James Hill grew up in British Columbia, Canada, where the ukulele is taught in 4th grade public schools (sadly, most people in the US get the recorder). Throughout his career, Hill has done substantial work for the ukulele in music education. He co-authored a set of student/teacher books titled Ukulele in the Classroom, created a formal ukulele teacher certification program, and most recently launched The Ukulele Way, an online ukulele method and community.
Hill’s own education consists of a Music Degree from University of British Columbia. That formal study seems to have resulted in a particularly well rounded and unique style of ukulele playing, deftly blending jazz, country, Irish, Americana and pop. His six full length releases have gradually moved from showy solo ukulele stuff to more thoughtful and holistic songwriting, and his recognition as a musician has increased steadily along with that shift.
In 2009 he collaborated with cellist (and bassist and backup singer) Anne Janelle on his fourth album, True Love Don’t Weep, which won Traditional Album of the Year at The Canadian Folk Music Awards. The couple married in 2013.
James Hill’s songwriting arc has culminated in his most recent release, The Old Silo, a masterpiece of folk rock in which the ukulele is the main instrument but less the star of the show. Hill’s playing is no less impressive, but the album attains a maturity and polish of songwriting that lets the instrument take a back seat to the songs themselves. The video below is a live recording of a song from The Old Silo. Check out the soloing he’s doing at the end there and see the realized potential of the ukulele as a mainstream popular music instrument.