Viola Smith

Picture of Viola Smith

Viola Smith was one of the first professional female drummers and gained notoriety as the "female Gene Krupa" and the "fastest girl drummer."  She was an inspiration to many female musicians and a true talent.  Smith died in October of 2020 at the age of 107.

In 1938, Viola and her sister Mildred started the Coquettes, an all-female orchestra.  They eventually altered their name to Frances Carroll and the Coquettes when Carroll joined as the lead vocalist.  Regardless of the name change, Viola Smith and her drums were the true draw for this band. 

Take a moment to watch this video from 1940 directly below featuring Frances Carroll and the Coquettes.  Viola Smith was truly a fantastic drummer.

Watch: Frances Carroll and the Coquettes from 1940

1942 was a big year for Viola Smith.  The Coquettes had split up and she moved on and joined Phil Spitalny's Hour of Charm Orchestra, another commercially-successful all-girl orchestra.  She also wrote a famous article for Down Beat magazine that year titled "Give Girl Musicians a Break!". In the article she stated that woman musicians could play just as well as men.  She argued, "In these times of national emergency, many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted. Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their place?"

Throughout her long career, Smith spent time with NBC Symphony Orchestra, The Hour of Charm, The Kit Kat Band and eventually led her own band Viola and her Seventeen Drums.  As recent as November 2019, it was reported that she occasionally still drummed with bands near her home in Costa Mesa, California, as one of the oldest living mainstream musicians. How incredible is that! At 107 years old, still drumming.  I haven't seen any footage of these performances and I'm sure they were more of a novelty, but it's still very, very, impressive.

In October of 2020, when Viola Smith passed, Big Band and Swing lost one of it's last true links to it's glory days.

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