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A Brief History of Ukuleles

Ukuleles are not an instrument native to Hawaii as most people think. As Portuguese immigrants made their way to Hawaii at the end of the 19th century they brought with them different instruments from their country, such as the machete and the five stringed rajo, both of which date from sometime in the early 1800s. There are four men famous during the initial history of the instrument in Hawaii. Joao Fernandes supposedly played a small stringed instrument on the docks after arriving on the Ravenscrag in 1879, delighting those around him. Manuel Nunes, Jose do Espirito Santo, and Augusto Dias also arrived with Fernandes to work the fields harvesting sugar cane. After Santo, Dias and Nunes were done with their farming contracts they started making what were known as 'taro patch fiddles' for their friends and families. Nunes actually opened a uke factory in 1910. After he died in 1922 the factory continued producing the instruments under the guidance of his son until 1930. Instantly popular, the royals in Hawaii even started playing them. Possibly because they were made from native woods and other materials, the Hawaiians instantly developed their own style of music around the instrument. This could also have something to do with the my dog has fleas tuning of its four strings that is a mystery to most music historians. Martin, a very large guitar producer, started producing the ukulele in 1907, but no one bought them. After starting production again in 1915, the instrument's popularity skyrocketed, and in 1920 they started making them out of koa wood from Hawaii. 1926 was the most popular year for Martin's ukes, when the company produced 14,000. The popularity of the instrument on the mainland seems to have started when it was shown in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Many different mainstream guitar makers started making their own versions of the uke, including

Gibson, Dobro, Regal and Harmony, who sold half a million of them in 1931. Probably because of its small size and relatively cheap price tag, the uke quickly became the most popular musical instrument in the world. The Prince of Wales played the uke in the middle of the 1920s. Harmony made Prince Edward a special version with a gold-engraved coat-of-arms on it. The popularity of the instrument was hit hard by the Great Depression, and then really died out after World War II with the rise in popularity of the electric guitar. Still popular in Hawaii, the uke was no longer selling like it did in the early 1900s. With the rise of the internet, the uke has had another surge in popularity as people are much more easily able to share their music and culture with others. Many famous performers have started to gain notoriety, such as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Mike Okouchi, and BrittniPaiva. This popularity seems to be picking up steam and tons of new manufacturers have started to make the instruments again. The future looks very bright for ukuleles as they are used in not just Hawaiian music, but also pop, jazz, R&B, rock, and so you can buy ukulele now.