The ‘ukulele looks like a small, four-string guitar. It seems simple enough to play and, in the world of great music and complex instruments, it is often overlooked.
But when you hear it played by Herbert Ohta, or Ohta-san as he is better known, your perception of the ‘ukulele is forever changed. In his hands the ‘ukulele can sound like a many different instruments – at times a guitar, a harp or even a violin. Whether he is playing Hawaiian, pop, jazz, new age or classical music, his virtuosity and versatility have earned him the international reputation as THE premier ‘ukulele soloist.
Ohta-san began playing ‘ukulele when he was only seven. His mother taught him the basics. Later, Eddie Kamae became his most influential teacher. At age 15 he was performing at the Armed Forces YMCA with Becky Kalama’s Hawaiian show. He later formed his own quartets and show bands performing in major showrooms in Hawai‘i and such major world cities as Tokyo, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and New York.
A prolific recording artist with at least 50 albums to his credit, Ohta-san first recorded with Victor of Japan, while he was still in the military. In 1964, he was “discovered” by local producer Don McDiarmid Jr. The song they recorded was “Sushi” and it was an overnight success.
Ohta-san went on to record six albums with McDiarmid. Other recordings followed on such labels as Decca, Lehua, Poki, Discos Tropical, Sakuma, and in Japan on Warner/Pioneer, Victor of Japan, and Polydor of Japan. Perhaps his most significant album was “Song for Anna,” recorded in France and released in the USA by A&M Records in 1974. It sold more than two million copies and established Ohta-san’s reputation worldwide.
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