The Ukulele History

Most of us believe that the history of the ukulele begins in Hawaii, and that the ukulele is an instrument from those islands.

That’s not quite the truth.

Here you have some Ukulele history facts:

In the mid-20th century, many of the native Hawaiian workers in the growing sugar industry died of disease. Hawaii therefore started importing workers from other countries.

First of all, they tried with Chinese workers. Later from 1878 they started hiring contract workers from Portugal. Mainly from Madeira and then from Cape Verde and the Azores. This is where the Ukulele story begins.

By the way, if you are interested in the islands of Macaronesia, you can read about them on this links. It is in Norwegian, but you can translate them into all kinds of languages: Madeira, Cape Verde and the Azores.

The Ukulele history - Madeira (

It was easy to get workers from Madeira because they suffered from hunger and thirst. The Hawaiian believed that the workers from these islands were perfect. Above all because they lived in a subtropical climate, and one of the main incomes on the islands also came from sugar production. In total, with wives, children and other relatives, around 10,700 Portuguese arrived.

They also had something else with them, and that was their instruments. The instruments were called machete, the cavaquinho, (or Braguinha as it also is called), the timple and the rajão. This was the base, and the start, of the Ukulele history

(It was also immigration from other European countries, among them Norway, but that’s another story.)

Ukulele history troubadour

“Linda rosinha” on cavaquinho

How the Ukulele got popular on Hawaii

Firstly, the Hawaiian Ukulele is based on the instruments from Madeira, as explained before. Especially Braguinha.

This small instrument became established in Hawaiian musical culture mainly due to the support and promotion of King Kalākaua.

Joao Fernandez was one of the immigrants from Madeira. He had a Braguinha. This immigrant made a great impression on the Hawaiian people, and above all their king, with his skills as a musician.

According to the last Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliʻuokalani, the name Ukulele means “the gift that came here”. (From the Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come)).

However, many believe the name also means “jumping flea”. Roughly translated from Hawaiian, due to the movements of the players’ fingers.

The story goes that the first Ukulele makers in Hawaii were three cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias.

Cavaquinho Portugal:

The Ukulele out to the world.

The Ukulele history in USA: In the early 20th century the instrument became popular in the United States. From there it spread out to other countries.

During the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, the Ukulele was introduced in the Hawaiian Pavilion by a Ukulele ensemble. This says to be the start of the Ukulele popularity in USA.

The Ukulele history in Japan: The Ukulele came to Japan in 1929 with Yukihiko Haida. He was born in Hawaii and returned to Japan because of his father’s death.

However, it was banned to play Western music during the World War II in Japan. The result of this was that the Ukulele was played secretly. Therefore, after the war the popularity bloomed. Japan is today the second home for Hawaiian musicians.

The Ukulele history in Canada: In the 1960s in Canada J. Chalmers Doane changed the school-music programs by using the cheap Ukulele. About 50.000 children and adults learned to play the Ukulele through his most noteworthy program.

The Ukulele history from 1970s: From the 1970s the Ukulele declined in popularity until the late 1990s. New manufacturers started to produce the instrument, and a new generation started to play. Among those who made it popular was Jim Beloff in the early 1990. He made over 2 dozen of books (#Ad) with Ukulele music. Ukulele classics and modern music.

The Daily Ukulele by Jim and Liz Beloff - Ukulele history

Different sizes and popularity

The Ukuleles has been created in a lot of different sizes over the years. From Pocket Ukulele to Contrabass Ukulele (2012). (Go to: Ukulele types)

However, YouTube is also a main factor for the popularity of the Ukulele today. This because:

  1. Videos of great musicians playing the instrument.
  2. Videos with instruction for how to play.

Here you can find easy ukulele songs, ukulele songs for beginners and good ukulele songs.

Watch this 🙂

Please note:

Basic Ukulele has no website sponsors. The income we get from clicks on Google ads in the posts, gives us a small contribution to keeping the website open. All clicks on ads are appreciated! Thanks!

(The advertising in the videos is not ours.)

Finnaly, Basic Ukulele was established in 2015 with the attention to making it easier for those interested to learn to play, or to get information about this wonderful instrument.