The Beginning of the Ukulele Resurgence
For the past decade, ukuleles have seen a rise in our pop culture. The instrument has been around since the late 1800s as a part of Hawaiian culture. And while artists throughout the decades have used the ukulele in recordings, there's certainly been a sharp uptick in artists inspired by the ukulele.
So where did it all begin? Many point to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's medley of the Louis Armstrong classic “Wonderful World” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a starting point for the uke revival. The Hawaiian singer inspired music lovers in the early 90s with this iconic rendition, and the song was used in films and TV shows throughout the 90s and 2000s.
Embraced By The Music Scene
There's no way to directly pinpoint only one artist or moment that moved the ukulele forward, but many can argue that this new collective consciousness was incited by pop icons playing ukulele, and making it cool again through traditional popular mediums. Paul McCartney famously played a ukulele in 2002 as a tribute to George Harrison, who loved the ukulele. In 2008, Jason Mraz released "I'm Yours" which gained widespread popularity. Later on, in 2011, Eddie Vedder’s record entitled “Ukulele Songs” would feature Vedder solely accompanied by the uke.
The Viral Moment
The instrument catapulted in recognition globally when a YouTube cover version of The Beatles' “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park by ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro was posted online. The popularity of this viral video lead to Jake’s international success, and his performances with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Ziggy Marley, Levon Helm, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Les Paul, and many others. It was one of the earliest examples of viral success, and Jake can be credited with synthesizing ukulele culture with a diverse variety of global genres, accessible to all.
The Rise Continues
Be it through indie artists like Beirut or mainstream pop icons like Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, the ukulele continues to make its mark today. We see generations of folks from all ages and backgrounds inspired to pick up the ukulele.
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