The Ukulele: Modernism’s Greatest Musical Instrument

by Amy Elkins

In 1922, a New York Tribune reporter warned, “The ukelele has become the favorite musical weapon of the flapper.”  These modern troubadours with rouged knees, I’ve just learned, took the ukulele world by storm in the 1920’s.  Women were especially drawn to the plucky, portable instrument, including Josephine Baker.  I can’t get enough Baker, and my fascination has only deepened with this new knowledge…

Cliff Edwards (better known to most of us as the voice of Jiminy Cricket) also popularized the ukulele in the 20’s and 30’s as a modern, Jazz instrument, which earned him the stage name, “Ukulele Ike.”  See this rendition of his popular 1929 hit, “Singin’ in the Rain”:

Am I joining the ranks of Hawaiian hula girls, Josephine Baker, flappers, and Jazz musicians?  Probably not any time soon, but I have started ukulele lessons at Guitar Decatur.  I’m also not sure I’d call my uke a “musical weapon” (the only thing I’m hurting is my very patient music teacher’s ears, I’m sure!)–but it is a pretty disarming presence during late-summer dissertation writing ferment.