History of the Ukulele

The ukulele or uke might seem to you a pretty little guitar as it outright resembles the traditional guitar in its miniature profile. Despite having almost alike features, you’ll be surprised to know that both the instrument tune differently. The basic difference between a guitar and a ukulele is that a ukulele happens to have four strings while guitars tend to have six with a much clunkier silhouette. 

Interestingly, even after emerging a lot later than guitar, the ukulele has made a secure position in the music industry and been widely used in both traditional and rock music. Rising among the other musical instrument wasn’t a smooth race for the ukulele, it had to battle many twists and turns to come to the fore.

To know more about its history and how it rose to prominence of such a whopping extent, read on with us. In this article, we’ll walk you through all of its important phases from its inception to the present. Enjoy!

Also Read: 5 Travel Ukuleles from Flight in 2021

The Inception and Naming 

Although this four strings instrument ukulele is known to be a Hawaiian musical instrument, yet it is not really originated from this land. According to the story, it came to Hawaii all the way from the Portuguese by the hands of a man named Joao Fernandes. 

It was the year 1879, when Portuguese immigrant Joao Fernandes traveled to Honolulu Harbor with nearly 400 other immigrants from Madeira. They were heading there with a golden ray of hope to find subsistence in the sugarcane fields of Honolulu. Being a music enthusiast Joao Fernandes didn’t miss to bring along his favorite braguinha (a small Portuguese guitar-like musical instrument). 

All the way through the journey he entertained the other travelers and upon reaching the Harbor we got a whole bunch of foreign audience. He quickly hopped onto the quayside and began to flaunt his braguinha mastery while singing Portuguese thanksgiving songs. The Hawaiian bystanders were not at all acquainted with such of an instrument and kept staring in awe at how Joao’s fingers are jumping like fleas across the strings. 

Since then, the Hawaiian natives have begun to refer to the Portuguese Braguinha as “ukulele” which means “jumping fleas” in their language. Thus “ukulele” had its name along with a distinct identity and with some modifications it gradually came to the light as an earnest member of the popular guitar family.

How it Became Popular in Hawaii 

How “ukulele” thrived its way to all corners of Hawaii and brought fame to its favor involves a really interesting story. The Hawaiians embraced the ukulele with sheer interest and began to combine its tune with their traditional songs soon after its arrival on their land. But something really unlikely happened that literally boom its fame all over Hawaii, and that is when the contemporary king associated the ukulele tune with their traditional dance hula. 

The king was named by David Kalakaua, who happened to be a genuine music lover and an accomplished guitarist. He was truly fascinated with the ukulele and played one of the most significant roles in inaugurating this four string instrument in Hawaiian music. Because of his influence, every annual hula festive of Hawaii (Merrie Monarch Festival) still now starts with the hula performance with the tune of ukuleles.  

Also Read: 5 Best Plastic Ukuleles

How the Popularity Spread Across the World

Essentially, the adoption of ukulele tune in hula performance paved the way for ukulele’s fame to spread across the world. The ukulele first received it’s international attention in 1915. It is when the team of the Pan-Pacific International Exposition performed the hula dance before 17 million international visitors at the Hawaii Merrie Monarch Festival.

Its melodious tune, handy shape, and amazing rhythm of strumming literally work wonders overnight back then. Kids to adults seen to become smitten over it. Since then the export of the Hawaiian ukulele has started in different countries outside the United States. Its popularity reached another height when the world’s heartthrob singers like Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby started featuring ukulele in their box office hit songs.

What Stagnated the Ukulele’s Popularity 

Prior to the 1990’s new addition to the ukulele, the tunes of ukuleles were confined in soothing chimes. On the flip side, towards the 1960s the trend of heavy rock music bloomed with the inauguration of the electric guitar all over the world. Electric guitar created such hype that soon it replaced the ukulele’s popularity. Rock music back then started dominating the music industry solely. People are always so influenced by what they see, accordingly, they again jumped to electric guitar, thus the immense popularity of the ukulele started to decline.

How Popular Ukulele is now!

Enduring a huge downfall, the ukulele was revived in the 1990s with some necessary amendments that eventually opened door to a wide range of tunes. Back then, musicians like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole played a substantial role in re-popularizing the instrument by composing songs like “What a Wonderful World” and “Over the Rainbow”. 

Besides, the trend of covering playback music with other instruments expands its fame all over again. Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele cover of George Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was one of the very first music rendering videos that gone viral in no time. This cover literally create a new fan base for ukuleles! And, onwards many music aspirants jumped on the bandwagon of covering songs with the ukulele. 

Also, it is undeniable that the ukulele is handy, easily portable, and comes with an ease of learning. And, truly, these all induced a lot of young to adult music buffs to master ukulele to satiate their love for music. Also, in this age, while people are more inclined towards merriment and entertainment, having at least one ukulele in the collection has become a new standard. 

Final Thoughts

This article is dedicated to acquainting you with the history of the ukulele! This instrument didn’t gain its popularity overnight, it slowly climbed up the stairs with some twists and turns and here we have tried to cover it all. We hope you enjoyed reading it.

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