Mary Backus spent more than 30 years as a choral director in Milwaukee. She’s always had a passion for music, but after three decades, Backus told her choir she was ready for a change in tune.
“I said, ‘look, we have to do simpler music. We have to still have fun, but we really need to do something at a little easier level’,’”
Backus then invited the small group of women to play the ukulele together every week.
“It’s a very easy instrument to play,” Backus said.
As word spread about Backus’ ukulele sessions, the group grew exponentially. The Ukuladies were born.
“Five years ago I would have said we are a group of older, or even elderly women,” Backus said, “Now we’re attracting younger women as well.”
The Ukuladies still meet once a week at the Brass Bell Music Store on Milwaukee’s north side. Most weeks, 20 to 30 women come out to practice ukulele, socialize and sing.
“The sound is nice,” Backus said, “We are able to harmonize.”
Backus says the group accepts all comers, regardless of musical background.
“I’d say more than 50 percent come in and have never sung in a chorus, never played an instrument,” Backus said.
The Ukuladies also perform frequently at assisted living centers and other events around Milwaukee. Backus says the group plays a wide variety of music, and that’s what makes it so fun.
“It might be country western. It might be a show tune. It might be gospel,” Backus said, “We put together a nice program that lasts a little under and hour, and we’re off.”
The Ukuladies biggest gig came in 2016. They were invited to perform at Summerfest in Milwaukee.
“Summerfest was pretty much a ball. We really had a good time,” Backus said.
The Summerfest stage was a long way from the group’s humble beginnings, but Backus says that willingness to try to new things is what makes The Ukuladies a hit.
“I think we kind of represent a group of women that are kind of fearless. They’re learning something new,” Backus said.