Ukulele Miscellany

Sherman, Clay & Co. Catalogue 1922-23
Banjo Ukuleles or Banjukes

an Francisco-based musical merchandise retailer, Sherman, Clay & Co. was founded in 1870 by Lelander S. Sherman and was an early force in the Mainland promotion of the ukulele and Hawaiian music. In 1922, with outlets in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Spokane, Sherman, Clay & Co. offered no fewer than thirty-two different models of ukuleles and banjo-ukuleles (including a full line of Martin ukuleles) as well as strings, cases, tuners, pegs, music books—you name it, they sold it. Their line of banjo ukes, which included unusual koa instruments, combined “the sweet appealing tone of the Hawaiian Ukulele with the snap and “Jazz” of the banjo.”

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Sherman, Clay & Co. Catalogue 1922-23
Kumalae “Gold Medal” Ukuleles

herman, Clay & Co. catalogue numbers 21 through 25 correspond with Kumalae models A through E, or 1 through 5, respectively. Described but not shown in the catalogue is a style 20, a plain, “straight grain koa” ukulele with one inlaid ring around the soundhole which sold for $9.00. This model is also known as a Kumalae style 0 (zero). All models of Kumalae ukuleles were french polished. Celluloid and mechanical friction tuners could be ordered in place of the stock ohia wood pegs at additional cost.

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Sherman, Clay & Co. Catalogue 1922-23
Columbia Brand “Hawaiian” Ukuleles

dvertised as “an attractive line of Ukuleles of exceptional tone quality. Every instrument warranted to have correct scale. The 3-ply necks are guaranteed not to warp and give the instruments a distinctive appearance.” Not pictured is Style 10 – Birch, imitation of Koa wood finish, printed ring design soundhole, correct scale, good workmanship – $3.00. Champion non-slipping pegs could be added to any of the above for $1.70.

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The Industrial-Arts Magazine, Dec. 1915: Making a Ukulele

hile the Panama-Pacific International Exposition is almost always touted as the event which popularized the ukulele on the Mainland, the instrument had in fact already enjoyed several years of notoriety on the West Coast, particularly in California. “Bird of Paradise,” a hugely successful theatrical potboiler that featured a quintette of native Hawaiians with guitars and ukuleles, opened in Los Angeles in 1911, and debuted on Broadway the following year; Sears, Roebuck & Co. began selling ukuleles in 1914 and no fewer than a half-dozen ukulele method books were published by the time Jonah Kumalae was awarded the Gold Medal for his exhibit at the P.P.I.E. in 1915. So it isn’t surprising that John Bangerter, a Los Angeles “manual arts” teacher, would be among the first on the Mainland to publish plans for making an ukulele.

Written for the secondary—or high school—shop teacher, and originally published in The Industrial-Arts Magazine, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin based publication, in December 1915, the plans are of the most rudimentary kind, more remarkable for their early appearance than accurate directions. For instance, the fret placement is poorly measured, and while the resulting instrument might resemble an ukulele, its intonation would surely be faulty. The copy that this pdf file was made from survived precisely because its previous owner was interested in making an ukulele: “Making a Ukulele” is boldy inscribed and underlined on the cover. In the same large manilla envelope with the magazine were a 1917 catalog from C.F. Martin and several ukulele templates and unused mahogany ukuelele “sets.”

For a printable, high resolution PDF file, please click here.

Early Recordings

ca. 1910 Columbia recording of Mr. Harry Clark and the Kaai Glee Club recorded in Hawai‘i. “Waialae” features violin and ukulele accompaniment, quite possibly played by Ernest Kaai himself. The strumming pattern is characterized by two strokes to the beat, a technique described by Kaai in his 1910 revised method as “The Roll Stroke”. Of the “Kaai roll” he writes “All the beats begin with the 1st finger down stroke and the half-beats up stroke with thumb and 1st finger.” (Columbia Y-30)

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The flip side of “Waialae” features Madame Nani Alapai, reputed to have been the first singer for the Royal Hawaiian Band, and Henry N. Clark, brother of Harry. “Aloha ‘Oe” includes violin and flute accompaniment, instruments largely replaced by the steel guitar in the typical Hawaiian ensemle of the 1910s. Charmian London wrote of Nani Alapai’s unique voice after hearing her sing in 1907:

From the cool twilight lanai floated in to our ears the most bewitching, sleepy, sensuous music, rippled through with gurgles of lazy laughter. Presently, left to wander at will, whom should we discover in the happy huddle of musicians but Madame Alapai herself, not at all the grand prima of her Prince’s gardens, but a warm, benevolent, smiling wahine, simply robed like all the rest in spotless white holoku, and unaffectedly ready, once her sudden, laughing bashfulness was conquered, to warble anything and everthing she knew.

She sang for us without reserve, out of her very good repertory. Her voice is remarkable, and I never heard another of its kind, for it is more like a stringed instrument than anything I can think of—metallic, but sweetly so, pure and true as a lark’s, with falls and slurs that are indescribably musical and human. The love-eyed men and women lounging about her with their guitars and ukuleles, garlanded with drooping roses and carnations and ginger, were commendably vain of showing off their first singer in the land, and thrummed their loveliest to her every song. No one can touch strings as do these people. Their fingers bestow caresses to which wood and steel and cord become sentient and tremblingly responsive.”

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“Honi ka ua wikiwiki”—kiss me quick the “sweet brown maiden” entices, perpetuating the stereotypical vision of Hawai‘i as a tropical paradise filled with women of easy virtue. Mainland perspectives have changed little since this tune became popular nearly a century ago. According to Johnny Noble, “On the Beach at Waikiki” or “The Golden Hula” was “the greatest hapa haole song ever written.” With words by G. H. Stover, music by Henry Kailimai and an arrangement by Sonny Cunha, “On the Beach at Waikiki” was a hit at the P.P.I.E in San Francisco in 1915. Kailimai was the leader of the quintet selected to perform twice daily at the Hawaiian Building throughout the nine-months long exposition, a post he used to good advantage in promoting this piece. George Kanahele notes “one of the first recordings of the song was by the Waikiki Stonewall Boys in 1928,” but this recording of Rene Dietrich and Horace Wright (accompanied by Helen Louise and Frank Ferera on ukulele—sounds like a spanish guitar to me—and steel guitar) is from at least a decade earlier. Wright and Dietrich introduce two other hulas on this record—“Bath House Hula” and “Two More Hula.” Wela ka hao! Hot stuff! (Victor 18132-A)

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Kaua i ka huahuai” (popularized in the 20th century as ‘The Hawaiian War Chant’), “Ku‘u Home” and “Tomi Tomi” represent some of the authentic Hawaiian compositions included in the incidental music to Richard Walton Tully’s Bird Of Paradise. The play, which opened on Broadway in January 1912, introduced audiences on the mainland to what the New York Times described as the “weirdly sensuous music” of Hawai‘i. This is the ‘original Broadway cast’ of the Hawaiian Quintette, recorded in April 1913, with the accompaniment of “Hawaiian String Instruments”: steel guitar, guitar, and ukuleles. (Victor 18568-A)

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A spirited rendition of “Tomi Tomi” by S. M. Kaiawe with Hawaiian Quintette, recorded April 1913. (Victor 16589)

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Another pre-PPIE recording, this from late 1914: Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe performs “Ho‘o Mau.” The use of the flute gave Toots Paka’s Hawaiians a distinctive sound. (Victor 17907-B)

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E. K. Rose performs “Aloha O‘e” with ukulele accompaniment. The ukulele is tuned in a variation of the original machete tuning: GCEG. This tuning is first documented by Ernest Kaai in his method of 1906. Recorded in New York, Feb. 20, 1917. [Recording date and location courtesy of T. Malcolm Rockwell] (Victor 35622)

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Here is a Victor recording of the great Hawaiian baritone Keeaumoku Louis performing “Hano Hano Hanalei” with unidentified orchestra. This Orthophonic recording probably dates from the late 1920s. (Victor 20706-A)

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An early Cliff Edwards—“Ukulele Ike”—recording from 1923, “Lovey Came Back.” (Perfect 11170-A)

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Billy “Uke” Carpenter provides ukulele accompaniment and vocal ‘jazz effects’ for Aileen Stanley’s 1925 rendition of “Flamin’ Mamie.” (Victor 19828-A)

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From March 1926, Johnny Marvin “The Ukulele Ace” performing “Thanks for the Buggy Ride.” (Columbia 606-D)

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Paul Summers (known to us now mainly as a purveyor of fine quality ukuleles) and his Waikiki Players perform Johnny Noble’s “Hula Blues.” Recorded in Honolulu, June 1, 1928. (Columbia 1507-D)

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Not an early recording, but a recording of early music! Some scholars have suggested that the small guitars of Iberia (and the ukulele) are descendants of the Renaissance guitarra. Here is a musical example from 1546 that I played on a 19th-century Portuguese machete: Alonso Mudarra’s “Romanesca: o guardame las vacas.” Based on the famous ground “La Romanesca,” with the popular title “O Guardame las Vacas,” or Watch the Cows for Me, this set of variations is from a group of six pieces for guitarra from Tres Libros de Musica en Cifras para Vihuela. Mudarra specifically states that the music is for an instrument with ten (tied) frets and a bordon, or bass, fourth string.

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