WAMI 40th Awards show arrives in October

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

MILWAUKEE, WI – The Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) is thrilled for the opportunity to bring the state’s music community back together during its 40th Awards Show. This year’s show will take place Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom. Doors open at 6 p.m, with the WAMI Awards Show beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and available at

WAMI will host a party celebrating the nominees on Sunday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at The Saloon on Calhoun, 17000 W. Capitol Drive in Brookfield. The evening will feature live music from Ben Mulwana, The Keystones and Big Spoon. It’s free and open to the public.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit our new website at It features WAMI news and updates, photos, videos and biographies of our Hall of Fame inductees.

The 40th WAMI Awards will feature live music performances, Hall of Fame inductions and inductions of our inaugural Wall of Honor class.

Performers at the 40th WAMI Awards include:

Kevn Kinney: A Milwaukee native, Kinney moved to Atlanta and became a founding member of Drivin N Cryin. He’s a 2021 inductee to the WAMI Hall of Fame.

Semi-Twang: With a country-tinged, roots rock sound, Semi-Twang had a national recording deal and earned critical acclaim. This year, they’re being inducted into the WAMI Hall of Fame.

The Esquires II: The next generation of The Esquires will perform in honor of the first generation who are 2021 inductees to the WAMI Hall of Fame.

Kim Zick, A Salute To Viola Smith: Zick, a WAMI Award-winning drummer and member of MRS. FUN, will pay tribute to Smith and her groundbreaking role in music upon her induction into the WAMI Hall of Fame.

Bad Boy: Members of the WAMI Hall of Fame, Bad Boy -- the band Milwaukee made famous -- reached the Billboard charts in the late 1970s and they remain a hometown favorite today.

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers: Known for their cello-infused pop-rock sound, they’ve played across the Midwest and beyond. Ade was a top 24 contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” which drew international attention to the band’s talents.

The Docksiders: They’re WAMI’s 2019 New Artist of the Year. As America’s favorite yacht rock band, they’ll bring a smooth sound to WAMI’s 40th Awards Show.

TAE: A singer-songwriter and all-original artist, TAE will bring her soulful voice to the WAMI stage. She’s a nominee for WAMI’s 2021 female vocalist of the year.

Almost Vinyl: Featuring members of WAMI Award winning Almighty Vinyl, they will accompany the “In Memoriam” portion of our program.

Big Spoon: Our house band for 2021, Big Spoon plays album rock, funk, party rock and hip hop. They’re an audience favorite as demonstrated by their WAMI People’s Choice nomination.

Our 2021 Hall of Fame inductees are:


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.

Viola Smith

At 107, drummer Viola Smith was likely the oldest, still playing professional musician before passing away in 2020. Though Smith enters the WAMI Hall of Fame for contributions to music that go far deeper than her incredible longevity.

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.

Kevn Kinney

Interestingly, 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 already part of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Their front man will now be inducted into 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.

The Esquires

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.

WAMI’s newly created Wall of Honor recognizes the excellence of musicians more broadly known as entertainers. It also recognizes the organizations and people who often work behind the scenes to enrich Wisconsin through music.

Here are our 2021 inductees to the WAMI Wall Of Honor:

Eddie Butts

There are few musicians woven into the community fabric of Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin as extensively as Eddie Butts.

Most everyone has seen the Eddie Butts Band and they’ve become synonymous with celebration in the region whether it’s the wedding reception, community festival or a day at Summerfest or the Wisconsin State Fair.

The drummer and vocalist established his band in 1974. They’ve sustained an audience over more than four decades with skilled musicianship and a blend of R&B, pop and jazz.

A perennial favorite, Butts has received a number of WAMI Awards through the years in categories including adult contemporary artist, R&B artist, pop artist, blues artist and percussionist.

Vic Thomas

The national acclaim gathered by Milwaukee’s Summerfest is a testament to its leadership’s dedication, knowledge and love of music. No one has demonstrated those traits quite like Vic Thomas, who serves as associate entertainment director for the festival.

Thomas, a Milwaukee native, worked his first Summerfest on the grounds crew in 1974. It was right after he graduated high school as a means to earn money for college. Through college and a stint in the Air Force, he returned home for Summerfest and took on roles including hospitality and security.

Since 1986, Thomas’ role has included booking acts, negotiating contracts and coordinating entertainment staff. During the festival, he’s ever present on the grounds from open to close, managing entertainment from street performers to the main stages.

Thomas has shown his love of music beyond the festival. He’s a former WAMI president and continues to serve as a member of its advisory committee.

Marilynn Mee

She has one of the few voices that most anyone in Milwaukee would recognize.

Marilynn Mee, who most recently served as the midday personality on 96.5 WKLH, has served up the rock and kept listeners company via the airwaves in Milwaukee for more than 30 years.

Mee previously spent 18 years with the former Lazer 103, having joined the station at its inception. Her roles there included midday host and musical director. She was part of the Bob and Brian morning program.

Off the air, Mee is well known for her animal advocacy, having lent her name and time to humane societies and animal rescue groups. She’s the founder of MPD K9 Foundation.

She’s known for her love of music and serves as proof that listeners tune into local radio for more than their favorite songs. She has also earned national recognition from the likes of Billboard magazine and Radio & Records.

Gary Shaw

If you’re from the Fox Valley and love live music, it’s more than likely you’ve come across Gary Shaw.

If you’re a guitarist in the Fox Valley, chances are you’ve gotten some support and made some purchases from him. Shaw had long been regarded as a brilliant guitarist and he’s been a regular player in the region for decades. He was most recently nominated for a WAMI in the guitarist category in 2018.

But for all Shaw accomplished with the instrument, he’s just as much known for the assistance he’s given others along their musical paths.

Shaw was manager of Henri’s Music of Appleton from 1977 through its closure in 2010.

Through Shaw’s efforts, Henri’s was a major contributor to a growing Fox Valley music scene.

As other stores focused on pianos and band instruments, Shaw set Henri’s apart as the region’s rock and roll store and it became a gathering point for players. Shaw, meanwhile, was tireless in meeting the needs of working musicians. He later went to work for Island Music in Neenah. Shaw learned he would receive a place on the Wall of Honor before he passed away in 2020.

Madison Area Music Association

The nonprofit organization has honored and supported Madison area artists for nearly two decades while simultaneously planting the seeds for the next generation.

The Madison Area Music Association began in 2003 as the Madison Area Music Awards. It was founded by Rick Tvedt as a means of acknowledging the extensive music talent in the Madison scene. Their first Grammy-style awards show was held on March 28, 2004 and the Orpheum Theater and has continued annually.

In following years, the MAMAs grew into an active nonprofit with a mission that extended to putting musical instruments into the hands of children. They’ve donated more than $75,000 in funds and gear to Madison Area music programs. Their goal is a future in which any child will have the chance to play music regardless of race, sex or economic background.

The organization has sought to support musicians in ways beyond recognition of their art. Its MAMA Cares program has raised and donated more than $20,000 to musicians and their families during time of medical need.

Our 2021 award nominees within their respective categories are as follows:

Artist of the Year:

Zach Pietrini

Unity The Band

Rose of The West

Them Coulee Boys

The Jimmys

Trapper Schoepp


Chicken Wire Empire

Album of the Year:

Black Belt Theatre - “Power Petting”

Stulo - Thiel - “Ghosts Around Here”

Chicken Wire Empire - “What Moves Mountains”

Goran - “Under A Nashville Sky”

Testa Rosa - “Testa Rosa IV”

Klassik - “Quiet”

Wisconsin Vinyl Collective - “Volume Three”

Kurt Gunn - “Northern Town”

Song of the Year:

The Keystones - “2010”

Bascom Hill - “Our Love Burning”

Nickel & Rose - “Another Man’”

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers - “Light Up My Summer”

Zach Pietrini - “Like the Pain”

Zed Kenzo - “Not Froze Yet”

Krestfall - “Where Do I Belong?”

Rose of The West - “Loves Lies Bleeding”

New Artist of the Year: PH!L

Boy Bjorn

The Last Bees

Ben Harold and The Rising

The Midnight Purchase

Laura Jean Bomber


The MilBillies

Male Vocalist of the Year:

Rich Hoffman

Ben Mulwana

Stephen Cooper

Bobby Rouse

Mike Wendland

Dave Adler

Andrew Balistreri

Vincent Black

Female Vocalist of the Year:

Katie Mack


Genevieve Heyward

Michele McCarthy

Jackie Brown

Jennifer Schafer

Betsy Ade

Sammy Ray Marshall

Singer/Songwriter of the Year:

Phil Norby

Kurt Gunn

Chris Haise



Mark Croft

Barbara Stephan

Kyle Megna

Rising Star of the Year:

The Waxlips

Twisted Chords

Parker Collar

Lilie Fouts

Cherry Punch

Amelia Hopfensperger