Ukulele Craze Sweeps Country!

The Honoulu Star Bulletin (6 September 1915) reported that:

‘A ukulele craze which is sweeping  the states from San Francisco to New York is directly the result of the Hawaiian quintet in the exposition building,’ sas Mr. Effinger.

As an example of the great popularity which has come recently to the little Hawaiian instrument, he mentioned an incident of where a crowd of 200 people who visited the exposition from Chicago brought along 86 ukuleles. These instruments are made in Chicago and do not compare at all with the Hawaiian make, he says.

‘In New York and Chicago I found all the music stores advertising Hawaiian music and instruments more than any other sort,’ says the commissioner. ‘Large posters in the windows also announce Hawaiian records for phonograph music.’

‘I believe,’ says Mr. Effinger, ‘that the demand for ukuleles alone, in the next year, will amount to 30,000 instruments. The two most popular songs, “Honi Kaua Wikiwike” and “Paradise Isles” are being advertised three times as much as any other music.”

Mr Effinger was not far wrong. There was a shortage of Hawaiian ukuleles in 1916.

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“It” girl signs ukulele for competition

The San Jose Evening News reported on 1 September 1927 that the “It” Girl, Clara Bow, would autograph the genuine Hawaiian ukulele that was the prize for the ukulele playing competition.

The winner was not only to receive the uke with “Its” monaca, but was to be featured on the stage of the California Theatre with their regular production team. Other prizes included cash, a Ferguson Uke, and a Sherman and Clay Uke. The audience of the California judged contestants over four nights.  I wonder who won?

Ms Bow was doing a promo for her latest picture, “Hula”, and page 2 of the News carried a photo of the star suitably attired in grass skirt and lei which looked something like this.


Prizes offered were:

1st. Hawaiian ukulele, given by Clara Bow and a month’s pass to the California Theatre

2nd. $10 in cash and a month’s pass to the California Theatre.

3rd. a $10 Gibson ukulele presented by Sherman Clay & Co. a month’s pass to the California Theatre.

4th Hawaiian Koa ukulele, with patent pegs, $7.50, presented by Ferguson Music House, and a month’s pass to the California Theatre.

5th $5 in cash and a month’s pass to the California Theatre.

6th a month’s pass to the California Theatre.

.. In 1927, $10 was about the same as $600 in today’s value.

Franchon and Marco were also said to be talent scouting for ukulele players, and planned to have representatives in the audience over the four nights of the contest.

I still haven’t found out who won.

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hideous Saxophones replace melodious ukuleles

The Schenectady Gazette of 1 December 1925 tells of the switch from ukuleles to saxophones, and of Mr Charles E King’s lament: Saxophones are making “the night hideous with their wails”.

Mr King said that the old Hawaiian songs had melody and were sung with stringed instruments, notably the ukulele, but with the rise in popularity of the saxophone, people who don’t know either music or their instruments are picking their own way through a tune — sometimes two or three together, resulting in all noise and no music.

Mr King believed that modern movies, dances and radio have killed the home-made quality music of Hawaii.

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 6:07 am  Comments (2)  
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To the editor of the woman’s page…

The Evening Ledger of 27 October 1917 printed something for the fashion conscious:

Dear Madam — Will you kindly publish in your paper as soon as possible the answer to the following questions.

1. How can the costume of a Hawaiian dancer be made inexpensively?

2. How should the hair be arranged with this dress?

3. Could I carry my ukulele with such a costume to a masquerade party?

And the answers were —

1. The skirt of the Hawaiian costume must be made to resemble streamers of grass or straw. To carry out this idea inexpensively you might use green or straw coloured cambric or cheesecloth cut into hundreds of narrow strips [Ed., straw is so expensive], which hang from the waist and form a skirt attached to the girdle. A pair of bloomers will have to be worn under the skirt. The waist is just a simple bodice and is mostly made without sleeves and with just straps over the shoulders, something in the style of the camisole [?]. Make this the shade of the skirt. Finish off the costume with a sash and with long yellow paper wreaths, which can be brought in any costume store.

2. The hair is worn hanging, the looser the better. It is decorated with lai, or Hawaiian garlands.

3. It will be very appropriate for you to carry your ukulele to the party and to play occasionally to keep things lively.

I wonder how many people turned up in this get up, and how lively things got — all those ukuleles!

Published in: on August 15, 2010 at 7:53 am  Comments (1)  
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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).

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm  Comments (8)  
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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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Ukulele tour leaves them breathless

The Hawaiian Gazette of 11 September 1906 reported that members of the Hawaiian Royal Band and Glee Club were almost asphyxiated near Louisville, as they travelled by train. When they passed through a tunnel, the porter in their special car forgot to close the ventilators and windows in the carriage, and it was filled with ‘noxious gas and smoke’ (love those steam trains). It was thought that a minute longer in the tunnel might have reduced the band by half — as it was, several of the Hawaiians had to be helped from the carriage at Union station.

As to their musical performance the previous day:

The versatility of the Royal Hawaiian Band was shown yesterday by the ease with which they slipped from Strauss to Sousa, from Linke to Moret, from “Nakiri’s Wedding” to “The Wearing of the Green.” The Glee Club, with its quaint native instruments, the ukulele and taropatch, its superb fully blended voices and its superb tenor, John H. Ellis, caught the popular fancy at once and received encore after encore.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 7:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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The earth moves, and ukuleles play

The San Francisco Call, 23 May 1906, reports that Captain Berger’s Royal Hawaiian Band will play in San Francisco.

Captain Berger has probably the largest Gee Club in the world, and its first concerts will be given in San Franciso for the relief of earthquake sufferers ….

There are forty-five members of the band. Ten of them played violin, three played cellos, two played bass viols and the rest were evenly divided between guitars and ukuleles. Nobody ever saw so many ukuleles being played at one time before and it was a surprising novelty even in Hawaii.

That last paragraph reads like cross between a joke and a year five maths question — “How many ukuleles played at once will surprise even an Hawaiian?”

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Saying ‘ukulele’ the right way

A concerned citizen of Fitzroy, Victoria (Australia) wrote in 1941 to correct  a grave error in the way Australians pronounce Hawaiian names.

In 1913, on a trip to New Zealand, I meet Professor Cunninghame, an expert in Polynesian languages, and he told me the simple rules for pronouncing island names. As a result, when later I met an Hawaiian, I astonished him by pronouncing his name correctly. He said that I was the first Australian to do so.

Every letter is pronounced, and always in the same way. AU, as it is in kauri; U, as the oo in “boot”; E, like our E in “merry”; I, like our E; AI, like our I. Thus Emirau should be “emmy-row” (noise). Hawaii should be “Ha – wy -ee”, and Hawaiian is “Ha – wy – ee – an”. The ukulele should be “oo – kulele”; we usually pronounce the “U” correctly in Honolulu…

The fact that some American singers, on records, and the BBC mispronounce Hawaiian words does not make their method correct, as at pronouncing foreign words the BBC, and their servile imitator the ABC, are tiresome jokes.  We always have to wait till we see “The Argus” to find out what they are babbling about.

So, there you have it. From the letters to the editor, The Argus, Monday, 6 January, 1941,  page 8.

Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 8:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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