Kumalae ukuleles have a great deal of historical import and are very much tied to the history of Hawaii in the early 20th Century. They carry the name of their maker, Jonah Kumalae, who was a politician and entrepreneur on the islands. His ukuleles were manufactured between the years 1911 and 1940 under the label "Gold Award". If you know your ukulele history, you'll also know that this is the era when the ukulele started to enjoy a great deal of popularity among performers on the Mainland.
If you have a Kumalae uke, you have something special. They haven't been manufactured since 1940, so you're certainly looking at an antique. What makes these ukuleles interesting is that they were manufactured by a small business, consisting of members of the Kumalae family working at their home. The headstock on these ukuleles have the distinctive crest of Hawaii, the maker name, the "Gold Award" name, by which these ukuleles are oftentimes called, and the date 1915, which was the year that Kumalae won the Panama Pacific International Exhibition Gold Award for which they are named. The award was given in San Francisco.
After Kumalae won the award, his business shifted into high gear and his brand became one of the most commonly seen on the island and off. During the 1920s, the Hawaiian Islands were trying to attract tourists. The ships that brought those tourists out to the islands oftentimes gave away items, including ukuleles, and some sources believe that it was Kumalae ukuleles that were handed out. This was also done at the hotels in Hawaii. Sources estimate that anywhere between 300 and 600 of the instruments were produced every month when Kumalae was at its peak of production; quite a feat considering they were a small, family business.
What made, and makes, Kumalae ukuleles important is not that they were given to tourists, though this did make them very famous. What makes them important is that they are considered to be one of the most influential brands in the first wave of ukulele popularity and that, of course, traces back to their maker and his family. These ukuleles ended up in the hands of very well-known performers, including Tiny Tim, and they are considered and important part of the history of the instrument by those who play it seriously.
Kumalae was an important political figure on the island, serving in several posts and once running as a candidate for Mayor of Honolulu. Between his own role in the history of the islands and the importance of his instruments to Hawaiian music history, this makes his ukuleles very prized possessions. If you happen to have one of these instruments and don't know the history of it, it's worth it to get it authenticated buy an expert and to see where it may have come from. It is certainly part of the history of Hawaiian music and its popularity on the Mainland, which makes it a significant instrument in many regards!Return to Home Page
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