Bill Wynne - Reluctant `Ukulele Artist

When Bill Wynne steps on stage in a vintage aloha shirt with a guitar or an `ukulele in his hand, he is frequently mistaken for being Hawaiian. He is quick to point out that he is not Hawaiian – not because he wouldn`t love to be (because that would go a long way toward explaining what Wynne is all about), but because he isn`t and has no intention of perpetrating a hoax on his audience. But when Wynne opens his mouth to sing an old-fashioned Hawaiian song in the Hawaiian language, the shadow of doubt and confusion falls over the audience again and they cannot help but ask, “Is he sure he isn’t Hawaiian?”

The question audiences should be asking is, “How did a guy from New Jersey with no Hawaiian lineage learn to play `ukulele, slack key guitar, steel guitar, and sing falsetto in the Hawaiian language?” The answer lies in Bill’s deep love of the Hawaiian people and their culture. Born on October 2, 1970 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Filipino-Spanish-Lithuanian father and an English-Welsh-German-Cherokee mother, Bill Wynne came into this world as part of a family already deeply steeped in Hawaiian music and culture and into the local Hawaiian community on the East Coast where Hawaiian ex-patriots abound.

Wynne has been playing the `ukulele almost as long as he has been alive, first picking up the instrument at the tender age of two years old – an inexpensive `ukulele purchased for him at Sears as a birthday present by a calabash Hawaiian auntie and uncle. The instrument struck a chord with the youngster – and he struck a chord with it – and thus began the acquisition syndrome experienced by so many `ukulele players. Next it was a Harmony soprano like the one played by Roy Smeck whom Bill had admired. (Wynne could play every note of Smeck’s Wizard of the Strings LP before he had turned five years old!) Bill spent most of his childhood carefully examining recordings by Hawai`i's legendary `ukulele artists – trying to recreate any and every sound he heard while trying not to disturb the neighbors. At a very early age, Bill learned the `ukulele solos of Eddie Kamae, Jesse Kalima, and Herb Ohta note for note. So in the spirit of “go big or go home,” the then five-year-old asked Santa for a Kamaka tenor for Christmas in 1975, and he insisted on it having a Barcus-Berry pick-up like the one played by his hero, Jesse Kalima. Believing him worthy of such a fine instrument, his parents - I mean, Santa - brought him that Kamaka that year. 

For a while, as his hands grew, Wynne turned to the guitar, the steel guitar, and other instruments – more comfortable with their scale and range. He even turned to other musical idioms like jazz, pop, rock, and country - studying recordings by such a diverse range of artists as Chet Atkins, Barney Kessel, George Shearing, and Bill Evans. But the reluctant `ukulele player cannot help but return time and again to the instrument he fell in love with and that was his gateway drug not only to music, but to all things Hawaiian. Five decades since that first purchase at Sears, Wynne is now considered the consummate expert in chord melody-style `ukulele – performing not only Hawaiian music on the diminutive four-stringer, but also jazz, classical, pop, the Great American Songbook, and even Broadway.  And the instruments just get more and more refined – just like Bill’s playing. He currently favors both a Kanile’a super tenor and baritone `ukulele. He considers them his “voice.” And for his efforts, Kanile`a has bestowed upon Wynne a rare artist endorsement and sponsorship.

Wynne is more interested in ever in exploring the infinite possibilities of this once overlooked instrument and, although it was a long time coming, only now is he wildly in demand as a performer and instructor at some of the region’s most prestigious `ukulele festivals. Wynne has been a featured artist and teacher at the NJ Uke Fest, Funky Frets Uke Fest, and Gaithersburg Uke Fest.

In 2022, Wynne is celebrating his 50th year playing the `ukulele with not one, but two new CDs of `ukulele music. Click here to check out sound clips from these recordings and to order yours now as they are a limited edition of 300 copies each. Don't miss out!