The ukulele’s charming and relaxing sound has entertained people worldwide and produced many famous ukulele players. One song featuring a uke even reached the Billboard Hot 100 charts and stayed there for a record 76 weeks. Let’s find out who they are and what they have contributed to the popularity of the uke.
Who Are the Most Famous Ukulele Players?
Our list of famous ukulele players includes two prominent Hawaiian ukulele players, seasoned musicians, and a few up-and-comers.
1. Israel ‘Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ol
Israel’ Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ol, also known as “Bruddah IZ,” is popular for his uke rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” He tragically died at 38 years old after releasing six albums, one of which was the top-grossing Hawaiian album of all time.
Over 10,000 adoring Hawaiians attended his funeral. The state later commemorated his contributions by erecting a bronze bust.
2. Jake Shimabukuro
Shimabukuro is another famous uke player. Many uke players admire his nimble fingerwork and combining blues, rock, and other genres into his songs. As a matter of fact, he won Album of the Year six times in Japan and Entertainer of the Year over ten times!
Shimabukuro has continued to wow audiences around the world with live concerts, as well as donating his expertise and musical educational support to his charity, The Four Strings Foundation.
3. Eddie Kamae
Kamea is famous for his inventive style of simultaneously plucking all four ukulele strings. Some of Kamae and his performance group the Sons of Hawaii’s most famous songs are “Wahine’ likea” and “E Hihiwai.”
In 2007, he was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. He recorded his final album two years later. Kamae died in 2017.
4. Daniel Ho
Ho is also one of the most famous ukulele payers native to Hawaii. He has earned multiple Grammys for his solo music as well as a producer. He has produced over 50 albums with his jazz group Kilauea and has recorded 18 solo albums.
While he still tours and writes songs today, some of Ho’s most well-known music comes from his Hymns of Hawaii album. The most popular tune from this religious album is “Lokomaika’I (Amazing Grace),” but his music has also been featured in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
5. James Hill
Hill is a non-traditional uke master musician known for holding musical education workshops to increase the visibility of the ukulele.
He is a classically trained musician who grew up in a Canadian school where learning the ukulele was standard. Since his youth, Hill has performed and taught the instrument worldwide and written books about the ukulele.
He is best known for his work on “True Love Don’t Weep,” which won a Canadian Folk Music Award.
6. Cliff Edwards
Edwards was a prolific actor who starred in over 100 films before his passing in 1971. Although he never recorded ukulele music, he played the uke in many movies and live productions, ultimately bringing attention to the instrument. As matter of fact, he had the nickname “Ukulele Ike.”
8. Grace VanderWaal
Grace VanderWaal is a self-taught uke player who picked up the instrument at 11 years old. After performing her composition, “I Don’t Know My Name,” in 2017 America’s Got Talent, VanderWaal’s music career has taken off.
She has toured, starred in a movie, and received several Rising Star and Best New Artist awards from prestigious award-giving bodies. Most of her songs are accompanied by a uke.
9. ‘Aunty’ Genoa Keawe
Keawe is a Hawaiian music icon. She began her ukulele and singing career at many traditional Hawaiian events like lu’aus and other island venues. Her professional career started between the 1940s and 1960s and still performed regularly up until her death at age 89.
Keawe’s most famous tune is “Alika,” which remains one of the most popular uke songs today.
10. Jesse Kaleihia Kalima
Kalima’s transformative use of the low G -strung ukulele combined with his innovative addition of an amplifier changed the world of ukulele professionals. He is also credited with helping make the ukulele a primary instrument rather than a backup sound.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” became Kalima’s signature tune. He and the Kalima’s, his performance group, recorded many albums and moved forward the ukulele as a meaningful musical instrument both inside of Hawaiian culture and for music as a whole.
Who is Your Favorite Ukulele Player?
Though clearly, the ukulele has Hawaiian roots, its unmistakable sound has charmed music lovers worldwide while increasing interest and passion for the Hawaiian culture. Regardless of where they started, our top 10 most famous ukulele players all combine the sound of the islands with the unique stringed instrument in memorable music that stands the test of time.