George Formby is a name that comes up often when talking about the early masters of the ukulele, especially in the United Kingdom. When many people think of the ukulele, they think about Hawaii, beach scenes and tropical paradises. The love for this instrument doesn’t respect borders though; it’s popular all over the world, and one of the big reasons that so many people in the UK fell in love with the instrument is “Ukulele George” as Formby came to be known.
The man certainly had an interesting life and a successful career. When he was a child, he thought he might grow up to become a jockey. In fact, he trained for that career since he was seven years old. His father was an entertainer though, and entertaining seemed to be in Formby’s blood. When his father passed away in 1921, Formby decided that he would take up the family business and become an entertainer himself.
He was just 19 years old when he first took to the stage, but he didn’t start to play the ukulele for several more years. In the beginning, he did the same act as his father, and he even took his father’s stage name, George Formby. He did this so he could help his family out with money, but things weren’t going very well for him. Success was difficult until he met a man who used a banjo ukulele. Formby thought that the instrument might add something special to his act, so he bought it from the man and learned a couple of songs to incorporate.
Adding the ukulele proved to be a very good idea, as people started to enjoy his act more. By 1932, he had become a household name, and his career started to skyrocket. The release of his song “Chinese Blues” helped to propel him to this fame.
He had a career that lasted for 38 years. It would have lasted longer, his health started to wane in the 1950s. He might have been slowed down a bit, but he didn’t like the idea of not playing any longer. He continued with shows until shortly before he passed away in 1961 when he was just 56 years old. Still, his music survives, and is beloved by millions.
During his life, he contributed music to 21 films, and he made more than 230 recordings. In addition, he was heavily involved in entertaining the troops during WWII. During the war, he performed for more than three million allied service members. Of course, he had a number of traditional stage appearances as well. By 1939, he was actually considered the most popular entertainer in Britain, and he was living extremely well.
His death was mourned by millions, and in the same year as his death, the George Formby Society was founded in an effort to help keep his music strong and alive. While the name might not immediately be recognized by people today who only know the latest hits, he was and is nevertheless an important musician. This is especially true to those who love and play the ukulele.
In 2004, George Formby was posthumously inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. Some of the other members in this elite group include David Kalakaua, Manual Nunes, May Singhi Breen, Arthur Godfrey, and Eddie Kamae.
If you have never heard George Formby’s music before, do yourself a favor and check out what he has to offer. There are wonderful songs that take us back to a simpler time, and they could provide some nice inspiration.Return to Home Page
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