Bill Tapia, who played ukulele with the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong and was believed to be the oldest musician still on stage, has died aged 103, a statement on his Web site said.
Tapia, whose career spanned 90 years and who “was the last living link to the earliest days of both jazz and the ukulele as a popular instrument,” passed away peacefully at his home in California on Friday, it said.
The Honolulu-born musician got his first ukulele at the age of seven, and began his career entertaining troops during World War I.
After switching from ukulele to banjo and guitar to get more work, Tapia spent his early career performing on steamships between Hawaii and the US West Coast.
He performed with such luminaries as Holiday, Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Fats Waller, and also taught ukulele to Hollywood stars, including Clark Gable and Shirley Temple.
After World War II Tapia — known as “Tappy” — relocated to the San Francisco area, where he played for TV orchestras and local bands and taught the guitar over a number of decades.
Following the death of his wife and daughter about the turn of the century, he moved south to Orange County and was rediscovered, returning to the ukulele and releasing his first CD in 2004, aged 96.
Tapia released two more albums, in 2005 and 2009, while a concert for his 100th birthday, at which he played, was issued as a live album earlier this year. He continued to tour until late last year.
“He was perhaps the most beloved and revered figure in the ukulele world, and everyone who ever knew him or saw him perform will be forever inspired,” the statement on his Web site said.