UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–Number 6: “Flappers, Sheiks, and Their Ukuleles–Oh My!”

After vowing to keep life a bit simpler this year, here is a modification of a past posting that will. hopefully, turn our minds from the news of today to the views of the past–all within our ukulele theme, of course! So, here we go as I riff through my collection (online, needless to say) of apropos pictures.

Viewed by many today as a cultural heroine, the “flapper” is one of the most enduring images of Jazz Age youth. 

In the 1920s, however, many folks regarded flappers as threatening to conventional society.  They represented a new moral order—girls who flouted middle-class values.

The word itself evolved from 19th Century English and French terms for women who wore loose clothing (it flapped!) and, needless to say, often had equally loose morals.

Flappers’ behavior was considered outlandish at the time. 

But it redefined women’s roles in society in the US, in Europe, and even in Japan.

The evolving image of flappers was of independent young women who went by night to jazz clubs, such as those in, which were viewed as erotic and dangerous.

And where they danced provocatively,

smoked cigarettes,

and dated freely, perhaps indiscriminately.

They were active, fashionable,

rode bicycles, drove automobiles, bobbed their hair,

and openly drank alcohol—a defiant act in the era of Prohibition. 

And, OMG! They played ukuleles!   

The flapper era saw the evolution of ragtime dance styles to the more “shocking,” such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Bunny Hug, and the Black Bottom.  But, these were a symbolic badge of the flapper’s rejection of traditional standards. 

Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm-gAmzo0EY

Sheet music of the day almost always included ukulele chords–in a variety of tunings.

Here’s a fun 1920s flapper version of one our favorite tunes of the times: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjH_iX9hhso

And, of course, we can’t forget the flappers’ male equivalent, the “Sheik” with his oiled hair, bell bottoms, collegiate or cosmopolitan style. 

And, once again, his ukulele!

I have to close with a couple of “flapper/sheik” ukes from my collection. 

And, of course, a ukulele club version. Any thoughts about First Night? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ7ojSmvTFM

Ain’t we got fun?

Stay Tuned!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton, Mass.

Hi Fellow Strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. These are my personal thoughts, not those of any group or sponsor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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