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Ukuleles Appearing On Laps Of Musicians Everywhere

If you keep your ears open for it, for will hear ukuleles in music of all genres these days. It has also become a popular instrument for amateurs to pick up.

Playing The Ukulele

Photo: looseends (Flickr)

Ukuleles come in four different sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.

Making Her Own Music

“The ukulele goes in phases of being mocked to being adored again,” says Ellen Campbell, co-founder of the Bloomington Ukulele Club.

She never faltered in her love of the instrument, however. Growing up, she was a fan of performers like Tiny Tim and Neil Innes. It was after watching videos of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain that she found the motivation to pick up the instrument herself.

She enrolled in Beginning Ukulele at the People’s University to learn the basics. After the class ended in late 2010, “several of us in the group just loved it so much, and we said we can’t stop now.”

Ellen Campbell And Nathaniel Kohlmeier Playing Ukuleles

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Ellen Campbell (right) and her son Nathaniel Kohlmeier play ukuleles together in their Bloomington, Indiana home. Kohlmeier plays a royal blue soprano uke while Campbell plays an amplified peanut uke.

Uke Throughout The Years

The ukulele was brought to Hawaii by Portugese immigrants in the 1880s. It became popular in the United States in 1915 after it made an appearance at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Fransisco. It increased in popularity after World War II thanks to performers like Tiny Tim, Ukulele Ike and Roy Schmeck.

As rock ‘n’ roll took hold in the 1960s, interest in the ukulele died down. By the mid-1970s, manufacturers like Martin and Gibson had stopped making the instrument leaving Kamaka in Hawaii the only remaining ukulele company.

The latest resurgence started in the early-1990s with musicians like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and his popular rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Now, contemporary performers like Jason Mraz, Eddie Vedder and Mumford & Sons are putting out music that prominently features the instrument.

Southern Indiana’s Ukulele Connection

Mike Hater of Mainland Ukes in Nashville, Indiana is reaping the benefits of all this ukulele love — his business is booming.

“It’s been really snowballing,” he says. “We’re having a hard time keeping up with demand.”

Southern Indiana becomes ukulele Mecca every summer when the Ukulele World Congress convenes in Needmore, Indiana.

Further proving the ukulele’s international appeal, Hater says they sell instruments to Thailand, Brazil, Estonia and Singapore. “You name it, we’ve sent ukuleles there.”

Mike Hater Of Mainland Ukes

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Mike Hater, owner of Mainland Ukes, calls the ukulele "the easiest string instrument to play."

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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