Early in her career, Viola Smith became known as “America’s fastest girl drummer.” She spent decades trying to break down the hurdles that kept women from being musicians, and she still plays the centenarian today. She plays the drums in a band from her hometown.
Smith was born in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, on November 29, 1912. He was the eighth of ten children. Smith has loved music since he was a child. Her parents ran a dance hall in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, and all of her nine brothers and she played instruments.
By the time she was 12, her father had gotten permission for her and her younger sisters to travel and play with his band, the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra. Later, they changed the name of their band to the Smith Sisters, and it became a popular touring group. They even played on the same show as the Andrews Sisters.
How did she start playing the drums? “I was the sixth girl,” she told a reporter in a 2012 interview. “My dad told everyone in the family what instruments to play.”
At the end of the 1930s, Smith and her sister Mildred started the Coquettes, an all-girl band. Smith became famous for being a “girl drummer.” In 1940, she was on the cover of the magazine Billboard. Smith was unhappy with how women players were treated, though. “There was a lot of bias before World War II,” she said. “The guys thought, ‘Why are those girl musicians on the road? It’s a job for men.'”
In 1942, when World War II was going on, she wrote a piece called “Give Girl Musicians a Break!” for the magazine Down Beat. Smith says, “I was asked to write the article because there were so many talented unemployed girl musicians.” In it, she wrote, “In these times of national emergency, many of the best instrumentalists in the biggest bands are being drafted.
Why not let some of the best girl singers in the country take their place instead of someone who might not be as good? People argued a lot about how women musicians are treated unfairly because of the story.
Since the 1940s, Smith has been an artist and teacher for a long time. From 1942 to 1954, Viola played drums on General Electric’s nationally broadcast radio show with Phil Spitalny’s all-female Hour of Charm Orchestra. Even after the war was over, she was still in demand. She was in movies, played drums at President Truman’s inauguration party, was on The Ed Sullivan Show, and played in the original run of Cabaret on Broadway.
She stopped teaching drums a few years ago, but she still plays drums today. She said, “I definitely think that the exercise that comes with drumming contributes to longevity.” Two summers in Europe in 1942 and 1944 got him into the habit of drinking two glasses of wine with dinner.
Also, I heard about a wine-drinking town in the south of France where people live much longer than the rest of the country. Third, reading all of Adele Davis’s books many years ago is a good way to make sure you live a long life.
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