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The Ukulele - A brief history
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the year 1879, the first Portuguese arrived in Hawaii. Included among
the many things they brought from their native land was a small stringed
instrument called the Portuguese Braga, sometimes also referred to as
that year, a ship named the "Ravenscrag" arrived in Hawaii from
Portugal. The ship carried about 400 men, women and children from
Madeira. In the group of first arrivals were three musical instrument
makers, Augusto Diaz, Manuel Nunes, and José do Espirito
Santo. Each one has been credited, at one time or another, with
having adapted the braquiñha into the ukulele, which has
become as much a part of Hawaii as pineapple.
the many passengers aboard the "Ravenscrag" was a musician named Joaõ
Fernandez. A popular belief is that when the ship arrived in Honolulu
harbour, Fernandez jumped onto the wharf and began singing and strumming
lively Portuguese folk songs. The Hawaiian people were noticeably moved
by the performance and were immediately taken by the small stringed
instrument he was playing.
did the "ukulele" get its name? According to a pamphlet at the Bishop
"The instrument was heard one day
by Edward Purvis, a British army officer who was Vice-Chamberlain of
King Kalakaua's court. He was delighted with the size and the sound
and asked to be taught, and soon he was playing for various court functions.
Because of Mr. Purvis' small build and his lively antics while performing
on the instrument, he was compared to a jumping flea. The Hawaiian,
fond of nicknames, called him "ukulele". (Uku meaning flea, and Lele
meaning jumping) The instrument was an instant success and even King
Kalakaua learned to play it"
1880, Manuel Nunes was the first to open a ukulele shop in Hawaii. Many
others soon followed, including both Diaz and Santo who worked for a
short period of time for Nunes. By the early 1900's the ukulele was
showing up in several west coast cities in the United States. It wasn't
until 1915 that the ukulele really became popular in North America.
1916, Samuel Kamaka began manufacturing ukuleles in Hawaii in a
large scale. Made from Koa wood unique to Hawaii, the Kamaka Ukulele
remains to this day, one of the most renowned ukuleles in the world.
Prices can range from $400 to over $2000 for a handmade Koa ukulele.
From the 1920's to the 1950's the ukulele experienced tremendous
growth in popularity.
Samuel K. Kamaka with original Pineapple Ukulele
North America, the C.F.Martin guitar company began manufacturing ukuleles.
Using Mahogany as their choice wood, they soon established themselves
as one of the premiere ukulele makers in the world. Today there are
numerous ukulele manufacturers both in Hawaii and in other parts of
the world. In addition, there are many other custom builders who build
exquisite ukuleles in many styles and shapes.
A variety of Ukuleles in shapes and
Hawaiians were quick to accept the ukulele and it became an important
part of the basic foundation at the Hawaiian string sound we know today.
It was used primarily as a rhythm instrument. However, it did not remain
a Hawaiian instrument in the sense that it was totally ethnic and adopted
by many other cultures. Because it had only four strings, it was easy
to play. And because one could easily strum it and sing with it, people
from all parts of the world quickly accepted it, especially during the
Roaring 20's period in the United States. That was the beginning of
world acceptance and the recognition that the ukulele was a legitimate
musical instrument, bordering on the novelty category, but none the
less a Hawaiian instrument that could be used for any kind of music.
an instrument to accompany singing, it is perhaps the simplest of
all instruments. In a matter of some 30 minutes, one can learn 3
or 4 basic chords and strum an acceptable accompaniment for singing
many, many songs. However, as a solo instrument, it required, as
any musical instrument does, formal study and lots of practice.
Elvis Presley ( from movie
Pat Boone ( from movie "Love
Letters in the Sand")
recent years, names such as Roy Smeck, Jim Beloff, Lyle Ritz, Troy
Fernandez, Herb Ohta, Chalmers Doane, and the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole,
have emerged as virtuosos on the ukulele. Other notable ukulele
names include the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, and George
Formby. Modern day ukulele virtuosos include Jake Shimabukuro, Herb Ohta Jr., and James Hill.
These and many others helped popularize the ukulele as we
know it today. It was this simplicity that first attracted the Hawaiians
to the instrument and it is this simplicity that still draws many
young musicians to the instrument.
"Ukulele O Hawaii" by Ohta San. Published by Kamaka Hawaii, Inc.
"The Ukulele A Visual History" by Jim Beloff. Published by Miller Freeman
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