Bill Tapia, a ukulele player who worked with the likes of Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley over the course of a career that spanned nine decades, has died at the age of 103. Also known as ‘Uncle Bill’ and ‘Tappy’, he passed away in his sleep at his home in Westminster, California.
Born in Honolulu in 1908, Bill Tapia got his first ukulele at the age of 7 and within three years was performing in public, initially as an entertainer for US troops. In order to get more work, he branched out to playing the banjo and guitar, and soon he was playing with stars such as Billie Holiday, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong.
After touring for many years, he tired of life on the road and settled down with his wife and family in California. He taught music, played with local bands and worked in TV, but it was not until 2004 that he released Tropical Swing, his first CD, which collected together various traditional US and Hawaiian pieces of music. By the end of his life, he was believed to be one of the oldest musicians to ever perform in public, perhaps even the oldest.