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The ‘Ukulele

The ‘Ukulele: A History

Copyright Date: 2012
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    The ‘Ukulele
    Book Description:

    Since its introduction to Hawai'i in 1879, the 'ukulele has been many things: a symbol of an island paradise; a tool of political protest; an instrument central to a rich musical culture; a musical joke; a highly sought-after collectible; a cheap airport souvenir; a lucrative industry; and the product of a remarkable synthesis of western and Pacific cultures.The 'Ukulele: A Historyexplores all of these facets, placing the instrument for the first time in a broad historical, cultural, and musical context.Drawing on a wealth of previously untapped sources, Jim Tranquada and John King tell the surprising story of how an obscure four-string folk guitar from Portugal became the national instrument of Hawai'i, of its subsequent rise and fall from international cultural phenomenon to "the Dangerfield of instruments," and of the resurgence in popularity (and respect) it is currently enjoying among musicians from Thailand to Finland. The book shows how the technologies of successive generations (recorded music, radio, television, the Internet) have played critical roles in popularizing the 'ukulele. Famous composers and entertainers (Queen Liliuokalani, Irving Berlin, Arthur Godfrey, Paul McCartney, SpongeBob SquarePants) and writers (Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, P. G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie) wind their way through its history-as well as a host of outstanding Hawaiian musicians (Ernest Kaai, George Kia Nahaolelua, Samuel K. Kamakaia, Henry A. Peelua Bishaw). In telling the story of the 'ukulele, Tranquada and King also present a sweeping history of modern Hawaiian music that spans more than two centuries, beginning with the introduction of western melody and harmony by missionaries to the Hawaiian music renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s.62 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6587-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    When seventy-nine-year-old Manuel Nunes died in July 1922, the brief obituaries of the “inventor of the ‘ukulele” that appeared in Honolulu were quickly picked up by wire services and reprinted in newspapers nationwide. The ubiquity of the ‘ukulele, which had swept the mainland during the previous decade, ensured that news editors in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would find space for two or three paragraphs about the elderly musical entrepreneur who had arrived in Hawaii aboard an emigrant ship more than forty years before. While usually a brief item consigned to an inside page and quickly forgotten, the...

  5. CHAPTER 1 These Little Instruments, of Which They Are So Fond
    (pp. 5-19)

    In the summer of 1923, the newly formed Hawaiian Legends and Folklore Commission brought anthropologist Helen Roberts to Hawaii to collect and publish the ancient songs and chants of the Islands. Over the following year, she visited the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, seeking out practitioners of the “old culture” and recording hundreds ofmeleandolion wax cylinders. Yet one of the first local reports on her work had little to do with traditional music. Instead, it was her conclusion that the ‘ukulele “which one associates with Hawaiians and which has been carried far by tourists...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Sound of Pa, Ko, Li
    (pp. 20-36)

    When Frank Vincent Jr. sailed into Honolulu in 1870, he was surprised—and not a little disappointed—by what he saw: an American-looking city, with brick and stone warehouses, long lines of drays, crowds of newly arrived immigrants, and, through a half-open door, a glimpse of the inviting interior of a saloon. “We were dumbfounded,” he later wrote. “We had dreamed of groves of cocoa-palms made picturesque by half-naked Undines and houris, and we found billiard-tables, bowling alleys, sangarees, and sample rooms.”¹ For many nineteenth-century visitors to Hawaii, as remarkable as the tropical scenery or the volcanoes was the dramatic...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The National Instrument of Hawaii
    (pp. 37-54)

    On a warm August Saturday in 1879, a British bark out of Liverpool slipped into Honolulu Harbor, carrying the second shipload of Madeiran contract workers brought to the Islands. It had been a grueling four-month voyage of twelve thousand miles, during which the 427 passengers aboard theRavenscragendured eight straight days of winter gales off Cape Horn and the deaths of three small children. As the relieved emigrants piled their luggage on the ship’s deck, João Fernandes, a happy-go-lucky twenty-five-year-old plumber from Funchal, borrowed a machete from a bashful bachelor, João Gomes da Silva, and left his baby daughter...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Have You Seen the Bouncing Flea?
    (pp. 55-73)

    As the nineteenth century drew to a close, few people had a better sense of the commercial potential of Hawaiian music—or were in a better position to exploit it—than Lorrin Thurston. Born in Hawaii to missionary parents, classmate of Theodore Roosevelt at Columbia Law School, politician, entrepreneur, and former minister of the interior, Thurston worked to promote the Islands’ fledgling tourist industry while simultaneously (and surreptitiously) seeking the overthrow of the monarchy.¹ Appointed by Queen Liliuokalani in 1891 as a commissioner to help organize a Hawaiian exhibit for the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Thurston pursued both...

  9. CHAPTER 5 A Landscape Set to Music
    (pp. 74-91)

    Theatrical impresario Oliver Morosco was hunting deer in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles when word reached him that his latest production,The Bird of Paradise,had flopped on opening night. Morosco raced back to town to discover that playwright Richard Walton Tully had not made any of the many cuts he had ordered during rehearsals. The result was a play that dragged on for more than four hours. Furious, Morosco took matters into his own hands. Working from his own version of the script, he personally rehearsed the cast the following afternoon in preparation for that evening’s performance....

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Craze of the Frisco Exposition
    (pp. 92-113)

    Among the thousands of exhibits at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 was a koa table inlaid with the Hawaiian coat of arms, a gift to Queen Victoria from Kamehameha III. At the queen’s direction, it was placed on display “so as to shew to the vast assemblage of foreigners now in London the Beauty of the Woods grown in the Hawaiian Dominions.”¹ The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations launched the world’s fair movement, and Hawaii quickly realized the value of such exhibitions as a vehicle to sell itself and its products to international markets....

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Height of Its Popularity
    (pp. 114-135)

    Originally a hobby pursued by a small group of enthusiasts, radio’s explosive growth after World War I left contemporary observers struggling for adjectives. TheReview of Reviewssaid it “has possibly not been equaled in all the centuries of human progress.”Radio Broadcastcalled it “almost incomprehensible.” Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, found it “astounding.”¹ KDKA of Pittsburgh, the country’s first commercial station, went on the air in November 1920; by the fall of 1922, there were almost five hundred stations nationwide.² That year, $60 million in radio sets and parts were sold; just two years later, total sales...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Made of a New Gleaming Plastic Material
    (pp. 136-152)

    In November 1948, as postwar consumer demand fueled an unprecedented economic expansion, theHonolulu Advertiserreluctantly printed an obituary for the ‘ukulele. Quoting Emerson Strong, vice president of the Brooklynbased Gretsch Manufacturing Co., theAdvertiserreported that “the ukulele, outside of Hawaii, today is ‘deader than a doornail.’” Although he didn’t say so, Emerson likely based his dour opinion on the disappointing sales of Gretsch’s own frankly unappealing postwar model with a “warp-proof, crack-proof body of laminated hardwood in an attractive two-tone shaded lacquer finish,” instruction book, and carrying case that it had begun marketing two years earlier for the...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Growing Underground Movement
    (pp. 153-166)

    Tiny Tim’s prime-time television debut—a medley of “A Tisket, A Tasket” and “The Good Ship Lollipop” while strumming a ‘ukulele fished out of a shopping bag—leftLaugh-Incohost Dick Martin openmouthed in mock disbelief. “A little surprise for you there,” said his partner Dan Rowan after the long-haired performer had exited, blowing kisses to the studio audience. “You searched high and low for that one, didn’t you?” Martin said with a grin. “It kept him out of the service,” Rowan replied—a reference to the Vietnam-era military draft that drew a big laugh.1

    The next morning, theLos...

  14. APPENDIX A: Chronological List of Early Hawaiian Luthiers
    (pp. 167-172)
  15. APPENDIX B: Annotated Checklist of Selected ‘Ukulele Methods and Songbooks, 1894–1920
    (pp. 173-178)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 179-252)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-284)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-287)