Written by SaifZiya
Let’s face it—playing ukulele is no duck soup. It requires an in-depth understanding of holding a uke, finding the strumming patterns, learning how to play scales, experimenting with chords, and so many other techniques.
You must comprehend how to hold the pick, where exactly to put the uke on your lap—if that’s how you would like to play it—and, most importantly, learning how to tune your guitar.
A newbie may find it disturbing in the beginning, whereas, pro ukulists (uke players) do it like a charm.
They know everything about them.
There’s a famous saying about legends that goes like this:
“Legends never die”.
It’s true, however, someone also said that you don’t get to become a true legend until you die.
Best Ukulele Players to Be Inspired By
You will wonder know that even Neil Armstrong has played the ukulele while he was in the quarantine facility, after returning from the Moon.
Would you still not want to play the ukulele?
I guess you do now.
Anyway, let’s jump to the list of the top 10 most famous ukulele players ever existed. Although you could find other pro players, the below-mentioned ukulists mentioned on this page are the ones who were able to set a footing successfully.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it:
1. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole
You may have come across so many legends in many different fields, be it film, music, or another industry.
Yes, the legend I’m referencing here is Israel Kamakawiwoʻole—a Hawaiian music icon—who died of respiratory failure at the age of 38.
He was honored with so many awards and Echo is one of them. His cover of “Somewhere over the rainbow” was also featured in the Pixar short film ‘Lava’. This song is the one that helped him gained attention in 1999 in many TV commercials and later, it was featured in so many movie titles.
According to EMI, this song was the most requested song on TV in 2011.
In 1993, he experienced family struggled and also gained close to 700 weight. That’s when he started a solo career and due to health issues, he was admitted to the hospital several times.
He, along with his brother—Skippy—died of obesity. Israel was humorous and made everyone around him laugh.
He, alone, isn’t the inspiration who has won the hearts of thousands of millions of music aficionados out there—there are others that have turned out to be game-changer.
2. Jake Shimabukuro
If you’re a millennial, we can take it for granted that you must be familiar with the name—Jake Shimabukuro.
However, if you don’t know anything about Jake, don’t worry. Read on and we’ll keep you posted on everything you need to know.
Jake Shimabukuro is a professional ukulist who was born on November 3, 1976, in Honolulu, Hawai’i.
He is famous for his quick and amazing finger work which he explains in this video.
Jake is married to Kelly Yamasato. He specializes in folk, classical, bluegrass, rock, funk, blues, jazz, and flamenco. He started his career in 1998 and has been rocking his ever since, until now.
Jake has worked with prominent music labels, such as Sony, Hitchhike, and Music Theories Recordings and has received appreciation from all around the world.
His work caught people’s attention when his virtuosic rendition of a song went viral on YouTube. The song was uploaded on YT without his knowledge.
If you would like to know more about him, perhaps, you should watch his documentary that was directed by Tadashi Nakamura and cast Jake. The film nominated and awarded the ‘Gotham Independent Film Audience Award’.
So, how did it all start?
Well, Jake was gifted a uke by his mother when he was just 4. Having got the uke, he got attached with it and played several times a day. The reason why Jake plays it so well is that he got the inspiration and teachings from his mother who was a highly skilled ukulele player and singer.
He also decided to follow his solo career with Sony Japan.
Did you know that he has been a recipient of Grammy?
Yes, that’s true. That means he’s a real gem.
3. Grace Vanderwaal
Does the name above ring the bell?
Grace Avery Vanderwaal is an American singer and songwriter who used to play ukulele in her early performances. She was born in Lenexa, Kansas, U.S. on January 15, 2004.
Her favorite ukulele is Fender’s signature ukulele which is a concert-sized uke and produces pure, rich, and resonant tones.
If you think that she somehow looks familiar to you, it’s because she has won ‘America’s Got Talent (AGT)’ in 2016 and that’s where you may have seen her. After being selected as a winner for the show, she was home-schooled.
When she was a preteen, she got the inspiration of songwriting by watching movies so she could imagine what’s it is like to feel like the character and what it would be if she were them.
If you’re a huge fan of 21 Pilots, odds are you’ll end up loving her more because they also inspired her to get started with the ukulele playing.
On her 11th birthday, she even her mom to gift her a uke so she could learn to play it and become a player later, but her mom refused to do that. However, she didn’t give up and bought one using the money she had collected. Having got one, she watched more tutorials on YouTube became familiar with uke-playing techniques.
In addition to playing the uke, she also used the saxophone in her school.
Her work was also appreciated by AndPop when her 15 covers uploaded on YouTube were reviewed. She has got mentions from top magazines like USA Today, NYMag, Chicago Sun-Times, and even Billboard.
Her most recent awards that she’s won include ‘Best Push Artist’ and "New Artist of the Year".
Speaking of her discography, she has released singles, EPs, and albums.
4. James Hill
James Hill is another big name that has touched the hearts of millions of uke lovers around the world.
He was born in Canada in 1980 and specializes in blues and folk genres. He’s been actively playing uke since 2002 and now also teaches music people who look forward to learning it.
Hill primarily focused on the ukulele because that’s what inspired him to offer music instruction for school children.
Back then, he fancied building a program where people can learn and grow together. That’s how ‘Ukulele in the Classroom’ came into existence in 2008. He has shared his knowledge by teaching throughout different countries, including the US, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Europe.
He always loved the idea of traveling throughout the world and guess what—he did exactly the same. He has played ukulele at many festivals in the US, Hawaii, Ireland, and other places.
Currently, he resides in Brookfield with his wife Anne Janelle who is a classical cello artist. They met each other at British Columbia University and that’s where they got to know each other.
Hill has played different types of ukuleles, including resonator, tenor, and baritone ukes.
When he saw that there were no much-needed guides on ukes at that time, he took it as a challenge and opened an online series.
5. Taimane Gardner
Taimane Gardner is another ukulele virtuoso and composer based in America. She started playing uke at a very young age—5, to be exact.
She has also played ukulele at the Tiny Desk and the video has received more than 1 million views.
In addition to being a skilled ukulist, she’s also a composer. In her teenage years, she became a famous local musician.
When she realized that she’s gaining people’s attention, she decided to release her first album i.e. ‘Loco Princess’ in 2005 and it was appreciated by people.
If you have never listened to any of her albums, it’s about time—get one of her albums and enjoy.
Her iconic albums include:
- We Are Made of Stars
- Ukulele Dance
- Taimane Gardner (Live)
Did you know that she also played ukulele on the streets of Waikiki along with beach boys?
Yes, that’s true—and, that’s how her talent was noticed by a legendary crooner, Don Ho. He then asked her for a feature in his show and she said yes.
Ever since, she hasn’t looked back and performed in different parts of the world, including Hong Kong. She won the nomination for ‘Ukulele Album of the Year’ for her album ‘We Are Made of Stars'.
Also, she acquired the 5th position in an article published by ‘Guitar World’—the ukulele moments.
So, if you’re looking for true inspiration, I strongly suggest you watch all of her albums to see what she recommends for beginners and learn the techniques she’s mastered the art of.
6. Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder who calls a ukulele ‘an Activist Instrument’ is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and guitarist.
If you’re into rock or pearl jam, you most probably may have seen him perform live or listened to some of his songs on YT, categorized in the uke playlist.
My favorite one is ‘Longing to Belong’, this one has nostalgic vibes.
He is also known by other names, Jerome Turner is one of them. I can’t enough of his guitar performances because they’re just awesome. The genres that he plays are alternative rock, folk-rock, and grunge.
He has performed with many great artists ever since he set his footing in the music world.
Eddie is renowned for his baritone vocals. Based on a readers’ poll—as compiled by RS, he got the 7th position on the list of ‘Best lead singers of all time’.
Apart from writing great songs, recording his own music songs, he is also a good ukulele player and
He even contributed a soundtrack for one of the most ambitious movies yet—‘Into the Wild’.
And, now for the big reveal.
He released a ukulele album titled ‘Ukulele Songs’ on May 31, 2011, that included real gems. The cover art of the album was created by Jason and the album—with a length of 34:50—was recorded in 2010-2011. The album was produced by Adam Kasper and Eddie Vedder.
Eddie also did many tours with an intention to promote the album and Glen Hansard turned out to be huge support on that mission.
The album has been categorized into two: side A and side B. Side A is having a total of 7 tracks, whereas, side B totals 9 tracks.
The album was appreciated by Eddie’s fans all around the world and achieved 4th peak position on US Billboard 200, 1st position on AFP, 5th on Swiss Albums, 6th peak position on Australian Albums. Apart from this, it also ranked on other international charts.
7. Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer is a singer, songwriter, pianist, vocalist, and musician who has worked with renowned labels, namely Roadrunner, Cooking, and Vinyl8ft. Records. She is, sometimes, also called AFP. Apart from that, she is also an author.
Originally, she is from NY and was born on April 30, 1976.
Her career began when she met Brian Viglione, a drummer. After that, they both decided to open the band which is now known as ‘The Dresden Dolls’. In 2002, she was able to develop a successful cult following and got the opportunity to record her own debut album— eponymous.
On top of being a good singer, she also loved playing the ukulele.
Palmer started playing ukulele to have a good time and enjoy with friends. She did that as a goof, but in the next years, it became a part of her consistent repertory.
Her ukulele piece of gem came out as an album that was named ‘Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele’, which was an extended play record and included only 7 songs with the length of 32:40.
The "Fake Plastic Trees"—which was the first song of this ukulele album—was put on 20th position on the ‘Best Cover of the Year’ by Paste Magazine, which also helped her gain people’s more fame.
She has received many awards and honors throughout her career and has done so many tours in different parts of the world.
Not just that, she has also appeared in several films, such as Temple of Art, Lennon or McCartney, and Happy! (TV series).
To keep her fans posted on what she likes to do and if there’s anything that her fans would like to know about her, she also released different episodes of a podcast called ‘The Art of Asking Everything’ which also included ‘Conversation with People who Hate Me’.
Anyway, if you would like to get some inspiration from her, I suggest you check out her ukulele album that is linked over here.
8. Zee Avi
Zee Avi—also known as KokoKaina—is a famous ukulele player, guitarist, and singer-songwriter.
While she was born in Miri—a coastal city in Malaysia, she moved to Kuala Lumpur where she got the time to teach herself techniques of playing guitar, and all this happened when she was just 12.
She holds a total of 10 eminent awards and influences musicians from all around the world.
When she did an event in Kuala Lumpur, one of her friends missed out on that. So, to make her friend feel happy, she made a music video called ‘Poppy’ and uploaded it on YouTube.
That friend suggested Avi let the video stay on the YT. Later she received great feedback from the fans and this gave her inspiration to make more videos.
This video was supposed to be her last video.
The very next day, YT came across her video and her personal email was bombarded with thousands of emails—more than 3,000 emails, to be exact. The emails also included offers from big music labels.
So, that’s how she got started with her music career. Now, she is working with more than many labels and Brushfire is one of them.
Her website can be accessed right here: Zee Avi.
9. George Formby
Next coming up on the list is George Formby.
I know you will picture him as a comedian in your mind, however, there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Apart from being a comic, he also was a good ukulele and banjolele (Banjo Ukulele) player—and, he was very good at it.
It’s sad that he’s not with us anymore. Yes, the truth is that he only lived from 26 May 1904 to 6 March 1961—but what a player he was!
When he married Martha, she was a 20-year old girl who used to perform in a hall.
But when did you start to play the Ukulele?
Well, it started in 1923, however, it is unknown what inspired him to do so. Rumor has it that he bought a uke in Manchester in exchange for 15 shillings. Before his songs were well received, he had a different name. He used John Willie's character at that time, but when he got some fame, he decided to have a stage name i.e. George Formby.
If you ever visit the Isle of Man, you can still find his beautiful statue holding a ukulele in his hand.
To give fans an insight into what he looked like and how he performed his comedy and played uke, Frank Skinner made a documentary titled ‘Frank Skinner on George Formby’. It was released in 2011.
10. Julia Nunes
Julia Nunes is a singer, songwriter, and uses piano, guitar, ukulele, and melodica while recording her songs.
Nunes could be your next ukulele player to stay motivated just like she got encouragement from her family.
Yes, you read that right—she was born into a musical family based in NY.
Her album that goes by the name of ‘Some Feelings’ is a ukulele album containing a total of 11 tracks.
Although Nunes is not as famous as other professional ukulele players, you may try watching her videos to see if tracks on the album are worth your attention or not.
She has also participated in charity work in December 2008. She even sold her own hat at US$1,250.00 to offer support.
Ready to Become the Next Ukulele Player?
There you have it—the 10 best most famous ukulele players you must get inspiration from!
So, how are your ukulele skills going?
Good or just okay?
If this is your first time to ukuleles, you have to be patient as it takes some time to master the art. If you think that even after trying hard the results are not effective, it is probably because you’re using an old-fashioned, poor-quality ukulele to learn.
We, therefore, suggest you invest in the best ukulele for beginners that are made of top mahogany and boast top-notch tonewood.
Need the best uke from a renowned brand?
Well, you can count on Kala’s ukes.
That’s it for today. See you in the next one.
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