The growth of jazz music during the late teens and early 1920s brought with it the use of a number of instruments to play this relatively new musical form. One of these instruments was the banjo which was used for rhythmic accompaniment and which with a skin resonator could be heard unamplified in the overall mix of other instruments in the jazz band such as the piano, trumpet and trombone. Having its origins in Africa and its later development in the southern USA, the banjo was well placed to be used for jazz amongst the Afro-American community in the southern states of the USA. Its popularity grew and the banjo was adapted to form several hybrid instruments. These included combinations with a short eight string neck from the mandolin forming the banjo mandolin or combined with a short four string neck forming a banjo ukulele. This latter instrument was named by Alvin D Keech the Banjulele.
Several sources suggest that Keech and his brother Kelvin were the inventors of this hybrid instrument although it has also been suggested that a J A Bolander of San Franciso patented a combination banjo-ukulele in 1917. Similar banjo and ukulele combinations grew in popularity with established musical instrument firms such as Gibson and Ludwig making these type of instruments. This probably prompted Keech to register the name, Banjulele, in the mid 1920s. The instrument got a further boost of popularity especially in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s with actor/performer George Formby using a banjo-ukulele as his trademark instrument in recordings and films. In Australia the instrument was popular in banjo clubs during the 1920s and 1930s for performing and accompanying popular songs.
Curator, music & musical instruments