The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain was formed in 1985 as a bit of fun, but the first gig was an instant sell-out, and they've been performing ever since. By 1988 they had released an LP, appeared on BBC TV, played at WOMAD and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session. The current ensemble has been playing together for over 20 years, and has become something of a national institution. The Orchestra has given thousands of sold-out concerts across the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Poland, France, America, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Hawaiian music, artifacts, including the ukulele, became very popular all across the U.S. From there, the ukulele started showing up in vaudeville acts and further influenced Jazz performers. Its popularity further increased after World War II as GIs brought back ukuleles from the South Pacific as souvenirs.
The Ukulele is believed to have been derived from two different Portuguese instruments: the braguinha and the cavaquinho.
The Ukulele comes in four basic sizes. There is the soprano or standard, the concert, the tenor, and the baritone. The soprano, concert and tenor ukes share the same traditional tuning of GCEA, but differ in scale length (measurement from bridge to the nut) and body size.
The word 'Ukulele is Hawaiian for "jumping flea". The story goes that a Portuguese immigrant jumped off a ship into the water while playing one, and the Hawaiians watching dubbed him and the instrument 'ukulele!
One of the biggest boosts the Ukulele popularity on the mainland was the Panama Pacific international Exposition in 1915. where a Ukulele builder named Johnah Kumalae won an award for his Ukulele design. He went on to become the most prolific builders of Ukuleles in the Islands.
The machete – renamed ukulele in the Hawaiian language, meaning, literally, “jumping flea” – rose quickly to popularity among the native population and became regarded as Hawaii’s national instrument. The key reason for this immediate acceptance was the patronage of Hawaii’s royal family, most notably King David Kalakaua (1836-1891), an accomplished musician and composer who became an avid ukulele player.
When the ship Ravenscrag docked in Honolulu in August 1879, the immigrants celebrated their safe arrival with Portuguese folksongs accompanied on the little four-stringed machete—the instrument that was known in Madeira. It was an immediate sensation. Less than two weeks later, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that “a band of Portuguese musicians, composed of Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts. The musicians are true performers on their strange instruments, which are a kind of cross between a guitar and a banjo, but which produce very sweet music.”
A tremendous number of ukuleles were sold in the fifteen years of the initial fad, and increasing demand prompted Martin to add a new wing to the North Street factory in 1925. Production peaked in 1926, with Martin making over 14,000 ukuleles that year alone, allowing the funding of a second story to the new wing of the factory in 1927. Uke sales then tapered off in 1928, before slowing to a trickle as the Depression deepened in the early 1930s
Unlike the guitar and mandolin, the little uke wasn't difficult to play--basic chords could usually be mastered in a couple of days even by those who had never played another stringed instrument. Magazine and sheet music covers lead Americans to believe that a front porch or lawn swing was almost uncivilized without a uke handy, while the back pages carried ads offering a “5 minute Ukulele course” for only a nickel plus a few cents postage.