A Brief History of the Ukulele
By: Kevin ManieriGeorges Music
Where did this amazing little instrument come from? Read on for a brief background on the roots, development, and progress of one of the most popular instruments of the 21st
- Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii brought two small stringed instruments with them in the late 1800s: the cavaquinho and the rajao
- Three cabinet makers from the Madeira islands in Portugal combined some elements of the cavaquinho and the rajao into a new design, and the ukulele was born!
- Manual Nunes, Joao Fernandes, and Augustine Dias moved to Hawaii in 1879 to work in the suger cane fields, but also used their woodworking and musical skills to build ukuleles in their spare time
- Within weeks, Hawaiian newspapers were reporting on the instrument, and King Kalakaua promoted the ukulele by encouraging performances at royal gatherings
- The ukulele came to the States via the Panama Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915
- Popularity skyrocketed during the Jazz Age, and guitar makers including Martin and Gibson began making ukuleles on a large scale
- Famed singer Tiny Tim had arguably the first ukulele hit in 1968 with Tiptoe Through the Tulips
- Beatle George Harrison was known to play a ukulele
- Thousands of schoolchildren in Canada learned about music with ukuleles rather than recorders or clarinets in the 1960s
- The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has performed worldwide since 1985
- Israel Iz Kamakawiwo'ole helped popularize the instrument in the 1990s when one of his songs was used in several films and commercials, and one of his albums reached #1 on the Billboard Word chart
- Many modern artists have incorporated ukulele into their music, including Beirut, The Dresden Dolls, Nickel Creek, Jimmy Buffet, and Julia Nunes
- Bonus fact: The word ukulele translates roughly to jumping flea, probably due to the movement of the players fingers across the strings
Check out some of the artists mentioned above and get inspired. Playing this instrument can run the gamut from a hobby to a full-blown profession get out there and perform with it, too!
Kevin Manieri is an amateur ukulele player and enjoys other instruments with four strings, particularly the electric bass.