Note: You can begin singing and playing songs on the ukulele in no time at all with our How to Play Ukulele: A 10-Step Guide to Playing guide. Click here to get the PDF.
While 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal has helped reinvigorate a new generation of enthusiasm for people wanting to take ukulele lessons, there have been other landmark musicians who have helped bring the instrument back into prominence.
In fact, it was only a few years ago when Israel Kamakawiwo'ole stole hearts around the world with his critically-acclaimed mashup of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "It's a Wonderful World." Even Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and Eddie Vedder have been picking up the ukulele.
But the pop sensation who is started it all was Tiny Tim, the eccentric, falsetto-singing ukulele player from the '60s whose name is still synonymous with the instrument.
Tiny Tim was born Herbert Buckingham Khaury, in 1932 in New York City. By the age of six, Herbert was teaching himself guitar. He had a fascination with popular music from the 1890s to the 1930s and spent hours at the New York Public Library, photocopying sheet music from these eras and taking them home to learn.
By the age of 11, he was learning violin and later picked up the mandolin before he found the instrument he became known for — the ukulele.
After repeating his sophomore year of high school twice, Tiny Tim dropped out of school for good, certain he wanted to pursue music. During the 1950s, he performed under the stage names Vernon Castle, Texarkana Tex, Emmitt Swink, and Judas K. Foxglove.
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After discovering that he could sing in a falsetto voice, he started performing in talent shows and amateur nights at dance clubs. In 1959, he decided he would be known as Larry Love, the Singing Canary.
As Tiny Tim gained experience, he crafted his now-iconic look and stage persona. He grew his hair long, wore heavy pale makeup and donned outrageous outfits.
While singing his vintage tunes at Hubert's Museum in Times Square, Tiny Tim attracted the attention of his future manager, and in 1962, he scored his first paying gig, at Cafe Bizarre in Greenwich Village. He also started using the name "Tiny Tim" at the suggestion of his manager, who found it funny and ironic, considering he was over six feet tall.
Soon, he was getting enough attention to earn an appearance on the popular "Merv Griffin Show," which in turn led to a recording contract, appearances in films, TV shows and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
At the height of his career, Tiny released three albums, and in 1968, recorded his signature hit song, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
The '70s was an end of an era for a lot of different styles of music in America, as R&B gave way to funk and bubblegum pop turned into heavy rock 'n' roll. Unfortunately for Tiny Tim, there wasn't much room on the airwaves for his style of music either, and his popularity began to wane.
He never stopped performing though, even as his health began to decline in the mid-'90s. By then, he and his Minnesota-born wife had moved to south Minneapolis, and he played often around the area.
In 1996, he suffered a heart attack while playing at a festival, and even though his doctors advised him to stop performing, he kept at it. Within three months, he was gone after suffering another heart attack while playing his classic song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" for the last time at the Women's Club of Minneapolis.
According to reports, over 700 people attended his funeral at the historic Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis. Tiny Tim was buried at the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, along with his ukulele and, of course, a tulip.
Even though many great musicians have picked up the ukulele, you don't have to have any musical talent at all to be able to play. Relative to most other instruments, it's easy to learn and very cost-effective to buy one, so there's little risk in trying.
Plus, if you take ukulele lessons through The Approachable Music Project, you can learn all the tools you need to play thousands of songs on the very first day. You won't sound so great at first, but with a little commitment, you'll be passable enough fairly quickly.
We're located in south Minneapolis, and since we're close to Highway 62, we serve St. Paul and the Twin Cities suburbs conveniently. Send us a message to get started today.
PDF eBook — $1.99
This 10-step, straight-to-the-point guide shows you everything you need to play and sing songs on the ukulele. With these instructions, most people can start actually playing songs they want to play in less than a few hours. The book also contains next steps for getting as good as you probably ever need to be.
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