Book Review: Ukulele Heroes

While I don’t know that I would consider myself a “uke enthusiast”, I certainly thought that reading about Ukulele Heroes and the history of this instrument would be interesting.  And it was!  Ukulele Heroes has a layout like many of my favorite books that is almost like a scrapbook.  In addition to the great stories about the history of the ukulele and some of the famous players – there are a ton of photos to go along with each of the stories which is always what continues to capture my attention.

Of course one of the artists mentioned was Tiny Tim – I actually picked up some post cards of him at a shop and they have become insanely popular on postcrossing – the site I use to share post cards and I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the photos that was included in the book is a larger version of the photo that is on the postcard!

I never realized there were enough “heroes” of the Uke out there to warrant an entire book but I have to say that I am glad that Ian Whitcomb wrote this as it was quite interesting and now I have a bit more knowledge about some great artists and a great instrument as well.

I received a free ecopy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in order to write this review. I was not otherwise compensated.

About the Book

Although the ukulele has always been popular-even when cast to the grass-skirt ghetto of luaus and limbo contests-the current craze for this instrument has put the four-string cousin of the guitar into the hands of veteran musicians and young hipsters alike. And while there are a handful of books feeding the current uke exposion, this is the first to detail the stage, screen, and recording stars who pioneered the uke-those who predated and made possible its current resurgence.

The book begins with how the uke came to the mainland United States from Hawaii, and the Hawaiian song craze of 1916-17, fueled by Tim Pan Alley. Profiled stars include Ukulele Ike, Johnny Marvin, Wendell Hall, “Wizard of the Strings” Roy Smeck, George Formby, Arthur Godfrey, Tessie O’Shea who was a guest along with the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Tiny Tim. Author Ian Whitcomb also describes how, when a British teen idol coming off a Top Ten hit, he took out his secondhand Martin uke and recorded his version of a 1916 novelty called “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?” scoring another hit that led him to appearances on Shindig!, Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, and The Pat Boone Show.

Ukulele Heroes: The Golden Age is essential for any uke enthusiast, and features a detailed discography and filmography, essential for any student of the art.

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