Home Music WAMI announces its 2020 Hall of Fame class

WAMI announces its 2020 Hall of Fame class


The Wisconsin Area Music Industry will celebrate its 40th anniversary in April, and again, they’ll honor the best and brightest — both past and present.

WAMI on Thursday announced its 2020 Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted as part of its awards show on April 19 in Milwaukee.

The new Hall of Famers include Milwaukee Americana roots rockers, Semi-Twang; pioneering drummer Viola Smith, distinguished Milwaukee R&B group, The Esquires; and southern rocker by way of Milwaukee, Kevn Kinney. 

The awards show, which will be held at the Turner Hall Ballroom, will include live music performances and more than 35 award presentations.

SEMI-TWANG: 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 may be the oldest, still playing professional musician.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.

She continues to perform occasionally as part of the Forever Young Band: America’s Oldest Act KEVN KINNEY: 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 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.