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.