The ukulele has made a comeback. Who knew?
I didn’t — until an assistant told me it’s probably more popular now than in the 1950s and ‘60s, when it was a staple of jazz. The only thing I knew about the instrument is that two people on TV played it – Arthur Godfrey and Tiny Tim.
Mr. Godfrey was a hit on morning radio in Washington before moving to CBS in the late ‘40s. He was so popular that parts of his show were simulcast on TV. He soon had multiple TV shows and became known for discovering talent, particularly singers. Mr. Godfrey ruled his “finds” with an iron hand. The public didn’t get a peek behind the folksy curtain until 1953.
That’s when he fired Julius LaRosa on the air (but not on TV, a detail often misstated). The radio-only final segment of “Arthur Godfrey Time” was a song, which Mr. Godfrey said was Mr. LaRosa’s “swan song” and added: “He goes out now, out on his own – as his own star – soon to be seen on his own programs, and I know you wish him godspeed same as I do.”
The New York press pounced. There were more firings, and Mr. Godfrey’s empire slowly unraveled. He passed away in 1983, longing for a comeback on cable.
Tiny Tim was best known for his long, curly hair and singing in falsetto. He had a hit record, the hideous “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and got married on Johnny Carson’s show in 1969. Most of that was forgotten by the time he passed away in 1996.
A footnote: Tiny Tim was a Godfrey fan and learned how to play from the booklet that came with his Godfrey-endorsed ukulele.
From YouTube, a clip from the A&E show “Biography” about the buildup to the “swan song”: http://tinyurl.com/nglp4b5