Top 50 Ukulele Players of All Time

Ukulele September 7, 2020
Ericka

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Top 50 Ukulele Players of All Time

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There are many artists out there that are famous for playing a particular instrument. Some of these people that are popular for playing ukuleles have attracted a lot of interest to the instrument. Before we get to discussing these people, we should first talk about why you should know about these ukulele players. Knowing these things about them would make you appreciate these artists and bands more.

Top 50 Ukulele Players of All Time

Here is a list of some famous ukulele players whose songs have become famous. This list ranks them according to their fame in the ukulele world, from top to bottom.

1. Ernest Kaai

Ernest Kaai
Image credit: ukulele.org

He inspired the establishment of ukuleles as solo instruments. He wrote the earliest known ukulele method back in 1906. Ernest Kaai also owned the Kaai Ukulele Manufacturing Company.

2. Cliff Edwards

Cliff Edwards
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

He was an actor and voice actor of various characters. Cliff Edwards also has the nickname “Ukulele Ike”. He also taught himself how to play the ukulele. One of his hits was “Singin’ in the Rain”. 

3. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Credit: greenlining.org

He also has the nickname “Iz” or “Braddah Iz”. Israel performed as early as 10 years old on stage. He formed a band “Makaha Songs of Ni’i’hau”. Israel often mixed jazz and reggae into his ukulele music. 

4. Roy Smeck

Roy Smeck
mage Credit: en.wikipedia.org

He was a multi-instrumentalist who plays in different genres. He wrote instruction books and arranged tunes for ukuleles. He also made over 500 recordings for different companies as well. Roy also has the nickname as the “Wizard of the Strings”. 

5. Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro
Credit: Wikipedia.com

Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele virtuoso born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was taught by his mother. He is very famous both in Hawaii and Japan.

6. Tiny Tim

Tiny Tim
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org

Tiny Tim has several names, such as Sir Timothy Timms. The genre he is skilled at is the Americana. He plays various instruments but is well famous for ukuleles.

7. James Hill

James Hill
Image credit: liveukulele.com

James Hill studied in Langley where ukulele instruction was mandatory. He earned a music degree in 2003 in the university. Moreover, he performed in the 40th Ukulele Festival in Hawaii. He plays different types of ukuleles, which vary in tune.

8. Eddie Kamae

Eddie Kamae

He is an innovator and historian of the ukulele instrument. He was the popular face of The Sons of Hawaii. Eddie Kamae has been credited for igniting the Hawaiian Renaissance.

9. Arthur Godfrey

Arthur Godfrey
Image credit: ukulelemag.com

He had his own show called “The Arthur Godfrey Show”. He was affectionately called “The Old Redhead” by many people. Arthur was also inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. He hosted a musical/variety program which involved ukuleles and banjos.

10. Teresa Mary O’Shea

Teresa Mary O’Shea
Image credit: Wikipedia

She is a Welsh entertainer known as “Tessie” O’ Shea. She performed at the early age of six years old. Also, she played the hybrid banjo ukulele just like George Formby. She established herself as a recording artist in the 1950s.

11. George Formby

George Formby
Image credit: gotaukulele.com

George was the highest paid entertainer in 1939. He often gave live performances that used ukuleles. Moreover, he wrote over 300 songs with his brand of humor. George was well known for playing the hybrid banjo ukulele.

12. Bennie Nawahi

Bennie Nawahi
Image credit: allmusic.com

He was born as Benjamin Keehaiawa Nawahi in July 1899. He had assumed the title “King of the Hawaiian Guitar”. Bennie formed a band which focuses on Traditional Hawaiian music.

13. Cynthia Lin

Cynthia Lin
Image credit: ohana-music.com

Cynthia is a popular ukulele player and teacher on YouTube. She is a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist originally from Chicago. Cynthia pursued a career in music despite being an economist. She gives ukulele and vocal lessons in person and Skype.

14. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley
Joan Blackman and Elvis with baritone ukulele in studio shot for Blue Hawaii – 1961 Photo courtesy web

Elvis was known as the King of Rock and Roll. His songs influenced many ukulele musicians. He also played ukuleles during his musical career in rock, although he was less famous for it.

15. Age Pryor

Age Pryor
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Age is a New Zealand musician who founded two bands. One of the bands is the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. He also composes original songs, soundtracks, commercial songs, and more. Age is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitars, ukuleles, and mandolins. 

16. George Harrison

George Harrison
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

He was the lead guitarist and singer of The Beatles. He played the ukulele instrument along with his fellow members. George loves ukuleles and he explains why in a letter. He also confessed his fascination for the instrument in interviews. 

17. John Kameaaloha Almeida

John Kameaaloha Almeida
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

He was a blind musician known as “The Dean of Hawaiian Music”. John Kameaaloha Almeida was also bilingual and a multi-instrumentalist artist. He was born partially blind, becoming blind as he grew. He dedicated most of his life to making Hawaiian music.

18. Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima

Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Jesse won the Hawaii amateur ukulele championship at age 15. He was a self-taught musician who innovated techniques for playing. Jesse went to public performances and eventually formed a band. During the 1950s, the band he formed became extremely famous.

19. Andy Cummings

Andy Cummings
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Andy was a gifted athlete and musician from Honolulu, Hawaii. He would sing and compose songs all throughout his life. Moreover, he met his wife, Florence Kaluae Ikuwa, on his tour. He was also a musical ambassador to for the islands.

20. Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson
Image Credit: en.wikipedia.org

He was born on May 18, 1975, at Ohau, Hawaii. His single “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” got nominated for a Grammy. He is also an advocate of environmentally-friendly concert innovation programs. Jack was also a professional surfer but discontinued this path.

21. Lyle Ritz

Lyle Ritz
Image Credit: ukulele.org

Lyle Ritz became the main influencer for the ukulele jazz. This earned him the name “Father of the Jazz Ukulele.” He was also inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. Lyle Ritz was originally a bassist from “The Wrecking Crew”.

22. Ledward Kaapana

Ledward Kaapana
Image Credit: patch.com

He grew up in the remote village of Kalapana, Hawaii. Ledward formed along with his brother and cousin Hiu Ohana. They produced 14 albums that made their way into tradition. He worked with Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, and other artists.

23. Zee Avi

Zee Avi
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zee_Avi

She is a Malaysian singer-songwriter, ukulele player, and visual artist. Zee also won The International Youth Icon Award in 2011. Her musical journey started in 2007 where she posted “Poppy”. She has released two albums and one EP so far. 

24. Herb Ohta

Herb Ohta
Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com

Herb is a prolific ukulele artist in the 20th century. He made various albums for different recording companies and labels. Herb won four Na Hoku Hanohano awards for his works. He received three honors from various ukulele guilds and clubs.

25. Peter Moon

Peter Moon
Image Credit: https://www.mauinews.com

He is a ukulele virtuoso who helped revive the instrument. He learned to play the ukulele and guitar by ear. Peter formed the Peter Moon Band in the late 1970s. He released 24 albums until 2005 and he began teaching.

26. Daniel Ho

Daniel Ho
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Ho

He has won awards such as Grammy and Hawaiian Music. He is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer-songwriter, and record company owner. David custom-designed a six-string that is now an exhibit piece. He also designed a tiny tenor ukulele and a Shakerlele. 

27. May Singhi Breen

May Singhi Breen
Image Credit: https://www.ukulelemag.com/

She is the original “Ukulele Lady” that everyone knows about. She also married Peter De Rose, a songwriter, and performer. May Breen published most of the arrangements in the 1920s. She had tried to create the electric ukulele as well. 

28. Brittni Paiva

Brittni Paiva
Image Credit: https://keolamagazine.com/music/brittni-paiva

She is an award-winning ukulele instrumentalist from Hilo, Hawaii. Brittni began playing the ukulele at the age of 11. She has produced about 6 CD albums and 2 singles. Brittni is also pioneering the looping technique in her videos.

29. Roy Sakuma

Roy Sakuma
Image Credit: https://www.youtube.com

Roy Sakuma is recognized as Hawaii’s most important ukulele teacher. He has been teaching the instrument for over 30 years. Also, he founded the largest ukulele festival in the world. He also established the Roy Sakuma Studios, a ukulele school.

30. Bill Tapia

Bill Tapia
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Tapia

He was one of the oldest ukulele players to live. He had died at the age of 103 years old. Bill was a premier ukulele player back in the 1920s. Bill Tapia became elected to the Ukulele Hall of Fame.

31. John King

John King
Image Credit: https://news.allaboutjazz.com/

He adapted the Campanella technique on playing the ukulele instrument. John King also had unique musical arrangements of classical music. He was recognized by the people as a ukulele virtuoso. John mostly wrote about musical arrangements and essays about history. 

32. Genoa Keawe

Genoa Keawe
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genoa_Keawe

She was beloved known as “Aunty” Genoa Keawe in Hawaii. She performed at officer’s clubs prior to World War II. She had recorded more than 20 albums and 150 singles. Genoa won many awards and performed in many different countries.

33. Dennis Kamakahi

Dennis Kamakahi
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Kamakahi

He was a prolific songwriter famous in the 1970s. He composed over 500 songs which became Hawaiian standards. Dennis also won over three Grammy awards while he was alive.

34. Willie K

Willie K
Image Credit: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_K

He is able to play the ukulele using various genres. Willie K’s favorite genres are blues, jazz, and Hawaiian. He has won the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards several times.

35. Don Ho

Don Ho
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Ho

He was Hawaii’s most influential singer for about four decades. Don Ho is famous for his hit song “Tiny Bubbles”. He also starred in the program “The Don Ho Show”.

36. Julia Nunes

Julia Nunes
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Nunes

She is a known YouTube celebrity for playing the ukulele. Julia tours the world and makes online videos as well. Some of her songs are covers of famous celebrity pop singers.

37. Billy Carpenter

Billy Carpenter
Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/crownartists

He was the voice of Popeye the Sailorman. He performed using the ukulele, thus earning the nickname “Uke”. Billy is famous for the “eefin” style. Unfortunately, Billy Carpenter was never a good singer at all.

38. Joe Brown

Joe Brown
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Brown_(singer)

He is a contemporary rock and roll singer from U.K. Joe is an ambassador of the Kala ukulele brand. He has his own special signature series of the instrument. He has also released CDs dedicated to playing the ukulele.

39. Andy Eastwood

Andy Eastwood
Image Credit: http://www.andyeastwood.com

Andy Eastwood is a vaudeville entertainer who also plays ukuleles. He used ukuleles in a degree recital in Oxford University.

40. Ayano Tsuji

Ayano Tsuji

Ayano Tsuji is famous in Japan for her ukulele music. She said that her hands were perfect for ukulele strumming. This is because they were very small for other instruments. She is very famous for her unconventional light singing style.

41.Gerald Ross

Gerald Ross
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Ross

Gerald is one of the most popular instrumentalists that used ukuleles. He also plays other instruments such as guitars. Gerald Ross has over five albums dedicated to playing ukuleles.

42. Bette Midler

Bette Midler
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bette_Midler

She is famously known for the hit song Ukulele Lady. Bette won several awards for her talent in the ukulele. She primarily uses this instrument on all her songs. Bette Midler also has the nickname “The Divine Miss M.” 

43. John Lennon

John Lennon
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lennon

John Lennon is famous for co-founding the band The Beatles. This band commonly uses ukuleles for their pop songs. He had played it in the song All Together Now. There are also some pictures of him using the instrument.

44. Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Tyler

He was a judge on American Idol. Steven is also the lead singer in the band Aerosmith. Some of the songs he sings are common with ukuleles. Though he is a rock singer, he plays the ukulele.

45. Patrick Wolf

Patrick Wolf
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Wolf

He often uses ukuleles as one of his main instruments. Patrick is a singer-songwriter who is active from 2002 onwards. He has released six albums from 2003 up to 2012. He created an independent record label named Bloody Chamber Music.

46. Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_Swift

She is a pop singer who uses ukuleles as well. Most of her famous songs are about her personal life. She used to be a country singer but switched genres. She also explored other genres but still performs with ukuleles.

47. Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Vedder

He is the lead singer and lyricist of Pearl Jam. His notable contribution for ukuleles is his album “Ukulele Songs”. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album.

48. Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
Image credit: Wikipedia.org

This orchestra has been performing in many events since 1985. They perform sold-out concerts in Europe, U.S.A., and Japan. Their music has been used in films, plays, and commercials. The orchestra has also appeared in television and YouTube videos.

49. Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra

Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra
Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/TheWIUO/

They use varied ukuleles to play in the ukulele orchestra. They are an ensemble of ukulele players based in Wellington. Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is comprised of 12 band members. They have been playing in events since December 17, 2005.

50. Langley Ukulele Ensemble

Langley Ukulele Ensemble
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langley_Ukulele_Ensemble

This group of musicians started their career in the 1970s. They began as student performers from the Langley School District. “Honour Groups” were established to provide a better opportunity for them. This program is still offered to students in the district.

Why You Should Know These Ukulele Players

One reason why you should know an artist is because you will learn songs that you may have otherwise not been aware of. There are other reasons such as history, inspiration, social adeptness, appreciation, and culture. Knowing about these things will help you build more fascination toward the ukulele.

  • History – Ukulele songs have a certain connection to the artists who made them and knowing the history behind it is fascinating. Famous ukulele players sometimes create songs that have a certain theme regarding a point in their life. You will be able to transport yourself through time by knowing the history behind the song. Also, you can connect to people better once you know about the person.
  • Inspiration – Some famous ukulele players have lived an interesting life that may influence you to become a better musician and person. This is because there are some musicians that have a good lifestyle and personality that you can look up to. Most celebrities, in general, strive to become good role models for people because of this reason. As a musician, knowing about them can also motivate you to create songs that are based on different influencers.
  • Social Adeptness – People have been fascinated by famous people for years, and they often have their own reasons why. It is embarrassing to think that you know a song but does not know anything about the artist who created it. This might be one of the reasons why you should know about the famous ukulele players as this will help you save yourself from shame. As a budding musician, you should be able to know at least one artist so that you would not look left out.
  • Appreciation – You will be able to appreciate a song better when you get to know the person who created it. You will also be able to appreciate your own skills as a musician because of how the person started out in playing music. Thus, you will not view the famous person as a god but another human who just knows how to be good at their chosen craft. This will help you become a humble player than someone who is boastful for knowing a few chords to strum.
  • Culture – Famous persons influence society in many ways than anyone can imagine, and oftentimes it is interesting to read about. By knowing about a famous ukulele player, you will be able to know about the culture that revolved around them and how they changed it. You will be able to see how people alter cultures through music and evolve them using it, especially famous players. This is also a good way for you to know the artists’ cultures and get to know the world better.

Final Thoughts

In summary, some of the musicians on the list above may not be what we would qualify as solely ukulele players. Some of them are artists in other fields who can play the ukulele. The number of ukulele players in the world that strictly use ukuleles is a few. Hopefully, this list will help you discover more songs and artists that you may not have been aware of in the past. We also hope that this compilation of famous ukulele players will help you appreciate all those people who paved the way for the ukulele.

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