BY DANIEL GLASS
Today, great female drummers abound at every level of our industry, but their successes have been hard won in a male-dominated world that too often dismisses them as “all looks and no talent.” Here we focus on the 1920s and ’30s.
THE JAZZ AGE
Women gained the right to vote in 1920, and the decade that followed (known as the Roaring ’20s) brought with it new attitudes toward their equal participation in a variety of societal activities, including smoking, patronizing bars, and playing popular music. e soundtrack of the era was jazz, and its popularity led to the growth of music programs in schools. is offered women new opportunities to learn to play an instrument, including the drums. By the end of the decade, top jazz bands featured a growing number of established female drummers, including names like Patty Carter and Leota Hunt.
The 1930s saw the world fall into the grips of the Great Depression. To counter the dark mood of these years, people flocked to the decidedly upbeat sound of swing. By mid-decade, big bands were the rage, and several all-female organizations (both black and white) rose to the top tier. These included Ina Ray Hutton’s “Melodears” (featuring Lil Singer on drums), the Hour Of Charm (with drummers Mary McClanahan, and later Viola Smith) and the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm, an integrated band that featuring the super-swinging Pauline Braddy on the drums (see video below).
FIRST WOMEN DRUM STARS
The popularity and talent of this new generation of female drummers could no longer be denied. McClanahan became the first woman ever to be featured in a drum company ad (for Gretsch), and Braddy was considered to be one of the best drummers of the era (of any gender). Viola Smith, whose showmanship, speed, and chops earned her the title “the female Gene Krupa,” made the cover of Billboard magazine in 1940, and maintains a successful playing career to this day (she continues to play at age 102). Coming next time: Female Boppers and Rockers.
DANIEL GLASS has played drums with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Royal Crown Revue. He and Steve Smith coauthored e Roots Of Rock Drumming, as well as the award-winning DVDs e Century Project and Traps: e Incredible Story Of Vintage Drums.