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Viola Smith, one of the first professional female drummers ever

There has never been full storytelling of how Viola Smith was a good musician. But we hope that someday a biographer will come up and tell her story, just so the world may realize her influence in the industry.

Viola Smith could be one of the oldest drummers in history, and whose work is very little known. Viola Smith’s many talents are the true definition of how much the human mind can be pushed. She learned everything there is to learn about music and used the chance to share her experience with the world by performing widely.

About Viola

Viola Smith On Stage
Viola Smith On Stage

Viola Smith (Schmitz) is an American drummer born on November 29, 1912.  She is best known for her performance in orchestras, swing bands, and other popular music between the 1920s and 1975. Viola is recognized as one of the first professional female drummers ever, and her story has been a great inspiration to many other women, especially in modern society.

Smith was brought up in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, in a family of seven sisters and two brothers. She was brought up in a musical family, which fueled her love for drumming and other musical instruments.

All of them started with learning piano, although only the girls were to create an “all-girl” orchestra as instructed by her father. And since her parents were concert hall operators in Mount Calvary, it was a big opportunity for them to get access to the best training arena in the world.

Viola Smith had a greater passion for music than any of her siblings. Hence, she took up every chance to expand her skills and make music as good as she could. By the time she was a teenager, she had already gathered all the right knowledge she had needed to become a good performer.


Viola’s parents played a huge role in her career. They were always there to encourage her and make sure she received everything she needed. Between the 1920s and 1930s, she was a member of the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra, founded by her father in Wisconsin.

Viola Smith was on the drums as the other sister worked on different instruments. Together, they toured the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) circuit of vaudeville. They did this on weekends and summer because other sisters were still in school.

In 1938, Viola and her sister Mildred started the Coquettes and all-female orchestra active until 1942. She was a huge voice in encouraging female players across the globe and genres. In 1942 for Down Beat magazine, she wrote an article in which she stated women were just as good musicians as me. 

Viola Smith Performing
viola smith performing

When Mildred got married in 1942, Smith relocated to New York, where she was given handmade snares by her teacher and received a summer scholarship to Juilliard. She played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra sometime later, putting her signature style of 13 drums, especially with two 16-inch tom-toms at shoulder height to good use.

Smith is today appreciated not just as one of the best drummers in history, but as the mentor for female drummers across the globe. She has worked with her own band, Viola, and her Seventeen Drum to create beautiful music.

What do you think?

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Written by Andrea

Andrea is a music lover and an experienced drummer with more than 15 years of drumming with different bands and music projects, such as Seditius and Hermano & the Marines.

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