August 27, 2022

Top 10 Famous Ukulele Players You Should Know

There are various famous ukulele players around the world. They have gained popularity thanks to their genuine talents. 

As you might know, the ukulele, along with the guitar, has become prominent nowadays. Although it is relatively novel to the general public, it has a long history in Europe dating back to the 18th century. 

Hawaiian cultures began to reproduce small instruments after the Portuguese brought these to the islands. 

In short, I would like to share the top ten ukulele musicians that live in the hearts of the worldwide's ukulele fans. 

What are the famous ukulele players?

I cannot miss the names of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Grace Vanderwall, Jake Shimabukuro, James Hill, Eddie Kamae, Daniel Ho, Tiny Tim, Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima, Cliff Edward, and Grace VanderWaal. 

They are all talented performers with excellent skills and beautiful voices. Everytime I listen to their works, I feel peaceful and unwind after tiring working hours. I hope you can have this feeling as well.

Top 10 Famous Ukulele Players

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (IK) is a late Hawaiin musical legend with the most well-known song, "Over the Rainbow.”

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

His song has been featured in countless TV shows and series and was ranked #12 on Billboard's list. 

Before embarking on his solo career, IK founded the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau when he was in his teens, and the group recorded about 20 albums.

Israel's producer, Jon de Mello, said that people often had the feeling of happiness and safety when they  listened to Israel’s voice. And his statement remains true until today.

Israel's beautiful voice has inspired people around the world with a tone that almost reflects his upbringing in Hawaii. IK died at a young age in 1997, but his legacy continues to grow stronger.

Grace VanderWall

Grace VanderWall was among the most well-known ukulele artists when she turned 15 years old. She won America's Got Talent 2016 at the age of 12 and introduced the first album at the end of 2017.

Grace VanderWaal

She's been named on prestigious Music Awards and Billboard Women in Music’s Award for years. She's the youngest person ever on Forbes' 30 in terms of Music List for Under 30.

I can't wait to hear the sweet voice of Grace with her trusty Ukulele.

Jake Shimabukuro

No one could master the skill of the ukulele as Jake Shimabukuro. His fingers combination was praised in his hometown Japan and Hawaii in 2000 before becoming well-known on YouTube and gaining international acclaim.

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake has collaborated with various top artists, including Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, ...

At the age of 43, having 20 years of professional performance, he never stops his endeavor in improving ukulele skills. "Gorgeous" by Rolling Stone is one of the songs in his novel album, "Trio," receiving endless praise from his audiences.

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings is an 1-hour documentary film about Jake that was streamed on Amazon Prime. Jake deserves the title of the most well-known ukulele player in the modern era.

James Hill

Hawaii seems to be the hometown of many ukulele players that we know. But James Hill learned how to play ukulele in a city of British Columbia - his hometown.

James Hill

James Hill is best known for his world-famous ukulele recordings. Since his debut in 2002, James has released some albums with ukulele and is widely regarded as the best ukulele performer in the world by many contemporary ukulele artists.

With his distinctive approach, he has changed people's perceptions of the Ukulele. He's also managed to develop a popular online guide that teaches students how to play the instrument. 

James Hill has three albums in the 2000s composed in America. And "True Love Don't Weep," one of his collaborations, won a Folk Music Award in Canada.

Read more: Who Are The Best Female Ukulele Players?

Eddie Kamae

When you're confident in revolutionizing the conventional way of performing the ukulele, you've accomplished something worthwhile. This instrument was used as a backup for basic rhythm; that was only true before Kamae.

Eddie Kamae

After him, ukulele was turned into a versatile instrument used for many musical forms, leads, or even solos.

Kamae founded the iconic party, The Sons of Hawaii, and was inducted into the “Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum” in 2001. He has dedicated himself to learning about Hawaiian history, which has reignited his interest in Hawaiian music.

Eddie and his partner, Myrna, produced a series of films to promote this cause in the 1980s. It was a series about "Hawaiian Legacy" and helped to protect the islands' heritage.

Daniel Ho

Daniel Ho has undeniably made his mark with ukulele in 18 solo songs, six Grammy Wins, fourteen Grammy nominees, and numerous music awards in Taiwan and Hawaii.

Daniel Ho

Hawaii, his hometown, has influenced his instrumental ukulele compositions. 

At the age of 18, he attended Music in Grove School before moving to Hawaii, where he pursued a musical degree at a University at Manoa.

Daniel is now performing and recording music that shows his talent and ukulele potential. He's also collaborated with the brand Romero Creations to create several incredible instruments.

Read more: Concert Vs Tenor Ukulele Comparison

Tiny Tim

Herbert Butros Khoury was born in 1932 and was known for his falsetto voice with his Ukulele or mandolin.

Tiny Tim

Tiny Tim, the stage name of Herbert, was known for ukulele players in international acclaim! 

Besides his most popular song, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Me," he is better known for his many television and film roles. He joined the Merv Griffin, The Ed Sullivan, and the Tonight Shows.

Tim was eager to impress his fans and passionate about music and performance. He was aware that people loved his quirks; however, he enjoyed his moment standing on the stage rather than considering that bad thing.

Jesse Kaleihia Kalima

He contributed to transforming the Ukulele definition from a support instrument to a solo instrument.

He was the first performer to string his tenor in a low G. He also popularized the ukulele with tenor size and used an amplifier with his ukulele for the first time.

Jesse Kaleihia Kalima

Jesse performed with the band Kalima Brothers for most of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and recorded with his two sons in an album. 

Besides performing regularly, he had a small ukulele store and taught how to play this instrument.

Read more: Which is the Best Tenor Ukuleles?

Cliff Edwards

Cliff Edwards took up this small instrument as his accompanist in his music journey and the remaining is history.

Cliff Edwards

At the time, the most common style of shows was an American version of Vaudeville. It allowed him to pursue a career in show business, and he went on to appear in about 100 films. 

He is best known for being Jiminy Cricket's voice and singing the Oscar-awarding song for Pinocchio.

Although he gained all of his achievements without using the ukulele, it is unquestionable that he was one of the most well-known ukulele players from past to present.

He has accomplished more than any other musician to spread the uke’s popularity.

Genoa Keawe

Grace VanderWaal is known as one of the most famous female players skilling at ukulele today only because Genoa Keawe stepped down after more than 60 years.

Genoa Keawe

This ukulele legend, an indigenous Hawaiian raised on the island of Oahu, has inspired other artists in Hawaii.

She initiated her music journey prior to the year of World War II in Kailua. Similar to other musicians, she couldn't earn enough money. Thus, she made money as a taxi driver and a lei seller.

Her musical career took her throughout countries all over the world. She played at various TV, radio shows, lounges, and bars.

Like other Haiwaiian musicians and singers, she appeared to play music by ears.

This ukulele player recorded music in the year of 1946. Her first label of record was with a Hawaii record business. 

After leaving the company, she established her own label named Genoa Keawe Records. Accordingly, she released music works with her friends and family. 

She recorded her songs mainly between the 1940s and the early 1960s, and they are still popular in Hawaii. Her iconic works of music indeed live beyond time.

Final Thoughts

That's our top 10 famous ukulele players. These ukulele legends bring incredible works to the world. 

Their music can relieve our soul and make us feel peaceful against the daily stressful life. I understand that this might be a contentious subject, so please raise your voice if I left someone off the list you believe should be included! 

As usual, I hope to know your ideas in the comments section!

Thank you for your reading!

Article written by Julia
Hi, I'm Julia. I love playing the ukulele and blogging about it. I started playing the ukulele a few years ago and haven't stopped since! I've also been blogging about my experience learning to play the uke for other beginners like myself. It's been a fun way to share my journey and help others learn too.
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