Uke Fans Jam to Celebrate America’s 100-Year Love Affair with the Ukulele

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You can add the ukulele to the list of marvels San Francisco helped introduce to the world. That’s why hundreds of ukulele enthusiasts from the Bay Area and beyond assembled in the Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda Feb. 21 with their ukes in hand for a Uke-a-thon to help kick-off the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Ukulele players at the Hawaiian Pavilion, PPIE, 1915 (Collection of Donna Ewald Huggins)

It was at the 1915 world's fair that  musicians representing Hawaii  sparked the first mainland uke craze, strumming their instruments in the Hawaiian Pavilion and other exhibits. By the end of the year, newspapers as far away as Duluth were proclaiming “Hawaiian Music Is Hit of Exposition,” and both Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern had added Hawaiian numbers to their Broadway productions.  Sales of ukuleles and sheet music soared. Watch to hear the story and performances by ukulele virtuoso Ben Ahn; master ukulele teacher Hiram Kaailau Bell; and Hana Hau 100, a local band led by Marc Goldyne, who hand-crafted a special centennial ukulele.