Popular American drummer, Viola Smith who rose to fame for her work in orchestras, swing bands, and popular music from the 1920s until 1975 has passed away. Viola Smith who was one of the first professional female drummers died a few days ago, October 21, 2020, at the age of 107.
She would’ve been 108 in November, claiming the key to her longevity is drumming, wine and reading. Viola pioneered the way for all female drummer to follow, a great player as well as a great showman (woman). She was also pretty innovative with her drum set up. Check out this clip from 1939.
Drum Talk TV founder, Dan Shinder took to her Twitter handle to announce that Viola Smith has passed on.
Her tweets read…
Hi everyone, this is Dan Shinder, Founder of Drum Talk TV. I was just informed by Viola Smith’s nephew that Viola passed away peacefully in her sleep last night, October 21st. She would have been 108 November 29. Viola was a true trailblazer and lived an amazing life.
My wife Nja and I had the pleasure of having lunch with her last January on our way home from the NAMM Show as Viola lived not far from the show. She at that point was not doing any more interviews but was thrilled to see us. We spent a couple of hours together I will never forget.
Hi everyone, this is Dan Shinder, Founder of Drum Talk TV. I was just
informed by Viola Smith’s nephew that Viola passed away peacefully in her
sleep last night, October 21st. She would have been 108 November 29. Viola was a true trailblazer and lived an amazing life..(continued) pic.twitter.com/UMuq4WlMqk
— Drum Talk TV (@DrumTalkTV) October 22, 2020
The legendary drummer was born and raised in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin with seven sisters and two brothers. All learned piano first, but only the girls were to be in an “all-girl” orchestra conceived by their father. Her parents operated a concert hall in Mount Calvary.
— Felicia Hodges (@bushidoroad) October 22, 2020
R.I.P. Viola Smith
November 29, 1912 – October 21, 2020
A truly remarkable woman who led a truly remarkable life. 🙏🏻🎼 pic.twitter.com/vS4DblgAfe
— Paul Mason (@TempusDrums) October 22, 2020
I just got word that female drumming pioneer Viola Smith, 107, has passed away. The book Women Drummers, which we both are on the cover of, is mostly about her career. She was one of the early drum set players. 2020 officially sucks. #pioneer #chickdrummer #drumHER #covergirl pic.twitter.com/FV8GWdC5HM
— jyn yates™ (@jynyates) October 22, 2020
In the 1920s and 1930s, Smith played in the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra (later, Smith Sisters Orchestra) that her father founded in Wisconsin.
Irene (Schmitz) Abler played trombone, Erma Schmitz on vibraphone, Edwina Schmitz on trumpet, Viola Schmitz on drums, Lila Schmitz on saxophone, Mildred (Schmitz) Bartash on bass violin, Loretta (Schmitz) Loehr on piano, and Sally (Schmitz) Ellenback on bass saxophone. They toured the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) circuit of vaudeville and movie theaters on weekends and summer vacation while some of the sisters were still in school.
According to her nephew, Dennis Bartash, playing with her sisters on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show in the 1930s was her big break. In 1938 Viola and Mildred started the Coquettes, an all-female orchestra, until 1942. Mildred Bartash played the clarinet and the saxophone.