Sharing Laughter, Love And Hope Through Ukulele

By Roy Sakuma
Wednesday - June 08, 2011 Share

By Roy Sakuma, President, Board of Directors
Ukulele Festival Hawaii

I’m not proud of it, but I was a troubled teen and was kicked out of high school. Aimlessly drifting, one day I heard the song Sushi performed by Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta on the radio. Something clicked inside. I sought out the ukulele master Ohta-San to teach me to play the ukulele and put my heart and soul into practicing eight to 10 hours a day. He became my mentor, and that small, four-stringed instrument became my passion, turning my life around.

A few years later, while I was working as a city groundskeeper at Kapiolani Park, I’d look at the bandstand during my lunch break and dream of putting on an ukulele festival. By then, the ukulele was becoming a thing of the past. I wanted to revive interest in the ukulele and show its versatility as a solo instrument.

The first event in 1971 featured 50 participants and an audience of 100. Today, the ukulele festival has more than 800 participants from Hawaii and all over the world, and there are now ukulele festivals throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and other places, many of which, I’m happy to say, are modeled after Hawaii’s celebration. I also thank Jake (Shimabukuro) and Iz (the late Israel Kamakawiwoole) for bringing more renown to the melodic sounds that emanate from this much-loved instrument. This year’s Ukulele Festival, now in its 41st year, will be held on Sunday, July 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kapiolani Park.

Ukulele enthusiasts play in harmony. Photo courtesy Don Poole

My wife Kathy and I founded Ukulele Festival Hawaii in 2004, and the mission of our nonprofit organization is simple: to bring laughter, love and hope to children and adults throughout Hawaii and the world through the music of the ukulele. Because of the generous support of organizations, entertainers, the community and many volunteers, we are able to keep the ukulele festival free to the public and provide annual college scholarships to deserving high school seniors with an interest in the ukulele.

The public can help by attending the upcoming Ukulele Festival Hawaii Gala on Friday, July 15 at 5:30 p.m. at Ala Moana Hotel’s Hibiscus Ballroom. To learn more about Ukulele Festival Hawaii, visit

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