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  • Roy Smeck's virtuoso ukulele performance in the 1926 sound film "His Pastimes" sealed his reputation as "Wizard of the Strings"?

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Cover of a 1928 instructional book for ukulele by Roy Smeck, the "Wizard of the Strings."

Roy Smeck (born Leroy Smeck, 6 February 1900 – 5 April 1994) was an American musician. His skill on the banjo, guitar, steel guitar, and especially the ukulele earned him the nickname "Wizard of the Strings."



Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Smeck started on the vaudeville circuit. His style was influenced by Eddie Lang, Ikey Robinson, banjoist Harry Reser, and steel guitarist Sol Hoopii. Smeck could not sing well, so he developed novelty dances and trick playing to supplement his act.

Notable appearances

Opening title for the 1926 Vitaphone film "His Pastimes."

On 15 April 1923, Stringed Harmony, a short film starring Smeck made in the Lee DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York City.

On 6 August 1926, Warner Brothers released Don Juan starring John Barrymore, the first feature released in the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system. On the program was a short film, His Pastimes, made in Vitaphone and starring Smeck, which made him an instant celebrity.

Smeck appeared in the film Club House Party (1932) with singing star Russ Columbo. He also appeared with Columbo in That Goes Double (1933) which featured Smeck on a screen divided into four parts, playing steel guitar, tenor banjo, ukulele, and six-string guitar simultaneously.

Smeck played at Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential inaugural ball in 1933, George VI's coronation review in 1937, and toured globally. He appeared on television on variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar.

Inventor and instructor

Smeck invented and endorsed the Vita-Uke and other stringed instruments marketed by the Harmony Company of Chicago.

He made over 500 recordings for various companies, including Edison Records, Victor Talking Machine Company, Columbia Records, Decca Records, Crown Records, RCA Records and others. He also wrote instruction/method books and arrangements for the instruments he played.

Later life and recognitions

A documentary by Alan Edelstein and Peter Friedman about Smeck and his career, The Wizard of the Strings (1985), was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary, and won an award at the Student Academy Awards.

Smeck died in New York City at age 94. He was posthumously inducted into the National Four-string Banjo Hall of Fame in 2001. Smeck's work is also featured in the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum. [1]

His 1928 recording of Sam Moore's "Laughing Rag", played on the octachorda, an 8-string Hawaiian guitar, is considered a classic of slide guitar.


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