Monday, July 01, 2024

Aloha, Sonja Christopher

We learned of Sonja Christopher's passing several weeks ago, and it's now been announced in the press. For many, she will be remembered as the ukulele-playing contestant on Survivor, Season 1, and with the distinction of being the first Survivor contestant to be voted off the island.

Sonja lived near me and our paths crossed several times. Over the years fans tracked her down and sent her ukuleles. She ended up with a collection of vintage instruments, a few of which are now on consignment at Lamorinda Music where I teach. There's a sweet Martin Style 1 and a 1920s Kumalae. 

She was a lovely spirit, and we'll miss her.


Photo: Entertainment Weekly

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Ditson Ukuleles by Martin

The ukuleles made by Martin for the Oliver Ditson Co. Music Store in Boston are among the most collectible ukes out there. Here is a site with a comprehensive history of Ditson ukes. Link

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Scott Linker - Four Strings & a Jest

Multi-instrumentalist and, like yours truly, a former Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown, Scott Linker has a new ukulele-infused album out. For me, this is kind of like Harpo Marx cutting a record: for all his years in greasepaint, Scott worked silent. It's lovely to hear his voice!

Here's the full album: Scott Linker - Four Strings & a Jest

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Ukulele-Playing 'Survivor' Contestant Sonja Christopher dies at 87

We had the privilege of meeting Sonja a few times. Friends and strangers sent her ukuleles after she appeared on Survivor and she ended up with a nice collection of vintage Martins. Last we spoke with her she was putting them up on consignment. She was lovely person and we'll miss her. Link

Friday, April 12, 2024

Running a Marathon, Playing a Ukulele

Kathryn Walls plans to run the London Marathon this month while playing the ukulele. It's a loving gesture in memory of her sister, Eithne, one of three Irish doctors who died in the fated Air France crash in Brazil, 15 years ago.

Story and video at the link.

Photo: itv News

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Kyle Gray Young's Historic Banjo Method Transcriptions

A few years ago, musician Kyle Gray Young received a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board to transcribe Finnish folk tunes for guitar, and he thought, well, why not piano, banjo, and ukulele, too? He published Ancestral Melodies - Finnish Folk Tunes, a 25-song collection arranged for both standard and baritone tunings. These books are available at no cost, thanks to the CMAB grant.

Since then, he's adapted a number of vintage (as in 19thC!) banjo method books for ukulele. Today he released the music of Banjo Champion, Horace Weston. This and many of Kyle's other transcriptions are free or pay what you want. To get it for free, just enter a zero in the price box. You can also leave a donation of your choice there as well. All editions come with mp3s.

Horace Weston was considered to be the finest banjo player the world had ever seen. Weston performed extensively throughout North America and Europe from the 1860s until his death in 1890. He was one of a few African Americans in the 19th century who performed in minstrel shows, largely to White audiences.

Horace Weston was also the first African American to get credited for his banjo compositions. In the 1880s, S.S. Stewart published a couple dozen of Weston's banjo tunes. All 24 of his banjo solos and duets are presented here in crystal clear tablature for re-entrant ukulele. These are very challenging and not suitable for beginners. You will most likely need a tenor ukulele for some of the arrangements that use the higher frets. Certain tunes like Home Sweet Home are almost unplayable, but that's pretty much how the banjo version is too. There are many reasons why Horace Weston was The Champion Banjoist of the Entire World.
Here is a link to all of Kyle's ukulele arrangements. Link

Friday, March 01, 2024

Fluke Baritone Ukulele!

Just announced by our friends at Magic Fluke, a new baritone scale Fluke ukulele.

All the cool kids seem to be playing baris now. Now Fluke fans have a baritone option! 

25 years in the making.


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Chase and Jake Shimabukuro Play Anthems

If this doesn't give you chicken skin, you are not human. Here is Chase Shimabukuro, the 11-year old son of Jake Shimabukuro, playing The Star Spangled Banner, followed by his dad performing Hawai'i Pono'ī. Link

Friday, February 16, 2024

Smeck Harmony Bag Find

Friend o' the Blog Rachel Manke recently scored a sweet, nearly mint condition Smeck Harmony uke. But the most remarkable part of her find was this printed paper back that uke originally came in.

In my quarter-century of sleuthing out arcane ukulele artifacts, I've never seen one of these until today. I've found one other one, but Rachel's seems to be in much better condition.

Have you? If so, drop us a note in the comments!

Friday, February 09, 2024

Will Rogers Ukulele Quote: A Surprising Find

Over the years I've seen several versions of a quote attributed to Will Rogers to the effect that no one could tell if you were playing the ukulele or just monkeying around with with it. Lil Rev has a version of the quote in his Ukulele Method Book 1 (my go-to intro book for adult learners).

I always wondered why old Will had it in for our favorite instrument (even though it's been the butt of jokes almost since it hit American shores...)

Curiosity got the better of me the other day and so I did some searching to see if I could find the original quote. 

Turns out it's from a Chicago Examiner newspaper article, ca. March 3, 1918.

What's even more interesting is the context in which the quote is found, particularly in light of the current war between Ukraine and Russia.

The article begins,

"Now they've asked me to write about Russia. 

"That's fine! There's some sense to that. I can write about Russia for I know that my readers don't know any more about Russia than I do..."

"There is always this to look forward to with Russia. Pick up the morning paper and look for Russian news and have a fear of reading the worst; you won't be disappointed."

Rogers is writing about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which would have been in the news. The treaty gave independence to Ukraine. Rogers continues,

"You see, Germany was willing to treat for peace as long as Russia did all the treating.

"Now they have given German freedom to some province called Ukrainia (sic); sounds like ukulele, and I doubt it it will flourish even as long as that short-lived instrument."

(Ukulele –'s word-play! And note that Rogers seemed to have considered the ukulele passé by 1918!) 

"The ukulele had this advantage: Not even a trained musician could tell if you were playing on it or just monkeying with it, but the Ukrainian liberty can't fool anybody; those poor independents have "Made in Germany" stamped all over it."

(Emphasis mine) 

The rest of the article is primarily about Russia being taken for fools by Germany. Perhaps a reader/historian more conversant with the treaty and the geopolitics of the time can chime in in the comments. I'll leave it there.

You'll find Rogers' full article in The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway stage to the national stage, September 1915-July 1928, University of Oklahoma Press, 2005, p 121- 122.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Chaz Chase Eats a Ukulele

Legendary physical comedian Chaz Chase, eating a (gulp) ukulele. Don't try this with your Kamaka. 

Chaz's turn begins at 2:10.  Link

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Upwood Ukuleles Christmas Video 2023 - Walking in the Air

My friend and fellow JHUI Mentor Carol Hudson shared this amazing Christmas Video with me. 

Featuring the members of Upwood Ukuleles from Cambridgeshire, UK, and produced by Tim "Tim'll Fix It" Howard, the video features the ensemble performing Walking in the Air, from the 1982 animated holiday classic The Snowman.

Upwood Ukuleles' designated charity is Magpas Air Ambulance. Thus far, they've raised almost £66,000! Well done!

If you'd like to donate to Magpas Air Ambulance on behalf of Upwood Ukuleles, here's a link.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Arlo Claus: Updated

A dashing Arlo Guthrie wishing everyone Happy Holidays!

(Anyone recognize the make of his uke?)


h/t to Howlin’ Hobbit for identifying the instrument as a Pegasus. 

Here’s an update from Arlo:

 The holiday instrument of choice. Concert is between a soprano and a tenor size ukulele. This one was made by Pegasus Bob on the big island of Hawaii. Bob said he'd used some special koa wood he'd been saving. I was thrilled.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

That's Doctor Muir, Thank You...

Cheers to newly-minted Doctor Samantha Muir, who recently earned her PhD from University of Surrey. 

Sam is the first person in history known to have earned a doctorate in 'ukulele! 

Here's Sam's doctoral thesis. I can't wait to read it...

And if you don't know Sam and her work, here's her website. I'm working through a couple of her Studies books with my students who've suddenly developed an interest in classical music. Her arrangements are really great. Link

(And btw, Sam's Little Book of Giulani does not contain The Four Seasons...)

Monday, October 02, 2023

Gofundme for Dave Talsma

An update on luthier Dave Talsma, who today is having his 11th surgery following a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago. 

Denise Talsma reports that Dave remains in good spirits and is making progress like a champ. TALSMASTRONG!

If you're a fan of Dave and his work, you can help Dave and Denise out with a gift of support during Dave's surgeries and recovery. Here's the Gofundme page where you can make a donation: Link

And it being October now, here's a Halloween treat. Dave's Jack Skellington camp style ukulele!

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