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The Ukulele

Pronounced ookoo-lay-lay sometimes abbreviated to simply... uke.

The ukulele is a member of the Lute family of instruments; and typically uses four nylon strings.


The tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone.


The ukulele originated in the late 1800’s as an adaptation of the Portuguese Machete and Rajao. The instrument was first developed by Portuguese immigrants whose families were brought to Hawaii to work for the pineapple industry.


Three immigrants in particular, Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, are generally credited as the first ukulele makers. Two weeks after they arrived in late August 1879, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that "Madeira Islanders, recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts."






One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King Kalakaua. As a patron of the arts, he incorporated the uke into many royal gatherings and events.



The ukulele sailed into the hearts of mainland America during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The Hawaiian Pavilion featured the guitar and ukulele ensemble of George E. K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartet. The popularity of the ensemble at the exposition launched America’s first love affair with Hawaiian culture and the ukulele.

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