems to please artistic people Beaux
I’ve plenty of those. With seconded hand clothes,
And nice long hair..
I’ve got those Broadway vampires lashed to the mast
I’ve got no future but Oh! what a past I’m Rose
Of Washington Square!

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (2)  
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Dancing Snake and Musical Monkey

Here’s an eye-catching headline from the Pittsburgh Press 19 Feb 1917 —

New York, Feb 19. This is the story of a dancing bullsnake and a ukulele-playing monkey. The facts were gathered by teetotalers and written by a man from a prohibition state.

Fannie, a turbulent tailed chimpanzee [sic!] at the Bronx Zoo, fell heir to a demoralized ukulele gotten from somewhere by Keeper Bill Synder. Bill says Fannie has learned to play two bars of ‘Home Sweet Home’ keeping time by swinging herself, pendulum-wise, from her tail rack.

George McCoy spread consternation and the bullsnake all over the Fifty-first st. police station when he left it there because somebody left it with him and he didn’t want it. He told the panic–striken police to whistle and the snake would dance instead of following them. They did.

Now the plan is to present the dancing snake to the ukulele-playing monkey and let them stage a perpetual concert and ball among themselves.

I’d like to know what was in the tea-cup, and where the writer lives now.


Published in: on October 14, 2010 at 5:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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Have ukulele will travel… (a hitch-hiker’s guide)

The Argus (10 January 1939) caught up with Ms Betty Manning, a nurse from Auckland, who had spent the last year and a half hitch-hiking from Sydney to Cairns and back down to Melbourne. Her working ‘holiday’ included stints as a cotton-picker, waiter, kitchen staff, rodeo rider and musician — why a musician — she played ukulele. In fact, all she carried into Melbourne were two changes of clothing and her ukulele. She was heading next to Perth (a long walk that would have been), with plans to work there until she earned the fare to South Africa. Hope she got there safe.

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Knocked out by his own ukulele

Berkeley Daily Gazette, 13 May 1930: Larry S. Steele had one tough ukulele. He remembers having an argument with three strangers, before waking up in hospital. He was found insensible in his car, and he claims that the strangers beat him unconscious with his own ukulele. Never underestimate the potential of this little instrument.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 7:51 am  Comments (5)  
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