• Hall of Fame: Arthur Godfrey

    HE MAY not appear on anyone’s list of great ukulele players, but Arthur Godfrey certainly deserves his place in the KAMUKE Hall of Fame. 

    Born in 1903 in New York City, the ginger-haired entertainer got his start in show business as ‘Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist’ on a radio program in Baltimore in 1929. Over the next two decades, Godfrey built up a loyal national audience, thanks largely to his laidback personality and an easygoing broadcasting style that was in stark contrast to that of his prim and proper contemporaries. 

    In 1948, Godfrey made his television debut and went on to become the most popular and powerful American media personality of the 1950s. Throughout his stellar career, there was one constant: the ukulele. Godfrey learnt to play while serving in the navy and would often sing and strum on his daily radio program and two weekly TV shows. He even hosted televised uke lessons in 1950. 

    Part-time actor Godfrey duetting with Doris Day in the 1966 film The Glass Bottom Boat

    Affectionately known as ‘The Old Redhead’, Godfrey was one of the first masters of on-air advertising and preferred to spruik products he actually used. When he promoted Mario Macaferri’s new plastic Islander ukulele, literally millions were sold, sparking the Second Wave of Uke. And, although it can’t be verified, Godfrey may well be the father of the baritone ukulele. There is no record of the largest uke size until the late 1940s, when Godfrey asked Eddie Connors to design one for him. 

    (L-R) Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Godfrey

    The one product ‘The Old Redhead’ regretted endorsing was Chesterfield cigarettes. He developed lung cancer in the late 50s and died of emphysema on March 16, 1983. 

    This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Hall Of Fame: Tessie O’Shea

    WHEN people see or hear a ukulele-banjo (or banjo-uke or banjolele), they almost invariably think of George Formby, the English comedian with the naughty songs and the dynamite right hand. But there was another British entertainer treading the boards and strumming up a storm during the same period as George – the magnificent Tessie O’Shea.

    Born in Cardiff, Wales on March 13, 1913, Tessie was something of a child prodigy. She reportedly started working at the age of six and was booked for a solo appearance at the Bristol Hippodrome in England when she was 12. At 15, while starring in a revue in Blackpool, she first performed the song Two-Ton Tessie From Tennessee, which quickly became her signature tune.

    By the mid-1940s, Tessie was topping the bill at the London Palladium, a bona fide music hall star. Movie roles and hit records followed and, in 1963, Noël Coward created a part specifically for her in his Broadway musical The Girl Who Came To Supper. Tessie’s turn as Cockney fish’n’chips seller Ada Cockle garnered her a Tony Award and an American audience. She was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 and proved so popular that she was invited back the following year to share the stage with The Beatles.

    “Tessie was a powerful player,” says Chris Jameson, the owner of O’Shea’s Gibson UB5 uke-banjo. “You probably wouldn’t have lent her your favourite ukulele, if not because of her enthusiastic fan stroke, then maybe for her habit of throwing her uke in the air at the end of a song and not always catching it.”

    As Tessie’s career wound down, she moved to Florida, USA, where she lived with her friend Ernest Wampola, a well-known pianist and composer she had met during World War II, when they were both entertaining the troops. Ernest became Tessie’s musical director and manager and welcomed her into his family.

    In 1995, Tessie died of congestive heart failure at the age of 82. A fantastic player with an infectious lust for life, she deserves to be remembered as a ukulele legend.

    By Cameron Murray

    This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Hall Of Fame: Eddie Kamae

    WHEN it comes to Hawaiian music, perhaps no other artist looms larger than the great Eddie Kamae. Credited as a major proponent of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance in the late 1960s and ’70s, he was one of the first people to treat the ukulele as a serious solo instrument. 

    Born into a music-loving family on August 4, 1927, Kamae started playing uke when he was 15. His first instrument was a gift from his brother Sam, who found it on a bus he was driving for Hawaii Rapid Transit. 

    “From that day onward, Eddie was hooked,” says author James D. Houston in his excellent biography Hawaiian Son. “He just liked the sound of it, the size of it, the feel of the strings, the hum of the wood.” 

    It was another brother, Joe, who became Eddie’s first teacher. Joe passed on basic chords and strums and soon his younger sibling was hungry to learn more. 

    When Eddie turned 18 in 1945, he was still eligible for the draft and was sent to New Caledonia in the Coral Sea, where it was his job to pack up US military supplies for shipping back to America. With plenty of spare time on his hands, Kamae practised day and night and developed an impressive repertoire of instrumental solos. 

    On his return to Hawaii, Eddie started attending weekend music sessions in downtown Honolulu. He received a standing ovation the first time he revealed his stunning solo tunes and it was there he met a fellow uke enthusiast named Shoi Ikemi. The pair eventually began working together, calling themselves The Ukulele Rascals and wowing the crowd with complex duets.

    Eddie was to get more time to practise when he was caught trying to pass off vials of cornstarch and flour as household medicine and was sentenced to three years in prison. “I didn’t know how I was going to last three years in there,” says Eddie in Hawaiian Son. “My uke was my companion and my way to find some peace of mind. Music got me through.” 

    With a newfound appreciation for Hawaiian music, Eddie teamed up with slack-key guitar star Gabby Pahinui to form a band and, in 1960, the Sons Of Hawaii was born. Despite Pahinui later leaving to pursue a solo career, the group went on to record 14 critically acclaimed albums. 

    Eddie set up a production company called Hawaii Sons, Inc. and was among the first Hawaiian musicians to establish his own recording label. Outside of music, he and his wife Myrna produced a set of 10 culturally important documentaries that examine the history of the islands. 

    Without Eddie’s powerful impact, it’s fair to say the ukulele would not be where it is today. The great Ohta-San was mentored by Eddie and Jake Shimabukuro credits him as a major influence and his favourite player. 

    On January 7, 2017, Eddie passed away in Honolulu, surrounded by family and friends and while his best-known song, E Ku`u Morning Dew, played softly in the background. Mahalo, Mr Kamae.

    By Cameron Murray

    This article originally appeared in Issue 11 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Hall Of Fame: Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards

    THE life of Cliff Edwards is as remarkable as it is tragic. 

    Born in 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, the same town that informed Mark Twain’s youth and work, Edwards left school at 14 and moved to St Louis, where he got his start singing in saloons. As many of the venues didn’t have pianos, he bought a soprano uke to accompany his voice and was given the moniker ‘Ike’ by a waiter who couldn’t remember his name. 

    “Ukulele Ike” went to Chicago in 1917 and got his first big break performing a novelty song called Ja Da with its composer, Bob Carleton, at the Arsonia Café in 1918. On the back of the tune’s success, vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards and he was soon performing on Broadway in New York, first at the famed Palace Theatre and later with the Ziegfeld Follies. 

    The pioneer of a distinctive form of scat singing he called “effin”, Edwards made his recording debut in 1922 and quickly became popular. His version of Singin’ In The Rain was number one for three weeks in 1929, and he was the first person to perform the standard on screen in The Hollywood Revue Of 1929

    As Ike got more famous, so did the ukulele. Millions of instruments were sold in the 1920s and Tin Pan Alley publishers responded to the craze by printing ukulele chord diagrams on the sheet music of the day. Edwards always favoured Martin ukes and developed a unique roll stroke. 

    “Most people play the four-finger roll starting with the pinky finger and ending with the index finger or thumb,” says Ike expert Terry Chapman. “But Cliff Edwards played it differently; he started with the index and followed it with the other fingers, with the pinky last.” 

    In his only instructional booklet, 1927’s Ukulele Ike’s Complete Ukulele Method, Edwards describes his technique: “If you were to make a series of six consecutive strokes, in strict cadence, all down, in this order: index finger, second finger, third finger, fourth finger followed by the thumb then return up by the thumb, you will have laid the foundation for the very flashy roll stroke which very few amateurs know how to use.”  

    Throughout the 1930s, Ike appeared in Hollywood musicals and on radio, but his star began to fade as the public became enamoured with crooners such as Bing Crosby. Edwards’ last great role was as the voice of the infectiously happy Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney feature Pinocchio, and his tender treatment of the song When You Wish Upon A Star made it an instant classic. 

    Sadly, massive alimony payments to three ex-wives and alcohol and drug problems plagued Ike’s latter years and he died penniless in a Hollywood nursing home in 1971. The Walt Disney Company paid for his grave marker. 

    Blessed with a three-octave vocal range and the ability to sell both comedy ditties and heartfelt ballads, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards sold an estimated 74 million records and appeared in more than 100 films. Aptly described by American movie expert Leonard Maltin as “probably the best known/least known performer in show business history”, he was a true original who deserves to be remembered. 

    This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Hall Of Fame: Roy Smeck

    No ukulele hall of fame is complete without the inimitable Roy Smeck, a.k.a. The Wizard Of The Strings.

    Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, USA, on February 6, 1900, Smeck’s musical talent was obvious early on and it was fostered when he started working at a music shop in Binghamton, New York. Part of his job was demonstrating a wide range of stringed instruments, including ukuleles.

    “At the store, I practiced eight to 10 hours a day until I had a nervous breakdown,” reveals Smeck in Vincent Cortese’s 2004 biography Roy Smeck: The Wizard Of The Strings In His Life And Times. “My father went to the basement and chopped up my instruments with an axe.”

    Inspired by vaudeville star Johnny Marvin to improve his uke skills, Roy invented a mind-boggling array of strums and was playing professionally by the early 1920s.

    Smeck’s big break came when Harry Warner of Warner Bros. offered him $350 to appear in a seven-minute movie to showcase a new sound-on-disc system called Vitaphone. The film, entitled His Pastimes, premiered on August 6, 1926 in New York City and Roy became a celebrity literally overnight.

    As a vaudeville headliner, Smeck earned a whopping $550 per week and made more money on the side through endorsements, the most lucrative of which was with the Harmony Company of Chicago. In 1926, Harmony introduced the Roy Smeck Vita-Uke, an unusual instrument with sound holes in the shape of seals that proved extremely popular with the ukulele-obsessed public.

    Despite his inability to read music, Smeck’s name soon appeared on a number of instructional books in various languages and, in January 1929, he presented 15-minute uke lessons on New York radio.

    Smeck performed for US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 and England’s King George VI in 1937, as well as for American troops during World War II and the Korean War.

    However, with the advent of television, the entertainment industry had changed entirely by the mid-1950s.

    “When I returned home [from Korea], many theatres had closed and vaudeville had virtually disappeared,” Smeck recalls in Cortese’s book. “With vaudeville gone, I wondered what I was going to do. So I spent four, five, even six hours a day teaching myself to read music. Then I started instructing students.”

    Smeck taught ukulele, as well as banjo, guitar, steel guitar and mandolin until shortly before his death on April 4, 1994. The Wizard Of The Strings may be gone, but his frenetic, energetic, innovative music lives on to inspire ukulele players for generations to come.

    This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store


    HE WASN’T the greatest player by a long shot, but Tiny Tim is as important in the history of the ukulele as anyone else who ever picked up the instrument.

    Born Herbert Khaury in New York City on April 12, 1932, he was fascinated with music from an early age. Herbie absorbed popular tunes from the 1890s to the 1930s like a sponge and, after dropping out of high school, turned his attention to becoming a star.

    In the 1950s, American media personality Arthur Godfrey championed the ukulele, and like nine million others Herbie bought himself a plastic Maccaferri Islander after Godfrey gave it a ringing endorsement on the air. It was the second uke Herbie owned, but it wouldn’t be the last. For most of his career, he played a Martin soprano, although towards the end of his life he also strummed a concert resonator that was given to him by his third wife on his 64th birthday.

    Following a lot of ups and downs (mostly downs) in the ’50s, the artist now known as Tiny Tim started to make an impact in the thriving Greenwich Village music scene of the early ’60s. Towards the end of the decade, everything was going right for Tiny. In 1968, he released God Bless Tiny Tim, the album that included his biggest hit, Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me, and he played a once-in-a-lifetime show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. On December 17, 1969, Tiny married Victoria Budinger aka Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in front of 40 million viewers, cementing him as one of the best-known men in the world.

    Over the succeeding decades, Tiny’s fame waned and society’s perception of him changed. Still craving the spotlight, he was happy to be thought of as nothing more than an oddity – anything to keep him in the public consciousness.

    With the Third Wave of Uke came fresh opportunities for Tiny. He started appearing at festivals, but his health was on the decline. At the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum’s Ukulele Expo ’96 in Massachusetts, Tiny had a minor heart attack and collapsed on stage. On November 30, 1996, following a gig at The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and still holding his Martin, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

    From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the name Tiny Tim was synonymous with the ukulele, much in the way George Formby had been in the 1940s and Jake Shimabukuro is now. At a time when the instrument was taking a back seat to the guitar and electronic music, Tiny was proudly flying the four-string flag. No matter what you think of his music, he was the bridge between the Second and Third Waves, and for that KAMUKE thanks him. God bless Tiny Tim.

  • Hall Of Fame: George Formby

    BORN George Hoy Booth on May 26, 1904 in Wigan, England, one of the greatest ukulele players who ever lived almost didn’t pick up the instrument.

    The son of an Edwardian music hall star who never wanted any of his family to enter show business, George was forced to become an apprentice jockey at age seven and rode in his first professional race when he was 10.

    Following his father’s unexpected death in 1921, George was encouraged by his mother to perform his dad’s old material, so he took to the stage. Spectacularly unsuccessful at first, he bought a banjo-ukulele from a fellow actor and accepted a bet that he wouldn’t play it in his act. Naturally, the audience loved the uke and George was soon topping the bill all over the country.

    By 1932, he had adopted his father’s stage name of ‘Formby’ and had his first hit record with a funny song called Chinese Laundry Blues. In 1934, George starred in a high-grossing comedy called Boots! Boots! and subsequently signed a contract worth an incredible £100,000 to make a further 11 films with Associated Talking Pictures. He later agreed to make another seven movies for US studio Columbia for the mind-blowing sum of £500,000.

    With the help of his shrewd wife Beryl, George Formby became the top comedian in Britain between 1934 and 1945, and also found considerable fame in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1946, he received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his tireless work entertaining Allied forces in Europe and North Africa during World War II. In fact, he was one of the first entertainers to enter Normandy after the D-Day invasion, where he was personally invited by General Montgomery to play for the frontline troops.

    In 1951, while starring in a critically acclaimed West End musical called Zip Goes a Million, Formby suffered a heart attack and was forced to leave the show. He went back to work 18 months later, but it didn’t last as long as it should have. After another heart attack, George Formby died on March 6, 1961, aged 56.

    But even though the great man is gone, he’ll never be forgotten. Songs such as Leaning On A Lamp Post and The Window Cleaner have become timeless classics, and ukulele players everywhere have been trying to emulate his legendary ‘split stroke’ for more than 70 years. To quote his much-loved catchphrase, “It’s turned out nice again!”


    By Cameron Murray

    THE first time I heard the Ka‘au Crater Boys’ On Fire, I nearly fell off my chair. Who were these guys? And, more importantly, who was their ukulele player? In more than a decade of being associated with the uke, I’d never heard anything quite like it. The technique, the precision, the sheer joy of it! To this day, On Fire is one of my all-time favourite instrumentals.

    I later found out the talented musician behind the ukulele was Troy Fernandez. In the early 1990s, Troy and his surfing buddy Ernie Cruz Jr (who sadly passed away recently) became the voice of a new generation of Hawaiian performers as the Ka‘au Crater Boys. The duo recorded four popular albums and won three Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards – the Hawaiian equivalent of Grammys.

    “I started playing when I was nine years old because in Hawaii every school has a fourth grade ukulele class,” Troy tells me. “When I got to middle school, I started watching Peter Moon and Eddie Kamae, so they were my heroes when I was young, mainly Peter Moon.”

    Troy started his first band when he was 13 and quickly landed a high-profile gig opening for Australian pop queen Helen Reddy at the Sheraton Hotel in Waikiki. “I was actually playing upright bass in the group because my friend was way better than me on ukulele and guitar,” says Troy. “They thought we were just kids running around. Our name was Us and we had tight three-part harmonies, good vocals, good music.”

    Troy and Ernie had been playing together for about a decade before the Ka‘au Crater Boys came into existence.

    “We were known as ET – Ernie and Troy,” explains the 53-year-old. “We started playing in clubs and I said to Ernie, ‘If we keep doing what we’re doing, one day someone’s going to come through the door and they’re gonna want to record us.’

    “That happened and then I told Ernie, ‘I don’t think we should use the name ET because if we get really big we might get sued by the movie guys!’ So Ernie said, ‘I know a name – Ka‘au Crater Boys!’ We’re from Palolo and deep in the valley, there’s a crater called the Ka‘au Crater. I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter what our name is, it’s not going to change the way we play.’”

    Soon enough, the Ka‘au Crater Boys were making waves on the music scene and Troy’s exciting playing style was causing a ukulele resurgence in the islands, particularly among young people.

    “We would go surfing at Hanalei Bay in Kauai and there would be some kids under a tree playing our songs!” says Troy with a grin. “Then we’d go surfing in Hilo on the Big Island and we’d be passing kids and they’d be playing our songs, too. So we found out that everywhere we go in Hawaii, there are kids trying to learn our songs.”

    So what does Troy think of the Third Wave Of Uke, a movement he helped kick-start with his astonishing skill on four strings?

    “There are so many good players, it’s amazing!” he replies. “So many ukulele makers. Everyone is playing the ukulele now, everyone around the world is picking up the ukulele.”

    As our chat comes to an end, I ask Troy if he has any advice for aspiring performers. “Never give up!” he beams. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

    This article first appeared in Issue 10 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store