MONROE — Ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues: the Hollywood Bowl, Sydney Opera House and New York City’s Lincoln Center. Now, he can add the Frank Wagner Elementary gymnasium to the list.
Shimabukuro entertained students and staff Monday morning with renditions of popular songs like, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “What a Wonderful World” and “Smoke on the Water.”
The 42-year-old’s visit was in support of the school’s year-old ukulele program.
“Kids are going to want to play these and pick them up tomorrow,” Frank Wagner Principal Kristin Cortes said. “Not only are they going to want to play basic, they’re going to shoot for the moon now that they’ve seen what’s possible.”
Shimabukuro has been playing the four-stringed instrument for nearly 40 years. His career was propelled in 2006 when a video of him playing The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral.
He tours frequently, often performing at schools to teach students about music and the importance of living a drug- free life.
“Music and the arts are so important because it sparks inspiration, especially in young children,” he said. “I like to say it’s not just the universal language, it’s the language of the universe. We’re all musicians deep down inside, in the sense we all have something we want to send out into the world.”
The school just received a $6,000 grant for more instruments.
Superintendent Fredrika Smith said it’s all part of a districtwide push to maintain arts education.
“It’s unfortunate that in education, some of what is thought to be core instruction has displaced a lot of the arts,” she said.
“I believe very strongly the arts create a full education.”
Born in raised in Hawaii, Shimabukuro’s mother taught him to play the ukulele when he was 4. The four-stringed instrument is less intimidating than others, he said.
“It’s so simple to pick up and learn,” he said. “You don’t realize the range and variety of sounds you can make.”
Other than his mother, he’s been inspired by musicians from all genres, he said.
“I’m still discovering all these musicians that I’m a big fan of,” he said. “There’s inspiration everywhere. There’s so much to learn.”
On Tuesday, he’ll play at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, before heading for shows in Oregon and California.
Earlier this year, he was playing in venues across Europe. What he likes most about touring, he said, is seeing ukulele communities throughout the world.
“Every music store I walk into, in Dublin, London and Paris, all had walls of ukuleles,” he said. “I think it’s impacting a lot of lives in very positive ways.”
After his show Monday, he hung around the stage, high-fiving students, taking pictures and signing ukuleles.