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Archive for the ‘Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FRANCES CARROLL & HER COQUETTES featuring VIOLA SMITH-“Snake Charmer” (1939).

Drummer Viola Smith died a couple of days ago at the age of 107.  ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN (a month shy of 108). That’s pretty fascinating in itself.  But even more fascinating is that she was an amazing drummer at a time when women didn’t play drums.  And not “amazing for a woman” or anything patronizing like that, check out the video of her playing “Snake Charmer.”

Check out her drum kit, check out the speed, check out the power.  Check out the arial toms and the way she hits them without it even seeming like she is. Wow, I wish I’d heard of her sooner.

Here’s some relevant quotes from an obituary in The Guardian

Smith took up drumming as a teenager in Wisconsin, when her father assembled the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra with his eight daughters. Her showcase was “The Snake Charmer,” a jazzy arabesque with explosive drum-fills.

Because she was the sixth daughter in the family, she said, her older sisters got the strings and brass.  “My dad said, ‘Now, we need a drummer!’ Thank God, I was it.”

In 1938, Smith formed another all-female orchestra, The Coquettes, with her bass playing sister Mildred. The band moved to New York in 1942, where Smith studied under the legendary snare-drum innovator Billy Gladstone.

In the same year, as men were being drafted to war and women taking their place in factories, Viola wrote a now-famous article for Down Beat magazine, arguing for the inclusion of women in the big bands of the day.

“Many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted,” she wrote, under the title Give Girl Musicians A Break! “Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places?

“We girls have as much stamina as men. There are many girl trumpet players, girl saxophonists and girl drummers who can stand the grind of long tours and exacting one-night stands. The girls of today are not the helpless creatures of an earlier generations.

Smith found it difficult to lead the orchestra from behind the drums, so she turned over those duties to Frances Carroll.  But at the height of her success, Smith performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, as well as at the second inauguration for the 33rd president, Harry Truman, in 1949.

I haven’t even mentioned how good The Coquettes are.  They swing big time and this song is really fun.  The only thing worse than hearing about a great musician after they have died is realizing that there are almost no recordings of her playing.

Here’s another page from The Future Heart with lots of videos and interviews with Viola.

[READ: October 26, 2020] “Nettle”

I really enjoyed the way this story opened.  It is about Willie, who, as the story opens, is a young boy.  Willie’s teacher told the class that she would be guarding them and that “not one of them would be lost, except the one who was destined to be lost.”

When the boy told his mother what Miss Rita said, his mother replied,

That happens to be from the Bible… When people take words from the Bible and repeat them to young children, or to anyone, for that matter, they’re nuts.  Don’t pay any attention to her.”

She says that maybe when he’s older he can leave that school and go to the one his daddy went to.

He would visit his daddy often in his room. His daddy was always playing the same piece to music.  He told his daddy about a book he was reading in class. His daddy replied that he had read that same book when he was younger: rewrite the whole thing. (more…)

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