We are heading into that once-every-four-years event intended to keep the world from falling apart. No, it’s not the coming election. Rather, it’s February 29th–Leap Year Day! Aside from its calendaric necessity, that day has taken on mythological traditions the most important of which, in some cultures, is that this is the day in which women are encouraged to propose to men.
I’m not so sure that this means much in this day and age, but I’m willing to bend my ukulele theme to focus on the ladies and, of course, their ukuleles. Here goes!
Probably the event most linked with this date is–for those of you who remember the Great “Li’l Abner” comic strip–is Sadie Hawkins Day when the eligible boys try to outrun the anxious girls in a once-a-year race to the altar. Not much of a ukulele tune, but here is a rather bizarre take on Sadie Hawkins:
Now, after having said that my theme would be ladies and their ukuleles,
in my web wanderings I have been exposed to—as might be expected—a lot of material that I and many of you gentle readers might consider as prurient and inappropriate for innocent eyes. Not being one to trash perfectly good research, however, I soldier on.
Still, there is a lot of material out there that is on the edge of propriety rather than over the brink and, to me, still worthy of a place in our visual exploration of ladies and their ukulele history past as well as present.
As a disclaimer, this posting will NOT focus on the “French postcard” school of erotica depicting semi-nude native girls or saucy dancehall belles even though, of course, their ukuleles may be of interest to a scholar or collector.
But, I have found that there is enough material out there to adequately hold, rather than rivet, our attention. So, here goes!
While there was a lot of 19th century pictorial “entertainment” in the form of stories told with stereoscope slides, it was in the 1890s when burlesque performers and actresses began using photographs as “business cards” to promote themselves, their talents, and their attributes.
These cards could be found pinned to backstage walls in most vaudeville theaters and became ubiquitous in other venues frequented by gentlemen of the day.
Song with ukulele “Pinup Girl:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwzHqCrWBvs
And, so, the “pinup” got its name. “Cheesecake,” as a synonym came along in the 1920s, particularly in New York’s deli-fueled theatrical world.
Scholarly discussion today ranges from vivid to livid on this whole pinup/cheesecake thing. So, why not explore “Ukulele-Cake?”
Admittedly, in the 21st century blue bubble of our Happy Valley, this can be a touchy subject. But, our pursuit of ukulele lore may oft take us into what some may call the darker corners of the music word, but we must bear (bare?) with it and pursue history where we find it.
And, yes; there is a brighter side to our little history . . . In the early 20th century, in parallel with the more male-targeted cheesecake, magazine illustrations of attractive well- (and semi-) dressed women were seen by many as helping to define certain body images such as being clean, healthy, and wholesome.
This was what both women and men thought a particularly beautiful or attractive woman should look like. Alas, as time progressed, attitudes toward these images evolved from respectable to illicit—from “womanhood,” to “glamour,” to “girlie-girlie.”
Needless to say, the ukulele as an oft-used prop covered (ahem) a lot.
Anyway, cheesecake was really a “guy thing” and pinup girls became hugely popular during the early years of World War II.
Many featured scantily, but tastefully (mostly), dressed (mostly) girls often—to stick with our theme—holding or playing ukuleles.
Pinup girls were featured on the noses of bomber planes during the war and they were pinned up in Army barracks and on Navy ships all over the world.
They were used for training and recruiting posters—any way to catch and capture a young man’s attention.
So-called “calendar girls” became a popular sub-species of a pinup.
Pinup girls were also used in advertising, often having not much to do with either femininity or ukuleles!
More recent “Beefcake” photos of similarly slightly clad men, also armed with ukuleles, are found but considerably less often. Go figure.
While there are pinups WITH ukuleles, of equal interest to us are pinups ON ukuleles. Both new and vintage examples can be found.
Good taste? Bad taste? Offensive? Fun?
Your call, but I believe that it’s a genre of ukulele history worthy of our serious exploration and study.
And, after all, don’t we all want to learn a bit more about our ukuleles and how folks have, shall we say, embraced them over the years?
So, let’s end this musicological exploration with a good ukulele tutorial. Not “Pinup Girl,” rather “Calendar Girl:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWMtgip-dLM
There is so much ukulele lore to explore! You eligible gentlemen be on the lookout for the ladies today. But, Stay Tuned!