16 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Ukulele Players

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

The ukulele is often thought of as a toy instrument meant for kids or beginners. However, in the hands of the right person, it is anything but a toy. Since it was first introduced to Hawaiians in the 1870s by Portuguese musicians, it has become one of the most popular instruments in the world.

And in this post, we’re going to take a look at 16 of the greatest and most famous female ukulele players to inspire you to keep practicing. Let’s get started.

1. Taimane Gardner

Let’s begin our list with a composer and ukulele virtuoso who has been strumming uke strings since she was five. From the heart of Hawaii, we have Taimane Gardner.

Of Samoan descent, Taimane’s name means “diamond,” and her skills on the ukulele shine like her namesake. Whether a classical piece or a hard rock cover, she can finger-pick her way through the songs with her five-string ukulele.

Taimane has released five albums throughout her career and won a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Favorite Entertainer of the Year award in 2019. The following year, she participated in NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, which gained over a million views.

2. Taylor Swift

American pop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift is someone most of us probably know of. She’s easily one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 200 million records worldwide throughout her career.

While she’s best known for her amazing singing capabilities, she’s also skilled in most stringed instruments like the piano, guitar, banjo, and—you name it!—the ukulele.

While she doesn’t play the instrument on any of her records, she’s been known to play ukulele on her live tours, like the Fearless tour in 2009 and the Speak Now World Tour in 2011.

3. Grace VanderWaal

Up next, we have another singer-songwriter who happens to be the youngest ukulele player on our list. Grace VanderWaal, born in 2004, is best known for winning the 11th season of America’s Got Talent, becoming the second child to do so.

VanderWaal taught herself to play the ukulele when she was young after watching videos of artists playing on YouTube. Soon, she began playing cover songs on the instrument and posting it on YouTube.

After winning AGT in 2016, VanderWaal continued supporting her music by touring and accompanying her songs with the ukulele. Her most popular single, “Moonlight,” best shows off her skill.

VanderWaal’s talent on the ukulele has led to her being credited for renewing the instrument’s popularity. Fender even created a Signature Series after her.

4. Mxmtoon

From Oakland, California, Mxmtoon (real name Maia) had a musical childhood. She took violin lessons and played the guitar during her elementary years. By the time she was in her teens, she’d transitioned to playing the ukulele.

Mxmtoon initially started uploading her songs secretly on YouTube before coming out and eventually collaborating with Peachy, a lo-fi producer, to create “Falling for U” in 2017, which she accompanies with her ukulele. She follows this up with “Prom Dress,” considered her signature song.

Though Mxmtoon already had quite a following on YouTube, her debut studio album, The Masquerade, in 2019 boosted her to greater fame. After this, she began touring the US and UK and even released a graphic novel called The Adventures of Mxmtoon: The Masquerade.

5. Kate Micucci

Musician, actress, and comedian Kate Micucci is the second half of the comedy folk duo show Garfunkel and Oates, in which she plays the latter.

Micucci learned to play the ukulele in Hawaii while working at a pineapple farm there. After meeting Riki Lindhome, the other half of the duo, they began creating comedy songs together and, in 2007, began the show. While Micucci plays the ukulele in the series, Lindhome plays the guitar.

Garfunkel and Oates aside, Micucci has self-released two EPs and has collaborated with other artists like Johnny Blu, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Sara Watkins. She has even contributed to the soundtrack of the animated musical TV series Steven Universe.

6. Amanda Palmer


Next, we have another multi-instrumentalist. Amanda Palmer is from the musical duo Dresden Dolls, and aside from the ukulele, she can play the piano, keyboard, harmonica, and drums.

Though well-known with Dresdan Dolls, as a solo artist, Palmer’s work is not to snub. She’s released three studio albums, all of which charted.

The ukulele was not Palmer’s usual instrument. In fact, playing it during a live performance was only for fun.

Eventually, though, it became part of her repertoire, and she even dropped an EP of cover songs with ukulele accompaniment called Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele.

7. Ingrid Michaelson

If you’re a fan of the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, chances are you might be familiar with Ingrid Michaelson‘s work. Many of her songs have been featured in the show.

Michaelson came from an artistic family—her mother is a sculptor and her father a composer. She studied piano as a child and went to music school.

Like with some of the artists we’ve already listed, Michaelson’s work was discovered online, and from there, her popularity began to rise. Not only was her song “The Way I Am” used in Grey’s Anatomy, it was also used in an Old Navy commercial.

Michaelson accompanies many of her pieces with her ukulele playing. Her compilation album Be OK, which landed at #35 on Billboard‘s 200 charts, features this best, so give it a listen!

8. Honoka & Azita

We move now to Hawaii to feature a duo of ukulele players, Honoka Katayama and Azita Ganjali. The two rocked YouTube’s ukulele world during the 2010s with their fast-playing and finger-picking techniques.

Honoka and Azita met at a ukulele school in Honolulu and, in 2013, joined the International Ukulele Contest together. After winning, the two began to seriously perform and join music festivals, not to mention racking up followers and views on YouTube—their “Bodysurfing” video has a whopping 24 million views!

In 2019, however, they announced that Azita would pursue a career in medicine. Fans don’t have to fret, though. Honoka continues to play as a solo artist.

9. Samantha Brown

Let’s hop over across the pond to Stratford, London, and talk about Samantha Brown. The singer-songwriter and musician was one of the faces of blues and jazz during the late 1980s and part of the 1990s, with songs like “Stop” and “Kissing Gate” charting in the UK Singles.

In 2005, Brown released an EP titled Ukulele and Voice, which features just that—five songs of her singing as she plays the ukulele.

Sadly, in 2007, a cyst in her vocal cords, though it has been removed, has left it difficult for Brown to sing. Wanting to continue a musical career, she opened several ukulele clubs in the UK where she teaches others how to play the instrument.

10. Molly Lewis

Here, we have another YouTuber who rose to stardom. Molly Lewis gained popularity by uploading original pieces and ukulele covers of songs by Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, among others.

A cover Lewis made of folk singer Jonathan Coulton’s “Tom Cruise Crazy” earned her a Ukulele Video of the Year from Ukulele Hunt in 2007. This brought her to Coulton’s attention, who invited her to play with him.

Lewis has released three EPs since then and regularly performs at w00tstock, a music variety show. Some of her songs worth listening to are “Road Trip,” “Our American Cousin,” and “Pantsuit Sasquatch.”

11. Julia Nunes

In 2005, singer and multi-instrumentalist Julia Nunes started playing the ukulele. Since then, she has been known to play it in the videos of cover songs she uploads on YouTube.

It’s not only cover songs that have gained her a following, however. Nunes also uploads original pieces, and these, like “Balloons” and “Into the Sunshine,” have collected over a million views on her YouTube channel.

Nunes has come a long way since her start in the mid-2000s. Many of her original works have been released as EPs or studio albums. Her songs have been featured on YouTube’s main page, she’s performed with other artists, and she’s won ukulele contests, including the Bushman World Ukulele Video Contest.

12. Brittni Paiva

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Brittni Paiva hails from Hilo, Hawaii. She began playing the ukulele at the age of 11, when her grandfather gave her one and continued to rise until she became a famed ukulelist.

Her debut album, Brittni x 3, in 2004 earned Paiva her first Nā Hōkū award, which is equivalent to a Hawaiian Grammy. Since then, she has released four more studio albums and won two more Nā Hōkū awards for her works.

She has also performed live with other popular artists, like Carlos Santana when he visited Hawaii and Jasmine Crowe. Aside from the ukulele, Paiva is skilled in playing the piano, guitar, and bass.

13. Genoa Keawe

Next up, we have an iconic figure in the Hawaiian music scene. Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe-Aiko (or simply Genoa Keawe and sometimes Auntie Genoa) was known for her traditional Hawaiian music—which includes, of course, the ukulele.

Keawe’s career began as a singer for bandstand shows before and during World War II, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that she was able to record her songs. Since then, her status as a music legend has grown, and she has recorded over 140 songs. “Alika” is considered one of her famous numbers.

Over her decades-long career, Keawe received a number of Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards and had music festivals named in honor of her. The singer-musician passed away in 2008, yet her legacy is enduring.

14. Ayano Tsuji

Our list has encompassed mostly American and British ukulele players, but Ayano Tsuji shows that the instrument is not just limited to the United States or the United Kingdom.

The Japanese pop singer-songwriter made her debut in 1998 with the album Uraraka (Balmy). Her light singing style and ukulele playing are known among Studio Ghibli film fans, particularly the end song of The Cat Returns, “Kaze ni Naru” (Becoming the Wind) in 2002.

Over the course of her career, Tsuji has created music for films and commercials in Japan. She’s dropped 15 more albums, with the latest in 2022 titled Hello Woman.

15. Zee Avi

Penultimate on our list is Malaysian singer-songwriter and musician Zee Avi. Like with many others on this list, Avi started on YouTube, where she posted videos of herself playing the guitar and ukulele. She became popular almost overnight after posting an original piece called “No Christmas for Me.”

The song exploded, attracting the attention of record labels and eventually landing Avi a deal with Brushfire Records. Soon after, her self-titled debut album was released and landed the #2 spot on the US Heatseekers chart. Her second album, Ghostbird, was even better, as it reached #1.

Since then, Avi has toured Asia and the US, as well as performed in music festivals like the SXSW, Bonnaroo, and the Rainforest World Music Festival.

16. Sophie Madeleine

We conclude our list with YouTube sensation Sophie Madeleine, dubbed Queen of Ukulele by Finger magazine after she uploaded so many ukulele covers of pop music, including Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” among many others.

The Brighton native has a master’s degree in songwriting and has composed a number of ukulele songs. Her first piece was “Take Your Love with Me,” and it climbed up to #4 on iTunes’ New Zealand Singer-Songwriter Music Chart.

Sadly, after a few years of touring and releasing four albums, Madeleine has retired from music, citing ill health as the reason.

Summing Up Our List Of Female Ukulele Players

More and more female artists have been picking up the uke over the past few decades, which doesn’t come as a surprise, seeing as the ukulele has its own unique sound that compliments the female voice.

The ukulele continues to gain popularity among female musicians, and with more modern artists taking up the instrument, it’ll remain one of the most sought-after instruments of our generation.

Who have we left off that should be on our list of great female ukulele players? Let us know, and we’ll add them for you!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.