It’s the 1920s. Picture a canoe drifting on a moonlit lake, a young swain in white linen pants, a trendy pink shirt and straw boater hat picks out a tune on a ukulele, wooing his lady love. The instrument’s popularity has just jumped to the mainland from Hawaii, where it was introduced by the Portuguese in 1879 and quickly became the islands’ national instrument.
Flash forward to 1950s television where nasally Arthur Godfrey, sporting a Hawaiian shirt, is giving on air lessons to millions of viewers. Try a 1960s image: Lank-haired Tiny Tim, playing the now-kitschy soprano ukulele while warbling Tiptoe through the Tulips in a falsetto voice.
Not very hip stuff. Or is it? Ukuleles are making a strong comeback: the National Association of Music Merchants reported a fifty-four percent jump in ukulele sales in 2013. Ukulele music festivals have sprouted across the country. The ukulele is back from musical oblivion and thriving in places as diverse as England, Canada and Japan. Riding the crest of this wave is the Magic Fluke Company in Sheffield, MA.
Started by Dale and Phyllis Webb in 1999 in New Hartford, Conn., the business was inspired by Phyllis Webb’s musician brother, Jim Beloff, who had discovered the ukulele years earlier and now teaches the instrument to acolytes. The Webbs decided to produce an affordable, USA-manufactured uke.
Orders started pouring in and, after a mere decade, the couple had introduced dozens of colors and designs and shipped more than 55,000 instruments. They moved to their solar-powered Sheffield location in 2001, where they enjoy the vibrant musical and arts environment - and try to keep up with the explosion of interest in the instrument.