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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Ukuleles in the headlines… and mostly in court

Looking for old ukulele stuff can lead to interesting discoveries. A few examples follow:

UKULELE PLAYER GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE; Neighbor Tells Court She Called Police at 2 A.M., but the Noise Increase When They Came. The New York Times, 25 October 1927. (Was he hanged?)

Jazz Tunes on Ukulele Lure Canadian Deer to Parked Car. The New York Times, 25 June 1928 (Then what?)

PRACTICE UKULELE IN JAIL, SAYS JUDGE. Hartford Courant, 9 October 1925 (Oh dear, was it that bad?)

Suspect Held to Answer in Ukulele Death. Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1926 (not of the ukulele — case of murder)

JAIL UKULELE THIEF? COURT PREFERS NOT. Los Angeles Times. 13 May 1923 (It’s ok to steal ukuleles!)

WRATH SHOWN BY UKULELE IKE. Los Angeles Times. 2 May 1931 (Divorce court)

MAN BEATEN UP WITH UKULELE. Los Angeles Times, 29 April 1930
Someone was beaten into unconsciousness with a ukulele following an argument with three strangers in a Los Angeles. (Now, that’s some ukulele — made in USSR?)

Ukulele Ike Is Bankrupt. New York Times, 18 March 1933 (Remember that divorce?)

May Breen Sues to Make Union Recognize Uke. Chicago Tribune. 8 November 1931 (Serves them right)

So be careful you ukers, or we’ll see you in court.

Nurse and ukulele: grounds for divorce… (NZ, 1930)

The New Zealand Truth reported 18 September 1930 (page 8) that a woman wanted to divorce her husband for his alleged misbehaviour with a nurse who had been brought in for a week to help him recover from pneumonia. He says he never did, she says she always suspected him.

Here’s a snippet from the court proceedings:

Mr Shorland: You’ll admit to a trivial flirtation with Nurse Gibbard?

— No. I’ll not admit that.

Did you ever kiss her? — No.

You just had musical evenings with her? — That’s all.

Did you have many of these evenings? — My wife invited her twice. I should say that she was there two or three times. She came one afternoon just when I was getting about. She came at my wife’s suggestion and brought her ukulele and music with her at her request.

You play some instrument? — I play the piano.

Your wife does not play or sing, so why should she have invited the Nurse Gibbard to the house? — She likes music.

His wife said that the nurse “seemed to be a bright, lively sort of girl … She had no friends, and my husband suggested that we invite her around to our house.” It was when the wife followed husband and nurse to the park that the trouble started, apparently.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 6:56 am  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 in the Australian news…during the 1930s

The National Library has an interesting collection of Australian newspapers online. A few clippings from the mass follows:


Hawaiians Wrongly Blamed

Mr Frits Hart deplored the passing of the traditional Hawaiian chant. “Although the Islanders sing very charmingly, the so-called Hawaiian music associated with ukuleles and steel guitars originates mainly from Germany or Italy, and is harmonised in the worst possible taste by Americans.”

(From The Argus, Tuesday 28 May 1935, page 8.)


[To support an argument that a justice of the peace should be able to admit a person to bail, whether or not the person had applied in a court of law for bail, councillor Hooper offered the following sad case.]

A young man who was inebriated and who was carrying a ukulele had been arrested and charged with unlawful possession. His only offence seemed to be that he was playing his own ukulele. The case had been dismissed, but the man had had to stay in the metropolitan gaol for three days because he had not made application to a Court for bail.

(From The Argus Tuesday 18 October 1938, page 16.)

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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