They’re in commercials, they’re on YouTube, They’re on your Facebook feed.
Introduced from Hawaii it was an icon of the jazz age. So sexy it got banned, it was once even accused of murder – here are some iconic ukulele moments:
#1 All things Hawaiian were the craze of the 1920’s. In 1924 the Prince of Wales learned to play the ukulele after a surfing trip to Hawaii.
#2 On the invention of the “talkies” the sound men at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reported that the ukulele recorded far clearer than other instruments. Roy Smeck played the ukulele in one of the first ever sound films “Don Juan”, while Clara Bow the original ‘It’ girl starred alongside her ukulele in the 1927 film ‘Hula’ while wearing a grass skirt and Lei.
#3 The ukulele even rescued the careers of some older, silent stars. The press reported that Bessie Love a former silent star took a long course of singing, dancing and ukulele lessons and returned to MGM. They were in a panic as they were casting their first musical. She was given the lead in ‘Broadway Melody’ and became a star again.
#4 The world loved it. Catalogues and correspondence courses sprang up such the one created by the ‘Ukulele Lady’ whose real name was May Singhi Breen. The star of ‘Honolulu’ Gracie Allen offered her technique “scratch your tummy for a while and then put a ukulele there!” Stan Laurel taught himself – here he is in a classic Laurel & Hardy moment, singing ‘Honolulu Baby’, as Olly plays:
#5 Some hated it. Author PG Wodehouse called it ‘a hideous musical instrument that made an infernal din.’
#6 In the 1930s George Formby fell foul of the ‘dance music policy committee’ for his innuendo ridden songs. The most objected to was ‘With My Little Ukulele In My Hand,2 which went: “With my little ukulele in my hand/of course the people don’t understand/Your love just turns me dizzy, come along big boy get busy/But I kept my ukulele in my hand.”
#7 In Agatha Christie’s murder mystery ‘The Bird With The Broken Wing’ the method of Mabelle Annesley’s murder is detected when a missing ukulele string reveals she had been strangled.
#8 Perhaps the sexiest ukulele player of all is Marilyn Monroe. In ‘Some Like It Hot’ she plays ukulele-player Sugar Kane. She is seen sexily trotting along a train platform, ukulele in hand Marilyn biographies say it was the ukulele that attracted her to the part and she took lessons at the Beverley Hills hotel. Here she is playing it in ‘Running Wild.’
#9 Hot on the heels of Elvis, Taylor Swift, Pierce Brosnan and Paul McCartney, the latest ukulele fan is Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder who released a whole album, simply called ‘Ukulele Songs.’