For some teenage girls, the thrill of a lifetime might be sneaking backstage to meet Justin Bieber or One Direction. For Lyons Township sophomore Josie Dunne, it was Jake Shimabukuro.
“I think he’s the best in the whole world,” declares Dunne, 15.
The admiration is professional. Dunne, like Shimabukuro, has a unique choice of primary instrument: the ukulele, the diminutive Hawaiian string instrument popular in the 1920’s that has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance since the 1990’s with artists like Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.
Dunne happened upon her instrument by chance and necessity four years ago. “My hands are really small, and I couldn’t fit them around a guitar when I was little,” she explained. “So I got a ukulele instead, because it fit.”
Today, Dunne is a frequent professional performer at local events in the La Grange area, from pool parties to baseball games. Also a talented singer, she travelled to Nashville and Atlanta over the summer to record samples, and hopes to move toward an EP or album as a long-term goal. She’s already amassed a fair following, with over 1,000 Facebook ‘likes.’
Her style is pop with jazz and R&B influences; a sampling of her cover songs includes hits by Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Jackson Browne and Justin Nozuka. Her tastes are self-described eclectic (“if you ask my friends, they’ll be like ‘don’t play Josie’s iPod, because it’s got the weirdest stuff,’”) and she plays the piano and guitar in addition to ukulele.
Recently, Dunne played for her biggest audience yet: a crowd of 30,000 at the Santa Anita racetrack, where she sang the national anthem (sans ukulele). The performance made TV.
But listeners can expect to hear those bouncy ukulele tones accompanying Dunne on plenty of her own music.
“I just love playing it,” Dunne said. “It’s just sounds so fun. It sounds happy, and people really like it when I play it at a big gig… It’s just a unique-sounding instrument, so it’s cool to say ‘I play the ukulele.”