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Old Masters

Since the Hawaiians have fallen in love with this little four-stringed instrument yet in the end of 19th century they have the longest tradition and therefore many great masters.

Note: All names linked lead to external sites with more detailed information. If one of the links no longer work, I would be very grateful to receive an email.


Ernest Kaai (1881-1961, Hawaii) was one of the first famous players. In 1916 he published the first teaching book, "The Ukulele, A Hawaiian Guitar", and that way he has shown that an ukulele is much more than just a small guitar.

Benny Nawahi (1899-1985, Hawaii) another player of this time was getting attention by his one-hand playing and other kind of show effects. Even as he became blind, in 1935, he played on.

"King" Benny Nawahi


John Kameaaloha Almeida

John Kameaaloha Almeida (1897-1985, Hawaii) - blind since the age of 10 years, became a legend as songwriter (more than 300 tunes). His most popular song was "Pua Tuberose". It is said it was inspired by a nice girl... Almeida has had the reputation of a Casanova. However, most of all he was a virtuoso player, who gathered many other players around that became famous too: Genoa Keawe, Julia Nui, and Alwin Isaacs. Finally there are many musicians who tribute Almeida calling him the initiator of their own ukulele career. After an ukulele contest in 1935 Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima became famous. He later did performances with his bother and cousin as Kalima Brothers. With their growing success their bellies also grew on... Therefore they were called "1000 Pounds of Melody".

Cliff Edwards

Cliff Edwards (1895-1971, USA, one of the famous players of the jazz area, called Ukulele Ike. He accompanied himself to the swinging ballads of its time. Some of his great still belong to the standard repertory of jazz and swing bands, for instance "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" or "My Dog Loves Your Dog". The single "When You Wish Upon A Star" was sold 74 million times. Born in 1895 in St. Louis he moved to Chicago in 1917, took a job as table singer at a cafe house, sang and played the uke just for tips. In 1924, on top of his popularity, he appeared in Broadway shows such as George Gershwin's "Lady Be Good". He made a lot of money that way, however he often was hard up, also for some reason which has been the ruin for others: gambling and drinking. Yet during the fifties he was almost forgotten. He died as a poor man in 1971. However, some of his songs have survived the century, for instance "I'll See In My Dreams", performed by Joe Brown during the "Concert for George" (the tribute to Ex-Beatle George Harrison) - after Paul McCartney  has come out with his uke for "Something".


George Formby

Lemon Nash (1898-1969, USA) was mentioned as a black counterpart of Cliff Edwards Ukulele. There is not much more known (to me) than that he came from the tradition of New Orleans Jazz. Of him there are only nine songs recorded on an album from 1960 (Noon Johnson & Lemon Nash).Less known is the musical part of life of scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. He had a particular passion for ukuleles, played and collected them. George Formby jr. (1904-1961, UK) was specialized on Banjo-Ukulele. As an actor and entertainer his popularity started in the beginnings of the era of TV-Shows - Fan-Website.

Lemon Nash
Lemon Nash

Roy Smeck (1900-1994, USA) - named "The Wizard of Strings" started in early 1920, performing worldwide from Hawaii to Latin America, to Europa and Asiea, wrote an instruction book for Ukulele and Banjoukulele, became mentor of many others. With more than 500 records he belongs to the most recorded ukulele musicians of his time.

Bill Tapia (Hawaii, 1908-2012), called "The Duke of Uke", has been on stage in high age, in his own words: "102 years young and still performing".


Lyle Ritz (1930, USA) dominates together with Herb Ohta the second half of the 20. century. He started on tuba, and has its roots in the "polite Jazz", a fine example of what it means is "A Night of Ukulele Jazz", a live record ffrom vom October 2001.

Herb Ohta (1934, USA) recorded porpably the most recordings on ukulele, most known is his "Song for Anna" (1970), included on the record with Lyle Ritz.



"With my Ukulele in My Hands" - a 4 CD sampler with booklet, featuring Benny "King" Nawahi, Cliff Edwards, George Formby, Lyle Ritz, Roy Smeck, Jimmie Rogers and Louis Armstrong - cratching a little bit like old grammophon records.

By the way: less known is the ukulele patience of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.