Music History Missed A Beat: Drumming Legend Viola Smith

Another legend you've never heard of...

Viola Smith Quick Facts:


To channel Viola’s energy, the chosen mantra is:

I am Legendary.

Say it. Believe it. Because you are.


About the Design

Viola’s spirit was steadfast and full of conviction. She knew what she wanted to do and she went for it. She was ground in gratefulness and didn’t seem to let the outer world steal that from her, despite the barriers and obstacles there were (and are) for female musicians. With that in mind, we channeled something my own mother used to say to me all the time: “Keep beating to your own drummer, baby!” And the result is an abstract tee, doing it’s own wild thing that encourages “Beat to your own drum.” 



Another legend you’ve never heard of, Viola Smith was dubbed “the fastest girl drummer” in her heyday and was one of the first known professional female drummers. Hailing from Mount Calvary, WI, she began her career in the 1920’s playing with her sisters in an all-girl orchestra called the Schmitz Sisters Orchestra (later on the Smith Sisters Orchestra). They often played at the concert hall tavern her parents owned in Fond Du Lac, WI and toured in the summertime.

As her and her sisters grew, they married and started families, putting an end to their orchestra. Viola moved to New York City, where she and her sister Mildred started another band called The Coquettes. During the 1940s, Viola was launched into the spotlight. World War II left many of the big name male musicians being drafted, but at this time it was still difficult for female musicians to find  gigs so Viola wrote an op-ed titled, “Give Girl Musicians a Break!” in DownBeat magazine. She wrote, 

“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?”

After penning this article, she joined another orchestra called The Hour of Charm, and her career continued to take off. Despite the barriers for female musicians, Viola had a rich career as a swing, big band and jazz drummer. She earned a scholarship to Juilliard, played at Harry Truman’s inauguration, performed on the Ed Sullivan show five times, and was the drummer on the original track of Cabaret, just to name a few of her accomplishments. She drummed her entire life, even in her final years at 107, making her one of the oldest drummers, too. She is an absolute legend.

Read this beautiful article or any of the links above to learn more about Viola’s life and career.

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