Singer songwriter Bernice Lewis, left, performs with the Ladies Auxiliary Ukulele Orchestra. Lewis champions the ukulele, which comes in many shapes and
Singer songwriter Bernice Lewis, left, performs with the Ladies Auxiliary Ukulele Orchestra. Lewis champions the ukulele, which comes in many shapes and sizes. (Eagle file)

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Bernice Lewis has been performing in local clubs since she moved to the Berkshires, about 28 years ago. A Boston native, she has had a varied career that now includes heading up the Ladies Auxiliary Ukulele Orchestra and helping organize the annual Sheep Hill Ukulele Festival, as well as performing solo.

In a recent interview, Lewis talked about her career and her roots and gave a very cogent reason for her love of ukuleles.

Q: Okay, so what's the deal with ukuleles?

A: Most instruments were invented for male bodies. I'm not a large person. I'm only 5-2. When I pick up a bass guitar, or an electric guitar or even an acoustic guitar, it's heavy! It puts a lot of pressure on your left side. When I pick up a ukulele, it fits my body perfectly. It doesn't make a big sound, but it's easier for me to play.

Q: Fair enough. Let's roll back to the early days. When did you first pick up a guitar?

A: I had a guitar when I was 12 years old. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I didn't get another one until I was in my 20s. But I was always singing, and I always enjoyed music. When I was in eighth grade, I tried out for a supporting singer in Carmen. And I was given the lead.

Q: What accounted for the gap?

A: My parents wanted me to do something practical. They weren't into music. My mother always used to say, ‘Bernice, nice Jewish girls don't sing.' But then I thought, ‘So what about Barbra Streisand?'

Q: But eventually you did get another guitar.

A: Yes. I was in my 20s, teaching, and I got an acoustic guitar. I'd finish grading papers and begin playing. I knew almost immediately I wanted to perform.

Q: You arrived in the Berkshires with your husband in 1985. Where did you first start performing locally?

A: There was a little bar beneath the Lenox Inn -- that was great. It was a lovely spot. They had one of those old-fashioned popcorn-makers, and every time someone turned it on, I would play "Mr. Sandman," because then I would have a percussion machine.

Q: That's a good story.

A: I'd also like to say that I really enjoyed playing at La Cocina. That was another early stop. I would play once a week downstairs. The owners really supported local live music.

Q: We're all over the map here, today. But I wanted to ask, before I forgot, what your musical influences were growing up.

A:Well, when I was growing up, radio was just so great. I guess it's kind of the standard answer. I would listen to the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones and on the same program, I would hear Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt.

The programming just wasn't as structured as it is now.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I do solo shows and tour with the Ladies Auxiliary. But my big project these days is that I'm working on a CD of solo material. I've launched a Kickstarter campaign to help with the funding. [For more information on Bernice's upcoming CD and to help her fund it, go to www.bernicelewis.com].

Q: We talked a little about your experience as a ukulele player. And I know you play guitar. Do you play any other instruments?

A: Ukulele and guitar are pretty much it when I'm performing. When nobody's watching, I play piano, and I have a little drum kit. But I'm not sure I'll ever play those instruments live. But maybe.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile