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Amazing Grace

If you are familiar with the television show, America’s Got Talent, then you may know the name Grace VanderWaal.  She was the $1,000,000 winner of the 11th season of the show.  She sang her own lyrics and played her own music with her ukulele in order to become the champion.  The unique sound of her voice and of her chosen instrument, the ukulele, provided her with the tools she needed to create such an interesting performance.

I recently found out that Grace has ties to the Birmingham area.  I had hired the best electrician Hoover AL had to offer and while he was working on some repairs, I was watching the rerun of the show when Grace won.  My electrician was very proud to tell me that she was his niece.  What a small world!

The ukulele is very unique because it is relatively small in size, yet creates a very distinguishable sound.  It was originally from Hawaii, but during the 20th century became very popular in the mainland of the United States.  Eventually, it became popular worldwide.

The ukulele is designated as a member of the lute classification of instruments.  It is a guitar-like instrument that has four nylon strings that are plucked with the player’s fingertips or with a felt guitar pick.  Ukuleles are usually made of wood, but some can also be found that are made of plastic.  The traditional wood that was used in the construction of the ukulele was acacia koa wood, but many other types of wood have also been used to create this petit instrument.  The name ukulele comes from the Hawaiian words, “uku”, which means gift or reward, and “lele”, which means to come.  The literal translation is “the gift that came here”.

The ukulele became very popular in vaudeville acts during the early 1920’s.  A couple of famous performers who incorporated the ukulele into their act were Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards and Roy Smeck.  The ukulele also became popular during the Jazz Age.  Its’ popularity continued throughout the United States from that point forward, although it has had its’ ups and downs.

Between the years of 1940-1960, the manufacturer, Mario Maccaferri, produced over nine million ukuleles.  The ukulele was at one of its’ peak sales moments, especially with the promotional aid of shows like The Arthur Godfrey Show.  When viewers saw the instrument being played on the show, they also wanted to learn how to play the curious little guitar-shaped string instrument.  The ever-popular song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, also helped to popularize the ukulele, as the song was sung and played by singer-musician Tiny Tim.

Between the years of 1960-1990, ukulele sales had a sharp decline, and many musicians did not use the ukulele in their performances.  There was a resurgence of the ukulele during the 1990’s.  One musician who helped to re-invent the popularity of the ukulele was a Hawaiian musician named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.  He wrote a couple of songs that included the sounds of the ukulele and were so popular that they were used in television commercials and in movies.  The creation of YouTube also helped to re-invent the ukulele, as many musicians began to use the unique instrument to introduce new songs and sounds for the American public.

This resurgence of the ukulele is also seen in the life of the young, upcoming musician, Grace VanderWaal.  The song that she is most well-known for is her own creation and is titled, “I Don’t Know My Name”.  It is a collaboration of her sweet, distinctive voice and her talent as an accomplished ukulele player.  As far as many fans can tell, it is a wonderful combination.