My ukulele group, The CC Strummers, enjoyed an extra special treat on Monday. And I mean extra special! “Jumpin'” Jim Beloff, one the of seminal figures in the modern-day renaissance that is “ukulele,” visited the Culver City Senior Center for a teach-a-thon, storytelling and kanikapila (which means we all get to sing and play along).
Years ago, Jim and his wife Liz sensed something special about this humble little instrument, trusted their instincts and let that intuition guide them forward. So what do we have today? Their fabulous music books, Fluke & Flea Ukuleles and a world-wide presence, teaching and spreading ‘dem good ukulele vibes from “Down Under” to “Up Over.”
The ukulele has swept them into so many different circles of people. They have connected with hundreds of ukulele groups as well as with the iconic figures in music who happen to embrace the ukulele too. The list is long and Jim shares a couple stories with us. This one especially resonates with me:
Enter Bette Midler. Although she was born and raised in O’ahu, she never learned to play the ukulele or any instrument for that matter. She began her career as the “girl singer” and of course grew into the extraordinary entertainer we know today. But since she could not accompany herself, she is dependent on other musicians to play for her as she performs.
She is already an icon, a star when she contacts Jim to give her lessons on the ukulele. He doesn’t give private lessons but laughs and says to us “when Bette Midler calls, you say YES.”
This woman is such a pro and knows that what “looks easy” on stage actually takes a lot of work and she is willing and ready to put in the time and effort to learn a few chords and strums on the uke. By the third lesson, she excitedly brings Jim into her house, sits him down across from her and she sings AND plays the Beatle song “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
As Jim describes this sunshine moment he tells us that he sees that look in her face that he has seen a thousand times. It happens when a person picks up the uke, strums and sings a song, at the same time, for the first time. Ever.
Whether we are a Bette Midler or not. It doesn’t matter. The feeling and the joy of it all are the same. May we never lose that thrill and wonder, no matter what that first time is…