The history of the ukulele is a fascinating one, indeed!
Plus, there are some fun facts about ukulele that you'll want to discover!
As you know, the ukulele is best known for its association with Hawaiian music, but what you probably didn't know is that it is believed to have been derived from two different Portuguese instruments: the braguinha and the cavaquinho.
There is a bit of mystery as to how this newer hybrid developed in the 1880's, but it is speculated that a Portuguese immigrant arrived in Hawaii carrying a similar instrument, which caught the fancy of the locals.
So if you'd like to deepen your understanding of the history of the ukulele, here's a bit of background...
it's believed that ukulele music first appeared when this Portuguese
immigrant landed in Hawaii and was overjoyed to be there.
He took out the original instrument of Portuguese origin and began to play leaping around on the docks singing Portuguese folk songs...
Just picture this!
Naturally, the Hawaiians were so taken by this display, and the musical instrument itself, that it soon became integrated into Hawaiian music, but with slight modifications. And this birthed the modern form of the ukulele music!
Some even suggest that the name "ukulele" refers to the jumping Portuguese who introduced the instrument, rather than the player's fingers that pluck the instrument jumping up and down the stringed board quickly - like a hopping flea. No one really knows for sure now, but the name ukulele really does literally translate to "jumping flea"...
Isn't this funny?
One thing is certain. The cheerfulness of that Portuguese immigrant became part of the history of the ukulele. No matter what its origins, ukulele quickly became a favorite instrument in Hawaiian music, sometimes even affectionately referred to as the "uke."
Ukulele might have not had as big an impact on Hawaiian society if the royal class of Hawaii hadn't picked it up and promoted it. In fact, the Kings and Queens of Hawaii became enamored of this new instrument. Many became accomplished ukulele players themselves. For example, Queen Lili'uokalani even took it upon herself to use it to accompany the Hawaiian anthem "Aloha Oe".
Having this type of prestige, soon everyone in Hawaii admired the versatility of this tiny instrument. Undoubtedly, its association with the noble Hawaiian class greatly enhanced the ukulele's reputation and it wasn't long before the uke became a Hawaiian favorite!
By now you've seen how the ukulele became very popular in the islands. In fact, it was well on its way to being a cultural favorite there, but you should know that the ukulele didn't become popular in the United States until about 1915, when the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco publicized it launching a larger interest in Hawaiian music in the United States.
As you can imagine, when Hawaii became a state in 1959, Hawaiian music, artifacts, including the ukulele, became very popular all across the U.S. From there, the ukulele started showing up in vaudeville acts and further influenced Jazz performers. Its popularity further increased after World War II as GIs brought back ukuleles from the South Pacific as souvenirs.
Of course, the popularity of ukulele music in the United States has ebbed and flowed, depending on which stars and ukulele musicians brought the sound to the public. Also, when all things "South Pacific" were in style, so was the ukulele and its music.
By the 1960's the trend had faded a bit, even though performers like Tiny Tim were still avidly plucking away. But even Tiny Tim using an ukulele in his (in)famous act didn't keep interest in ukulele music from waning during the 1960s...
Sadly, between the 1960's and the 1990's was a low point in the history of the ukulele music around the world. A resurgence during the Hawaiian Renaissance Era during the late 60's and 70's, caused a whole new type of ukulele players in Hawaii.
During the late 60's and 70's, the start of our cultural enlightenment was beginning here in Hawaii. Everything and anything Hawaiian was coming to light, especially Hawaiian music and the ukulele. The man who started the fancy ukulele playing is known as Peter Moon. He is the man who all great ukulele players, born and raised in Hawaii, have known to be the "Master". He is the original Jake Shimabukuro. Peter Moon's style can be heard in all of Hawaii's great ukulele players.
The 80's and 90's was the start of another era. This is where Kelly Boy Delima and Troy Fernandez changed the art of playing the ukulele. They took it to another level of playing, like Reggae, Rock, Country, you name it! During the late 90's, Jake Shimabukuro came into the scene and took it to the stars. All of their fancy finger picking and strumming styles all come from the great Peter Moon.