My father gave my mother a Favilla Baritone Ukulele on their wedding day. My mother sang me to sleep at night with it, her and my favorite song was “Dream A Little Dream.” She sang it like Marilyn Monroe’s voice in Jackie O’s body.
My parents got divorced about 6 years in, the uke was hung up on the wall as a decoration, it gathered dust till I turned 15. My mother sold my Steinway piano when we moved to North Carolina, so out of necessity I pulled the wall decoration down, Mum taught me a few chords. I began writing songs.
“Is that a violin?” people always wanted to know upon spotting the case. “No, a ukulele.” I’d squeek out, knowing what was to follow.
Laughter. Not laughing with, but laughing AT the notion. The ukulele was as distasteful as John travolta between his Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction years. Ukulela Non Grata. Piew piuw peeeyooooh!.
The other half would cleverly (in their minds) mention that “Tiny Tim” guy.
But I just kept writing my songs. In 2005 or so, my then sweetheart spotted notice of…are you ready for this…the “New York Ukulele Festival” on a sandwich board outside Theatre for the New City. He walked me in, downstairs to the Cabaret Space, and I entered a new world. A world where people were colorful and odd and magical, and nobody laughed at the ukulele. In fact, (I still have to rub my eyes when I think about this to make sure it’s true) They ALL PLAYED Ukuleles. ALL Of them.
Tomorrow night I’ll be playing in that same community, part of it at least. We’ll be honoring Mary Martin’s Frank, and we will be playing and singing joyful Ukulele music to remember him by. It’s practically impossible to play sad music on a uke. I of course have managed it, being from the Kate Bush Joni Mitchell school. But I can pull off light and sweet these days too.
For Frank and Mary, I’ll see what I can do.