Too Many Ukes

Evening News (Sydney, 10 March 1930) reports as follows:

“Like the man who disliked Scotland because there were too many Scotsmen, Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”) doesn’t like Honolulu, home of the uke. He went there recently and came back disgusted. “Everyone’s stealing my stuff now”, he wailed. “Even Honolulu is swarming with people playing ukulele and singing. Rank plagiarism I call it.”

Below is a photograph of more people plagiarizing Mr. Edwards at the beach near Newcastle, NSW, Australia 26 October, 1931.

Newcastle ukulele beach 1931

Published in: on April 19, 2015 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It must be true, i read it in the paper…

The Lodi Sentinel published the following nonsense in May 1927:

Hawaiian Island’s Flea

Honolulu: May 23 — Those of us who live without the pale of this magic Isle have always been intrigued with the thought that Hawaii and the ukulele meant one and the same; that the islands and the uke were as Siamese twins — all for one, and one for all. Legend and history credit the creation of the music box as being strictly Hawaiian. Now comes an authority who steals from Honolulu the credit for the ukulele and passes it on to the Portuguese…

The ukulele is said to have been originated by a Portuguese who landed in Hawaii some 50 years ago. The instrument from which is was patterned was more like the regular guitar called in Portuguese the taropatch, but being rather large and unhandy to carry about, this wise inventor studied out the present size and shape of the ukulele.

After he had completed the first instrument, the inventor was at a loss for a name to fit it. While pondering over the question, a dog came along and, sitting on his haunches, raised his right hind leg and immediately began the rapid motion familiar to all of a real yellow dog scratching fleas from his body.

Just at that moment, a native sat down and began to play the instrument. The inventor quickly noticed that similarity of the movements of the arm, hand and fingers as the strings were rapidly manipulated in extracting music. This action reaches its perfection in the hands of a real Hula Hula girl.

The name ukulele flashed into the maker’s mind for that is the name of the jumping flea in PORTUGUESE.

 It’s nice get the facts from one who knows — so don’t just seat there, find someone who knows.

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Frumgeous Ukulele (in verse no less)

A poetic invitation and rhymed refusal were published together sometime after March 1917, and before the end of the First World War — the newspaper itself is as yet unidentifiable.

Why not visit Honolulu?
Drop in on us without warning
When your next vacation’s due

Many thank for invitation
But we don’t believe we can, Sir
We may have to serve the nation.

We might wear your flower Boa
And a smile — and wear ’em gayly —
But we fear the wild aloa
And the Frumgeous ukulele.
So excuse us.
                                                    T. A. Daly

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 5:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Playing ukulele the Gracie Allen way

Two separate newspapers reported on the Gracie Allen method of learning the ukulele. Having watched Ms Allen play, it’ll be good advice to follow:

The Evening Independent (8 November 1938):

Gracie Allen, who is learning to play a ukelele for a scene in “Honolulu,” explains the ease in learning to play the instrument. “All you have to do,” says Gracie, “is to scratch your tummy for a while and then put a ukelele there.”

A more dignified report from The St Petersburg Times (16 November 1938):

Visiting on the “Honolulu” set, I found Gracie Allen strumming a ukelele — and doing a masterly job of it. “It is hard to learn?” I asked and she grinned like a Cheshire Cat. “Dead easy,” she said. ” “You just scratch your stomach rhythmically — then insert the uke!”

I think she was refining the joke as she was improving her strum.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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For the Girl who has everything and nothing– a ukulele

From the Hawaiian Gazette, 23 May 1913:

Left Trunks, Took Ukulele

When Miss Isonina Davies, daughter of N. R. N. Davies, proprietor of the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, arrived at San Francisco on the steamship Persia, May 14, from Honolulu, all the baggage she had to concern herself with consisted of the clothes which she wore when she went ashore, and a ukulele and a camera.

It wasn’t that the young woman didn’t have any other baggage. It was only after she sailed from Honolulu that it was discovered her trunks were not aboard. While she was leaning at the rail watching Diamond Head fade from sight and strumming her ukulele, her trunks reposed on the wharf here, while the transfer man was tearing up and down the wharf wondering what the young woman would say when she discovered her loss. But Miss Davies did not lose her temper. She strummed her ukulele just a bit more. Fellow passengers of the fair young woman came to her rescue with wearing apparel. A wireless message was sent to Honolulu and the transfer man sent the trunks on the following steamer. When she when down the gangway at San Francisco the customs men inquired for her baggage.

“You’re looking at it,” smiled the young woman while the inspectors gasped in astonishment.

Those hotel heiresses…

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Uke Books for Ukeland (1925)

[From Presto, 4 July 1925, page 22 — reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International]

New York Publishers Send Quantities of Ukulele Folios to Home of “Jumping Flea.”

You’ve heard of the American who tried to sell linen to Madeira, and his pal, a salesman for a Milwaukee brewery, who used to take in Pilsen and Munich, in Germany, on his selling trips. All related to the lad who carried coals to Newcastle.

Well, none of the aforementioned gentry has a thing on Robbins-Engel, Inc., New York, publishers of ukulele books. For, in the year that that firm has been developing and exploiting its famous ukulele catalog, it has sold  more than 50, 000 “uke” folios to no less a place than Hawaii — home and natal place of the ukulele, or “jumping flea,” as they call it on the much publicized beach of Waikiki.

An order for five thousand books, received last week from the Hawaii Sales Co., Ltd., 1009 Nunanu Street, Honolulu, included “Ukulele Ike’s Comic Songs for the Ukulele,” Nos. 1 and 2, “W. C. Handy’s Famous Comic Blues,” and the following famous books by Hank Linet, — “Hank’s One Hour Course in Ukulele Playing,” “Hank’s College Ditties,” “Hank’s Songs of the Sunny South” and “Hank’s Comic Camp Ditties,” all of Robbins-Engels publications.

Hank who … ?

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 5:24 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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Dame Nellie Melba and Ukulele Envy

The Argus of 6 March 1928 (page 16) noted that Dame Nellie Melba has offended the city of Sydney.

Sydney feels keenly Dame Nellie Melba’s inferential slight on this city and its beaches in her laudation of Honolulu and its attractions. It is thought that Dame Nellie Melba became mesmerised by the ukulele and the moonlight, for she speaks of the ukulele almost with reverence. That, however, would not matter a great deal. Sydney claims that in beaches and moonlight it is unsurpassed. Its people are peeved by the revelation that Melba surfed twice a day in Honolulu. There is no record of her having done so here once a day as a regular practice. Her determination to buy a bungalow home on Waikiki Beach is the greatest advertisement that Honolulu resort has had in recent years, and it will be fully availed of in the publicity of the clever people who boom the Hawaiian moon, the ukulele, the surfing beaches, and the volcanoes. Manly has yet to be heard from in connection with the transference of affection of Australia’s best known citizen. Probably a score of its residents are even now writing the newspaper on the subject. 

Wikipedia has failed to note Melba’s love of the ukulele — shocking omission.

[Update: The Sydney Morning Herald of 5 March 1928 (page 10) noted Dame Nellie’s return to Sydney after a seven week holiday in Honolulu. It reported that there “she had enjoyed one of her finest holidays”. (But no talk of the 67 year old surfing twice a day.)

Everyone in Honolulu was happy, she said, no long faces there. The SMH noted that “the eminent singer was greatly interested by the ukulele music. The playing of one of these orchestras, she said, had a fascination of its own.”]

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith plays ukulele

The Argus newspaper reported (2 November 1934, page 10) that Australian aviator Kingsford-Smith (1897-1935) bought a ukulele in Honolulu on 31 October 1934. He and his co-pilot P.G. Taylor intended to fly from Wheeler airfield to Oakland California on 1 November — it was the third and last stage of their trans-Pacific flight which started in Brisbane, Australia. 

The Argus stated that:

he is practising on a ukulele he bought to-day, saying that he intends to play it to keep Captain Taylor from going to sleep, as he did on the way from Suva. 

[Update: The Montreal Gazette (5 November 1934) reports P.G. Taylor as saying. “Sir Charles didn’t play the ukulele he got in Honolulu. Nor did he have time to sing.” They didn’t even drink the liqour they had on board, as nothing went wrong…]

Aviator and Ukulele Player

Aviator and Ukulele Player

According to Wikipedia: ‘Kingsford Smith and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge were flying the Lady Southern Cross overnight from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, as part of their attempt to break the England-Australia speed record, when they disappeared over the Andaman Sea in the early hours of 8 November 1935.’

Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments (2)  
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