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The Alternatives

A tiptoe- and tulip-free event

August 21, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

When oddball entertainer Tiny Tim picked up a ukulele, inviting listeners to "Tiptoe Through the Tulips With Me" in 1968, he had no idea he was denigrating the uke's reputation for decades.

This Sunday the little four-stringed instrument will have the chance to redeem itself. At Ukulele Heaven, fans can succumb to its charms during a performance by local ukulele chanteuse Janet Klein and in a lecture from author, musician and self-described ukulele evangelist Ian Whitcomb.

Ask any of its devotees, and they'll tell you: The ukulele is one of the happiest instruments around. It looks cute. It sounds cute. Even its name can prompt a smile.

Invented in Hawaii in the late 19th century, it made its way to the mainland via the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. All the rage in the '20s, it fell out of favor until the '50s, when television and radio host Arthur Godfrey re-ignited interest. Then Tiny Tim picked one up, giving it a jokey rep that stuck for years.

These days, the ukulele is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The first Ukulele Heaven, in 2000, introduced Whitcomb's songbook of the same name. About 250 attended. This Sunday will celebrate "The Cat's Meow," Whitcomb's third ukulele songbook, which includes songs in the recent movie of the same name. Roughly 400 are expected.

"I'm on a campaign to get ukulele culture to be the top culture rather than hip-hop," Whitcomb said. "Nothing will stop me."

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Ukulele Heaven

What: Homestead Museum, 15415 E. Don Julian Road, City of Industry

When: Sunday, 2-6 p.m.

Info: (626) 968-8492 or www.homesteadmuseum.org

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