I Never Thought the History of the Ukulele Could be So Much Fun!
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...
Interestingly, 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."
The Uke and Hawaiian Culture
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!
The History of the Ukulele Takes Us Beyond Hawaii
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.
More Recent History of Ukulele Music
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.
History of the Ukulele: Resurgence after the 1990's
It didn't come back until later in the 1990s, when another star, Jumping Jim Beloff, went to a local flea market and discovered a ukulele there. It inspired him to write songs for the ukulele and publish them, and the love of the ukulele music soon took off again!
Now, there are all kinds of activities involving ukulele music all around the world, everything from clubs to festivals.
Ever wished you could listen to ukulele music on the radio? Well, now you can!
Go to some places on the West Coast, like Seattle, you'll find at least four radio stations with Hawaiian music featuring the ukulele!
How cool is that??
And there's more. Nowadays, you will find it very easy to locate an ukulele within the inventory of most music instrument companies.
Whether you are a beginner or a pro, if you are in the market for a new ukulele, I strongly recommend you check out my favorite online music store, Musician's Friend >>Return to Home Page from History of the Ukulele
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