RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • In Memoriam: Candido Camero

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Nov 21, 2020

    Candido Camero, a Cuban musician widely regarded as “the father of modern conga drumming,” died on November 7, 2020, at age 99.

    Known professionally simply as “Candido,” he began his career in Cuba at age 14 and stayed active well into his 90s. Before Candido, congueros only played one drum, with bands typically having two or three conga players. But when Candido first came to the U.S. in 1946 to accompany Cuban dance team Carmen and Rolando, there was only enough money to hire a single conguero. So Candido played both a conga and quinto, keeping the basic groove on the conga and adding embellishments on the quinto. He eventually expanded his setup to three drums, tuning them to a chord in the manner of timpani. Later he added a set of bongos and became known for playing the melody of “Tea for Two” on his tuned bongos and congas.

    Candido moved permanently to the U.S. in 1952 and spent a year working with pianist Billy Taylor in New York, adapting Cuban rhythms to American swing. He went on to work with a variety of jazz musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Tony Bennett, Woody Herman, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, Charles Mingus, and Quincy Jones. He appeared on hundreds of albums, and he recorded as the leader on Candido (1956) and The Conga Kings (2000). A documentary on Candido’s life was released in 2008, titled Hands of Fire.

    In 2008 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2009 he received a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

  • In Memoriam: Viola Smith

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Nov 16, 2020

    Viola Smith, once billed as “the fastest girl drummer in the world,” died on October 21, 2020, at age 107.

    From 1938–41, she was featured with the Coquettes, an “all-girl” big band that developed a national following. Her showcase piece was “The Snake Charmer,” in which she performed drumming pyrotechnics on a 12-piece drum set. The Coquettes evolved from the remnants of Smith’s Wisconsin family’s all-female band, in which she was one of eight musical sisters. 

    When she found it difficult to lead the group from behind the drums, she hired singer and dancer Frances Carroll to conduct the band. The band, who became known as Frances Carroll & the Coquettes, played at nightclubs and dance halls and appeared in several short films and on the cover of Billboard magazine before dissolving.

    Smith then moved to New York and won a summer scholarship to study timpani at the Juilliard School. She also sat in with bands at New York’s Paramount Theater after many male drummers of the day were drafted into military service for World War II. According to The Washington Post, she caused a stir with her 1942 essay in DownBeat magazine titled “Give Girl Musicians a Break!,” in which she called on prominent big-band leaders to hire more women. With men away at war, she wrote, “Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places? … Girls work right along beside men in the factories, in the offices… So why not in dance bands? In addition, there are some girl musicians who are as much the masters of their instruments as male musicians. Think it over, boys.”

    Soon she was playing in Phil Spitalny’s all-girl band. The group, with whom she played for a dozen years, was featured on Spitalny’s Hour of Charm radio show and in two movies, When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1942) and the Abbott & Costello comedy Here Come the Co-Eds (1945). Spitalny's group was one of many all-girl big bands, such as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, that peaked in the early 1940s, but faded from the scene when men returned from WWII.

    Smith later was a member of the Kit Kat Band jazz quartet featured in the musical Cabaret, which ran on Broadway from 1966–69 and then toured nationally. She retired a few years later but occasionally played with a California ensemble called the Forever Young Band (not to be confused with a Neil Young tribute band of the same name), which billed itself as “America’s Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers.”

  • In Memoriam: B. Michael Williams

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Sep 05, 2020

    B. Michael WilliamsB. Michael Williams, who was Professor of Music and Director of Percussion Studies at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina from 1979 to 2016, died on Sept. 4, 2020.

    He held a B.M. degree from Furman University, M.M. from Northwestern University, and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Active as a performer and clinician in symphonic and world music, Williams performed with the Charlotte (N.C.) Symphony, Lansing (Mich.) Symphony, Brevard Music Center Festival Orchestra, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and appeared at several PASICs. He wrote articles for Accent Magazine, South Carolina Musician, and Percussive Notes, was a former Associate Editor (world percussion) for Percussive Notes, made scholarly presentations on the music of John Cage and on African music at meetings of the College Music Society and Percussive Arts Society, and contributed a chapter to the Cambridge Companion to Percussion titled “African Influences on Western Percussion Performance and Pedagogy.” In 2004, Dr. Williams received the Winthrop University Distinguished Professor Award, the highest honor given to a Winthrop faculty member. Under his direction, the Winthrop University World Percussion Ensemble performed a showcase concert at PASIC as winners of the 2012 PAS International World Percussion Ensemble Competition. He was given the Outstanding PAS Service Award in 2017.

    A composer of innovative works for percussion, his “Four Solos for Frame Drums” was among the first published compositions for the medium. Additional works to his credit include “Three Shona Songs” for marimba ensemble, “Recital Suite for Djembe,” “Bodhran Dance” and “Another New Riq.” His book, Learning Mbira: A Beginning, utilized a unique tablature notation for the Zimbabwean mbira dzavadzimu, and it has been acclaimed as an effective tutorial method for the instrument. Williams’ 4-volume set of 16 mbira transcriptions titled MbiraTab continued the series. Among his other compositions are “Rhythmic Journey No. 1: Conakry to Harare” for solo tar, “Rhythmic Journey No. 2: The Cage Sieve” for solo bodhrán, and “Rhythmic Journey No. 3: Post-Minimal” for solo riq, all published by Bachovich Music Publications. His 2005 CD recording, BataMbira, with Grammy-nominated percussionist and producer Michael Spiro, has been featured on National Public Radio, The Voice of America, and other broadcasts worldwide.

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