Surprising Ukulele Players in Popular Culture

Surprising Ukulele Players in Popular Culture

September 11, 2020

Upbeat and versatile, the ukulele is popular among musicians and perfect for any musical genre. Established uke artists are well-known … but did you know that many figures in popular culture—including move stars, comedians, businessmen, athletes, politicians, and more—also strum this delightful instrument?

Meet the Masters of Ukulele 

Before we introduce you to several unlikely uke players, let’s first appreciate some ukulele virtuosos. A few (but by no means all!) include: 

  • Don Ho, a legendary native Hawaiian entertainer who demonstrates to Bobby and Cindy on the classic television show The Brady Bunch just how to play the uke; here he sings “Sweet Someone” with actor Sam Kapu.
  • Jake Shimabukuro, a Japanese-American uke genius and composer who blends different musical genres (e.g., jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and rock) and dazzles audiences with pieces like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
  • The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, an eight-member ensemble that performs an eclectic repertoire (from the Sex Pistols and Eurythmics to Bach and Beethoven) in sold-out international concerts. Even when performing apart, these musicians help the world say, “Thank You for the Music.

Singers often accompany their bands and themselves on the uke, like George Harrison of the Beatles, Tiny Tim, Elvis, Taylor Swift, wunderkind Grace VanderWaal, and more.

Unexpected Ukulele Players

You might be surprised, though, to discover that many celebrities and public figures can play the uke—for public performance, relaxation, and/or as a hobby. Selected examples include:

  • Sultry movie star Marilyn Monroe singing "Runnin' Wild" from the movie Some Like It Hot.
  • Retired professional wrestler-turned-action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson crooning his version of "What A Wonderful World" in the movie Journey 2 The Mysterious Island.
  • Comedienne Lucille Ball skillfully strumming the ukulele on her iconic television show I Love Lucy (turn up the volume for this video clip).
  • Comedian Steve Martin accompanying himself and Bernadette Peters while singing the romantic song “Tonight You Belong to Me” in the movie The Jerk.
  • Actor and singer Zooey Deschanel playing a uke in a sweet duet performance of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
  • Sardonic writer and actor Phoebe-Waller Bridge and her musician sister Isobel on ukulele accompanying Olivia Colman singing a cover of “Glory Box” by Portishead.
  • Actor Tom Hanks serenading Meg Ryan with “The Cowboy Song” while strumming the uke at sea in the movie Joe vs. the Volcano.
  • Astronaut Neil Armstrong playing the ukulele to pass time with fellow astronauts in a 21-day quarantine upon return to Earth from their historic moon landing.
  • Billionaire business mogul and investor Warren Buffett on CCTV wishing Chinese people a Happy Lunar New Year with “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
  • British chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver strumming a uke outdoors in what may be a team-building exercise.
  • World heavyweight champion boxer Rocky Marciano playing the ukulele for his wife Barbara Cousins.
  • Professional baseball player Juan Uribe serenading teammates in the LA Dodgers’ locker room.
  • Pre-fame Olympic champion swimmer and movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller strumming a ukulele on Brighton Beach in 1922.
  • Former UK Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair toting a uke, reportedly on holiday during the early 2000’s.
  • Former US President Barack Obama knowing his way around a ukulele—after all, he was born and raised in Hawaii! 

If They Can Play, So Can You! 

If you haven’t already tried the uke, hopefully this list of “unlikely” ukulele players provides some inspiration. Don’t feel intimidated or that you need to be an accomplished musician to pick one up. Enjoyment of this wonderful instrument is for everyone! Take a look at Ukutune’s collection of ukuleles.