Ukulele Status

I’m finishing up Ed McMahon’s (yes, that guy) book on the early years of television (“When Television Was Young“). It’s surprisingly informative and entertaining, and it comes from a man who was involved with television from day one. McMahon is cheesy, corny, and a little old-fashioned, but you do get the sense of how world-changing the device was, and how inextricably linked television would be with pop music.

In it, McMahon makes (to me) a pretty startling aside… in the first days of tv, to save money, producers would avoid using live music — a band or studio orchestra. But they would use ukuleles. Why? Because they weren’t considered (by the union) to be “instruments.” Thus began a boom — more of a resurgence — in popularity for the uke (via Godfrey?), which is still happening (especially if you look at the metric ton of uke websites out there). I happen to love my el cheapo soprano uke, as does my son when we sing “Inchworm” or “BINGO.”

But it most certainly *is* an instrument. Roy Smeck, the Wizard of the Strings, was a master of it long before Jake Shimabukuro was even a vague notion. This clip is amazing… it’s a party trick and a handfull of showoff all at the same time. I’m even starting to see uke come back in pop CDs like David Mead’s “Tangerine“.

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