Katherine “Kay” Carlson, an accomplished drummer and renowned percussion instructor passed away among close friends at the age of 78.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on May 28th, 1931, she started playing drums at the age of nine and was a professional by the age of 18.

Throughout the 1950s, Carlson played in various bands and orchestras touring the US and internationally.

Specifically, Carlson toured with an all-female big band entertaining US troops in Japan and Korea for the United Service Organization (USO).

During her time overseas, she was also the drummer for a special show starring Johnny Grant.

Upon returning to the US, Carlson made many television appearances as the drummer for the Spade Cooley Show and started freelancing in various jazz combos and big bands.

Carlson was said to be one of the first women to be endorsed by a major drum manufacturer, Wm. F. Ludwig (WFL) Drums, and in 1960, she passed the examination for the National Association of Rudimental Drummers.

Carlson organized her own 19-piece big band, which performed many “Jazz at the Beach” concerts and she played drums for the musical Cabaret at the Ahmanson Theater.

It was also at this time that she started her teaching career, which ultimately became her lifelong passion.

For the next 50 years, Carlson taught over 2,000 drum set and percussion students at Loyola Marymount University, Amendola Music, and at her private studio.

In 1989, she received national recognition by being awarded the Excellence in the Profession of Percussion Instruction (EPPI) Award from the REMO Drum Company.

In 1993, Carlson received further recognition by the Pro Mark Drum Stick Company for exceptional dedication to percussive music education.

Most recently, Carlson was amongst a select group of women musicians interviewed for the documentary, “Lady Be Good, Instrumental Women In Jazz.”

Carlson’s remarkable trailblazing career has helped open doors for female musicians everywhere. She was considered not only a teacher of percussion, but also a teacher of life.

Her love of music can only be matched with her love for her students.

Carlson is remembered for her wonderful sense of humor, and her indelible influence on so many lives has undoubtedly left the world a better place.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 15th at Westchester United Methodist Church 8065 Emerson Ave. Westchester 90045. Information, (310) 670-3777.

Donations in honor of Carlson can be sent to the Northwest Film Forum Fiscal Sponsor, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122, attn: Lady Be Good.

Share