Cliff Edwards , Pathe 025124, 1924, #6 1925
Cliff Edwards chose the instrument that gave him his showbiz name, Ukulele Ike (misspelled four times on the “All Alone” record label as “Ukelele Ike”), out of practicality. He was singing in saloons in the 1910s, subject to unreliable, out-of-tune pianos, and wanted a convenient instrument to play. The uke seemed to be the most portable—other than the harmonica, which ain’t so easy to accompany your own singing with. He learned to play the instrument, and with it became one of the most successful recording stars of the ‘20s and ‘30s, also appearing in numerous movies. Much of the popular-song sheet music of the era features chords for ukulele accompaniment, thanks to Ike. We also should acknowledge that it was Ukulele Ike, and not Gene Kelly, who introduced the world to “Singin’ in the Rain,” back in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. It was a #1 hit for him. Uke Ike died, broke and forgotten, in 1971. His last recording had been ten years earlier.
Cliff Edwards is best known (often only known) as the voice of Pinocchio’s muse Jiminy Cricket. His rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is exquisitely sweet, and every time my three-year-old Disney-fan daughter Kelley sang it for me I had to dab my eyes and blow my nose, Not known to most Disney-movie lovers is that Edwards also was the uncredited voice of the unfortunately named Jim Crow in Dumbo, and sang the minstrelly “When I See an Elephant Fly.”
Ukulele Ike could certainly ham it up on up-tempo novelty numbers, flailing away at his uke and scatting in a high register. That stuff’s pretty entertaining, but it’s the sentimental ballads, in the mold of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” that I’m especially fond of, and they sound so gorgeous on a 78 rpm disc. A prize possession of mine is Cliff Edwards’ recording of the Irving Berlin song “All Alone.” Ike’s frail tenor elicits a sigh every time, as he croons, “Wondering where you are, and how you are, and if you are all alone, too.” I sing along, gazing out my bedroom window with a longing look, swept up in the nostalgia for something I can’t name.
No fewer than seven artists, including Cliff Edwards, milked the song for hits in 1925. It is superbly crafted and perfectly simple, like Berlin’s better-known “What’ll I Do?” Edwards doesn’t appear to have recorded that one. If he had, I’d have it on my “must-have” list.
At any rate, I’m going to have daughter Kelley, now 34, learn “All Alone,” and I will accompany her on my tenor ukulele and try to keep my eyes dry until the ending.