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5 C hap t e r 1 These Little Instruments, of Which They Are So Fond On Summer eve to see the festive dance, I’d take thee when the golden sun had set; Methinks more soft would grow thy blue-eyed glance While list’ning to the little dear machete. The Dreamer: A Poem (1848), Ossian Macpherson In the summer of 1923, the newly formed Hawaiian Legends and Folklore Commission brought anthropologist Helen Roberts to Hawaii to collect and publish the ancient songs and chants of the Islands. Over the following year, she visited the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, seeking out practitioners of the “old culture” and recording hundreds of mele and oli on wax cylinders . Yet one of the first local reports on her work had little to do with traditional music. Instead, it was her conclusion that the ‘ukulele “which one associates with Hawaiians and which has been carried far by tourists under the impression that it is an instrument of native invention, or if not that, an instrument invented in the islands,” had been introduced to Hawaii in 1879 by Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira.1 Today it seems surprising that Roberts’ comments about the little four-string guitar should have eclipsed the rest of her groundbreaking, four-hundred-page report. But in 1924, the ‘ukulele had been an international, multimedia phenomenon for almost a decade. Mainland sales had reached an estimated four million instruments, and dozens of styles were available in big city department stores and mail-order catalogs for as little as two dollars each.2 Hawaiian trios, quartets, quintets , and orchestras were playing across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia in vaudeville, chautauqua, tent shows, restaurants, and nightclubs. Mainstream artists such as Frank Crumit (whose recording of “Say It with a Ukulele” was released that year) and Johnny Marvin (soon to be known as the “Ukulele Ace”) accompanied themselves on the ‘ukulele as they sang popular hits in the recording studio and on the explosively popular new medium of radio.3 Chapter 1 6 It was in 1924 that George and Ira Gershwin made their Broadway debut with the musical Lady Be Good, starring Fred and Adele Astaire and Cliff Edwards. Known professionally as “Ukulele Ike,” Edwards and his ‘ukulele teamed up with the Astaires to introduce the Gershwins’ “Fascinating Rhythm” to the nation.4 It also was the year singer Wendell Hall began using his nickname—“The Red Head”—to market an eponymous line of ‘ukuleles with scarlet pegheads. Sales of Hall’s ‘ukulele-driven recording of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo” reportedly reached two million copies that year, prompting one newspaper to report “a virulent epidemic of ukelele has broken out. . . . Efforts to check it have proven unsuccessful and physicians say that it will probably run its course far into the winter or at least until ‘It Ain’t Goin’ to Rain No More.’”5 By 1924, touring companies of Richard Walton Tully’s Hawaiian potboiler The Bird of Paradise—each with its own troupe of Hawaiian musicians strumming ‘ukuleles and guitars—had earned more than $1 million in profits in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia, inspiring a host of Hollywood imitations. More than three dozen films set in the South Seas—what some slightingly called “ukulele dramas”—had been produced by the mid-1920s, featuring such stars as Mary Pickford, Tyrone Power, and a young Boris Karloff.6 European royalty also had been smitten: the New York Times reported that summer that Edward, Prince of Wales (who as Edward VIII would abdicate the throne in 1936 to marry an American divorcee), had “expressed a desire to learn to play the Hawaiian instrument.”7 Although he was likely unaware of the fact, Prince Edward was only the latest in a long line of Englishmen and women to fall prey to the charms of the unassuming little guitar. Half a world away from Hawaii, Madeiran musicians had offered lessons on the instrument they knew as the machete to tourists for more than a century, including another royal, Elizabeth of Bavaria, empress of Austria, who visited in 1860–1861.8 Largely unknown to each other until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Hawaii and Madeira shared a number of striking similarities: Both were volcanic archipelagoes with tropical climates and spectacular scenery that delighted tourists (one Honolulu visitor noted that “the Sandwich Islands have been styled by Californians the Madeira of the Pacific...


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