View Full Version : Ukulele Lady - May Singhi Breen

04-11-2009, 05:41 AM
In doing research on my P'mico uke, I ran into a lot of references to May Singhi Breen, the "Ukulele Lady". Apparently she was very influential in popularizing the ukulele and in demanding respect for the ukulele as a serious instrument.

As you know, there are a lot of people who put the ukulele on about the same level as the kazoo.

May S. Breen was a popular performer on the radio in the 30's and 40's. She and her husband, Pete De Rose, had a show called "Sweethearts of the Air". I think they did mostly light pop songs and novelty songs, but they were quite famous in their day.

May Singhi Breen demanded that the musician's union give the same respect and membership rights to ukulele players that they gave to everyone else. As a result the musician's union accepted ukulele players and accepted the ukulele as a serious instrument on the same level as violin, guitar, or any other instrument.

May S. Breen also had the first piece of concert classical music written especially for the ukulele, and she performed it as the featured soloist. I think the writer may have been her husband, Pete De Rose, or at least he collaborated on it.

May Singhi Breen was a music arranger as well. They say that more sheet music arrangements are credited to her than to any other person in history. That seems like a rather big claim - but if the internet says it, it must be so... right? :D

There must be a bunch of old 78 records of her music out there somewhere. Does anybody know if any of her music is available in mp3 form on the web? I would like to know what she sounded like.

(By the way - y'all can fact check me on this stuff. I'm writing from memory of the articles I have read.)

04-11-2009, 07:55 AM
I found sheet music available here for purchase:

And MP3s of some of her compositions here:

(I don't know which songs are hers)

05-28-2011, 12:58 PM
Any follow up on May Singhi Breen? I'm looking for a more fulsome biography of her....

05-28-2011, 08:12 PM
Breen's "New Ukulele Method for Beginning and Advanced Students" is the best method book I've found. I had to learn to play tuned aDF#B, but it's worth it to work through her thoughtful arrangements. I learned more about fingering chords intelligently from playing her "Ukulele Chopsticks" for five minutes than I had learned in five years. She's a ruler.

Nice article at her Ukulele Hall of Fame inductee page:


05-28-2011, 08:24 PM
I see her books and arrangements on eBay frequently, and have picked up a few myself.

There are two recordings on which she played uke (http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=may%20singhi%20breen) on the Internet Archive, and a few more on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=may+singhi+breen&aq=f) (but you have to dig around for them, as the search returns a lot of people playing her arrangements).

05-31-2011, 04:57 PM
I don't have any biographical help, but there are quite a few May Singhi Breen arrangements from the Sheet Music Consortium (http://digital.library.ucla.edu/sheetmusic/). A query for "Singhi" limited to digitized sheet music yields almost 300 results.

10-17-2013, 04:22 AM
PS: A 1936 magazine with a column in it by May:

www.otrr.org/FILES/Magz_pdf/Radio%20Guide/Radio%20Guide%2036-08-01.pdf (http://www.otrr.org/FILES/Magz_pdf/Radio%20Guide/Radio%20Guide%2036-08-01.pdf)

PDF format. Great to look at from a typographic perspective, too.

10-17-2013, 04:28 AM
And a 1925 magazine with May in it:

www.vacuumtubeera.net/RadioBroadcast-Vol-07-1925-08.pdf (http://www.vacuumtubeera.net/RadioBroadcast-Vol-07-1925-08.pdf)

Again, PDF format.

10-17-2013, 04:35 AM
A 1926 article by Breen: What the Ukulele Brings to Music Merchants...

mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1926-82-26/MTR-1926-82-26-40.pdf (http://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1926-82-26/MTR-1926-82-26-40.pdf)

10-17-2013, 04:41 AM
May's obituary, newspaper from 1970: (

Her career started when she was given a ukulele as a gift. She tried to exchange it, but when she couldn't, decided to take lessons...

10-17-2013, 04:56 AM
Radio program from 1942 with Breen's shows listed:

www.jjonz.us/RadioLogs/pagesnfiles/logs_files/1940s/1942/42_01Jan/[c]42-01-11-(Sun).pdf (http://www.jjonz.us/RadioLogs/pagesnfiles/logs_files/1940s/1942/42_01Jan/[c]42-01-11-(Sun).pdf)

Uncle Rod Higuchi
10-17-2013, 06:15 AM
Thank you so much, Ian, for sharing all of this! (writing a book? You should!!)

I've only clicked on one link but it was most interesting.

I'll be checking out those MP3s later :)

Thanks again,

and keep uke'in',