Almost everyone in Hawaii has strummed a ukulele at one time or another. But at the age of 14, Jake Shimabukuro realized that he was doing something a little different with the four-stringed instrument – OK, a lot different.
Shimabukuro’s wholly unique approach to the ukulele started early. As a youngster growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Shimabukuro started playing the instrument at the age of four, learning the basics from his mother, Carol, and then developing his craft further by studying the likes of musical masters such as Eddie Kamae, Ohta-San and Peter Moon. As he matured, Shimabukuro also found inspiration from guitar players, drummers, pianists, and singers. Even athletes helped fuel the intensity of his artistic fire.
In 2005, Shimabukuro’s touring career really came to life with a video on YouTube. “I didn’t even know what YouTube was at the time, so I was totally surprised when people started telling me they’d seen a video of me playing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,'” he says. “Before I got a chance to check it out myself, the video had gone viral and a lot of music industry folks seemed to know about it. It was crazy!” Shimabukuro’s deeply beautiful and original take on George Harrison’s love ballad, one which captured colors and moods never associated with the ukulele before, opened the floodgates – now legions of new music lovers had to hear this instrumental marvel – and the 2006 release of Gently Weeps (produced by Mac McAnally), which mixed his own originals with equally adventurous versions of “Ave Maria” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was an unqualified success.
Shimabukuro’s records have topped the Billboard World Music Charts on numerous occasions, and as a live performer he has become one of the hottest tickets around. He’s played with world-renowned orchestras and at prestigious venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and the Sydney Opera House, and has dazzled audiences at music festivals including Bonnaroo, SXSW, the Playboy Jazz Festival and Fuji Rock Festival. He even performed for that rarest of audiences: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Not too shabby for a humble young man from Hawaii and his trusty ukulele.