Travis Harrelson, noted ukulele player, dies at 80


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Travis Harrelson, considered one of the world’s best ukulele players, has died. He was 80.

Harrelson, who performed, taught and was a collector of ukuleles, died Aug. 1 of cancer at his home in Seal Beach, said his son, Tracy.


His style of strumming, how he used his right hand while the left hand played chords, was ‘not only hard to imitate, it was hard to describe,’ said Jim Beloff, who produced a DVD called ‘The Joy of Uke,’ which featured Harrelson.’ Seemed like you needed additional hands and fingers to do what he was doing.’

Many of Harrelson’s favorite guitar players were jazz musicians, his son said, and he tried to incorporate that style into his playing.

Harrelson was a regular at local shows featuring ukulele players and performed with his late partner, Don Wilson, at several of former punk rocker Jonathan Richman’s concerts. He and longtime friend Eddie Montana performed on the 2008 CD ‘Holy Ukuleles.’

Travis Miles Harrelson was born Aug. 15, 1929, in Long Beach to Finis and Lenore Harrelson. His mother loved Hawaiian culture (his sisters are named Aloha and Leilani), and Harrelson started playing the ukulele as a youngster. He built a reputation as a dealer and expert in rare ukuleles and then became well-known as a player.

He was a Navy aerial photographer during the Korean War and started a photo service business in Reseda in 1960. He also worked as a photographer for North American Aviation.

In addition to his son, Harrelson is survived by his wife, Celeste Lowe; four children and a stepson; two sisters and a brother; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


-- Keith Thursby