'Grandma Drummer' Says Letterman Can Wait -- She Needs a NapLike many of the best viral videos, "Grandma Drummer" shows an ordinary person doing the extraordinary.
By: The Associated Press, Superior Telegram
Like many of the best viral videos, "Grandma Drummer" shows an ordinary person doing the extraordinary. In this case, it's a white-haired, older woman perched behind a kit in a La Crosse, Wis., drum shop. It's not just that she can play the drums, it's that she's a true show(wo)man, twirling her sticks and pushing the beat forward, all with a sly, knowing grin.
The store's employees had watched the woman -- who they only knew by her first name, Mary -- do this enough times that someone figured they should capture it on video. They uploaded the 85-second clip last Thursday and, in less than a week, watched it skyrocket to more than 3.4 million views.
No one is more surprised by the attention than Mary Hvizda, the 63-year-old "Grandma Drummer" who, up until the last few days, hadn't even heard of YouTube. She lives alone, in nearby Onalaska, with no Internet access and plenty of time on her hands now that's she's retired. (She also doesn't have kids, so even though she might look like one, she's not a grandmother.)
"For something to do, I'll go to music stores and look at all the new equipment," Hvizda said. "It's just interesting to walk around and see everything. Sometimes there are musicians jamming and I'll watch that. Sometimes I join in myself. I do it just for the heck of it, to satisfy my musical urges. It's a neat thing to do."
Long before Hvizda was a YouTube sensation, she was a musical pioneer of sorts. She joined a drum and bugle corps at 16, influenced by her brother, who was also a drummer. One of the corps instructors taught her to play by ear, and while she said she was a slow learner, her skills began to improve. Soon, Hvizda and several other girls in the drum corp decided to form their own rock band, the Chantells.
"We were the only all-girl rock band around," she said. "We weren't real good, but we were getting better and better. After a while, I thought I should try something unique, to make it look more like a show. I started out twirling my sticks. Then, during 'Wipe Out,' I would get up and walk around the drum set while I was still playing. It was just another way of doing a drum solo. Our band wasn't perfect as far as the music was going, but we liked to different, unique things. We wanted to put on a show."
Hvizda loved covering Creedence Clearwater Revival and old blues songs. After the Chantells dissolved, she transitioned into country and spent more than 20 years playing in nearly a dozen different bands. "Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb ... those were my favorites," Hvizda said. "To tell you the truth, I don't know if any of them are in existence anymore."
In 1990, Hvizda's band broke up and when she couldn't find another one to play with, she called it quits. She sold her drum kit and took another night job -- a far less glamorous one -- cleaning offices.
"This is all so surprising, because she leads a very, very quiet life now," said her sister Sharon Jonas, who lives in Roseville. "She worked hard all her life, which is why she looks older than her years. But now she's enjoying her retirement. (On the video), she doesn't come off as 'Oh, look at me.' She's very humble. That's why I'm so happy for her. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her."
The video has attracted national attention and numerous offers to appear on television. But Hvizda has never flown on an airplane and, for now, isn't ready to start.
"I'm debating on what I want to do," she said. "I'm not a traveler. I have so many people coming at me at once, my head is dizzy. I've been invited to go on 'David Letterman,' 'Steve Harvey,' 'Ellen' ... some other guy, I can't remember his name. All those years I was in the business as an active musician, no one ever did this. We had a lot of fans who liked us, but we never had TV stations and newspapers and radio stations calling us. We never had any of this."
Earlier this week, the Coalition Drum Shop gave Hvizda her own electronic drum kit, so she could play at home with headphones and not bother her neighbors with the noise. "I tried it out when they set it up," she said. "I tried it a little bit more last night. I sat there for 20 minutes, but that's enough for now."
Indeed, Hvizda is so overwhelmed by the attention, one of her biggest concerns is finding time to work in a little shut-eye. David Letterman, for one, can wait.
"I don't want to get too carried away here," she said. "All I've been doing is talk, talk, talk. And when I'm ready to stop, there's more calls. I want to take a nap and not talk to anybody for a while."