Cliff Edwards, known by the stage name “Ukulele Ike”, died in 1971, a charity patient at the Virgil Convalescent Hospital in Hollywood. Penniless and forgotten, his body went unclaimed and was donated to the UCLA medical school. You may think you’ve never heard of Cliff Edwards, yet you’ve almost certainly heard him sing. Who never heard Jiminy Cricket sing When You Wish Upon A Star in Pinocchio? This is, however, Cliff Edwards singing a decade past his prime. Though few know his name today, Edwards was likely the best-known vaudevillian of the 1920s, recording hundreds of 78 rpm records accompanied only by his ukulele - records estimated to collectively have sold in the tens of millions.
Edwards lived large. He drank, he gambled; he married three times and declared bankruptcy four. He successfully pleaded his first divorce case on grounds of cruelty. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and lived off of a diet of ham and cabbage. All the more remarkable, therefore, that he retained a three octave vocal range that made Bing Crosby envious. Hollywood clamored for cameos, and Edwards did not disappoint, appearing in more than 100 films. By the 1940s, however, alimony, addiction, and the changing taste of the American audience brought hard times. Edwards moved out of his New York City apartment and into a converted navy vessel on the East River called, naturally, the “Ukulele Lady.” It was a slow and painful decline. No one sings a ballad like Cliff Edwards.
Guest contributor (and collector) T. Jardim