Skip to main content

Newark Native Viola Wells Honored for Women's History Month

By rlsmetro on

By: Imani K. Browne

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, RLS Media would like to take the time to highlight a remarkable New Jersey native, Viola Gertrude Wells.

According to Rowan University and the New Jersey Historical Commission, Wells, known for her career in multiple musical genres, became a professional musician at the age of 19. Her first show in her hometown of Newark was the precursor to performing on tour, soon playing in other venues throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.

On numerous occasions, she became the first African-American musician to perform in those aforementioned clubs and theaters.

In 1937, public reports state that she performed with the blues group Ida Cox’s Harlem Strutters, however, she was fired simply for outshining everyone else.

Following this setback, Wells came back to tour the Midwest, East Coast, and Canada throughout the 1940s, performing with acts such as Nat King Cole and Benny Carter, as stated by Rowan University and the New Jersey Historical Commission. 

She was gifted with the honor of performing at President Roosevelt’s Inaugural Ball with a group that she formed, the Three Sportsmen of Rhythm.

Wells continued to perform until her death in 1984.


INFORMATION/IMAGE CREDIT: Rowan and the New Jersey Historical Commission