Cliff Edwards’ uniquely ebullient voice won him the role as Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio and resulted in one of the most inspirational of Disney songs, the Oscar®-winning “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
As film critic Leonard Maltin wrote for a Cliff Edwards musical compilation released under the Take Two label, “His casting as the voice of Jiminy Cricket has granted him a kind of immortality; what man, woman or child hasn’t heard him sing ‘When You Wish Upon a Star?’”
Born in Hannibal, Missouri, on June 14, 1895, Cliff ran away from home at 14. He eventually landed in St. Louis, where he sang for nickels in saloons.
He learned the ukulele and developed an unusual singing style that he called “eefin,” where he created a kazoo-like sound with his elastic, three-octave range voice. When a waiter couldn’t remember his name, nicknaming him Ike, Cliff began to bill himself as “Ukulele Ike.”
While living in Chicago he worked with pianist Bobby Carleton, who wrote the song “Ja Da;” the duo transformed it into one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Almost overnight, Cliff became a popular crooner due to such recordings as “June Night.”
On the stages of New York, Cliff worked with many stars of the time, including stuttering comedian Joe Frisco at the Palace Theatre. In 1924, he stole the show in George Gershwin’s Lady Be Good, starring Fred Astaire, when he introduced the song “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” He later replaced Rudy Vallee as the star of George White’s Scandals.
In 1928, Cliff arrived in Los Angeles and signed a four-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, debuting in the Robert Montgomery feature So This Is College? He went on to introduce the song “Singin’ in the Rain” in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and established himself as a bona fide film star with appearances in more than 100 motion pictures including Gone With the Wind.
After Pinocchio, Cliff encored the voice of Jiminy Cricket in such Disney films as 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free. In the years that followed, he would appear as himself, with ukulele in hand, or vocally as Jiminy Cricket in more than 30 episodes of the popular television series Mickey Mouse Club. Cliff also voiced one of the crows in the 1941 animated feature Dumbo, in which he introduced the infectious “When I See an Elephant Fly.” In 1956, he recorded his final album, Ukulele Ike Sings Again,” for the Disneyland label.
Cliff Edwards passed away on July 17, 1971, in Hollywood, California.