Clap your hands for Viola Smith—the pioneering female drummer at the heart of this bright and rhythmic biography, who rat-tat-tat-bang-crash-clink-boomed for nearly a century.
Five girls played together in the Smith Sisters Orchestra: Irene on trombone, Erma on vibraphone, Edwina on trumpet, Mildred on violin, and Lila on saxophone. But what of the littlest sister? When Viola’s time came, almost every instrument was taken . . . except one. When she first sat behind a drum kit, she lost the beat, made a terrible racket, and had more fun than she’d ever had before. Viola took to the road with her family, learned from the greats, formed her own band in the face of discrimination and ridicule, mastered twelve- and seventeen-piece drum kits, and played so fast she left no room for doubt: women could not only keep the beat—they could beat the odds. At one hundred years of age, Viola was still slamming her snare and socking her cymbals. Dean Robbins’s affectionate portrait of one of the few female professional drummers of the early twentieth century includes an endnote with resources for discovering other female musicians. Susanna Chapman’s swirling illustrations capture the joy and energy of Viola’s stage presence while introducing young readers to the essential art form of jazz.