FROM THE WINTER 2017 ISSUE OF UKULELE | TRANSCRIPTION BY VICTOR PRANCHÈRE
At the end of the summer of 1922, Frank Ferera recorded solo ukulele for the first time for Columbia Records. He arranged two Hawaiian tunes as unaccompanied instrumental solos, a hula called “Moanalua” and Sylvester Kalama’s “Maui Girl,” a hapa-haole song that has enjoyed success ever since it was first published in 1897. (On some labels, “Maui Girl” was titled “Maui Waltz,” and the other side “Hawaiian Hula Medley.”)
Despite its originality and ground-breaking technique evident on “Maui Girl,” this solo ukulele recording left no immediate impact. Ferera’s playing throughout this song, however, shows the snappy strumming style he often used to accompany singers. While contemporary at the time, it’s good introduction for players wanting to learn classic 1920s-style strumming and picking.
Commenting on Ferera’s version of “Maui Girl” in 1970, (48 years after it was released), ukulele specialist Glyn Hughes stated that it was, “Superb solo playing, the like of which I had never heard before.” Indeed, Ferera displayed a perfect mastery of the instrument in this first record. The basis of his technique was simple: pick the melody notes, fill the melody lines with drone notes—picked most often on the G string—and add strums (often shown in this notation as slashes) when the melody note was long enough to allow for it. Played at speed, the melody would ring above a constant accompaniment.
This transcription covers roughly the first 30 seconds of Ferera’s rare recording, heard here in the video clip created from a recording of the rare 78 r.p.m.