The Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp are a band unlike any other. Armed with ukuleles, an
appealing stage presence and a passion for experimentation, they have etched their place among one of
Northwest Ohio’s most interesting bands.
While the band’s name gives off a pretentious vibe, it is all facetious. Everything from the umlaut to
the “e’s” on the end of “Grande” and “Royale” were selected to support the band’s lighthearted nature.
The band consists of four main members: Sheri and Jason Wells-Jensen, Geoff Howes and Anne Kidder. Jason
primarily plays the bass ukulele, although the band’s interchangeable structure of its members allows
them flexibility for who plays various instruments, writes songs and arranges them.
The band does not restrict themselves to just ukuleles.
“The rule in the band is that you can play an instrument that is not a ukulele as long as it is not a
kazoo and is smaller than a ukulele,” Sheri said.
For example, Howes’ handiness on the harmonica has allowed the band to bring that unusual sound to their
songs, as well as Kidder’s proficiency with percussion and Sheri’s prowess on the pennywhistle.
Despite the band’s wide array of instruments, they are able to bring them all into a cohesive whole,
making for catchy songs. The band’s sound allows them to catch their audiences off guard, due to many
people’s expectations of ukuleles.
“Their expectations are kind of low,” Sheri said.
They expect a particular sound from ukuleles, she said.
“But, what they don’t expect are covers from every genre imaginable. It’s kind of like the Ohio weather,
if you don’t like what’s going on, just hang around for a minute and it will change.”
Catching their listeners off guard is what has partially brought them their success in their area.
Another reason for their popularity is their infectious love for what they do and where they get
inspiration for songs from. One song in particular, “Sugar Ridge,” was inspired by a town nearby Bowling
Green as Howes drove through it. They also find inspiration locally in other ways and in what has
impacted them as a band.
A love for their local roots has led them to enjoy performing on community stages, specifically at the
Black Swamp Arts Festival. Two of the stages in particular, the acoustic stage and the family stage,
each provide a different experience for the band to perform at.
The intimacy of the acoustic stage gives Sheri a kind of flash mob feeling, coupled with the sound being
able to move well.
The family stage is bigger and lets them play beautiful music for many of their neighbors and other
At the core of the band remains their open-mindedness toward experimentation and the fun flowing
throughout them and their performances. They don’t take themselves too seriously, as the band lore for
how they brought in Howes involves capturing him in a parking lot and forcing him to use his background
as a “recovering mandolin player” to round out the group, Sheri said.
Their contagious demeanors, as well as the style and variety of their music, makes them not have to
compete for attention.
“You don’t have to try to stand out when you’re the only one of you,” Sheri said.
Gaining confidence in themselves as performers has allowed them to step outside their comfort zones, to
play with genres such as hip-hop and reggae.
Summing up their band’s goals, Sheri said, “We’re always looking for ways to make people go, ‘Wow!”
The band will be debuting their upcoming EP, “Air Everywhere”, at the Black Swamp Arts Festival.