Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saginaw's Magic Bean Cafe is home to a ukulele group

by Janet I. Martineau

A member of S.U.G.A.R.
Sugar is making some sweet sounds at the Magic Bean Cafe.
Make that S.U.G.A.R.  -- as in Saginaw Ukulele Gurus and Rookies,  upwards of 20 of them strumming away and singing in unison from 10:30am to 12:30pm the first Saturday of every month.
“We’ve been meeting here for six months,” says leader Johnny Hunt, “and I am one of the gurus. About half of the members are from Saginaw and half from Midland, and there are more rookies than gurus.”
Turns out, too, the ukuleles in this group come in a  variety of  sizes and colors (from earthy wood to bright orange); range in price from $30 to $1,000; and aren’t just for playing Hawaiian music.
Primarily in the Baby Boomer and up age range, S.U.G.A.R. winds its  way through tunes associated with Jamaica, cowboys, the Monkees and Ireland; “It’s My Party” and “Chapel of Love”; “I Want a Girl” and “Dream”; the more challenging “Sidewalks of New York.”
And the chords and words they use as guides....well.....some members  have the old tried and true printed sheet music, but in plentiful abundance too are laptop computers and iPads outfitted with special music stands.
Leader Johnny Hunt
(For more pictures of the group, check Arts Saginaw on Facebook)

Why a uke group? Didn’t Tiny Tim give the instrument a bad name?
“They’re easy to play,” says Hunt, “easy to carry around and you can get a decent new one for $30. They have had their ups and downs in popularity over the years, but in last last two or three years they’ve caught on again.”
Hunt, wearing a mix of an Irish hat and a Hawaiian  shirt on this day, is preparing S.U.G.A.R. for its first public performance at the Magic Bean, 5789 State.

 Between  7-10pm Saturday, March 31, the group will perform two 30-minute sets mixed in with some special guests.
“We’ll see how it goes, but eventually I would like for us to perform at nursing homes and get out to other places. But the main goal is to have fun and make music; to get people infected with the ukulele l bug,” says Hunt, a member of the Muzyka! band.
S.U.G.A.R. was formed as as a part of the Folk Music Society of MIdland, of which Hunt is a key player. There is no membership fee to belong.
And Tiny Tim aside, here are some impressive names who play or have played ukes: Jimmy Buffett, Warren Buffet, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Arthur Godfrey, Van Morrison, Taylor Swift, Pete Townshend and Eddie Vedder.


  1. Thanks for the excellent write-up, Janet, and feel welcome to come by any ol' time! - Johnny

  2. Very nicely done, Janet! Lovely article. So glad to see it and to see you.

  3. Hey Janet! That's a great picture of my sister-in-law, Shirley Keyser! I knew she was a dulcimer enthusiast but had no idea she was a uke player too!