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Ukulele Madness -- You Heard It Here First!

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Ukulele Madness -- You Heard It Here First!


Ukulele Madness — You Heard It Here First!

Ukulele Madness -- You Heard It Here First!

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Trend-spotters make big consultant bucks looking for the next big thing. But commentator Louise Rafkin thinks she's spotted a new trend — and she's going to tell us about it — for free. A couple of months ago, Rafkin started hearing about the ukulele everywhere, it seems. A friend was taking lessons on the instrument, and there was a festival in Michigan. So Rafkin decided to visit a ukulele club to see what the buzz was all about.


Trend spotters make big bucks looking for the next big thing, but commentator Louise Rafkin thinks that she has spotted a new trend and she's going to tell us about for free.

LOUISE RAFKIN: It's uke, as in ukulele. I hadn't heard this word for decades, since an aunt brought me one from a Hawaiian vacation. But a couple of months ago I started to hear it everywhere. A friend in Michigan called to tell of her ukulele lessons. A pal in New York raved about a ukulele festival. And next I heard there was a ukulele club meeting in Santa Cruz, an hour from my house, with hundreds of people attending.

Bache Cellar is a huge, funky restaurant with barely a wooden ceiling and sand for a floor. It's where these monthly Santa Cruz Ukulele Club meetings are held. On Uke Club night, the smell of Teriyaki chicken floats on the warm summer air, along with the beachy sound of tuning ukuleles.


RAFKIN: And there's something else. I'll call it raw enthusiasm. Gaggles of Hawaiian shirted men and women stream in and gather to practice in small groups. Santa Cruz is a surf town, so there's a lot of sun burnt faces and sun bleached hair. But a lot of that hair is streaked gray. I'd guess the average age here at over 50. The place is filling fast.


RAFKIN: Hi Andy. Nice to meet you.

ANDREWS: Welcome to the Ukulele Club. Okay.

SIEGEL: When will I be loved.

RAFKIN: Club secretary Andy Andrews is coaching a quartet of women who will lead the sing-along coming up later in the evening.

ANDREWS: Many people actually know the Linda Ronstadt version of the song, not the Everly Brothers, and she actually dragged out that E7 for a measure. So you guys just have to among you decide which one its going to be. That was Linda Ronstadt but that's not how the song was written.

RAFKIN: Bev Wesly is one member of the quartet.

BEV WESLY: I'm excited because I just ordered a banjo uke from eBay and it's just so exciting and here it is.


WESLY: Maybe you'd rather I didn't.

NORMA JEAN: I'm Norma Jean and I'm a costumer for theater. It's just a happy instrument and you make friends right off the bat when you carry one and play.

RAFKIN: It's true. I can't ever recall meeting a bunch of people this happy. It's like a cross between a second grade sing-along and something like church. And maybe that's it. Outside of church there are few places where you can sing your heart out, talented or not. When you show up at a party with a guitar, it's serious. People expect something. But these folks seem thrilled to be able to follow simple cords and make a joyful noise. And sometimes that's just what it is.


CROWD: (Singing) Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream.

RAFKIN: By the time the night's over, they've got me. Me who was thrown out of the school choir, who hardly dares to sing in the shower, I'm belting out an Everly Brothers song and no one even notices my lack of pitch. For tonight, I feel like I belong and isn't that what being in a club is all about.

SIEGEL: Louise Rafkin lives in Emeryville, California.

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