Women Drummers: A History from Rock and Jazz to Blues and Country

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In 1942, drummer Viola Smith sent shock waves through the jazz world by claiming in Down Beat magazine that “hep girls” could sit in on any jam session and hold their own. In Women Drummers: A History from Rock and Jazz to Blues and Country, Angela Smith takes Viola at her word, offering a comprehensive look at the world of professional drumming and the women who had the courage and chops to break the barriers of this all-too-male field. Combining archival research with personal interviews of more than fifty ...

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Women Drummers: A History from Rock and Jazz to Blues and Country

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In 1942, drummer Viola Smith sent shock waves through the jazz world by claiming in Down Beat magazine that “hep girls” could sit in on any jam session and hold their own. In Women Drummers: A History from Rock and Jazz to Blues and Country, Angela Smith takes Viola at her word, offering a comprehensive look at the world of professional drumming and the women who had the courage and chops to break the barriers of this all-too-male field. Combining archival research with personal interviews of more than fifty female drummers representing more than eight decades in music history, Smith paints a vivid picture of their struggles to overcome discrimination—not only as professional musicians but in other parts of their lives. Women Drummers outlines the evolution of female drumming from pre-biblical times when women held important leadership roles to their silencing by the church during the Middle Ages to spearheading the fight for women’s rights in the modern era. The stories and personal accounts of female drummers who bucked tradition and societal norms are told against the backdrop of the times in which they performed and the genres they represented, from rock and jazz to blues and country.

Although women have proven time and time again that they can more than hold their own against their male counterparts, female drummers not only remain a minority, but their contributions have been obscured by the traditional chauvinistic attitudes in the music business and gender stereotypes that surround the drum itself as a “male” instrument. Women Drummers takes a major step forward in undoing this misconception by acknowledging the talent, contribution, and growing power of women drummers in today’s music environment.

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Editorial Reviews

BELLA New York City Magazine
Quick! How many female drummers can you name? While the drummer position in bands everywhere is a largely male dominated thing, women have been making waves with their percussion instruments for years. This book by Angela Smith explores the world of women drummers who've broken barriers and overcome discrimination. Forget the guys, these lady drummers rock.
Wisconsin Gazette
The bookWomen Drummers: A History From Rock and Jazz To Blues and Countryis fascinating reading for music fans and those who are interested in gender issues as well. Smith recounts stories that should be heard as today’s young girl drummers seek to break stereotypes and pursue their personal muses. The book is an essential work on both women’s history and the contemporary state of female percussionists in the music industry.
Tom Tom Magazine
This comprehensive book about women drummers throughout the ages is worthy of living on university shelves worldwide. Angela Smith takes the reader from the advent of drums (BCE), to the first rebel drummers facing religious decrees, through contemporary drumming legends like Sheila E. Cindy Blackman, and Viola Smith. She tips her hat to all of the movers and shakers who have paved the way for us female drummers thus far. This book is thoughtful, thought provoking, historical, intelligent and interesting. If you like Tom Tom you will love this book because it is the very book we would have written ourselves. Buy it for your favorite drummer (if that is you more, power to you!) today.
Rope Burns
For anyone interested in music history, this should be required reading. For everyone else, Women Drummers is just a great book that’s fun to read. The book is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble or local booksellers in both hard cover and e-book editions.
A.V. Club
Angela Smith’s volume is full of the compelling stories of many women who have tried their hands at the sticks, only to face institutional sexism. . . .Women Drummers has a dynamite premise and packs in tons of well-reported, resonant stories.
LEO Weekly
Overall, Smith has done an admirable job in bringing the accomplishments of women drummers to the fore.
Percussive Notes
While this book may be of special interest to women, all drummers will appreciate the history and anecdotes relating to the instrument.
Smith provides a thorough chronicle of hundreds of trail-blazing female drummers/entrepreneurs. She interviewed roughly 50 drummers over the course of several years, and in this book she presents their stories and also information she compiled on another 150 drummers and/or bands. The author focuses on North American drum set artists, as opposed to orchestral percussionists or hand-drumming specialists from non-Western cultures. A consistent thread throughout is the difficulty—the trials and setbacks—female drummers have encountered in a largely male-dominated culture (a situation that continues today). The interesting introduction provides a concise overview of women's contributions to drumming throughout history. The balance of the book is organized chronologically from the 1920s to the present. A brief appendix includes suggested recordings, video links, and other online resources, all offered as astarting point for further exploration. The book is rich with details, and the bibliography is extensive. Comprising very short biographies, this book may best serve as a reference resource. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.
In this comprehensive study that spans more than eight decades of music history, author Smith examines the contributions of chicks with sticks—female musicians who have dared to break through in a male-dominated area of music. Archival research and personal interviews with more than 50 female drummers paint a vibrant portrait of the pioneering artists who beat, tapped and syncopated their way into genres ranging from rock and jazz to blues and country. Read this book and forever change the way you hear the backbeat in your favorite tunes.
The book is an excellent antidote to the macho stereotypes of drummers, and takes its inspiration from jazz drummer Viola Smith, who made waves in 1942 by maintaining that “hep girls” could hold their own in any jam session. The author interviewed more than fifty female drummers from rock to jazz, blues to country, whose careers have collectively spanned eight decades—including Sheila E., Debbi Peterson of The Bangles, and Lenny Kravitz’s longtime drummer Cindy Blackman. Smith also ventures back into history to explore the role of drumming in religious ceremonies and the silencing of women’s roles in the medieval church. The modern stories are often tales of taking on a chauvinistic musical establishment—no matter what the musical genre—but taken together, they prove the essential contribution female drummers have made to modern music.
Angela Smith seems to have done her research well, and produced a lively and informative text on a subject that, in the past, has tended not to receive the attention that it should.
Jazz Mostly
As Angela Smith’s subtitle makes clear, this work is not restricted to jazz; far from it in fact, but this wide-ranging scope is by no means an impediment to anyone with interest in any of the musical fields covered. It will also appeal to those interested specifically in the difficult role women have in the world of popular music, a role that while easier today than it was several decades ago, is still fraught with the all-too familiar prejudices of a male-dominated business. . . .Women Drummers is an admirable work, one that is an important reference book and is also worthy of a place on the shelf of anyone interested in this fascinating corner of the world of music that hitherto has been only rarely, if ever, illuminated.
Popular Music & Society
[H]er book, the product of Second and Third Wave feminism's 50-year run, should find a permanent place on the shelf of feminist musical studies. . . .A superb conclusion, along with an appendix (discography, online sources, and videos) and a vast bibliography, gives readers of both genders yet more material to savor. In her reappraisal of women drummers, Angela Smith reconfigures the way we listen to them in all forms of popular music, and that's feminism at it's most useful, at its best.
American Reference Books Annual
In ancient times, the drum was associated with women and femininity in cultures across Africa, North America, and South America. Nowadays, men dominate discussions of the best and most influential drummers, so much so that the drum is often considered an inherently masculine instrument. The women who have played drums professionally in the last hundred years have often found themselves assessed for their looks rather than their chops. By and large, music scholars have tended to overlook their accomplishments. In Women Drummers, Smith seeks to put women drummers back in the proper spotlight. She profiles over 150 women, from pioneers Viola Smith, Pauline Braddy, and Honey Lantree to contemporaries Cindy Blackman Santana, Michelle Josef, and Allison Miller. Throughout, Smith writes in an informal, conversational style. She extensively utilizes in-person and published interviews with her subjects, many of whom have a knack for memorable quips to match their timekeeping skills. The reader comes away with a real sense of these women’s passion for their chosen instrument, their philosophies of drumming, and their experiences, as expressed in their own voices. . . .Women Drummers is a welcome addition to the body of music literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810888340
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/16/2014
  • Pages: 316
  • Sales rank: 416,506
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Angela Smith is a freelance writer and executive director emeritus of the Writers’ League of Texas. Also a working musician and music journalist, she is the author of Steel Drums and Steelbands: A History (Scarecrow Press, 2012).

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A Few Beats Back in Time
Chapter 2: 23 Skidoo: Pre-Ragtime to Jazz Age
Chapter 3: Bee’s Knees: The Roaring 20s
Chapter 4: Swing Cats: The 30s
Chapter 5: Hep Girls: The 40s
Chapter 6: Called to Duty: War Years
Chapter 7: Hip and Diggin’ It: Postwar to the 50s
Chapter 8: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Baby! The 50s and 60s
Chapter 9: Trippin’ & Groovin’ The 70s
Chapter 10: Bad to the Bone: The 80s
Chapter 11: Wicked to the Max: More 80s
Chapter 12: Awesome Times Two
Chapter 13: Bangin’ and Slammin’: The 90s
Chapter 14: Mega to the Max: More 90s
Chapter 15: Sweet!: A New Century
Chapter 16: And the Beat Goes On (To Be Continued)
Chapter 17: Honky Tonk Angels
Chapter 18: Lady Drum the Blues
Chapter 19: Jazz Chicks with Chops
Chapter 20: Drummers of a Different Beat
Conclusion: Not by a Long Shot!
Selected Discography, Videos, and Online Resources
About the Author

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted August 2, 2014

    Basing this book on interviews conducted with over 50 top women

    Basing this book on interviews conducted with over 50 top women drummers, Angela Smith recounts how, in addition, another 160 women gained both national and international prowess through their mastery of the art of drumming. Their astounding success in what was once a male-dominated profession is truly inspiring, with much being attributed to their determination to prove that women can be just as good, if not, at times, better than men at pursuing those interests to which they are passionately committed. Opening her introduction with an anecdote regarding the ninety-nine-year-old Viola Smith walking into a music store in Orange County, California, and being astonished to be met with frank adulation from the floored store owner, Smith continues to stress the importance of the role played by professional women drummers for thousands of years. The opposition that they have encountered is shown, over the eons, as having made them more determined than ever to prove their mettle as worthwhile musicians who have outstanding talents to share with fellow musicians, and with their avid followers, as well as with the rest of the world. And who better to tell the story of so many musically gifted women than one who is a working musician and music journalist herself, who has already written the acclaimed Steel Drums and Steelbands: A History?

    Angela Smith’s focus in this overview of women drummers is on women who have, over the last six decades, made it to the top in terms of popular and contemporary jazz, country, blues, and rock. By focusing on the individual drummers involved, she has been able to bring to the forefront their most outstanding achievements, as well as the limitations that they faced on their careers emanating from a social climate that has all too often been antagonistic to them reaching their full potential. The multiple black-and-white photos of the drummers, many of whom are portrayed “on the job” also help to personalize this interesting, and occasionally provocative, glimpse into the world of the percussion instrument from a woman who is all too conscious of the legacy of discrimination that has permeated the world of music for far too long.
    The chronological structure of Women Drummers aids in making the work a coherent whole, in addition to the chapters being well signposted and containing numerous helpful headings. The index is quite lengthy (20 pages) and detailed for a book of this nature, and there is also a helpful appendix, consisting of a listing of selected discography, video links, and online resources, as well as an 11-page bibliography. In short, Angela Smith seems to have done her research well, and produced a lively and informative text on a subject that, in the past, has tended not to receive the attention that it should. Although the fluency of the book has lost out somewhat to the amount of information contained therein, it is a worthwhile text that deserves its place on any music-lover’s shelf, but especially on that of keen feminists, who only too ardently wish to promote their cause. 

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