The Fastest Drummer: Clap Your Hands for Viola Smith!

 
4.3 (2)
 
0.0 (0)
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The Fastest Drummer: Clap Your Hands for Viola Smith!
Author(s)
Publisher
Age Range
6+
Release Date
March 05, 2024
ISBN
978-1536224863
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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.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Female Musicians that Paved the Way
Overall rating
 
4.5
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
The Fastest Drummer plays homage to Viola Smith, a groundbreaking female drummer born in 1912. Viola was encouraged to pick an instrument and join the family band to make music together. I love the closeness and fun they must have had jamming together and onstage. It is hard to convey music and motion in a still medium like illustrations, but Susanna Chapman did a phenomenal job. The use of swirling strokes and bold clashing colors went a long way to conveying the crashing boom of an enthusiastic drummer. Viola is credited with a pivotal article during the 40’s, when men were leaving for war making it easier for females to get a job as musicians. With this chance, women blew up the music scene and paved the way for females today. Viola Smith was not a name I was familiar with so I like that this biography shed some light on her many accomplishments. One of the coolest facts was she was still rocking to the beat at 100. I appreciated the background information and glossary in the back. The illustrations were fantastic although when reading about real events and people I always appreciate if a photograph is included, which this book did not have. Overall, this is a great biography giving recognition to a talented female musician who paved the way for others. This book would also be great for drummer enthusiasts as well.
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Don't be afraid to make a terrible racket!
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
4.0
Born in 1912, Viola had older sisters who formed the Smith Sisters Orchestra. The only instrument not already take was the drums. Viola didn't do too well with them at first, but learned quickly, and was soon playing jazz in her father's ballroom. In the 1920s, they traveled and performed all over, probably in Vaudeville type performances. As the group traveled, Viola talked to other drummers, and got all of the tips and tricks from them that she could. When her sisters got older and left the band, Viola found it hard to get gigs, because people didn't believe that women could be professional musicians, so she put together another band of all women, The Coquettes. The drum kit she used had twelve pieces, far bigger than the kits used by other drummers. The group became popular, and got a lot of publicity and accolades, and when World War II started, Viola wrote an article for a magazine outlining why women musicians should be able to step into roles previously held by men who were off fighting the war. Viola was one of the most acclaimed drummers of the twentieth century, and continued playing until her death in 2020. She opened musical doors for many women.

Good Points
Traveling performers of the early twentieth century are fascinating, and young readers today won't even know about Vaudeville, so it's great to have picture book biographies of pioneers in entertainment.

Like many picture book biographies, this has a one page explanation of more information about Smith's life, as well as a list of musical terms and further resources. It's too bad there isn't a photograph or two included, although I understand that copyright issues might make this difficult. This is a good overview, but it would be nice to have a more complete biography of this icon before too much time passes. My curiousity was certainly piqued after reading this.

The Fastest Drummer would be a great picture book to read to classes during Women's History Month, along with The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko, Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz by Brown, and Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Engle. Just be prepared with a play list of the great songs that are available from these performers to really complete the experience!
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