Beatles and fleas

The origins of the ukulele

Deriving its name from the Hawaiian word meaning “jumping flea,” the ukulele was actually not invented in Hawaii. Immigrants from Madeira, a small archipelago off the coast of Portugal, brought the ukulele to the tropical islands in the 1880s. Hawaiians quickly fell in love with the instrument, and the ukulele has been commonly associated with Hawaii.

At the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the ukulele was introduced to a mainland audience, through the musical talents of George E.K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartette, along with ukulele maker and player Jonah Kumalae.

Don Ho is one of the most well-known uke players, but the the four-stringed instrument has been used by such artists as Paul McCartney, Eddie Vedder, Jack Johnson and Dick Van Dyke.