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When Hawaii-born ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro says the ukulele is growing in popularity, he proudly rolls off the names of celebrities and music stars who have been seen holding one: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Eddie Vedder, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Grace VanderWaal.
Then, of course, there’s Zooey Deschanel, George Clooney, Elvis Presley, Adam Sandler, Marilyn Monroe, Ryan Gosling, and James Franco, among many, many others. And when the uke is not being held by top celebrities, it’s appearing in TV. An episode of How I Met Your Mother ended with Cristin Milioti breaking off an engagement and somberly strumming the ukulele while crooning “La Vie en Rose”.
It’s easy to see that the mightly little uke is proudly riding a wave of resurgence as of late, and the United States is to thank for a lot of its recent popularity. Among a slew of American celebrities, US-born trendsetters are helping the instrument to make a strong comeback. In fact, the National Association of Music Merchants reported a 54 percent jump in ukulele sales back in 2013, and that can be traced in large part to not only the ukulele’s accessibility and affordability, but also its YouTube popularity and celebrity esteem.
With the ukulele experiencing a resurgence in popularity, towns all across the United States are picking up the little instrument. From New York to Los Angeles, the uke is popping up in café performances, sell-out concerts, small ukulele groups and large festivals. No town, it seems, is safe from the tsunami that is the recent ukulele takeover. Including Cincinnati.
The Ohio city known for its 19th-century architecture, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is welcoming the recent uke revival with open arms.
Past and present ukulele groups include the city’s Ukulele Club, who meet on the first Wednesday of every month around 6:30pm. Having started up again in 2014 after having a quick break, the Ukulele Club is headed by John DiMauro, a uke enthusiast who often plays at local senior centers.
The city’s Leo Coffee House, run by the Queen City Balladeers, also plays host to Sunday night open jam, concerts and open mic nights. The caffeinated listening room is steeped in Americana music. From 5:30pm to 6:45pm, visitors can enjoy an open jam in the Main Hall on every Sunday; a Ukulele Jam on the first Sunday of every month; a songwriters collaborative on the second Sunday of every month; a sing along and celtic session on the third Sunday; and an old-time music jam on the fourth Sunday.
Players can stop by with their instrument (ukuleles included), their voice, or just their ears. Free outdoor acoustic jams occur every summer on Sunday evenings in Sharon Woods. Players of all levels are welcome.
The Cincinnati Ukulele Ensemble also welcomes all skill levels, as well as all ages. The group is free and meet on the first Thursday of the month (September to May) from 6:30 to 8:30pm at the Groesbeck Branch Library meeting room. Members just need a music stand and a ukulele. Singers, listeners, kids, grandparents and friends welcome.
If you’re venturing outside of Cincinnati, just a few minutes from downtown is a town called Madeira, where a band of middle-aged, music-loving dads make up the members of the only ukulele band in the area. The self-taught group – called the Ukulele Brothers – play gigs around the Cincinnati region, spreading ukulele love and encouraging others to pick up the uke.
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