Ukulele History

"Sing Hawaiian songs or dance the hula without ukulele accompaniment. Isn't there something missing?

When a Portuguese immigrant, Joao Fernandez, strummed away for the natives in 1879, he introduced to the islands what was later to become Hawaii's first vehicle of musical expression. Called "braginho," the Portuguese name for the four-string instrument, the natives renamed it "ukulele," the Hawaiian reference to the flea suggested by the jumping motion of the hand in strumming.

Since then the ukulele and the hula have been inseparable, and it has become the symbol of Hawaii to people all over the world.

Spurred by Mr. Fernandez, who was more of a happy-go-lucky musician, Manuel Nunes made the first commercial ukuleles somewhere on King St. In 1916, Samuel K. Kamaka, then a young man, who had returned from his travels on the mainland as a musician, joined with friends in making ukuleles for personal use. This gave rise to his first and only business venture which he started in his home in Kaimuki”

From The Honolulu Advertiser, October 4, 1953
("S. Kamaka, 'Uke' Maker, in Business for 35 Years")

Much has been written about the introduction of the ukulele into American culture via Hawaii. The ukulele has become such an essential part of Hawaiian culture that mere mention of the word conjures up images of the Islands. Kamaka Ukulele has played an important role in reinforcing the strong link between the beloved instrument and Hawaii. The company weathered economic downturns the other original Hawaiian ukulele-makers could not survive, and therefore provided continuity in bringing high-quality Hawaiian ukuleles to the world, ensuring that interest in the instrument would not disappear when times were rough.

If you would like to learn more about the evolution of the "braginho" (also called the "braguinha") into the modern ukulele we know and love today, check out "The Ukulele - A Visual History" by Jim Beloff. Uke aficionados and students of pop culture will enjoy the vibrant graphics, the fabulous photography, the interesting trivia and well-researched facts. Most of the ukuleles featured in the book are from the world-class collection of Chuck Fayne, assembled over the years from Hawaii and the Mainland. "The Ukulele - A Visual History" captures the fun and universal appeal of the ukulele and puts it into pictures.

See Flea Market Music for more information.

The Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum in Rhode Island is also a great resource for ukulele-history buffs. The mission of the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum is "to document, preserve and promote the history of the ukulele, its players and makers as well as to inspire and engage people everywhere in the perpetuation of the ukulele and ukulele music through performances and exhibits." Nuni-Lyn Walsh, great-granddaughter of Manuel Nunes, founded the Museum in 1996. Learn something new about ukulele history by visiting the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum.