Uke Can Play the Melody

YouTube is full of Ukulele Girls (and Guys) today, but where would they be without the original "Ukulele Lady?"

May Singhi Breen (1895-1970) was a ukulele performer and teacher who helped popularize the Hawaiian instrument in the '20s and '30s. After receiving an unwanted ukulele as a gift, she tried to exchange it for a bathrobe. When the store wouldn't take it back, she decided to learn to play it instead.

Luckily she had a knack for it and went on to have quite a career. She played in an all-girl ukulele group called the Syncopators and later in a long-running radio show with her husband called "Sweethearts of the Air." She helped get the ukulele accepted as a legitimate musical instrument by the American Federation of Musicians.

These days she's probably best known for arranging ukulele parts for sheet music for popular tunes of the day. Denver Public Library has many of these original pieces of sheet music from the '20s and '30s.

We also have thousands of other pieces of sheet music and music books covering a wide range of genres and time periods.

Looking for something in particular? We have finding aids and indexes to help you find individual songs - just ask!

Visit Reference Services on Level 3 of the Central Library, call (720) 865-1363, email us, or chat with us on Ask Colorado.

Written by Tammi on November 18, 2011


Elaine C. on November 18, 2011


I love knowing this history! Thanks, Tammi!

Becker on November 21, 2011


And if you want to learn to play yourself, look for the So You Want to Play Guitar or Ukulele class starting in January at the Ross Broadway Branch as part of the Fresh City Life My Branch programming! Thanks for highlighting the uke!

Lisa on November 21, 2011


Marilyn Monroe looked so cute playing her ukulele in Some Like it Hot. Cuter than Tiny Tim, anyway.

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