George Harrison, in addition to being one of the most famous figures in all of rock music, had a love of the Ukulele. It’s proven to be a two-way street, in recent years, with modern ukulele virtuosos having performed Harrison’s famous “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” guitar parts on ukuleles. Likely, he would have approved. He is pictured holding a ukulele in one of his album jackets and confessed his love for the instrument in various interviews. He even played the instrument on the Beatles Anthology album, adding a part to the album’s new offering from the Beatles.
The ukulele is something, however, that Harrison would not have been able to lay claim to having introduced to a wide Western audience. In fact, Harrison had seen the ukulele in his childhood. Among comedians of the era, having a musical element to their act was very popular and a comedian known as George Fromby was Harrison’s inspiration to learn the instrument. Fromby, born at the beginning of the 20th Century, would have remembered the instrument from his youth, as well, as it was very popular at the beginning of that century among a large group of people.
Being part of the Beatles, it’s not hard to imagine how this instrument managed to catch the ear of George Harrison. The ukulele has its origins in Portugal but the music with which it is most associated, that of the Pacific islands and, most especially, of Hawaii, is very distinctive. Harrison and the Beatles both had a love of—and a reputation for spreading—the music of many different parts of the world to modern listeners. This was seen in the band’s use of the sitar and numerous other instruments in their recordings and in their creative use of recording techniques, as well.
The world of music is poorer for the loss of George Harrison. Ukulele aficionados and even professional performers continue to perform his music. The aforementioned “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” is a classic among guitar players and mastering its intricacies is an accomplishment among rock players to this day. Oddly enough, it’s also just as beautiful when played on the ukulele; an interesting coincidence considering Harrison’s association with both instruments. Today, popular songs have been adapted for the ukulele and many of the Beatle’s songs are among them. The instrument’s versatility is well expressed by such music.