Viola Smith, a veteran drummer whose command of the instrument and consistent body of work helped to further equity and inclusion in the big band movement and the music industry as a whole, passed away on Oct. 22 at the age of 107.
Smith, a former endorser for both Ludwig (WFL) Drums and Zildjian cymbals since the 1940s, changed the game in drumming by creating visibility and opportunities for women as a working session musician. Throughout her lustrous and long career, she was a member of Phil Spitalny’s all-female orchestra as the drummer, and later appeared in such films as Here Come the Co-Eds (1945) featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In the 1960s, Smith joined the Kit Kat Band, the featured orchestra band for the Broadway musical Cabaret and for CBS shows such as “I’ve Got a Secret.”
A highly respected and empowered member of the drumming community, she was a mainstay at several NAMM shows as well as in various print advertisements for leading drum and cymbal manufacturers throughout her storied career.
Check out this inspirational NAMM Oral History interview with Smith from the archives, filmed in 2012 just shy of the drummer’s 100th birthday.