Why Tiny Tim Should be in the Ukulele Hall of Fame

Yesterday – it being International Women’s Day – I was musing on how gender balanced the ukulele world is (compare the average ukulele festival to scenes from NAMM). I like to have a healthy mix on the site and writing about the ukulele makes it very easy.

But it goes beyond gender. The ukulele scene is generally inclusive and has long been home people who are not fitters-in. It’s one of my favourite aspects of the scene. And it got me thinking of Tiny Tim.

When the campaign to induct Tiny Tim into the Ukulele Hall of Fame came along I was more than a little sceptical. And I still have my doubts. But I’ve started to change my mind.

The uke has always been an outsider instrument. It was built by immigrants and adopted by Hawaiians quickly being elbowed out of their own country. Ever since it’s been taken up by the misunderstood, the misshapen and the mentally other. And Tiny Tim is the embodiment of all those things. Best of all, he was happy to be that way. It never seemed like he was putting on an act but just gleefully being himself. It’s a point Penn Jillette makes in this video:

What I really love most about Tiny Tim is the complete lack of irony and the complete lack of cynicism in Tiny Tim.

Whether you’re seven hundred pounds, buck-toothed, slightly deranged or all of the above, Tiny Tim means you’ll never be the weirdest person to pick up a uke. And that’s the way it should stay. No matter how many skinny, straight-toothed popstars pick it up.

Tiny Tim should be in the Ukulele Hall of Fame because he is the ultimate representation of one concept: the ukulele will always welcome freaks, weirdos, outcasts and outsiders.

Have your say by voting below or here. And leave a comment saying why you feel that way.

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41 Comments

  1. Dan March 9th, 2011 6:12 pm

    Whenever I see a Tiny Tim performance I get a smile.

  2. Howlin' Hobbit March 9th, 2011 6:25 pm

    didn’t change my mind about Tim at all, I already agreed.

    changed my mind a bit about Penn Jillette though. it was a very sweet video.

  3. The Gentle Surprise March 9th, 2011 7:54 pm

    I can’t imagine even for a second why people would object.

    The man kept the instrument alive in popular culture when it was being pushed aside by the electric guitar and the kids of the folks who listened to George Formby and Cliff Edwards didn’t want anything to do with it.
    He also commanded one of the all-time most excellent schticks: earnest, self-aware, goofy as hell; the long hair of the counterculture wrapped in a larger old-timeyness non-threatening to the parents.

    A no-brainer.

  4. Bluetick March 9th, 2011 8:29 pm

    Ask the most ukulele ignorant person to name any players and they will most likley say George Formby and Tiny Tim. As night follows day it is something everybody knows. As already stated, no brainer.

  5. Woodshed March 9th, 2011 8:54 pm

    There’s far too much bloody agreement going on here. I’m going to have to argue against myself.

    Dan: I can’t say I do. The second video in this post had me in stitches. The first left me stony faced.

    Hobbit: Not a Jillette fan? I like a lot of the stuff he does.

    Gentle Surprise: I can think of plenty of objections. I’m not sure he kept it alive. Quite possibly the opposite. Think of all the interesting ukulele music made between Tiny Tim’s fame and the 90s. It won’t take you long.

    Bluetick: Why should the recipients of the acclaim of the ukulele community be decided by those entirely ignorant of it?

  6. Baz Maz March 9th, 2011 8:59 pm

    Very much agree – great post!

  7. mictoboy March 9th, 2011 9:50 pm

    I didn’t know there was a Ukulele Hall of Fame until this post, so I don’t suppose it matters either way if they induct (induce?) Tiny Tim.

    Is the ukulele hall of fame a museum, a website an association or what? Looks like I’ll have to do a bit of googling. Or not.

  8. Craig Robertson March 9th, 2011 11:04 pm

    You’ve GOT to be kidding. TT did more harm than good. In most people’s eyes he relegated the ukulele to a silly prop for his schtick.
    For those of you who haven’t noticed; it’s an instrument, not a prop.

  9. Ron Hale March 10th, 2011 2:48 am

    Bravo, Al. You posted two very nice Tiny Tim videos, the Performance Art one being my all-time favorite Tiny performance, which I just stumbled upon rather recently. Tried a while back to watch Penn’s video but couldn’t get it to play for very long, but will try again.

    A week or so ago, I ventured over to Ami Worthen’s blog, read down a ways and came to
    a post in which she included an essay by William Preston Robertson, one of the pair responsible
    for Rock That Uke, and a good friend of Ami’s.
    Well, in the essay the idiot trashed Tiny in a particularyly crass and junenile manner, which set me off.

    I asked the fool just who the bloody hell was he to condescend to someone who gave his heart, his soul, his very life (almost literally, as his fatal heart attack occured right before what was going to be his final performance) to our instrument. And I don’t regret a single word.

    I’ve gone on record here before with my views on Tiny’s Hall of Fame worthiness, and I think what I’ve said in this comment makes my position crystal clear. Perhaps you might look into the Hall of Fame’s worthiness. What has it done lately?

    I suggest people try the following video, which I recommended to Ami -

    The Last Days of Tiny Tim
    TheAstroZombie (I believe, memory fails me a bit)

    Fans of Tiny might like this very sweet tribute video -

    When The Angels Come For Me
    delzorros

  10. Carrie Griffin March 10th, 2011 2:53 am

    This doesn’t have much bearing on whether the ukulele community is accepting of freaks/weirdos/etc. and not to say that Tiny Tim didn’t have a very, very weird persona but:

    Wasn’t he famously conservative? Like to the point that his wife divorced him because of his excessively old-fashioned views about marriage?

    I feel silly even bringing this up given that it has so little to do with his musical ability and influence, but I do find it slightly discomforting that the person you’d choose as a hallmark example of the ukulele community’s acceptance would be someone who, in their own life, was…to avoid editorializing too much, I’ll say old-fashioned to a fault.

    I may be completely off on this. If that’s the case…I apologize to…uh, the estate of Tiny Tim for my slanderous accusations.

  11. Simbosan March 10th, 2011 3:02 am

    Reminds me of Emo Philips, God Bless splendid nutters

    S

  12. Carrie Griffin March 10th, 2011 3:08 am

    Uh…that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with being politically conservative, for the record. My (possibly incorrect) memory of what I’d heard of Tiny Tim’s level of conservatism is one I would guess very, very few modern conservatives agree with today.

    Just wanted to avoid accidentally ruffling any feathers.

  13. George Stone March 10th, 2011 7:32 am

    I can’t stand TT, sorry, and also upsett if somebody say: oh, you play ukulele, like Tiny Tim

    But for good or bad I think he deserves to be remembered, means honoured, …maybe

    good point ” the ukulele will always welcome freaks, weirdos, outcasts and outsiders”,
    I am proud to be on that list

  14. Dino Divo March 10th, 2011 7:41 am

    I’m a huge fan of Tiny Tim! Just saw Taylor Mac’s show “Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim; Comparison is Violence” and was pleased to see he did a rendition of the “The Ice Caps are Melting”. I just wish I’d seen the man himself. God bless Tiny Tim.

  15. ritchie March 10th, 2011 7:57 am

    I dislike “Halls of Fame” …. I dislike “Award Ceremonies” …. I dislike “People voting on issues” like this ….. but yes he should be.

  16. JudgeMENTAL March 10th, 2011 8:39 am

    Tiny Tim was climatologist at the vanguard of the global warming awakening and an outstanding singer and uke player. He re-awakend society to the ukulele, its just a pity society forgot until recently about the instrument.

  17. Michael Madden March 10th, 2011 9:04 am

    TT has more than earned a place in the ukulele hall of fame. My reason is best represented in the post
    given below…

    http://reyalpeleluku.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/

  18. Spike Gomes March 10th, 2011 9:35 am

    Woodshed:

    I can think of quite a bit between the 60s and 90s, but then again, even in Hawaii it was second potato to slack key guitar from the 70s to 80s.

  19. Ambient Doughnut March 10th, 2011 10:02 am

    It’s a good case and I’m sure he deserves his place in the hall of fame. However, I don’t think it’s going to make me want to listen to him anymore!

  20. Art March 10th, 2011 11:55 am

    Difficult to answer, kind of agree with Craig that TT did more harm than good. However due to TT when people hear a good ukulele they are over whelmed with just how nice it can sound,,,

  21. Phredd March 10th, 2011 3:21 pm

    I was a little disappointed that you didn’t include a link to one of my videos attached to the text – “mentally other” in your post.

  22. The Gentle Surprise March 10th, 2011 4:49 pm

    @Woodshed I do have a hard time with thinking of all the interesting ukulele music between Tiny Tim’s fame and the 90s, but like I said, i think that has more to do with rock and the advances in electronic music than it does with Tiny Tim. The styles of music the uke can produce became too limited in that era of electronic shenanigans.

    If we’re talking about the barrier of entry to the HOF being pure technical ability, then of course not. Watching him now after gaining a little bit of facility myself, I sometimes think that the man could barely play.

    But I’d maintain that there’s more than one side to the instrument, and the schticky side is pretty well developed, and was even in the early days of recorded music.

    It’s an instrument, yes, but it’s also been (widely considered, rightly or wrongly) a _novelty_ instrument for most of its existence in popular culture.

    Personally, I love both sides of it, and I may actually love the schticky side more. I try and respect the instrument, and make actual music, and I practice and try and get better and develop more skills, but c’mon, it’s a ukulele. Part of the beauty of playing it is that when you do actually do something complex or musically accomplished on it, it’s a surprise to most people. “I didn’t think you could do that on a ukulele.” When/if you transcend that into just plain good music, it’s magical.

    I will close by saying that the whole reason I started playing is because of Steve Martin in “The Jerk.”

    Apologies for length.

  23. Jeff / Humble Uker March 10th, 2011 8:33 pm

    Uniquely Tim,
    He tip-toed through the tulips
    A lonely uker.

    HOF – Yes, indubitably, he was the solitary uke voice off of the islands.

  24. Dan March 10th, 2011 9:09 pm

    I think TT should be in the hall of fame whether you really like him or not – he was popular and played the uke. A lot of people know what the uke is because he played it. He advanced the uke.

    I also think this debate about whether the uke is a novelty instrument or not is really silly. You shouldn’t be playing this instrument or that instrument because you are trying to impress people. You should be playing whatever instrument you like to play because you like to play it.

    If your audience includes someone who says “big deal its on a uke,” you shouldn’t play for them anymore. They are probably a jerk.

  25. Dan March 10th, 2011 9:11 pm

    Carrie Griffin: Nice save ;) I think Tiny Tim married someone as a publicity stunt, basically trashing the idea of marriage. He couldn’t have been that old fashioned.

  26. Carrie March 10th, 2011 9:30 pm

    Dan: I did a bit of googling, actually because I was beginning to feel very, very guilty for bringing up something a) sort of irrelevant, b) possibly very off-base, and c) that made me sound like one of those liberals who can’t bear to be around anyone with slightly differing viewpoints (I’m not! I swear! I’m a nice-ish person!).

    While it IS probably notable that the second thing that comes up when you google “tiny tim conservative” is now this website because of my comments, I did find this pretty fascinating interview:

    http://sonic.net/~goblin/mrtim.html

    He talks about women in a way that I find a little bit troubling. But it isn’t discussed at length, really and he basically comes off seeming like a person with some weird beliefs who isn’t really interested in forcing those beliefs on anyone else.

    So I guess…I’m off mark here and rescind my previous comment.

  27. Frankevich March 10th, 2011 9:54 pm

    Tiny Tim was a good entertainer, became a famous TV personality, was musically gifted, and brought the uke into many a household via the tube. He also had a pretty good voice.

    None of these comments are very original. His marriage to “Miss Vicki” was sad ending, and his early death tragic.

    I loved his energy and his shtick. By all means he belongs in a Uke Hall of Fame, if there is one.

  28. Ron Hale March 10th, 2011 11:01 pm

    The Ukulele Hall of Fame has had time enough to induct Tiny Tim if it warranted him worthy, Al. Ergo, it doesn’t. To be fair it hasn’t inducted anyone since 2007, so it seems to be just a small, part-time organization founded in 1996, that perhaps did not forsee the size of the uke wave that has risen since its founding. It might
    not have the funding for the scope that a proper Hall of Fame must now have given the instrument’s
    popularity.

    I don’t even know the exact rules for induction, i.e. must an honoree have played for a certain amount of time before consideration, this sort of thing. Lyle Ritz is in and he’s still playing, so your career can still be intact, you don’t have to be retired for a certain amount of time like in some sports halls of fame. Why Jake and James aren’t already members is beyond me.

    Many players aren’t aware that there even is a Hall of Fame, so the one we have isn’t up to the job, anymore. At the very least we should start thinking about the Hall of Fame that we need and deserve and just ignore the one we have, it’s useless at this point. We can create a new Ukulele Hall of Fame that is worthy of the name and up to the task required of it in this new century.

    If 80% of ukers feel Tiny Tim should be inducted into the Hall, why are we held hostage to the opinions of a tiny group that believes it knows better than the rest of us?

  29. Craig Robertson March 10th, 2011 11:11 pm

    “If 80% of ukers feel Tiny Tim should be inducted into the Hall, why are we held hostage to the opinions of a tiny group that believes it knows better than the rest of us?”
    Gosh, Ron, where do you get these numbers? Cause I can’t find that percentage anywhere. It’s really simple to me, you ‘honor’ someone who has made a worthwhile contribution to music by using this specific instrument.
    Tiny Tim don’t qualify. If anything, he did exactly the opposite. Don’t matter if you like him or not…he was a joke, not someone to emulate.

  30. Woodshed March 10th, 2011 11:18 pm

    Craig: I think Ron got that figure from the vote in this post. The poll is currently 85% in support of Tiny Tim’s inclusion. I’m a bit surprised it’s that high.

    It’s hardly a scientific poll though.

  31. Patrick March 10th, 2011 11:45 pm

    Tiny Tim was the first person I recall that I associate with the ukulele. I recall being a little disturbed about his manner, but I have grown up since those days of long ago. He was quite shocking. He was cool and he was great. Go around and ask anybody that is in the 50 + range and they will know about Tiny Tim. I get asked all the time if I play Tiptoe. So he is known. He left his mark and therefore he should be recognized. I would actually like to buy a book that would have all his music.

  32. Craig Robertson March 10th, 2011 11:52 pm

    @Woodshed. Right. Hardly scientific. Not a big cross section either. But thanks for letting me know where the figure came from.

    @Patrick: I am in the “50+ range” and I don’t agree. He was a buffoon. He was the silly hippie performance artist. I saw him on the original laugh-in episode and when he married “Miss Vicky” on Johnny Carson. The man was an embarrassment.

    But, really, I don’t much care who you “induct into the Ukulele Hall of Fame”. It won’t change who he was or what he did.

  33. Rob NY March 11th, 2011 2:07 am

    Good to see you coming around Al.

  34. Stephen March 11th, 2011 1:41 pm

    Crazy video and I love it!!

  35. Rob NY March 13th, 2011 2:08 am

    Tiny Tim can sing

  36. Kristen March 16th, 2011 6:39 pm

    I can already tell this is going to send me into an awesome youtube/internet research-perusing spiral!

  37. Fi from NZ March 16th, 2011 8:36 pm

    LOL, TT did much to make the Ukulele a well known instrument, unfortunately here in NZ we only remember him as being a bit of a weirdo, so the ukulele is still seen as a bit of a joke these days despite the popularity of groups such as the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Saying all that the man had a nice (unusual) singing voice. Tiptoe through the tulips…..

  38. Joe Dan Boyhd May 26th, 2011 9:36 am

    When I happened on the Ukulele Hall of Fame a while back while web surfing, I was amazed that Tiny Tim was not a member.

    Does he belong there? Of course.

  39. Joe Dan Boyd May 26th, 2011 9:38 am

    And, thanx to Ukulelehunt for championing this worthy cause.

  40. Woodshed May 26th, 2011 10:15 am

    Joe: Thanks!

  41. TonyS July 4th, 2011 5:33 pm

    A bit freaky yes, but he at least brought the uke out to the public again. Induct him with the Uke Ambassador title…..

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