If I had to choose one song in the Disney library to hear for the rest of my life, it would be Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The lyrics are incredibly moving, speaking to the hopeful child in all of us: if you wish it with all your heart, and of course on a star, your dreams can come true. The melody fits perfectly as well – one is soothed in the belief that, for at least the three plus minute duration of the song, everything is going to be wonderful. The songwriters did an amazing job, and “When You Wish…” has been covered by countless musicians, both lyrically and instrumentally.
However, the original version is the one that remains with me. It’s the version that still plays in the walkway to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. It still makes me slow my pace as I walk through, because I hear that voice, and feel… home.
That voice. Belonging to one man: Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards.
On this day (June 14th) in 1895, Cliff Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri. Before he was known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as well as Jim Crow in Dumbo, and his appearances on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 50’s, he was a well known vaudevillian, singer and actor. He was the first person responsible for singing this familiar little tune on the silver screen:
Life, sadly, was not kind to Ike. Despite his resurgence as a voice fixture with Disney, he was also a drinker and drug addict with many financial difficulties, a grim reminder that dreams in the real world didn’t always come true. When he died, penniless and unknown in 1971, his body lay unclaimed for several days; no one knew who he was.
I’m hoping that today, many of you, dear readers, will remember and spread the word of who he was: A man who touched the world with his voice. Although his face may not be recognizable, any time you watch Pinocchio or Dumbo; whenever you think “I’m No Fool” as you cross the street; as you pass under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I hope you remember Ukelele Ike.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Edwards. Your life on Earth was not always the easiest, but your voice helped define generations of Disney lovers around the world. For that, we are eternally grateful.