Meet Mr. Ukulele, Roy Sakuma.
I had a nice phone conversation this afternoon with Roy Sakuma. He plays the ukulele wonderfully, as he damn well should since he was a student of Herb Ohta, known internationally as Ohta-San. Of course Roy himself had a pupil, Jake Shimabukuro, who can bring forth music from the ukulele that raises the hair on the back of your neck and a tear to your eye.
I must confess that I, too, was once one of Roy Sakuma’s students. Well, not one of his students, but I did have a few lessons with someone who might have been his daughter. Alas, I confess that I quit after just three or four lessons since I was clearly not up to performing the intricate fingering that any serious effort on an ukulele requires. My musical skills were pretty much limited to singing what were considered at the time to be bawdy songs at fraternity parties while accompanying myself on a banjo. At the time, I chose to not mention that to the ukulele master, Roy Sakuma.
Roy has staged ukulele festivals in Japan and he’s organized a 600-piece ukulele band in Honolulu that’s composed mostly of children. Then there’s the annual ukulele festival established by Roy and his wife, Kathy. It’s purpose: “to preserve interest and spread the joy of the ukulele through free ukulele festivals, lessons, community events, scholarships and the donation of ukulele to the underprivileged.”
But Roy Sakuma has also been the host and the driving force behind “The Wildest Show in Town”, a series of ten concerts staged on the grounds of the Honolulu Zoo every Wednesday evening from June through August for more than 30 years. Top performers appear and all proceeds go to help pay for various zoo projects.
At any rate, we had about a ten minute conversation before he had to greet a student who had just arrived for a lesson. Before he hung up, I asked Roy how many students he’d had since he first started giving ukulele lessons.
”I don’t know exactly,” he said, “but at least fifty thousand.”