The ukulele is the magical instrument at the heart of the Hawaiian song...
The story goes that on this day in 1879, Joao Fernandes, along with about 400 other immigrants, arrived in Honolulu from Portugal to work in the sugar cane fields. To celebrate his arrival, Fernandes left the ship and began to strum a small, guitarlike instrument called the braguinha that a friend had brought from the island of Madeira. The Hawaiian bystanders were delighted by the four-stringed instrument.
Fernandes inspired three other passengers--Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and Jose de Espirito Santo to manufacture this easy to play and easy to carry instrument. Nunes altered the shape a bit and switched from metal strings to "catgut."
"Almost immediately," explained journalist Will Hoover, "the ukulele (pronounced "oo-koo-lay-lay") became a symbol of Hawaii's musical aloha and playfulness."
Hawaiian for "jumping flea," Queen Liliuokalani translated uku to mean "gift" and lele to mean "come." She preferred to think of the instrument as a poetic "gift that came here from Portugal." The four-string wonder soon became an inseparable link to the islands and the beloved instrument of King Kalakaua who reigned from 1874 to 1891.
To play the uke is to play joy. "One 'ukulele and one soul can do a lot," said Hawaiian singer Kindy Sproat.
Plucked or strummed with the standard tuning of G C E and A, through the years, the 12-fret ukulele's world-wide popularity has grown. Ukulele-lovers included singers Arthur Godfrey, Tiny Tim, and Beatle George Harrison who lived in Hana, Maui, and understood the instrument's magic.
"He really got into the ukulele," recalled his friend Tom Petty in Rolling Stone. "It sounds kind of corny, but it gave him so much joy, you know. I was there when he first discovered it. The rest of his life was ukulele. He played the hell out of the thing."
Music recalls and celebrates great joy.