Cliff Edwards is one of the legendary figures in the ukulele world. A musician and vaudeville performer in the early 20th Century, his music helped to popularize the ukulele and is credited with creating a huge demand for the instruments during the roaring 20s. He was known as Ukulele Ike, a stage name he acquired when the owner of a venue couldn’t remember his name. Born in 1895, Ukulele Ike continued to work as a musician until his death in 1971. He was native of Hannibal Missouri, performed all over the nation and died in Hollywood at the age of 76.
Cliff Edwards didn’t set out to become a ukulele legend, or even a ukulele player. Working as a singer in the salons of the 1910s, he found that many of the pianos in the venues barely deserved to be called instruments. Faced with no reliable way to accompany himself, he hit the music stores and walked out with the cheapest instrument he could find: a soprano ukulele. The instrument would become a notable part of his act and delighted audiences. He played a soprano uke for most the 1920s. In the 1930s, the musical fashions changed, causing him to change instruments.The music of the 1930s was characterized by being more oriented toward crooner type singers. The more somber and moody tones of this style did not mesh well with the soprano ukulele causing Edwards to switch to the tenor version of the instrument. He enjoyed hit songs with both instruments. His most familiar work to modern audiences is likely "Singing In The Rain", one of his most popular songs during his early career. His style was jazzy, and in 1922, he recorded works including some of the earliest recorded examples of scat singing.
Cliff Edwards career, however, started on the stages of Vaudeville. At the time, Vaudeville defined the entertainment industry, with a large variety of performers taking the stage at any given show, including comedians, musicians and other acts. Edwards’s first hit was JaDa, which became very popular on the Vaudeville circuit in 1918. Eventually, as the world moved toward recorded music, Edwards found that there were far more opportunities available. He began working in film. His cinematic resume includes such classics as Gone with the Wind and His Girl Friday. Most people probably remember his friendly voice as the character of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinocchio. He was also the voice of the leader of the crows in Dumbo.
Though he wasn’t famous for contemporary work at the time he died, he still continued to play his instrument and to sing. He received posthumous honors, such as the induction of his recording of, “When you Wish Upon a Star”, becoming part of the Grammy Hall of Fame. Where the ukulele is concerned, much of its modern popularity traces back to Edwards, who was the first musician of the early 20th Century to put it on the radar of popular culture, where it remains to this day.Return to Home Page
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