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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Paying off the First World War one ukulele at a time

The Evening Independent reported on 30 July 1924 that ukulele fever had hit Berlin hard. Germany wanted a ukulele in every home. The uke was promoted with special musical tunes, “Ukulele Heinie” and “Try Me on Your Cat” [must have lost something in translation], as examples. Every ukulele sale contributed to the paying of war reparations, as Germany put a big sales tax on musical instruments, it seems, for that purpose.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 5:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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“Hawaiian” music, America and the ukulele (1917)

The Evening Ledger, 2 June 1917, reported the following vital information on page 9:

By the phonograph editor

It was “The Bird of Paradise” which first brought Hawaii prominently before the eyes of Americans. Once the craze for the Pacific Island was established in the United States, the ukulele and the lai retained their grip on popularity. It has been impossible to dislodge them from their vogue in this country. But with all the furor over Hawaiian music, very few persons have troubled themselves to find out the source of this insinuating, smoothly flowing, sensuous melody.

As a matter of fact, strictly pure Hawaiian music is never — or at least rarely — heard in America. [I snipped out a bit] The Hawaiian ditties strummed on ukulele by young chaps at college and played by restaurant orchestras come from Hawaii right enough. But they are not essentially Polynesian.

About 1820, when the language was being formulated [?], the island was visited by groups of missionaries bent of Christianizing the people. These purveyors of the Gospel, like all religious teachers, were accustomed to sing hymns, most of them German, since the missionaries were, in many cases, themselves of Teutonic origin. The brown skinned pupils quickly took up the hymn tunes, adapting them very slightly to measures that were natural to the Hawaiian mind and love of rhythm. The result today is the sort of thing you heard in “Stop, Look, Listen!” and in the vaudeville specialties of Toots Paka and her troupe.

This reminds me a little of a comment in The Argus of 1935.

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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