The History of Ukulele in the USA.


Ukulele may be described as a Hawaiian musical which has much remembrance with a small guitar though it has different variations. However, it is a member of guitar family. Ukulele has four strings as opposed to the six strings of a guitar and is also tuned differently from a guitar. Traditional ukulele is strummed with fingertips only.

Ukulele was introduced to Hawaii at around 1879. This name relates to a small instrument known as machete, which was initially developed in Portugal in an island known as Madeira. It was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants who came to work in cane fields. Manuel Nunes and other immigrants are believed to be the initial makers of ukulele in Hawaii. He and his group arrived in Hawaii at around 1800s.

Several stories have been said about how machete got its Hawaii name. Despite lack of enough evidence to support each, they all seem to be true. Ukulele in English means jumping flea.

One of the said stories about how ukulele got this name is about arrival of passenger Fernandes. It states that when this passenger arrived in Honolulu port, he jumped of the ship and started playing songs on Madeira from the wharf. It states that he was full of joy after arriving, having spent almost four months in at the sea. The Hawaii residents who saw him play the instrument noted the movement of his fingers. The fingers looked the same as fleas jumping over fingerboard. From this, the name of the instrument was born.

Another said story was adopted from the way English man Edward Pulvis Played the instrument. This man was nicknamed ukulele due to his energetic personality and small stature. It was believed that the instrument which this man played for King David adopted this name.

Several different translations of this term have been used as an evidence to support different tales about this musical instrument. The last queen of Hawaiian monarch was in some situations recorded explaining the this view, it means the gift that came here/gift or reward. This seems to have a totally different meaning to that associated with fleas.

Immediately on its arrival to Hawaii, ukulele was embraced to Hawaiian culture. The popularity of this musical instrument is mainly associated with king Kalakaua. He was fond of this musical instrument that contributed to it becoming popular. The king endeavored to develop Hawaiian culture in the face of missionary oppositions who deemed the culture to be uncivilized. However, the king promoted modern art forms and fused them together with traditional aspects. King David promoted the instrument as Hawaiian musical instrument. The king severally used the instrument to accompany hula, play traditional Hawaii music and also in formal royal functions.

Ukulele made a particular impression at around 1915 in mainland America. This was during an exposition known as panama pacific which was held in San Francisco. In this exposition, Hawaiian ukulele players performed both in groups and soloists which made them very popular to the visitors. After the instrument began acquiring fans in mainland America, it was later on adopted by local mainland musicians. The musicians introduced ukulele into other genres.

Ukulele increased in its popularity at around 1920s, making Hawaiian music popular the same as current mainland music. The instrument found its way out when American instrument manufacturers began making it at a high rate. New York City and other American cities began manufacturing and eventually marketing the instrument all over the America. However, with this increase in production and marketing, some tensions came out as a result of differences between Hawaii based ukulele manufacturers and mainland American manufacturers. Even though, the popularity of ukulele kept on increasing in around 1925s.

Ukulele popularity faded from around 1930s and came into revival at around 1990s. The popularity had gone down due to popularity of pop rock music.

Currently, ukulele is still capturing the attention of audiences in western world. Internet has been the main contributor of ukulele’s popularity. Nowadays, tutorials and videos are posted on the websites explaining an easy way to learn the instrument. Its popularity has also been triggered by its easiness of strumming along to sing melodies and the essence of playing the instrument together. Its popularity has also been enhanced by the fact that ukulele clubs and social groups are being formed all over the world.

Different types of ukulele have been developed to fit different musical settings making it more popular in the new millennium.

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