Popularity Follows the Ukulele?

How long have you been in the uke world?

Here’s why I ask–

It seems like the young folk getting involved with uke today don’t have any of the associations (both good and bad) that We Of A Certain Age do have.

Like what?

Hawaii: None of the young players I know have any interest in playing Hawaiian music (or the faux-Hawaiian music that was peddled as Hawaiian music). Most probably know somewhere in the back of their minds that the instrument itself is Hawaiian, but that’s as far as it goes.

Tiny Tim: for anyone around in the 60s, Tiny Tim simultaneously made and destroyed the popularity of the uke. This generation hasn’t got that spectre to deal with — lucky them:

Which leads to:

Status: to the new generation, there’s no worry about the uke being perceived as a joke or a novelty instrument. To them, it’s just another instrument available to play for realsies, without irony.

Now — look at this ad from the 1920s:

old magazine ad for ukulele course

I think the 1920s kids had the same advantage as our 2020s kids — the uke was not just popular, it would make YOU popular too!

(That said, would you trust the authentic Hawaiian Music Institute that’s located in the tropical paradise of… New York City?)

That’s all for today — just feeling chatty 🙂 Leave a comment if you’re in the mood!

your pal,

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About the Author

Founder of ”Play It Daily” Ukulele, co-founder of the Ukulele Union of Boston, and spreader of good cheer.

Danno Sullivan

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  1. As one of the “young folk” I think (I’m 30), I can offer at least my personal perspective if it’s of interest! I think the description mostly describes me, I very much respect the roots of ukulele coming from Hawaii but mostly like to play American pop and top 40. I did very much already associate the ukulele with Hawaii though, I think most people my age would too.

    I actually do think traditional Hawaiian music is pretty even if I can’t sing the words, but on why I myself am not into the ~1920s “faux-Hawaiian” music of yore specifically…I suspect many of us choose music to learn to play simply by what we ourselves like to listen to, and to my ears some of these older tunes sound out of touch with today. For example, tunes like “On The Beach At Waikiki” (https://genius.com/Hank-snow-on-the-beach-at-waikiki-lyrics) and “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian”(https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnprine/letstalkdirtyinhawaiian.html), to be honest, I find myself uncomfortable with what can feel like a romanticized portrayal of Hawaiians as exotic lovely maidens who speak nonsense. It bothers me in the same way I would be bothered if, for example, we sang songs today about Chinese people with lyrics like “ching chong ching chong” to imitate how we speak (I’m Chinese). I’m sure at the time it was not meant with any ill intent, I certainly don’t ascribe bad intentions to the songwriters, but that aspect turns me off from some music in that era.

    Anyway this is only one person’s perspective but wanted to offer it up! I don’t know if others my age feel similarly. Certainly no offense intended. It’s not that I dislike the music in general, I actually find the tunes quite catchy and fun. But some of the lyrics turn me off.

    1. Great to get another point of view, Amelia, and I don’t disagree. I’m not THAT old, so 1920s music is still waaay before my time, but I guess I’m drawn to the happy-go-lucky feel of much of it — it’s very youthful (even though it’s very old 🙂 ). If you think about it, the same people were buying records in the 1920s who are streaming on Spotify today — young people looking for fun.

      There’s plenty of great music going on today, but some folks would probably tell you that hip-hop and country and rock have plenty of denigrating lyrics in our supposedly more advanced society of today.

      Thankfully, we all get to vote with our wallets, with the songs we choose to play on our ukes, and with our freedom of choice to be offended or not.

  2. So much here that’s so funny! — I do enjoy GF’s wild solos, but, with one or two exceptions, I’m always fairly disappointed in the actual songs.

  3. I’ve done that uke-guitar-uke dance, too, Red. It reminds me of high school when I was taking both Spanish and French one semester. I kept mixing my hacienda up with my maison!

  4. Well, the uke is popular, but so is hula. Most of the ukulele groups I participate in, often ask me to hula. Thanks Danno, for showing us this ad. It just so happens that I’ll be going to NYC this Wed, so now I will also check out the Hawaiian scene & of course, the food. Mahalo Nui Loa….

  5. That’s a hilarious problem you’ve created for yourself!

    From everything I’ve read, TT was actually a real aficionado of those old songs — if his *everything* wasn’t so odd, he might have been more like Leon Redbone, beloved and admired.

    MY opinion is Tiptoe is a great song — and if you can get the image of Tiny Tim out of your mind, you’ll be all right.

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