The band Ukulele Gumbo rehearses.
Say ukulele! Can you say it and not smile? The members of local band Ukulele Gumbo doubt it.
Those smiles the instrument triggers play a large role in bringing this active group of enthusiasts together. Most have been playing together once a week for about five years, brought together initially by local instrument maker David Matthews.
Current members are Ronny and Glenda Collums, Ellen Stetson, Keith Reyes, Rita Rodgers, Susan Keith, and Lou Osburn. You may notice their four-stringed instruments are varying sizes and pitches, from the most common small soprano ukulele through concert, tenor, and baritone supplemented now and then by banjo. You also might notice their shoes coming off as they play and their toes keeping time with the music.
They describe themselves as a show band, playing for fun rather than profit. A 30-minute appearance contains 8 to 10 songs. They also give longer shows with intermissions on request.
Ukulele Gumbo asks a three-month lead time for bookings. That's how busy they are, but they are flexible. So is the music, not only Hawaiian but also contemporary pop, folk, classic oldies, country, and Broadway. Yes, you'll hear tunes made famous by Elvis, Hank, and Bing.
They also give history lessons of a sort, on their instruments. The ukulele did not originate in Hawaii but was brought by Portuguese sailors about 1879. The "little guitars," imitated by local craftsmen, took on the Hawaiian name oo-koo-le-le, or "jumping fleas."
The U.S. became familiar with the merry musical instrument when the Hawaiian Pavilion was one of the most popular spots at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Recording companies took it up, and, with the advent of sound, so did the movie industry. Not only did Bing Crosby and Bob Hope play the uke, but so did Betty Grable, Doris Day, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Martin and Tom Hanks.
Book the group through marketing director Lou Osburn, (318) 294-0642, and know that any proceeds go to support animal rescue efforts. What a win-win!
-- by Lani Duke