A 106-year-old woman is one of the most well-known drummers in the world — because she’s been doing it for 80 years.
Viola Smith was born in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, as one of ten kids. Her drumming career began in the 1920s when she formed a family band with six of her sisters, the Smith Sisters Orchestra. She later started the all-women orchestra The Coquettes with her sister, saxophonist Mildred.
Over the ensuing decades, Viola lived through several eras of music, including jazz, swing, rock and roll and beyond.
She appeared on the cover of Billboard, played on television with the swing orchestra Hour of Charm, and played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, among a long list of other accomplishments. She even played for President Harry Truman’s inauguration in 1949.
Viola eventually formed her very own band called Viola and Her Seventeen Drums. After that, she took her talents to Broadway to perform for the original production of Cabaret.
Now 106, Viola was still actively drumming until very recently. She even played in a band in Costa Mesa called Forever Young Band.
So how has she managed to stay active for so long? Well, Viola smoked, but only briefly. She also enjoys some wine, though she says, “I’m a drinker, but definitely always in moderation.”
Really she credits her long, healthy life in large part to her drumming, which helped her stay physically fit.
“It is very healthful; all that exercise…and I had tom-toms up here,” Viola told Syncopated Times, gesturing to above her shoulders.
What an impressive woman!