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The Ukulele Craze Special to gmh TODAY T he uklele has arrived in Gilroy. It came on a circuitous route, originating in Europe and introduced to Hawaii in 1879 when a Portuguese immigrant named Joao Fernandez jumped off the boat and started strumming and singing with his branguinha (a small guitar-like instrument, sometimes called the machete). The Hawaiians were so impressed by his fi ngerboard prestidigitations that they called the instrument “ukulele,” which translates to “jumping fl ea.” Fernandez and the instrument became a local sensation and the reigning monarch Kalakaua even learned how to play. By 1900 the sound of the ukulele was ubiquitous across the Hawaiian Islands. The ukulele made its way to the mainland in the 1900s when the Panama Pacific International Exposition lured over 17 million visitors with hula dance and song at the Hawaii Pavilion. What mainland Americans lacked in understanding of their exotic territory’s music, they made up for in enthusiasm. Cutesy Hawaiian kitsch became big business. By the 1920s, Sears Roebuck and other department store catalogs offered low-priced ukuleles. Dozens of Hawaiian novelty songs were popularized. For four decades, the sounds of Hawaii and the ukulele drifted over the air to hundreds of radio stations. Then came the electrified guitar sounds, Elvis Presley 58 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN gyrating, Chuck Berry doing the Twist, and rock-and-roll. The ukulele looked and sounded like a toy and got put away in the old toy box. Decades later a new generation of musicians quietly picked up an occasional ukulele and beginning in the 1980s some rock-and-rollers used it in their productions, mostly to sound more folksy and authentic. Beatle George Harrison, a serious ukulele player and devotee, wrote and played passionately. Paul McCartney strummed a ukulele on his 2002 tour as a tribute to George. George later wrote an introduction to Jim Beloff’s ‘60s Uke-In Songbook, “Everybody should have to play a uke. It’s so simple to carry with you and it is one instrument you can’t play and not laugh! It’s so sweet and also very old.” The great ukulele revival arguably really started in 1993 when Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawio’ole scored a surprise hit with his medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” And then, in 2006, a video of Hawaiian player Jake Shimabukuro was uploaded to the new YouTube video service, and the world suddenly had to recalibrate is assessment of the humble ukulele. Other celebrity ukulele players include Zooey Deschanel, William H. Macy, Mr. Schuester on Glee, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder (with a Grammy Award winning ukulele album) Cybill Shepherd, JULY/AUGUST 2017 gmhtoday.com