Some Famous Ukulele Players You Should Absolutely Know About

Legendary Ukulele Players

The Ukulele is popular in Hawaii and has been played by many famous musicians, including George Harrison, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Roy Smeck.

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam also plays the uke on most of his solo songs, as well as having a ukulele track for every other song he’s known to be famous for.

I remember the first time I was interested in playing the ukulele. I stumbled upon the amazing work of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and instantly fell in love with his unique Hawaiian music as well as the cute little instrument he was playing.

Therefore, whether you’re a ukulele musician or not, you should know about the ukulele playing legends that created an impact.

Let’s check some of the most famous ukulele players out there.

Ukulele Ike

Ukulele Ike is a nickname for the ukulele virtuoso Edward Kealoha Kalahui. Kalehua was born in 1931 and died on October 19th, 2005, at the age of 74. He became known as Ukulele Ike when he began playing his uke at various Hollywood nightclubs during the tenure of his fame.

Ukulele virtuoso was responsible for the amazing hit ukulele song “Singin’ in the Rain” as well as the famous “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio!

George Harrison

Although most people know him as a singer and a guitarist, George Harrison of the Beatles was said to be one of the world’s most famous ukulele players if not the most famous American musician of all time.

George, who had received lessons from his mother as a child in England, played an acoustic ukulele for two songs on The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, in 1963.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley played the Ukulele on a few of his early records, including the original version of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” Howard Hughes may have given Elvis one as a gift.  In his 1968 comeback TV special, he also used it by playing some of Jo Stafford’s famous tracks.

Eddie Vedder

As one of the most influential musicians in his time and songwriter, Eddie Vedder has been a ukulele player since early childhood. He used to say that the Ukulele was like an extension of himself. Eddie Vedder says that when he first started playing the ukuleles, they were just so easy to learn songs on.

He owns a few ukuleles. One of them is the signature “ukulele” made by Ko’olau Guitar Company for him. It was released in 2007 and became one of the most prominent iconic instruments.

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake is an American songwriter and ukulele player from Denver, Colorado that has been influenced by the folk music of Hawaii and Ireland. His most recognizable ukuleles are decorated with shark teeth or colorful stickers, making them unique to his style.

Jake came into the limelight as a ukulele-playing musician with his unique playing style, creating unique chords and bringing a different vibe to the world of ukulele music.

In 2010 he started a new project on his Ukulele called “The Kinks’ Greatest Hits.” He completely rewrote the songs to sound like they were initially written for ukuleles.

May Singhi Breen

More commonly known as the “The Original Ukulele Lady”, Mary Singhi Breen played a significant role and took the musical instrument to new heights.

Her love for the stringed instrument started from an early age with a simple Christmas present. She was the founding member of the music band- The Synocopators and was responsible for being the pioneer of many ukulele compositions.

In addition, she made sure the ukulele be considered a serious musical instrument and earned her place of being the first female ukulele musician to get into the hall of fame.

Arthur Godfrey

Arthur Godfrey was a classic American musician who created the foundation for Talent Shows such as ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol’ with his Monday night show called ”Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts”.

Apart from that, he was renowned for his spontaneous performance with a baritone or tenor ukulele. His famous ukulele song with the stringed instrument is called “Makin’ Love Ukulele Style” and is a unique contribution to the world of ukulele music.

Grace VanderWall

If you’re up to date with the news of the musical world, there’s a good chance you know Grace VanderWall. The 12-year-old won our hearts with her original song ‘clay’ which she played gracefully with her trusty uke.

Her amazing performance led to her winning the ‘Amerca’s Got Talent show and jumpstarted her career of being a professional musician, singer, and songwriter.

The graceful uke player released the first album called Just the Beginning and has been doing pretty well for herself.

James Hill

From the lands of British Columbia, James Hill is a professional ukulele player and is currently renowned as one of the most prominent soloists out there. Surprisingly, he had picked up the musical instrument as part of a compulsory school lesson.

James Hill changed the music theory of the ukulele and created a large audience with his soothing ukulele song covers a tenor/soprano ukulele. His Albums have been a huge success and won him a Canadian Folk Music award.

His musical career also includes an online ukulele lesson program for newbies called the “Ukulele in the Classroom”. We’ve talked to its students and all of them said that the lessons are extremely helpful and easy to understand, especially for a beginner ukulele player.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Last but not least, we have to mention the Hawaiian legend – the one and only Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Israel was a musician, singer, and songwriter, as well as a Hawaiian Sovereignty activist.

He was titled the ‘voice of Hawaii’ for his amazing tunes and probably is the most famous ukulele player of the ninety’s.

Born in Honolulu in, 1951 – Israel was raised in the Kaimuki community. He started impressing people with his ethereal voice as early as the age of 11, starting with his brother and cousin.

One of his most notable works is revamping the popular classic by Judy Garland – ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and turning it completely into a masterpiece. Nowadays, the song is heard so often that people only know one version of it – the one where we hear the beautiful strumming accompanied by his heartwarming voice.

Unfortunately, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was identified as a hyper-obese and suffered a lot of health issues due to his high BMI. He passed away at the early age of 38, in the year 1997.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the ukulele easier than playing the guitar?

Well, as both fall into the category of a string instrument, there is a similarity in the playing style. In fact, a guitarist is more likely to pick up a uke.

As for the chords, each ukulele chord is relatively easier to play than a guitar chord. If you want to know a bit more detail, check out our post on ukulele vs guitar.

Did Neil Armstrong play the ukulele?

Well, yes he did. The first man walking on the moon was seen playing the ukulele while being in quarantine.

Final Words

The popularity of the ukulele has been skyrocketing since the ’90s and it only seems that it will keep increasing. A lot of talented musicians as well as actors have picked up the ukulele due to its amazing tone and playability.

We hope you’ll grow interested and opt to pick up a ukulele after listening to the famous ukulele players as well as find your music idol- just like I did when I had first listened to IZ.

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