Monday, January 20, 2014

History of the Ukelele

The ukelele was born in Hawaii in 1879, but the history of small guitars goes back to 15th century Europe when a guitar craze became popular during the Renaissance.  The small guitar appeared in the Victorian era too.  The small guitar appealed to Edward Lear, the writer of the poem, 'The Owl and the Pussycat.'

"The owl looked up to the stars above and sang to a small guitar..."

I visited Pendragon books in the Rockridge District of Oakland today.  I love perusing this bookstore, as there is always something that makes me feel like learning something new or in this case, relearning something.

I started playing the ukelele a bit, years ago, when I took a class on ukelele.  I love the way it is small so is easy to carry to the beach or on a trip.  (I brought a guitar once on a plane and it broke!)  There are ukelele clubs in many cities, including Berkeley, CA,  and when you pick this instrument up, it is nearly impossible to have a sour mood.  After looking at this book today, I now have the desire in this new year to pick up my dusty ukelele and start playing songs with my son!

I picked up The Ukelele Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hodgkinson at Pegasus, and instantly started reading it when I get home.  I was particularly interested in the history portion.  This is what I pieced together about the history of the ukelele.

The actual ukelele was born in Hawaii on August 23, 1879 when the Ravenscrag, a ship holding 419 immigrants from the Portuguese island of  Madeira, docked in the Honolulu harbour.  The Madeirans, as they unboarded the boat, took with them little four-string guitars, or machetes.    The Madeirans had a traditional custom of wandering around singing and playing their small guitars.  Soon, three of the Madeirans, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito Santo, who were furniture makers by trade, started making ukeleles.  Then, the ukelele popularity took off in Hawaii!


The Ukelele Handbook
How to!
By Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hodgkinsson
ISBN 978-1-62040-220-7

The Ukelele Handbook was purchased at Pegasus Books, and independent and local bookstore in Rockridge, CA.
5560 College Avenue

The Owl and the Pussycat
by Edward Lear and Jan Brett
G.P. Putnam's Son's  New York
ISBN  0-399-23193-5

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