Courtesy Hannibal History Museum
Ukelele Ike Cliff Edwards
“Ukelele” Ike Lives On
He sold 74 million records and appeared in more than 100 movies, yet the name of Missouri’s own Cliff Edwards, the voice of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket, has been nearly forgotten.
Edwards was born in Hannibal in 1895. When he was 14, Edwards traveled south to St. Louis, taught himself to play the ukulele, and began performing in vaudeville.
While at the Arsonia Café in Chicago, a waiter named Spot could never remember Edwards’s name and took to calling him “Ike.” The nickname stuck. “Ukulele Ike” became a hit on the vaudeville circuit.
Edwards’s career skyrocketed in 1924 when he appeared in Lady Be Good on Broadway with Fred and Adele Astaire. He made his fi rst phonograph records in 1919. The first recording of “Singin’ in the Rain” was made famous by Edwards and reached number one on the U.S. pop charts in 1929. Edwards caught the attention of movie producer/director Irving Thalberg. Thalberg’s MGM Studios hired Edwards to appear in Hollywood Revue of 1929, performing the fi lm debut of his hit “Singin’ in the Rain.” Edwards went on to appear in 54 movies during the 1930s, including Gone with the Wind.
In 1940 came his most famous voice role as Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Edwards’s touching rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” earned the Oscar for Best Song that year, the first won by Disney. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s Edwards’s career continued to flourish, but he also battled alcoholism and suffered economic hardships. By the 1960s, Edwards had dropped out of the public eye, and on July 17, 1971, he passed away.
Through video clips, vocal recordings, and photographs from his most famous films, Cliff Edwards was in the spotlight at the Hannibal History Museum last year. Though once nearly forgotten, Cliff Edwards and his remarkable body of work lives on, celebrated in his hometown of Hannibal.