Poetic uker from New Zealand in 1919.

The following found its way into the New Zealand Evening Post on 28 October 1919:

I first heard the ukulele (ukelle); played by a little Mormon maid away in Star Valley among the Rooky Mountains; she strummed an accompaniment to the “Missouri Waltz;” it was soul-haunting and magical—Coleridge would have forgotten his “damsel with a dulcimer.”

 All through America I found the little instrument, singing with a sweet melancholy of far-off Honolulu, with its rustling palms and surf-beaches, and low-voiced hula-hula girls, swaying in their strips of straw under the Pacific moon.

I brought one home with me (a uke, not a “straw-stripper”), and the Customs man loftily declined to claim a duty, refusing to recognise it as a musical instrument; the village said I had brought home “a little fiddle that you played with your finger.

In England the instrument is practically unknown except on the stage, and yet in its simplest form I know of no other learnt so easily that can provide so much pleasure.

 You need not have a good voice; you can talk your songs and make them beautiful:  and if you have no South Sea melodies you will find the plaintive strains of Scotland are every bit as suitable.

In the drawing room you will hold people spellbound, and when choruses are hummed on quiet summer evenings you will be ever in demand.  Jazz music is barbaric—the compelling primeval—the wailing Hawaiian music, drawn from guitar and banjo ukuleles, is barbaric, too, but more compelling because it is the primeval with the soul beginning to steal in.

When the jazz music begins you laugh and tap the ground with your foot, or maybe rap the table with your knife handle; but- soon you will be shutting your eyes and holding your breath and swaying ever so slightly as the ukes wail out and draw your heart with sweet pain.

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Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 8:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Arthur Benjamin played ukelele

The Mercury newspaper, Hobart, Tasmania reported on the 15th of March, 1929 (the Ides of March — beware already) that composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, Arthur Benjamin played ukelele and liked it.

At last we have discovered a man who is a musician, and who is not ashamed to play the much maligned ukelele. This outstanding figure in musical circles is Arthur Benjamin, pianist and composer, and the winner of the Carnegie prize in London for a composition for a string quartet. He was encored six times when he played with Sir Henry Wood’s orchestra. That should show anybody that he is a musician. When interviewed today, he admitted without a blush that he liked the ukelele, and played it into the bargain. No doubt such a confession brings joy to the hearts of those who have no aspirations but jazz, and who are heartily sick of having it dinned into them that jazz has no element of music at all.

I hope that Arthur knew that you can play any music on a uke, even something that’s not jazz.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hawaiian Maiden and a Ukulele

The following account from the Ashburton Guardian, 4 August 1921, highlights the advantage of doing your research before making your investments.

A curious story is being told just now of the horrible hiatus in a beach-comber’s repertory. The B.C. was in Hawaii, that land of dusky dancers. He saw a girl dancing to a most attractive air played on the ukelele, and so taken was he with it that he was convinced all the world would like it as well. So with the dusky maiden and a ukelele hied him to Broadway, New York, where on the first night after arrival he heard a gramophone give out the very tune on which he was staking his fortune. What, he asked, is that? Why, it’s the tune we’ve been jazzing to for months. Only then did he discover that the ukelele girl had caught the air from a passing liner.

But you’ve got to admit, he knew a hit when he heard one.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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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.