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Kicking It: Let's go to the Hukilau

 

Last updated 3/26/2022 at 10:17am



Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to The Village News

If you are reading this in the newspaper there is a solid chance you are a grownup. A grownup is anyone over 60, and quite possibly, like me, a Super-Senior, which is anyone over 75.

The reason I mention age is, unless you are a Super-Senior, you will probably not know the guy I’m about to discuss.

The first time I recall hearing Arthur Godfrey play was on one of his many television shows on CBS. It must have been somewhere in the middle 1950’s. Between his rakish voice and the twang of his ukulele, to my younger self, it was an odd duo. Who ever heard of a red-headed-freckle-faced-Manhattanite singer strumming a Hawaiian Koa wood baritone uke?

Clearly, “The Old Redhead” made a lasting impression since I can still hear him inside my brain, visualizing him sitting behind a desk as I watch him play his baritone ukulele on the “Arthur Godfrey Morning Show.”

In my brain, he is wearing a gray floral shirt which just proves it was before color TV was introduced. At the time, Godfrey owned the airways. He started in radio in the 1920’s, and was one of the first radio stars to cross-over to the tube early. His career lasted long enough to become one of the first CBS shows to convert to full color.

His popularity was such that his show, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” was the first program to be simulcast between radio and television. And while the show aired many new talents like Don Knotts, Patsy Cline, Lenny Bruce, and Tony Bennett, somehow the “scouts” overlooked a few super talents like Elvis Presley, The Four Freshman, and Buddy Holly.

Godfrey’s career was huge. Did you know he frequently appeared in arenas riding dressage? He was an Air Force pilot during WWII and flew a DC-3 daily from Virginia? The plane was a gift from Eddie Rickenbacker, president of Eastern Airlines. As it happened, Godfrey was grounded a few times after buzzing Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Each time he was fined and lost his pilot’s license for six months. Godfrey died at 79 suffering from emphysema after years of supporting his long-time sponsor, Chesterfields.

Fast forward decades later to Fallbrook. In 2018, we took our first 15-day cruise to Hawaii onboard the Princess Grand. The reason we picked that particular ship is because my husband was informed of the free ukulele lessons. They even provided instruments.

While Ukulele Dave taught 72 ukulele players on sea days (that is the number of free ukuleles available); his wife instructed Hula.

After a few days at sea, our first stop in Hawaii was Hilo. Naturally, we were the first off. Our only stop was the Hawaii Ukulele and Guitar Center on Kamehameha Avenue. Luthier-owner Robert Yates helped Vincent select his first handmade-Hawaiian-Koa-wood-concert ukulele.

Next time you are on YouTube look up Jake Shimabukuro; he is an ukulele virtuoso. His agile fingers caress this simple four-string instrument as he graces us with “Hallelujah” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While 44-years old now, he is much admired universally as the (baby) face of professional ukulele.

There is even an orchestra of ukuleles. The best we’ve found is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. When they play “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” on YouTube, you will want to learn to play. And so, you can.

The Fallbrook Strummers come together every Friday morning at the Fallbrook Senior Center. The active club plays a wide variety of songs from traditional Hawaiian music to country and western.

Even though the players vary in ability, local grown-ups enjoy the comradery of the music. The Fallbrook Strummers perform upon request and around town monthly during the senior lunch at the community center, retirement homes, and are open to requests to play locally.

Free lessons are also available along with a few loaner instruments for newbies. The club meets every Friday morning at 11 a.m. at the Fallbrook Senior Center, 399 Heald Lane at Fallbrook Street. Or, feel free to contact my husband directly at [email protected] for more information about the Fallbrook Strummers or about classes.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected]

 

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