Making an Impact with an Unlikely Instrument

Grace Allen
Issue Date: 
May, 2019
Article Body: 

If you haven’t heard of them yet, you probably will soon. The Unlikely Strummers, an amateur ukulele band, is taking off in the area. What makes them different from other bands, however, is their focus on philanthropy.
Co-founder Cindy Miller was teaching ukulele classes in 2017 at An Unlikely Story Bookstore in Plainville when her class was invited to play at the Attleboro farmers’ market.
“We gave it a shot, not really sure how it would work out,” said Miller. “And we had so much fun.”
The amateur band is now at 30 strummers, and has played in area libraries, coffeehouses, and senior centers. But it’s their “You’ve Been Uked” initiative that’s getting them all the attention.
With “You’ve been Uked,” anyone can book the group--for a small fee--to deliver a surprise performance for a friend, co-worker, or gathering. Miller compares it to a singing telegram, but much more affordable. The initiative, along with some area performances, has raised over $10,000 for the Ukulele Kids Club, a nonprofit that supports music therapy for hospitalized children and donates ukuleles to children’s hospitals.
The group has also purchased and donated ukuleles to area libraries, including the Norfolk Public Library, with the proceeds from their gigs at local venues.
At press time, the group was preparing to perform at the Battle of the Ukulele Bands on April 20 in Portsmouth, NH, with proceeds going to the Ukuelele Kids Club. Bragging rights aside, the event is a big deal to the group, said Miller.
“We weren’t sure we wanted to compete because we don’t think of our music that way,” said Miller. “But it’s a really good cause and it really spoke to us.”
Miller is an anthropologist and teaches at Emerson College, but has a classical music background. She took up the ukulele five years ago, after seeing an ad for lessons.
“I thought, ‘that would be different,’ which is kind of the reaction everyone has,” laughed Miller. “It really connected with me, though. It’s such a fun little instrument.”
She says the ukulele is not difficult to learn, and easy to play alongside other people. The Unlikely Strummers include people of all backgrounds, including lawyers, teachers, and health care professionals.
Norfolk resident Amy Coombs is a teacher in the Sharon public school system, and wanted to learn an instrument to help engage her students. She started taking lessons with Miller at An Unlikely Story Bookstore. The ukulele, said Coombs, was easy to learn, even though she hadn’t played an instrument before.
“It makes everybody happy,” said Coombs. “You can’t be sad when you’re playing it. And our group does a lot of good in the community.”
The Unlikely Strummers play all kinds of music, but their comfort zone is family-friendly 1960s rock, including songs from the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, and the Monkees. For the “You’ve Been Uked” initiative, they’ll take (reasonable) requests. They sing along, too—at least the more confident members, quipped Miller.
Miller hopes the Unlikely Strummers are an example of the positive benefits of music in society.
“In an era where support and funding for the arts are dwindling, we’re so pleased to be part of creating this kind of community of musicians and reminding people that music is fun,” she said. “Everyone works so hard and we’re not getting paid to do this. We love what we do and get nothing but positive feedback. It’s a great time.”
For more information about the Unlikely Strummers, including how to join the group, or take lessons with Miller, visit, or follow them on Facebook.

Editor's Note:
The Unlikely Strummers came in first place at the Battle of the Ukulele Bands on April 20.