UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 9—“Ladies’ Day” 29 February; Ladies and Their Ukuleles–Ukulele-Cake!

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQDdIhXb6fI&list=TLPQMjgwMjIwMjB0FZbR9bDAWw&index=2

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!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–Number 8: “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge,” A Hometown Song

It being the week of the annual Presidents Day Holiday, we need look no further than out our windows to see our local link to this parade of American history.  Now, I am sure that you fellow strummers who live in our fair city—Northampton, Massachusetts—are steeped in the lore and history of our most famous citizen, the 30th President of the United States Calvin Coolidge. 

But, perhaps, a few out-of-town strummers and readers of this blog may not be as up on local lore as the rest of us.  So, this is why his story is of importance to we local ukers and how we can link Coolidge with music—sort of.

As a quick setting of the stage, Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States, was born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. The only president born on the 4th of July!  After graduating from nearby Amherst College, he began a career in law and politics here in Northampton eventually becoming Governor of Massachusetts, Vice-President of the United States, and–after the death of President Warren Harding–President in his own right.

Why lump Coolidge with ukuleles? Well, about the only link I could find was his autograph on the famed ukulele that was carried on the Byrd expedition to the North Pole in 1926. It was exhibited at the White House and signed by a who’s who of dignitaries of the day. Close enough for this blog!

More to the point, and aside from simple Northampton pride, about every other one of our weekly ukulele strum sessions

Nearly 50 people took part in the Ukulele Strum Group’s Saturday morning practice in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at Forbes Library in Northampton on Dec. 28, 2019. In the background are the 1924 portraits of President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Anna Coolidge, by Howard Chandler Christy,

is held in the venerable Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum right here in our own Forbes Library.   

This resource began when Coolidge was Massachusetts Governor and Vice-President Elect, began giving documents and memorabilia to the public library for the city of Northampton. 

There are several good biographies of Coolidge and his time—as well as our good friend Wikipedia—that can give you as much of his life story as you care to learn. 

Suffice it to say that, for our purposes, simply knowing that his law office

was in the Main Street building above what is now Fitzwilly’s Restaurant

and that he and his wife, Grace, lived in a rented duplex on Massasoit Street before their moves to Boston and Washington. 

After leaving the White House in 1929, they returned to Northampton where he lived for the rest of his life.  As an aside, he is the only President to have moved from a rented duplex to the White House—and back! They later moved to a larger house in Northampton to, as Coolidge commented, accommodate all the visitors of a “has-been President.”

Most historians note his calm, shy personality that appealed to the attitudes of the time. 

His common sense and dry wit earned him a reputation for being wise.  Most of us recall that he earned the nickname “Silent Cal” because he refrained from giving public statements unless they were absolutely necessary, and when he did, they were short and to the point.  How novel in this day and age!  Just saying.     

In 1924, Coolidge was nominated and ran for President on his own and was elected in a landslide. 

He campaigned on the promise of a “calm hand on the rudder of state” and “safe, sane, and steady” were emblazoned on his posters. 

His reasoned demeanor and deliberate decision-making process sparked his campaign slogan—“Keep Cool with Coolidge.” 

Voters bought into this and he was elected in a landslide.

But, on to music.  In those early days of radio and rallies, campaign songs were the rage and Coolidge was first mentioned in one for the Harding campaign of 1920.

In the 1920s, these songs were catchy tunes with easy to remember and sing lyrics.  Here’s one from the Harding campaign that was written by nonother than the most popular musical performer in America of the day, Al Jolson!

 Harding/Coolidge Campaign Song, 1920:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq2rnv7xPWs

For the 1924 election campaign of Coolidge and Charles Dawes as his running mate, there were several songs.

But, by far, the most memorable was “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge.”  This was written for the “Home Town Coolidge Club” of Plymouth, Vermont, but soon became popular nationwide. 

It was even performed on the White House lawn for the Coolidges by Al Jolson himself. Sorry, no ukulele in the band, but there is a banjo!   

Here is a relatively recent recording of this tune by the performing musicologist Oscar Brand.

Oscar Brand:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mjRF3fQSdw 

Here is another iteration of this tune complete with newsreel footage of a rally right here in Northampton!

Coolidge in Northampton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ5MgFHahTc

I’m working on a ukulele chord-melody arrangement of “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge,” but if any of you would like to give it a try, here is a piano version from 1924. 

This is a tune that should be part of our AEIOUkes repertoire!  Any thoughts?

Now that Prohibition is over, KEEP COOL and STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–Number 7: Good Old Tunes for Your Sweetie and Your Uke. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

For the past three or four years I have posted and commented on vintage banjo and ukulele related Valentine’s Day cards that I have found on the web.  I’ve reached the point where this tradition—while a lot of fun—is just too easy!  Vintage Valentines are low hanging fruit when it comes to surfing the internet.

So, this year I thought I would focus on vintage sheet music and tunes with Valentine or Love themes.  Here goes!

Needless to say, there are some quite early ones.

A bicycle tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78MKBHR3NbU

Then there are some that focus on young love.

An arithmetic lesson in love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD3i-hR4ofU

Or, how about the wild and crazy love of days of yore?

Give a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAKYhbXt3Ik

Some funny Valentines.

A rowdy tune! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j29T_KJSWlg

Love is in the air!

Or at sea.

How about soldiers?

Let’s not forget Hapa Haole.

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5zzg_w1UX8

A sad tale or two, alas.

And, there is the never ending stream of more recent days.

Anyway, have fun browsing through and, here’s hope that all of you have a way to share this day!

Oh yes. Here’s a Ukulele Tune for you and yours: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihvCJ57L9RI

Stay Tuned–happily ever after!

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!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–Number 5– A Two-Fer: World Play Your Ukulele Day and Groundhog Day

Admittedly, Groundhog Day is more of an annual “event” rather than a “holiday.”  Nonetheless, it takes on importance in that is it also “World Play Your Ukulele Day.” 

Who knew? 

It is also a day that we New Englanders sense the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring—at least those New England natives of the groundhog persuasion.  Pray for a cloudy day!  Avoid shadows!

Aside from some cute pictures,

I couldn’t find many ukuleles directly associated with a groundhog.  But, our animal friend has a long and historic association with that older cousin of the ukulele, the banjo.  It seems that it wasn’t uncommon back in 19th century Appalachia to use a groundhog skin to make a primitive banjo. 

There are even a few contemporary banjo makers using groundhog skins, both on five-string mountain banjos

and even—YES—a banjo ukulele or two.  Sorry, none in my collection as of yet! 

There is also a great old-time tune called “Groundhog.”  Here it is played on a fretless banjo just like an old Appalachian mountain one!

The ukulele lends itself to being played in the old-time banjo style called “frailing” or “clawhammer.”  The standard high-G string of the ukulele can serve the same melodic/rhythmic function as the fifth “drone” string on a banjo.  

On the ukulele, the index finger picks a string (usually a melody note), then brushes down across all four strings followed by the thumb plucking the G string—pick, brush, thumb.  The rhythm is 1-2/and, 1-2/and, etc., played in a slow, quick-quick motion.  Pete Seeger called this a “bum-ditty, bum-ditty” sound.  We could call it a “North-amp/ton, North-amp/ton” strum!

Got it?  Of course, there are thousands of intricate variations, but this is “Clawhammer 101.”   Here’s a basic YouTube to get you started.  Have some Springtime fun!  

At the risk of all my vegan and vegetarian friends—to say nothing of those simply of the squeamish persuasion—I must add an good ole recipe for groundhog stew.  Well, why not?

Now go seek out a groundhog, before he sees his shadow, and play him a tune on “World Play Your Ukulele Day!”      

Stay Tuned!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020—Number 4, “A Strum of Ukers”

What do we call a group of ukulele players? Let’s come up with a new word!

Searching through my trove of ukulele related thoughts and photos from the past few years, I ran across this posting that seems worth another look and a bit of an update. So, here goes!

 We enjoy playing our ukuleles and our enjoyment is multiplied by the number of friends with whom we play.  That enjoyment is multiplied again when we perform as a group before an audience.  That makes us “performers” rather than merely “players.” Throughout ukulele history, performing groups have dotted the musical landscape.  Needless to say, we have our own here in our Happy Valley.

Here’s the Scramble playing ukes from my collection! What fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FIa03KUUSU

Give these folks a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTMWoB-V2bw

All of these performing groups–to say nothing of various “strum sessions” keep us both busy and entertained week to week and throughout the year. And, of course, there is our own Saturday Strum Session.

While there are collective nouns for groups of animals—a murder of crows,

bask of crocodiles,

crowder of kittens, etc.—

alas, there seems to be no such noun for ukulele players.  Therefore, I hereby humbly propose: “A Strum of Ukers.”  Let’s see if it catches on!

To return to the theme . . .  There have been numerous photographs taken throughout ukulele history of groups of ukulele players or performers that have found their way into my Picasa file.  A one-man-band seems to fit in,

but I am going to focus on pics that feature Strums of Ukers (sounds good!)

Here are some from days of yore.

Here are some from today.

A huge strum of ukers from New Zealand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThD6LQyGA9A

The music goes on and on, particularly with a STRUM of Ukers!

STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–No. 3–Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–Number 3, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and “We Shall Overcome.”

Before we moved to “the 413” back in ’05, Alison and I had lived for many years in northern Virginia.  Settled in the early 1600s, the so-called “Old Dominion” was, needless to say, strong on historical reminiscences and commemorations.  So, in 1983, when the date for the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday was set, it was conjoined with two other statewide celebrations that had been on the state’s docket for years.  Virginians called this calendric convenience “Lee-Jackson-King” day—a curious amalgam of Civil War and Civil Rights history—observed until the year 2000.

What would Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr., think about all that?  Go figure.  

Anyway, what does this have to do with ukuleles?  Well, for every photo in my file of an African American man, woman, or child playing a ukulele, I have found dozens depicting banjo players.  Sadly, too many of those are caricatures and way too many show whites in blackface makeup.  

Still, in the early half of the Twentieth Century, a ukulele appealed to young blacks as much as it did to young whites.  The attractiveness of an inexpensive, portable way to make music knew no boundaries.

Those banjo and blackface photos are testament to a history that should not be glossed over, but are not part of this special day.   So, for this posting, here are some photos of good folks having a good time making music in the past and—more importantly—today. 

And yes, they include ukuleles.  

Anyway, mid-January brings us one of the newest and most meaningful of all American remembrances—Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.  Newspapers and television will be full of the history of this man and the movement he led to bring civil rights issues to public attention, to congress, and to the law of the land.  

As meaningful as this is to us all—and since it will be thoroughly covered in other media—I’ll just stick with our theme and focus on a tiny facet of all this: music and, of course, the ukulele.

To begin with music, the phrase “Jim Crow,” with all its racial and civil rights connotations, had its origins in a song and dance routine from 1828 that was done in blackface makeup by a white minstrel performer, one  Thomas Dartmouth Rice.  

His song, “Jump Jim Crow,” is said to have been inspired by the singing and eccentric dancing of an African slave by that name.  In the cultural context of the early Nineteenth Century, Rice’s song—and its multiplicity of verses—became overwhelmingly popular as he performed all over the country as “Daddy Jim Crow”.

As a result of Rice’s fame and the popularity of his song, by the mid-Nineteenth Century the term “Jim Crow” had morphed from the merely comic into a pejorative meaning a black, negro, or African American.  

From this, laws enforcing racial segregation became known as “Jim Crow Laws.”  These were endemic in towns, counties, and states throughout much of the country.  

Rice’s song “Jump Jim Crow” was also a key initial step in a tradition of American popular music that was based on the imitation, if not outright mockery, of blacks. 

The first song sheet edition of this tune appeared in the early 1830s, and a couple of decades later this genre exploded in popularity with the rise of the blackface minstrel show.  

—and even in amateur theatricals.

A ukulele player who frequently appeared in blackface was Cliff Edwards, otherwise known as “Ukulele Ike.”  

The Duncan Sisters were a popular duo and there were, of course, many other performers with or without ukuleles.   

In retrospect, some of what was popular in the context of yesteryear’s popular music is not just unpopular today.  Rather, it is unconscionable–way beyond merely politically incorrect. 

Admittedly, this is a touchy topic for a posting.  I much prefer levity, but we cannot move forward without looking back and Martin Luther King, Jr., Day gives us that opportunity.   It is from history that we learn, even if filtered through the theme of music and our favorite little instrument.  We cannot sweep history under the rug.  We cannot unplay those songs.

But, here is one song we should play.

This is a song to play over and over again on this important day of remembrance of a great American, his life’s work, and the historical context of our still imperfect society.

Pete Seeger recorded this song back in the late 1940s. His version–the one we hear most often today–was based on an interpretation of an old gospel hymn he had heard in the 1930s sung by black tobacco workers in the fields of the South and a variation he had learned dating back to 1901 as sung in both black and white labor union meetings in the North. Here is his version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVQ6Y8szaBQ

Here, in keeping with the theme of these postings, is a simple ukulele instrumental of the Pete Seeger arrangement:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQWz7GxZZS4

And as a finale, the Moorhouse College Glee Club, in concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aor6-DkzBJ0&list=PLcFKD5NPHkSxHjD0r-R7_qwwgE3vcCP63

We have a lot to overcome in our society. But, with the humble tools we have, we shall. When will our song be “We Overcame?”

Stay Tuned!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020—No. 2—“In Heaven There is No Beer, Wine, Whiskey”

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020—Number 2, “In Heaven There is No Beer, Wine, Whiskey” or, “How’s your New Year’s Resolution Now?

Most of us, I am sure, have made at least a couple of New Year’s resolutions–listen to more music, practice more, learn how to finger that awkward E chord and the like. Others of us vow to eat less meat, eat more kale, and Heaven forbid, drink a tad less or a bit less often. Well, as good ukers, a few of us do tend to enjoy a wee dram from time to time; so why not muse on that perennially popular link between ukuleles and so-called “adult beverages.”

To get us started, here’s a great old polka (sometimes bluegrass, too) song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnRe70XlWDw   

Try it on your uke:

  [G]In Heaven there is no [C]beer, (no beer!)

              [D7]That’s why we drink it [G]here. (right here!)

              [G]And when we are gone from [C] here, (from here!)

              Our [G]friends will be [D7}drinking all our [G]beer, (our beer!)  

As can be expected with any “folk” song, there are a few dozen additional verses, some more colorful (ribald?) than others.  You could, of course, write your own verses to highlight your favorite adult beverage and, of course, accompany yourself on the ukulele. 

Here is a rather boozy, dorm room version of our tune, but with some rather good ukulele strumming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59mao16b9Ns

Anyway, on to ukuleles as part of the so-called adult beverage culture.

Needless to say, the ukulele has been associated with various forms of drink over the years—not just beer, but wine and spirits too.  There are ads featuring ukuleles and booze, ukuleles shaped like beer bottles.

There are various ukulele events with an alcoholic theme—including the great annual Ukulele Hooley in Ireland sponsored by, who else, Guinness.  

And, let’s not forget the ever popular Tiki Bar!

So, whether it’s the instrument, the music, or the good company, get out the cork screw, shaker, or opener and tune up the uke!

Here’s a nice British version of an old favorite–a rowdy strum of ukers at the neighborhood pub: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYYr7fSaOMU

And because all we ukulele players in our “Happy Valley” consider ourselves to be—to an extent—intellectuals, here is a more cultured (?) version of the old favorite “Show Me the Way to Go Home“:

              I’m [F]fatigued and I want to re- [C]pose.

              I had an adult beverage sixty minutes ago,

              And it’s gone [G7]straight to my cerebellum.

              [C]Where ever I may perambulate,

              On [F]land or sea or agitated [C]water,

              You can always hear me singing this melody,

              [G7]Indicate the direction of my [C]abode.

Cheers!  Try to stay tuned!  Keep that home address on your GPS!

And to close, here is one of the better booze songs out there and one that’s in our Blue Book–“Scotch and Soda” on the ukulele, no less: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtDT1qvSZts

I’m sure that the folks at Forbes Library–particularly in our beloved Calvin Coolidge Room–would frown on any sort of imbibing on their turf, but we can always find someone to show us the way to go home!

Guys too!

STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020—No. 1—”A Hawaiian (and First Night) Tradition: The Aloha Shirt”

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 1—”A Hawaiian (and First Night) Tradition: The Aloha Shirt” 

Well, here we go again.  It’s a brand-new year and I am taking a brand-new approach with my ukulele musings for 2020.  Rather than being locked into themes and schedules as I have been for the past four years, I’m going to allow myself to be “footloose and fancy free.”  In other words, I have given myself permission to drift from topic to topic, to explore some new things, and to dip into postings past for inspiration this year.  So, come along (and strum along) for the ride—a surprise every time!

So, let’s start out with something I was reminded of during our First Night performance here in Northampton on New Year’s Eve.  The music, of course, was lots of fun.  But, looking around the group assembled, there was a common denominator—our Hawaiian shirts.  A bit of cultural appropriation?  Yes.  But ukuleles and Hawaiian shirts go together like “C,” “F,” “G7,” and back to “C.”   

As with my previous postings, all is not frivolity, so I’ll start with some serious scholarship about these shirts, their history, and place in island culture.

To go back a couple of hundred years or so, the first shirts associated with the islands were not what we think of today as a “Hawaiian Shirt.”  Rather, these were simple, loose, long-sleeved work shirts, modeled after those worn by visiting British and American sailors.

They soon became the “uniform” for pineapple and cane field workers and island cowboys.

These came to be known as “palaka” shirts, from the Hawaiian word for “smock.” For the island trade, British cotton mills wove this denim-like fabric in a unique checked pattern which soon became known as “palaka plaid.” 

Still made and sold today, this has become an iconic garment embraced by many native Hawaiians.

Moving on, in the 1920s a Japanese tailor in Honolulu came up with the novel idea of making shirts from odd remnants of printed silk he had on hand after making traditional kimonos. 

These patterned, brightly colored shirts achieved almost instant popularity and soon became the standard for the local beach and surf crowd. And, of course, these became a must-have for the growing number of Mainland tourists.

Then, in the 1930s, a Chinese tailor made and marketed a variation on these originals and had the entrepreneurial wit to copyright the name “Aloha Shirt.”  The go-to garment that we ukulele players know and love was born!

Soldiers and Sailors stationed in Hawaii during World War II brought their colorful and casual silk and rayon shirts back home, as did more and more tourists in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

What was a cheap souvenir in those days has spawned an industry and early, well designed shirts have become scarce collectors’ items today. 

Some sell for hundreds of dollars and even find themselves in museums and galleries.  

Today, the Aloha Shirt (now the generic name) has become standard business attire for many in the islands—replacing neckties and jackets— during nearly nine months of the year. 

As would be expected, the Aloha style even extends to those formal occasions where a tux would be called for in other climes.

For the girls, the cover-up of the muumuu (forced on bare-breasted native girls by those shocked nineteenth century missionary wives) moved from palaka plaid, to intricate patterns,

to the bright florals we see today in lovely dresses—

as well as the missionary-shocking crop-tops! 

While Hawaiian flora and activities dominate fabric patterns, just about any theme can be found on a Hawaiian shirt these days.  Ukuleles, of course!

Adult beverages, naturally!

Other interests or proclivities, you name them!

Presidents have worn them.

Along with tats and a nose ring, no less!

And even some police officers and police station mug shots show them!

Movie stars and movies made them famous.

And now, the BIG question!  Do you wear a Hawaiian shirt tucked in, or not tucked in? The answer is simple—as with all shirts with a straight hem and side slits, you wear them UN-TUCKED and flying in the breeze.

Except, maybe, with a blazer in the office.

Or on a fashion show runway,

 But is it acceptable to wear a shirt unbuttoned?  It all depends.  .  .

And, they even work for really BIG guys like me!

So, let’s keep making music in our Hawaiian shirts for another year.

Speaking of music, how about a rap version of an “Aloha Shirt Song?” For next year’s First Night performance? Perhaps not . . .

Rap Version of “Hawaiian Shirt Nation”:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkGvlrdqcj4 

STAY TUNED!

NOHO BANJO AND UKULELE MUSING–“THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE”

UKULELE MUSING 51, 28 DECEMBER 2019:There’ll Be Some Changes Madeas we move on to a New Year!

Well, fellow strummers.  This is the last weekly musing (Number 51!) that I’ll be posting for 2019.  This year I have delved into the back stories of some of the songs from our Blue and Yellow Books and, because of my chronological age and musical interests, I have focused mostly on songs from the mid-twentieth to mid-nineteenth centuries. I have tried to explore these within their historical as well as musical contexts. 

At times that history might seem a bit too sharp or too flat for today’s ears; but, while facts and history don’t evolve over time, most music and many of our thoughts about it do. Nearly all of the songs in our books that I have mused about have morphed into so-called “standards”—fun to strum, fun to sing, and—to me—fun to know and learn a bit more about. All of this is what I have mused about over the past year.

So, thanks to those of you who have joined me for the ride.  Rest assured, my musings will continue next year in one form or another!

Anyway, as we make this transition to the New Year, there is a song found in our Blue Book appropriate for the occasion: “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” This was written by William Benton Overstreet (1888-1935), music, and William Wendall “Billy” Higgins (1888-1937), lyrics. Published in 1921, this is a good example of a popular song that has flourished in several genres, particularly as a jazz standard.

The song and its recording debut were revolutionary in that the composers, publisher, vocalist, record label, and the leader and musicians in the orchestra were ALL African-American.  Musicologists identify this song and recording as a notable milestone of the Harlem Renaissance.     

Overstreet was a songwriter, bandleader and pianist who worked in Kansas City, Chicago, and Harlem and early on used the word “jass” to describe his music. When he wrote and published the tune “Jazz Dance” in 1917, he changed things a bit and it was the first known use of the word “jazz” in a song title. 

As a songwriter, Overstreet was rated by Langston Hughes, a chronicler and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, as one of the “better poets of jazz.” 

Higgins, on the other hand, was an entertainer, and stage comedian. He was a singer as well as a songwriter—critically acclaimed as one of the most popular African-American comic actors of the 1920s. Often, as was done in those days, he performed in “blackface” makeup. Langston Hughes named him as one of the “Golden Dozen” black comedians of the Harlem Renaissance. He started his entertainment career in the South and achieved recognition performing in so-called “soldier shows” when he served in World War I.

After the war, he moved on to a vaudeville and musical career in Harlem where he linked up with Overstreet.

In the 1920s, “Changes” was recorded by vocalists Ethel Waters, Sophie Tucker, and others. 

Ethel Waters:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idtm0vGa01A

Sophie Tucker:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mw2bZFEztjc

In the 1930s, it was Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others,

Benny Goodman:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgOyfYYJPk

The Boswell Sisters, 1932:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgOyfYYJPk

in the 1940s, Vaughn Monroe and Peggy Lee and the movie “Play Girl,” which used our song as one of its themes, kept “Changes” alive. 

Peggy Lee:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpPnDB2-PRk

In the 1950s and ‘60s there were recordings by Billie Holiday and Tony Bennet. 

Tony Bennett:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YElXtJelYWk

There were other movies that used the song and even Country and Western recordings by Bob Wills and Chet Atkins.  In all, there have been over 400 recordings since the 1920s! 

Bob Wills, The Texas Playboys:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbC2Pce4HRc

Chet Atkins (“updated” lyrics): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clLZqfQXsg4

And, how about some dance? Fosse Choreography:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcSE7fKYqk0

And, of course, Banjo Ukulele:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfPIckBeh4Y

IN CLOSING:

I began my postings on ukulele lore and music back in 2016 by focusing on some of the more interesting ukuleles in my collection. 

The next year I mused about ukulele history and ukulele culture.  The following year I wrote about ukuleles and ukulele music relative to holidays and calendar events.  And, of course, this year was about songs in our Blue and Yellow Books. 

Believe it or not, these add up to a posting nearly every week–almost 200 postings over the past four years!  Whew! Saved, of course, the old fashioned way. 

This might be all for this year but, all I can say is “STAY TUNED!”