Today we celebrate the birthday of Cliff Edwards, the man known as “Ukulele Ike”. He was one of the leading figures in the proliferation of the ukulele during the roaring twenties, and made his mark on the cinematic world as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Edwards’ distinctive vocal style was punctuated with his trademark “effin’,” a sort of kazoo sounding scat singing of his own creation.
Clifton Avon Edwards was born June 14, 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, of no particular musical background. He took up singing in St. Louis saloons in his teenage years, and bought his first ukulele because it was the cheapest instrument he could find. He was given the nickname “Ukulele Ike” by a bar owner who couldn’t remember his actual name. In 1918, he made a hit in Chicago with “Ja-Da” and was hired onto the vaudeville stage by Joe Frisco. He made his first phonograph records in 1922 with Ladd’s Black Aces and Bailey’s Lucky Seven, for Gennett, and was signed to Pathé soon after. Over the course of the 1920s, he made his way to the top, becoming one of the most successful singing stars in America, with numerous hits on record and stage. In 1929, Edwards was brought into the world of moving pictures by Irving Thalberg, and made his mark on the budding talking pictures with his introduction of “Singin’ in the Rain” in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. He continued to appear in movies through the 1930s, and provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s production of Pinocchio in 1940. His stardom in stage, screen, and radio faded over the course of the Great Depression, though he continued to work in show business for many years, still making sporadic appearances in the 1950s and ’60s. In spite of his fame and success, Edwards was careless with his money, and died penniless of arteriosclerosis in 1971. Most of his medical bills were paid by Walt Disney Productions.
Vocalion 2587 was recorded October 24 and 26, 1933 in New York City by Cliff Edwards. Both sides feature tunes from the 1933 motion picture Take a Chance. Edwards is accompanied by Dick McDonough on guitar on the first side, and Artie Bernstein on string bass on the second.
Here, Ukulele Ike croons the Depression-era classic “It’s Only a Paper Moon” from 1933’s Take a Chance, in which Edwards appeared. One of my personal favorites.
Next, he sings a less remembered, but equally excellent tune, Herman “Dodo” Hupfeld’s “Night Owl”. I can relate.
Updated on May 31, 2017 and June 9, 2017, and with improved audio on April 1, 2018.