Milwaukee’s Semi-Twang formed in the mid 1980s and quickly gained the music industry’s attention with a country-tinged, roots rock sound that would only later be described as Americana. The band, led by John Sieger, signed onto Warner Bros Records and released their debut album, “Salty Tears,” to critical acclaim in 1988. After a considerable break, Shank Hall owner Peter Jest asked the band to do a reunion show in 2009 for the venue’s 20th anniversary, and they discovered they still enjoyed playing together. Semi-Twang released their second album, “Wages of Sin,” in 2011. They’ve since released two more albums, with their latest, “Kenosha,” arriving in 2018.
At 107, drummer Viola Smith may have been the oldest, still playing professional musician.Though Smith entered the WAMI Hall of Fame for contributions to music that go far deeper than her incredible longevity.
Smith passed away in Oct. 2020.
Smith, who grew up in Mount Calvary, was among the country’s first professional female drummers and paved a path for women behind her. In the 1920s and 1930s, Smith played in the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra founded by her father. She gained notoriety as the “world’s fastest girl drummer.” Viola played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. She performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb. She also performed at President Harry Truman’s inauguration in 1949.
Viola played The Ed Sullivan Show five times and was the onstage drummer for the original 1960s Broadway production of Cabaret. Even at her advanced age, she continued to perform occasionally as part of the Forever Young Band: America’s Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers, based out of Costa Mesa, Calif.
Some might find it interesting that an accomplished and familiar voice from the world of southern rock hails from the Dairyland. Kevn Kinney, a native of Milwaukee, developed here as a performer before moving to Atlanta in 1985. He went on to become a founding member of Drivin N Cryin.
Drivin N Cryin is part of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Their front man is also in the WAMI Hall of Fame.
The band quickly became a favorite in Atlanta’s club scene and later drew faithful audiences as a touring act. Their first commercially successful album, 1991’s “Fly Me Courageous,” received gold certification.
The songwriter, vocalist and guitarist formed the Americana and roots rock project, Sun Tangled Angel Revival, in 2002. He released an album with the Golden Palominos in 2011.
Milwaukee’s Esquires represent an important chapter within the city’s strong R&B history.
The Esquires formed in 1957 and was originally made up of siblings Gilbert, Alvis and Betty Moorer. They went through some line-up changes by the time they broke out of Milwaukee and left their mark on a national audience. They signed with Bunky Records and their 1967 debut record, “Get on Up,” climbed the charts. The single reached number 3 on the R&B charts and number 11 on the pop chart. Upon its popularity, they played Chicago's Regal Theater and the Apollo Theatre in New York City. The Esquires released subsequent singles and one full-length album. Their 1971 single, “Girls in the City,” reached 18 on the U.S. R&B chart.