In memory: John King

I just learned that John King, arguably the only classical musician to perform at a virtuoso level on the ‘ukulele, died April 27. His sensibility and technique was that of a classical guitarist, but he also took advantage of some of the unique characteristics of the ‘ukulele: e.g., he played using the Baroque-era campanela style of guitar playing, which requires the re-entrant tuning of the ‘ukulele; he made the short sustain of the ‘ukulele’s individual notes help increase clarity of individual notes while allowing resonant response of open strings to come through; etc.

King may be best known for his adaptations of Bach to the ‘ukulele. But I have been most moved by his arrangements of classical Hawai’ian music. The shimmering, bell-like sounds of King’s playing match the melodies of composers like Miriam Likelike, William Pitt Leleihhoku, Lydia Lili’uokalani, and David Kalakaua. King’s performances sound small and intimate, like the instrument he played, yet they are also informed by King’s distinct musical sensibility. As a fitting way to remember King, here he is in a YouTube performance of Ka Ipo Lei Manu, a song composed by Julia Kapiolani:

Obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. King’s Web site.