Ukulele Campfire Classes – July / August 2022

It’s that time of year, folks! When summer rolls around here in the Pacific Northwest, I want nothing more than to be at the campground, preferable with my feet in the river or with my people around a campfire. I want to sing, I want to laugh, I want to feel the gratitude for the natural world around me and the people with whom I live in it.

For you all, my students, that means one thing:

Ukulele Campfire Classes

The original inspiration for my Ukulele by Ear class series, Ukulele Campfire classes feature songs you would likely hear sung, as you might expect, around the campfire! Each year, I feature a different topic or themed collection of songs, but they’re always fairly simple in organization, repeat their chord and lyric patterns a lot, and have no more than 4 chords. We focus in on no more than eight songs to study for six weeks, learning a variety of techniques for playing by ear. You know, so you don’t have to shlep your music stands all that way. 😉

Here’s what’s in store for this year’s edition of Ukulele Campfire …

Ukulele Campfire: Spirituals of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

I’m guessing you’ve sung songs like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Wade in the Water with folks before? (As in, at one of our ukulele jams?) Maybe O Mary Don’t You Weep or Down By the Riverside? But I bet you don’t know the group of singers from Tennessee who are largely responsible for the fact that you know these songs.

Fisk Free Colored School, which quickly became Fisk University, was founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1866 in an effort to offer organized education to black folks, especially former slaves. To raise money for the expansion of the school’s programs, treasurer and music director George White lead a student choir on a concert tour. They sang a variety of pieces from the classical choral repertoire, but found audiences were most moved by the songs they sang that were originally sung by slaves: we know them today as “spirituals”. These days, the Fisk Jubilee Singers recently celebrated their 150th anniversary and continue to keep spirituals at the center of their repertoire.

Spirituals are a specific genre of Christian music associated not just with the black church but specifically with the black experience of slavery and oppression. The singing of spirituals was an essential form and mode of communication and education for the black community. At first listen, we may hear simple retellings of common stories from the Bible. However, in the process of learning these songs, myself, I’ve found them to be remarkable expressions of love, strength, and faith.

Spirituals Song List

This term, I’ll be teaching eight songs performed and recorded by the Fisk Jubilee Singers as the topic of my Ukulele Campfire class series:

  • O Mary Don’t You Weep
  • Down By the Riverside (Study War No More)
  • There is a Balm in Gilead
  • Gospel Train
  • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  • Wade in the Water
  • Hold On (Gospel Plow)
  • Go Down, Moses

As time allows, we will also listen to and learn songs derived from these Spirituals, most commonly during the Civil Rights Era, including Get on Board Children (from Gospel Train) and Eyes on the Prize (from Hold On).

Ukulele Campfire: Songs from Summer of Soul

The Summer of 1969 is known for a lot of things in American history, including the moon landing and the Woodstock Music Festival. However, before either of those events took place, thousands of residents and visitors to Harlem neighborhood of New York City for the Harlem Cultural Festival. For six weeks, each Sunday at 3:00pm in Mt. Morris Park, host Tony Lawrence welcomed the likes of B.B. King, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, and on and on the list goes. At the end of a decade of intense struggle for civil rights, it was a celebration of black music, black culture, and black excellence in arts and activism.

The festival was filmed, but the tapes soon ended up in a basement for the better part of the last 50 years. However, in recent years, a group of editors and producers began working with the footage. Musician, producer, and writer Questlove was brought on to direct what would become the 2021 Oscar-winning and widely acclaimed documentary Summer of Soul.

It will not surprise you, perhaps, that this folky white girl had never heard of this festival, which took place long before I was born. So, I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the event and the artists featured. But I found myself most appreciative of and moved by the historical context the film offers around this event. Interspersed between tapes of live performances, festival artists and attendees are shown watching the footage and reflecting on their experience and what it meant to them. As Gladys Knight reflects, “It wasn’t just about the music.”

What was it about? I encourage you to watch the film so you can determine your own take. For me, it was about the diversity of black culture and music – from the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson to the blues of B.B. King, from the protest music of Nina Simone to the fusion of Latin and African rhythms by Mongo Santamaria. These diverse artists spoke and sang and played powerful messages from the stage to a diverse audience, and certainly reminded me of the complexity, the beauty, and – I’m sorry, I just have to say it – the SOUL found in all genres of traditionally black music.

Spirituals Song List

This term, I’ll be teaching seven songs performed by the artists featured in Summer of Soul. While technically listed as part of my Ukulele Campfire class series, there will be some elements of my more traditional Theme Study class series, as well. Here are the songs we’ll learn:

  • Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone
  • It’s Been a Change – The Staple Singers
  • My Girl – David Ruffin (of The Temptations)
  • I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free – Nina Simone
  • Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In – The 5th Dimension
  • Why I Sing the Blues – B.B. King

Sign me up!

Ukulele Campfire classes will be taught live on Zoom (6 weeks) *and* in person (4 weeks) in Portland, Oregon, beginning the week of July 4. Those who can’t make class times or prefer to work on their own may sign up for a Self-Paced email version of the class (6 weeks). If you’d like to do some combo of the above options, please let me know.

Learn more and register for Ukulele Campfire: Spirituals of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Learn more and register for Ukulele Campfire: Summer of Soul.

I can’t wait to learn and play these songs with you! See you in class …

The Songs of Billie Holiday for Ukulele

I have some numbers for you:

This April 7th is Billie Holiday‘s 107th birthday. Fifteen years before her birth, in 1900, a bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress to criminalize lynching. This month, over 100 years later, and 63 years after Holiday’s death, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act has been signed into law.

Holiday was and is still known, of course, as a superb jazz singer, considered by some to be the best singer of all time, period. During the height of her fame, she was also known for a particular song, Strange Fruit, which spoke to the graphic horror of lynching. Though she was pursued and framed more than once by the FBI in their efforts to prevent her from singing the song, she persisted. While other artists recorded it, in my opinion, Holiday’s arrangement is perfect.

Watch Party – Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song

To learn more about how the song Strange Fruit came to be, please join me for a Zoom Watch Party of the 2002 documentary Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song. I learned so much from this film about the several individuals responsible for the writing and success of this song, as well as the inevitable twists and turns of the song’s journey.

I hope you’ll join me:

  • Watch Party: Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song
  • Saturday, April 9
  • Two showings: 10:00am & 5:00pm PDT
  • Join our newsletter to receive the Zoom link – no need to register
Strange Fruit Watch Party Billie Holiday for Ukulele

April Class – The Songs of Billie Holiday

In honor of Billie Holiday’s birthday, her musical legacy, and the much-too-delayed passing of this legislation, I’m teaching a short, but substantive three-week class on The Songs of Billie Holiday for Ukulele. We’ll learn to play Strange Fruit, as well as some other classics, including God Bless the Child and others. If you have specific suggestions and requests, I am always open: contact me here.

I do my best to accommodate players of all levels and experience. That said, I do recommend that those registering for this class be ready for a variety of new chords, and specifically ready to play songs with a LOT of chords in them. This is jazz, after all, an incredibly creative and playful genre of music. We’ll take it slow, and I’ll offer alternative chord shapes when I can, I just want you all to know what ride you’re buckling up for!

Class Details

  • The Songs of Billie Holiday for Ukulele
  • Wednesdays, April 6, 13, & 20
  • Two cohorts: 10:00-11:00am & 5:00-6:00pm PDT
  • Register here (Note: registration is still being hosted on my old website.)

Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive a confirmation email. As we approach the first class, I’ll send out a reminder email with our class materials.

Those unable to attend class times but still interested in taking the class may also take the class by EMAIL. Registered participants receive a weekly email with materials, instructions, and practice video links. 

Upcoming Events & Classes

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m still in the process of building this website to full capacity and operation. In the meantime, here are some important dates to mark in your calendars:

The Songs of Billie Holiday for Ukulele

  • Live on Zoom, with two cohorts
  • Wednesdays: 10:00-11:00am or 5:00-6:00pm PDT
  • 3 weeks: April 6, 13, 20
  • Registration open here

Watch Party: Strange Fruit – The Biography of a Song

  • Billie Holiday is most closely associated with the protest song Strange Fruit, but her relationship with the song is only one part of a much more intricate story. Learn more here about this 2002 documentary
  • Live on Zoom
  • Saturday, April 9, 10:00am or 5:00pm PDT
  • No registration necessary, but you’ll need to sign up for my newsletter to receive the Zoom link.

April Ukulele Jams

I host regular online jams on Zoom, typically the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. Join us for our next jams on April 2 and April 16. No registration necessary, but you’ll need to sign up for my newsletter to receive the Zoom link.

May / June Ukulele Class Term

  • Live on Zoom
  • Various topics and cohorts:
  • Wednesday mornings PDT and Wednesday / Thursday evenings PDT
  • 6 weeks: May 4/5, May 18/19 – June 15/16 (no classes the week of May 9)
  • Registration opening soon on this website

Each term, I offer a variety of class formats and topics. This upcoming term will include:

  • Ukulele Theme Study (formerly Sing & Strum): Pride! Queer Voices, Writers & Anthems
  • Ukulele by Ear: Love Gone Wrong
  • Beyond Beginner Ukulele: Strumming & Fingerpicking Patterns
  • Introduction to Ukulele Arrangements (learning to read and play instrumental music on your ukulele)

As always, please reach out to me directly with your inquires.


Thank you for visiting my website! After maintaining two different websites (not well), it feels great to have all of my personas and all of my work here under one umbrella. My hope is that you find it easy to navigate, informative, engaging, but not too overwhelming.

As of this posting (March 2022), I’m still building in important features, like a page for class registration, an online course library, and an Event Calendar for starters. While I continue to build, please visit my previous ukulele teaching website: It will be active for the time being, likely until sometime in June 2022.

If you have any burning questions, observations, or comments, drop me a line here.

Thanks for your patience and your support of my work!