Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards) had a unique way of playing ukulele.
Songs of the 1920's often had lengthy introductions. During these intro sections, Edwards would use the thumb to pick out a note here and there as a sparse accompaniment but once the tune itself had started his thumb rested and was rarely used. From that point on, his fingers, particularly his index finger did most of the work. As the thumb rested, he would flick his index finger and perform a series of intermittent rolls. He played ukulele with a light, deft touch. His technique was designed to accompany his singing not to draw attention away from it. This approach showed off his beautiful singing voice to best effect, especially on the ballads. He had a three octave range and could hit the high notes effortlessly.
This video in particular demonstrates his technique:
Ike taught himself to play ukulele at a time when there were few instruction books or videos. He developed his own technique through trial and error. He had no option but to become self-taught. He had learned to play the piano as a child, so he had some musical theory. But in transferring that knowledge to ukulele he incorporated some technically incorrect idiosyncrasies when developing his style. Yet, with years of practice, he was able to perfect his odd way of playing, which finally led to his signature sound.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to meet him today at a Ukulele Festival and attend one of his ukulele workshops?
Ah, we can but dream.
Here's a pic of him in his heyday in 1929, signing a deal to promote ukuleles. As part of the deal, he was given a free Martin style 3 ukulele, which he is holding. Edwards only ever played Martin ukuleles, although he did promote the unsuccessful 'Tenortrope' ukulele banjo at one time. during his career. (back to work... check back later for some photos.)