|Small group members of the Prescott Ukulele Guild play a few licks before practicing for an upcoming free concert that takes place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, at the Elks Lodge in Prescott Valley. The 35-member Guild will play an hour-long concert of Hawaiian, cowboy and camp songs.|
Trib Photo/Sue Tone
More than 100 years after it made its first appearance in Hawaii, the humble ukulele is riding a wave of popularity from which there is no escape in the quad-cities.
This Saturday, the Prescott Ukulele Guild, also known as PUG, will give the first of its four concerts of 2013 at 3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Prescott Valley. Dr. Will Fisher, former music director at Yavapai College, will lead the 35-member PUG players in a free hour-long concert that includes Hawaiian, cowboy and camp songs. Several smaller groups also will perform.
Fisher said he was in Hawaii with friends a couple years ago when they decided to buy ukuleles.
"They are relatively easy to play, and we discovered we were having a blast playing them," he said.
That led to a five-man performance at Acker Musical Showcase in December 2011 by the "Sand Fleas," and a public invitation for anyone interested to join the Guild. Thirty players turned out in 2012; the group currently numbers about 35 members.
According to Wikipedia, the word ukulele - pronounced oo-ku-lay-lee - comes from the Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come), thus referring to "the gift that came here." It was developed in the 1880s from an instrument similar to those of Portuguese origin.
Some say ukulele translates roughly as "jumping flea," referring perhaps to the quick movement of the player's fingers; hence the name Sand Fleas, Fisher's original group from the desert highlands of north-central Arizona.
Hawaii-themed ukulele songs took off after the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and lasted throughout the Jazz Age of the 1920s, Wikipedia reports.
In 1968, Tiny Tim made headlines after performing Tiptoe Through the Tulips on the Tonight Show and the uke underwent another spell of popularity.
Recently, two Hawaiians have received millions of hits on YouTube for their ukulele performances: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole for his 2003 medly Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World, and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro for his lively rendition of George Harrison's While My Guitar Softly Weeps.
Fisher said he, like many other ukulele players, began as a guitar player. The four-stringed ukulele is easy to play and to sing along with, and appears to attract a fun-loving group of people.
"After each program we perform, we always get a new list of people interested in joining us," he added.
Members meet the first Thursday of the month at the Prescott Public Library with a ukulele, music books, music stand, and a Hawaiian shirt. Membership costs $36, and the group plays smaller programs throughout the year in addition to the four bigger concerts.
The Elks Lodge is located on Prescott East Highway next to Antelope Lanes bowling alley in Prescott Valley. Those interested in learning more, may contact Dr. Fisher at 928-710-0467.
Members will get together again at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, at the Chalk It Up! event in Prescott.