106-year-old Viola Smith attributes her long and healthy life to regular exercise connected to her lifelong drum practice and performance. She was called ‘The fastest girl drummer in the world’ and ‘The female Gene Krupa’.
That is how good she was at drumming. But it all started when her father decided to form a band with her and her six sisters. As the youngest one, she didn’t have much choice but to learn the only instrument missing, the drums.
The Schmitz Sisters played all kinds of events in Wisconsin and as far away as Chicago. When the older sisters left the band, Viola had no other option but to form a new all-women orchestra, The Coquettes.
Leading and performing was an arduous job, so she themed up with singer and dancer Frances Carroll and renamed the band Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes. The most famous recording of them is a recording of the ‘Snake Charmer’.
A song that resembled the famous Benny Goodman hit song ‘Sing Sing Sing’ featured Viola Smith and her 12-piece drum set at a blazing tempo with outstanding soloistic interludes.
She was one of the first drummers that incorporated kettle drums and low double toms in her setup. She was also a strong advocate for women in music who stirred a national debate with her article ‘Give Girl Musicians a Break! – Idea’ in the Jazz magazine ‘Down Beat’.
It is hard to comprehend that Viola Smith lived and gigged through the entire development of modern pop music. In her latest interview, she said: “I lived a charmed life. Can’t believe it.”