By Ukulele Staff | FROM THE WINTER 2022 ISSUE OF UKULELE
To celebrate ten years of Ukulele magazine, we put together a few top-ten lists, highlighting the bright spots in ukulele culture. Looking back at these albums, quotes, and titans of uke reignited our love for the instrument and the communities it has created. We hope it has the same effect on you!
- 10 Inspiring Quotes
- 10 Years, 10 Great Albums
- 10 Icons of Uke
- 10 More Must-Hear Recordings (From the Pre-Ukulele Era)
10 Inspiring Quotes
The ukulele community has always been so warm and welcoming, happy to share insights, tips, and praise of the little instrument with the big impact. Here, we share ten choice quotes from the Ukulele archives, one from each year.
“The most important thing is to have fun. Just enjoy every note that you play and every chord that you strum. Break things down when they get too hard. Sometimes it helps to look at one song as a hundred different songs played very close together. View every note as if it were its own song.”
“The ukulele is the perfect instrument for someone with a restless heart, because it travels easily through space. But it also travels through music easily and effortlessly. It slips through borders so fluidly. I’ve never had the heart to say no to the ukulele. When it feels like going somewhere, we just go there.”
“What I want more than anything is to encourage other people to play, to sing, to make music, to have music in their own lives, as a vital part of their lives. And you don’t have to be good for it to be vital. I stand for making music no matter how bad you suck.”
“[The third wave of ukulele popularity] is really important because it brings Hawaii to the front row. The ukulele has been an instrument played in families, and maybe now it’s making the whole world a family.”
“The power of music is one of the greatest of powers. The amount of time you are engaged with music—either listening, practicing, or playing it—you’re outside of time and outside of any troubles you may have. It’s like with this whole world of trouble and harm that we live in, you can escape it with music. It’s wonderful.”
“As I play the music, it comes naturally because for me it was not learning from the book. It was learning from the inside—watching and listening to the family play. The music they were playing was making us feel good and made us want to do it. That’s the way we learned. That’s why every time I play a song, it’s different. It always comes natural. It comes from the inside with a lot of feeling, not from a music sheet. You are always creating, always improvising.”
“Nothing beats your inner voice, your true instincts. Be open-minded and take time to think things through. With music, you don’t have to rush. Being creative, everyone works at a different pace.”
“Too many people limit the ukulele to cute love songs or happy songs, but I think one of funnest parts of the instrument is playing with what it can be depending on what you’re saying or what you’re feeling. It can complement dark words or dark lyrics so nicely, because it’s been kind of limited to happy songs.”
“Everyone can learn to play if you break down the steps small enough and you teach people to be patient with themselves. If you truly listen to your heart and nurture your soul, you will succeed. I also try to remember to stay present and go with the flow. Embrace the process, and enjoy the journey.”
“You can put as many notes as you want together, but if you don’t have a heart feeling behind each song and each note, the song feels kind of empty.”
10 Years, 10 Great Albums
Choosing just one album to represent each of the magazine’s ten years was a really tough challenge, but also a great trip down memory lane.
2012 Grand Ukulele (Jake Shimabukuro)
This ambitious outing of mostly Jake-penned tunes was produced by British rock giant Alan Parsons and mixes brilliant solo uke pieces with dramatic, highly orchestrated numbers—all of which show off different facets of Jake’s playing.
2013 Pure Ukulele (Herb Ohta, Jr.)
“Pure” is the right word for this Hoku-winning album of Island instrumentals by this master of melody whose solo, double- and triple-layered ukulele parts sing exquisitely throughout the 11-song set.
2014 Island Style Ukulele 2 (Various Artists)
Another Hoku-winning, well-curated compilation of 14 uke-forward tracks, with notable appearances by Kimo Hussey, Kalei Gamiao, Rio Sato, Brittni Paiva, and the ubiquitous Bryan Tolentino and Herb Ohta.
2015 Jus Cuz, Ukulele Duets (Da Ukulele Boyz)
Garrett Probst and Peter deAquino team up for a stylistically varied collection of beautifully performed uke duets that runs the gamut from “Happy Together” to “Wipeout” to “Dueling Ukuleles” (rather than banjos) and Ohta & Tolentino’s thrilling “G Minor Fleas.”
2016 Kamaka Ukulele Presents: Keep Strumming! (Various Artists)
For its 100th anniversary, the Hawaiian uke-makers released this 24-track double-CD (it’s on YouTube now) featuring, among others, Jake, Taimane, Brittni Paiva, Kris Fuchigami, Kalei Gamiao, Bryan Tolentino, and Genoa Keawe & Pomaika’i Lyman.
2017 Ukulele Friends: The Sequel (Bryan Tolentino & Herb Ohta, Jr.)
This and its 2015 predecessor each won Na Hoku Hanohano awards for Best Ukulele Album and both are gems, with the chemistry of these two superb players always evident as they roll through a primo selection of Hawaiian repertoire.
2018 Honeysuckle Rose (Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel)
A collection of mostly mellow and sometimes swingin’ 20th-century American standards get a lovely workout by the uke duo and a small combo, with Sarah’s assured vocals at the forefront.
2019 WAHOO! (Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer)
The Grammy-winning players/educators turn in a remarkable set of tracks that includes an old-time Appalachian romp, some swing, a cowboy tune, and several clever originals.
2020 Blue on Blue (Sylvie Simmons)
Though best known for her long career writing about music, Simmons has developed into a fine singer-songwriter, too, as she shows on this excellent album of 11 evocative ukulele-driven songs.
2021 Jake & Friends (Jake Shimabukuro)
Jake shows the incredible versatility of the uke on this diverse collection of collaborations with the likes of Willie Nelson, Ziggy Marley, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, Warren Haynes, Billy Strings, and a whole bunch more.
10 Icons of Uke
So many people both known and unknown have contributed to the rise of the ukulele during the 150 or so years since the instrument first appeared in Honolulu. Here is a short list of some of them, in rough chronological order, all of them covered at one time or another in Ukulele.
Cliff Edwards (1895–1971) was America’s original ukulele star. “Ukulele Ike” toured on the U.S. vaudeville circuit beginning in the late teens of the 20th century and appeared in Broadway revues and films through the 1920s and into the ’30s. A crooning tenor, he was also a popular recording artist.
George Formby (1904–1961), more than any other person, helped popularize the ukulele in the UK, as well as other parts of Western Europe from the mid-1920s through the 1940s. The musician, singer, and comedic stage and screen actor was known for his silly and sometimes suggestive songs and his splendid banjo uke technique.
Arthur Godfrey (1903–1983) was no virtuoso, but he makes the list for helping usher in the “second wave” in post-World War II America through his tireless promotion of the ukulele on his various radio and television programs, which drew millions of listeners and viewers each week. He also helped initiate the era of inexpensive Islander molded plastic ukes, which sold in the millions.
Eddie Kamae (1927–2017) was co-founder (with slack-key guitar master Gabby Pahinui) and leader of the influential group Sons of Hawaii, who were at the forefront of the Hawaiian traditional folk music renaissance beginning in the 1960s and continuing in various incarnations through the late ’80s. Kamae was both a skilled soloist and an extremely creative accompanist.
Herb Ohta (b. 1934) was mentored by Eddie Kamae, but has ventured far beyond Hawaiian music, dipping into innovative ways of playing everything from Duke Ellington to Claude Debussy in his own style. “Ohta-san,” as he is widely known, has been a great teacher to many and remains a venerated elder stateman.
Lyle Ritz (1930–2017) was one of the first ukulele players to truly embrace jazz, during the late 1950s
in Hawaii. In the world at large he became best known as a bassist in the hard-working L.A. session group that came to be called the Wrecking Crew, but later in life he returned to the ukulele and was again embraced by the ukulele community.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1959–1997), popularly called“Bruddah Iz” or just “IZ,” first made waves in the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, but achieved major stardom later as a solo act. His 1993 Facing Future album remains the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time, propelled by the international popularity of his uke-driven medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.”
Jim Beloff (b. 1955) is credited for building momentum for the current “third wave” of ukulele popularity through his tireless promotion of the instrument, the establishment of his Flea Market Music company— which has published dozens of uke method and music books and sold untold numbers
of ukulele videos and albums by a broad array of artists—and making many albums of his own songs and even uke-with-orchestra works.
John King (1953–2009) is credited as the person most responsible for bringing classical music into the ukulele world through his luminous transcriptions of works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and others in the early 2000s. He was also an important ukulele historian.
Jake Shimabukuro (b. 1976) is the most famous, successful, and influential contemporary ukulele virtuoso. An amazing technical musician, a gifted composer, and master of many different genres, his influence on the artform since the 1990s is incalculable and ongoing.
10 More Must-Hear Recordings (From the Pre-Ukulele Era)
This is not quite a chronological history of the ukulele in ten albums, but it does show the broad scope of how the instrument’s role changed over time from the 1920s to the present day.
Kalama’s Quartet: Early Hawaiian Classics, 1927–1932 (Arhoolie/Folkways)
Not only was this the greatest Hawaiian vocal group of the early recording era, their songs also featured steel guitar, guitar, and William Kalama’s solid, strummed ukulele parts, all emblematic of that time’s Hawaiian folk music.
Lemon Nash: New Orleans Ukulele Maestro & Tent Show Troubadour (Arhoolie)
Nash was just one of many forgotten African American musicians who played the ukulele in tent shows, clubs, and at parties in the segregated south during the 1920s and ’30s. This album consists of solo recordings made from 1959 to ’61, in which he revisits his bluesy early repertoire and tells colorful stories about his career.
Cliff Edwards: Singing in the Rain (Audiophile)
Unlike Ukulele Ike’s heavily orchestrated and virtually uke-free recordings from the ’20s and ’30s, this generous 34-track compilation from 1943 features intimate stripped-down uke-and-vocal studio performances of his best-known songs.
Lyle Ritz: How About Uke! (Verve)
This is the album that, way back in 1958, showed that the ukulele could be played as a lead instrument in a contemporary jazz quartet. It’s mostly mellow, but it does swing occasionally and Ritz’s solos and comping behind flutist Don Shelton are spot-on.
Sons of Hawaii: The Folk Music of Hawaii (Panini Productions)
Eddie Kamae revolutionized ukulele playing in the ’60s and early ’70s with his varied and innovative right-hand plucking and strumming techniques. This 1971 record is the most memorable of several classic Sons albums.
Ka’au Crater Boys: The Best of… (Roy Sakuma Productions)
The duo of guitarist Ernie Cruz Jr. and ukulele ace Troy Fernandez was perhaps the most influential Hawaiian group of the 1990s, with Fernandez widely cited by many uke players who followed him as a key influence. This was good-time party music, with reggae and pop and Hawaiian influences, and Fernandez had soloing skills worthy of a rock lead guitarist.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: Facing Future (Bigboy)
This gentle and sweet-voiced mountain of a man had international success with this 1993 album because of the medley “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” which has appeared in many films and TV shows and is now a staple of countless groups and singers. The album also contained a Hawaiian reggae-fied version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and plenty of old- and modern-sounding Hawaiian material.
Jake Shimabukuro: Live (Hitchhike)
With its mix of spectacularly performed cover songs/pieces by Bach, Chick Corea, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), and his own stylistically diverse originals, this 2009 solo uke instrumental album showcases mind-blowing skills and amazing range.
Eddie Vedder: Ukulele Songs (Monkeywrench)
This 2011 album makes the list because the success of the Pearl Jam frontman’s out-of-nowhere ukulele project brought cred to the instrument with a previously untapped audience and encouraged new folks to play the uke. And it happens to be a beautiful, if characteristically angsty, album with some of Vedder’s best singing ever.
Various Artists: Legends of Ukulele (Rhino)
Compiled by Jim Beloff, this non-linear 18-song historical compilation from 1998 includes songs by many of the artists mentioned in our lists (Formby, Ohta-San, Ritz, Ka’au Crater Boys, Ukulele Ike, Eddie Kamae, Arthur Godfrey), plus cool tunes and oddities by Roy Smeck, the Kalima Brothers, and yes, Tiny Tim.