Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards
Cliff Edwards (June 14, 1895 – July 17, 1971), also known as "Ukelele Ike", was an American singer and voice actor who enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s, specializing in jazzy renditions of pop standards and novelty tunes. He had a number one hit with "Singin' in the Rain" in 1929. He also did voices for animated cartoons later in his career, and is best known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio (1940).
Edwards was born Clifton A. Edwards in Hannibal, Missouri. He left school at age 14 and soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he entertained as a singer in saloons. As many places had pianos in bad shape or none at all, Edwards taught himself to play ukulele (then often spelled "ukelele") to serve as his own accompanist (selecting that instrument as it was the cheapest in the music store). He got the nickname "Ukelele Ike" from a club owner who could not remember his name. He got his first break in 1918 at the Arsonia Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, where he performed a tune called "Ja Da," written by the club's pianist, Bob Carleton. Edwards and Carleton made the tune a hit on the Vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards as part of his act, which was featured at the Palace in New York City, the most prestigious theater in vaudeville, and then in the Ziegfeld Follies.
Edwards made his first phonograph records in 1919. He recorded early examples of jazz scat singing in 1922. The following year he signed a contract with Pathé Records. He became one of the most popular singers of the decade, and appeared in several Broadway shows. He recorded, in his distinctive style, many of the pop and novelty hits of the day, such as "California, Here I Come", "Hard Hearted Hannah", "Yes Sir, That's My Baby", and "I'll See You in My Dreams".
In 1925, his recording of "Paddlin’ Madeleine Home" would reach number three on the pop charts. In 1928, his recording of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. In 1929, his recording of "Singin' in the Rain" was number one for three weeks. Edwards's own compositions included "(I'm Cryin' 'Cause I Know I'm) Losing You", "You're So Cute (Mama O' Mine)", "Stack O' Lee", "Little Somebody of Mine", and "I Want to Call You 'Sweet Mama'". He also recorded a few "off-color" novelty numbers for under-the-counter sales, including "I'm a Bear in a Lady's Boudoir."
More than any other performer, Edwards was responsible for the soaring popularity of the ukulele in the 1920s. Millions of ukes were sold during the decade, and Tin Pan Alley publishers added ukulele chords to standard sheet music. Edwards always played American Martin ukuleles favoring the small soprano model in his early career. In his later years Edwards moved to the sweeter, large tenor ukulele more suited to crooning which was becoming popular in the 1930s.
Edwards' continued to record until shortly before his 1971 death. His last record album, "Ukulele Ike," was released posthumously on the independent Glendale label. He reprised many of his 1920s hits, but his then failing health was evident in the recordings.
In 1929 Cliff Edwards was playing at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, California, where he caught the attention of movie producer-director Irving Thalberg. His film company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Edwards to appear in early sound movies. After performing in some short films, Edwards was one of the stars in the feature Hollywood Revue of 1929, doing some comic bits and singing some numbers, including the film debut of his hit "Singin' in the Rain". He appeared in a total of 33 films for MGM through 1933.
Edwards was very friendly with MGM's comedy star Buster Keaton, who featured Edwards in three of his films. Keaton, himself a former vaudevillian, enjoyed singing and would harmonize with Edwards between takes. One of these casual jam sessions was captured on film, in Doughboys (1930), in which Buster and Cliff scat-sing their way through "You Never Did That Before." Buster was battling a drinking problem at the time, and Cliff was nursing a drug habit, both of which are unfortunately evident in the finished film. In scenes when Keaton is sharp and alert, Edwards appears befuddled; when Edwards regains his sobriety, Keaton is now stumbling and fumbling. (Edwards was ultimately replaced in the Keaton films by Jimmy Durante.)
Edwards was also an occasional supporting player in feature films and short subjects at Warner Brothers and RKO Radio Pictures. He played a wisecracking sidekick to western star George O'Brien, and filled in for Allen Jenkins as "Goldie" opposite George Sanders in The Falcon Strikes Back. In a 1940 short, he led a cowboy chorus in Cliff Edwards and His Buckaroos.
Edwards appeared in the darkly sardonic western comedy The Bad Man of Brimstone in 1937, and in 1939 he played the character "Endicott" in the screwball comedy film His Girl Friday. Also in 1939, he voiced the off-screen dying Confederate soldier in Gone with the Wind in the makeshift hospital scene with Vivien Leigh and Olivia De Havilland casting large shadows on a church wall. In 1940 came his most famous voice role, as Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio. Edwards's touching rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" from that film is probably his most familiar recorded legacy. In 1941, he voiced the head crow in Disney's Dumbo and sang "When I See An Elephant Fly".
In 1932, Edwards got his first national radio show on CBS. He would continue hosting network radio shows on and off through 1946. However, from the early 1930s, Edwards' popularity faded as public taste shifted to sweeter style crooners like Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and Bing Crosby.
Like many vaudeville stars, Edwards was an early arrival on television. For the 1949 season, Edwards starred in The Cliff Edwards Show, a three-days-a-week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings) TV variety show on CBS. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he made a number of appearances on The Mickey Mouse Club, in addition to reprising his Jiminy Cricket voice for various Disney shorts and the Disney Christmas spectacular, From All of Us to All of You.
Edwards was careless with the money he got in the boom years of the 1920s, always trying to sustain his expensive habits and lifestyle. While he continued working during the Great Depression, he would never again enjoy his former prosperity. Most of his income went to alimony for multiple former wives and for paying other debts. He declared bankruptcy four times during the 1930s and early 1940s.
Edwards suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction in his later years, living in a home for indigent actors. He often spent his days hanging around the Walt Disney Studios to be available any time he could get voice work, sometimes being taken to lunch by animators to whom he told stories of his days in vaudeville.
He had disappeared from the public eye at the time of his 1971 death as a charity patient at the Virgil Convalescent Hospital in Hollywood, California. His body was initially unclaimed and donated to the University of California, Los Angeles medical school. When Walt Disney Productions, which had been quietly paying many of his medical expenses, found out about this, it offered to purchase the corpse and pay for the burial; but this was actually done by the Actors' Fund of America (which had also aided Edwards) and the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund. The Disney company paid for his grave marker.
From www.redhotjazz.com :
Cliff Edwards got his start in show business as a teenager in St. Louis where he sang in movie theatres and saloons. While singing in the saloons he began to accompany himself on the ukulele and developed a style of improvised singing, which he called "effin". "Effin" sounds a lot like the human voice imitating a hot trumpet or kazoo solo. Edwards had a wonderful voice with at least a three octave range and he would inject his "effin" solos into his songs in the same way that a Jazz musician would take a solo. A good argument can be made that Edwards 1922 recordings with Ladds Black Aces and Bailey's Lucky Seven are the first recorded examples of scat singing, but some Jazz critics would disagee and point back to Gene Greene's 1911 Victor recording "King of the Bungaloos". Between 1913 and 1918 Edwards struggled to make a living traveling with carnivals and doing menial labor to get by. In 1917 he moved to Chicago where he took a job as a singer in the Arsonia Cafe going to tables and singing and playing the ukulele for tips. It was here that he started using the stage name of "Ukulele Ike". The pianist at the club was Bob Carlton who had written a novelty song that he called "Ja Da". Cliff became a sensation singing the song and he and Joe Frisco, a stuttering comedian and dancer, formed a vaudeville act that was successful enough to end up playing at the Palace in New York City. It is interesting to note that Frisco was instrumental in bringing Tom Brown's Dixieland Jazz Band north from New Orleans in 1915. After appearing in Ziegfeld Follies, Edwards and Frisco's act came to an end and Cliff teamed up with another dancer and singer named Pierce Keegan. They billed their act as "Pierce Keegan "Jazz Az Iz" and Cliff Edwards "Ukelele Ike" and toured the vaudeville circuit, performed in Zeigfeld's Midnight Frolic in 1919 and recorded five songs for Columbia which unfortunately were never issued. The act broke up in mid-1920 and Edwards then teamed up with Lou Clayton who would later work with Jimmy Durante in vaudeville. In 1922 Edwards recorded his first records with Ladds Black Aces and Bailey's Lucky Seven. In 1924 Edwards hit the bigtime when he appeared in George Gershwin's "Lady Be Good" on Broadway and introduced the song "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and stole the show. He went on to score other big successes in other Broadway productions and become a major star of vaudeville. When we think of the 1920s the image of a crooner with a ukulele comes to mind. This image is based on Edwards popularity and his uke. Throughout the 1920s Edwards recorded with top Jazz talents like Adrian Rollini, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Vic Berton, Joe Tarto, among others. The records released under the name of Cliff Edwards and his Hot Combination are of particular Jazz interest. In 1929 Edwards scored another hit with his version of "Singin' In The Rain"in the movie "The Hollywood Revue Of 1929" and this role established him as a film star. He went on to appear in more than 100 motion pictures. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s Edwards continued to be a much sought after actor in Hollywood. His singing and film roles led him to be cast as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in the Disney animated feature "Pinocchio". Cliff sang the song "When You Wish Upon a Star" in the film and it won an Oscar for best song in 1940. His rendition of this song is one of the great popular vocal performances of the 20th century and it became the theme of the Disney corporation. Edwards went on to be the voice of Jim Crow in the animated feature "Dumbo" and star in the Durango Kid "B movie" westerns. It is estimated that Edwards sold 74 million records during his career. Despite all of this success and earning millions of dollars in his career he went bankrupt several times due to alimony payments, income tax troubles, gambling, alcoholism and drug addiction. His star faded in the 1950s and 1960s and Edwards died broke and on welfare in 1971, a forgotten man.
Here are some tunes for you:
Good little bad little you 9-21-1928 w/ Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang
1 Entire radio programme 1940s "The Cliff Edwards show" 1944 NBC
2 Entire radio programme 1940s "The Cliff Edwards show" 1944 NBC
3 Entire radio programme 1940s "The Cliff Edwards show" 1944 NBC
4 Entire radio programme 1940s "The Cliff Edwards show" 1944 NBC
5 Entire radio programme 1940s "The Cliff Edwards show" 1944 NBC
Mr insurance man ('30s double entendre "party record") 11-1936
A pretty girl is like a melody
A song of old Hawaii
After my laughter came tears 12-1927
Ain't she sweet 1927
He's the Hottest Man in Town 1924
California here I come 4-1924
Clap hands here come Charlie 12-1925 Come up and see me sometime 10-13-1933
Feelin' the way I do 3-1924
For me and my gal
Give a little whistle (From "Pinocchio") 10-1939 Victor 26477
Hang on to me 5-30-1928
How can you look so good 1925
I can't give you anything but love 7-12-1928 from "Blackbirds of 1928"
I cried for you
I don't want nobody but you 4-1926
I used to love you, but that's all over now
I'll buy the ring and change your name to mine 2-1925
I'll see you in my dreams 2-5-1930
I'm a bear in a lady's boudoir 11-1936
Give "It" to Mary with love 11-1936
I'm no fool (yeah, that old kids song)
If you knew Susie 5-1925
It had to be you 4-1924
Just a night for meditation 1928
Just you just me (from the Talking Picture Production "Marianne") 6-14-1928
Mary Ann 1-1928
The night is young and you're so beautiful
Night owl 10-24-1933
Orange blossom time From Talking Picture Production "Hollywood Revue Of 1929" 5-28-1928
Paddlin Madelin home 6-1925
Paper doll 1949
Ragtime cowboy Joe
Reaching for someone (and not finding anyone there) 6-9-1928
Singin' in the rain (incomplete) From Talking Picture Production "Hollywood Revue of 1928" 5-28-1928
That's my weakness now 7-12-1928
The sweetheart of Sigma Chi 1949
You, the human animal (one of the later "kid's" songs)
Somebody loves me w/ Andy Iona and his Islanders from "George White's Scandals" 8-1924
St. Louis blues w/ Andy Iona and his Islanders
Stack O Lee pt 1 10-3-1928
Stack O Lee pt. 2 10-3-1928
A love like ours
Five foot two eyes of blue 1926
Halfway to heaven 8-15-1928
I'll take her back if she wants to come back 12-1924
In the gloaming
Love is just around the corner (with an annoying voiceover at the beginning)
My bundle of love 1925
Singing a song to the stars 1930
The only only one for me 1924
When you and I were young Maggie blues 1934
So nice 1934 w/ Dixie Dunbar