Some of Seattle’s earliest, greatest musical talents had to leave the city to find fame. After graduating from Garfield High, Quincy Jones moved to New York to arrange songs for greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Ray Charles, who he knew from Seattle. Jazz singer ERNESTINE ANDERSON got a boost after being taken to New York by big-bandleader Johnny Otis. Jimi Hendrix—the only Seattle native of the four, and another Garfield alum—was a sideman until a British talent manager put him in front of a pair of Englishmen.
Rock found soul in the Northwest, where geographic isolation was a catalyst for genre integration. Led by singer/guitarist GERRY ROSLIE, the Sonics stormed out of Tacoma to bridge black R&B and white rock in the early ’60s. Ann Wilson’s vocal histrionics on Heart’s early hits are infused with deep blues. One of Soundgarden’s earliest recordings features Chris Cornell on a heavy cover of “Fopp,” a rubbery funk jam by the Ohio Players.
As second-generation African-American Seattleites came of age, the late ’60s—late ’70s saw an explosion of homegrown funk and soul. After releasing a classic 45 and touring the West Coast in her early 20s, Pat Wright returned to her church roots and now leads the world-renowned Total Experience Gospel Choir. For more than two decades, versatile vocalist WOODY CARR recorded rock, soul, funk, country, show tunes and commercial jingles in Kearney Barton’s Audio Recordings studio. Robbie Hill’s Family Affair was one of the most happening dance bands in the ’70s Central District.
Good DJs are archaeologists, archivists and artists simultaneously, educating listeners via curated collections and well-crafted sets. Originally a hiphop producer, MR. SUPREME is responsible for the vintage Seattle soul revival known as Wheedle’s Groove. For 15 years, Riz Rollins has hosted KEXP’s Expansions, an open-format show common-threaded by deep soul. Emerald City Soul Club is a rotating cast of DJs who spin 45s of rare and unheard vintage soul music to eager dancers.
The ’90s and ’00s saw the rise of neo-soul, and Seattle had its own crop of talent. Multi-instrumentalist Thaddeus Turner and singer Reggie Watts first came together in the once-heralded band Maktub. Turner has since recorded with Das Rut, Ishmael Butler and his own band Thadillac; Watts moved to NYC in 2005 and last year sang with LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden. Since her 2006 debut album, CHOKLATE remains Seattle’s premier neo-soul singer.
The New Guard
In 2011, Seattle soul emerged from the shadows, yielding some of the city’s most popular live acts. Pickwick marries vintage Motown grit with indierock polish; their debut full-length is in the works. ALLEN STONE’s full-body soul translates beautifully to the stage, earning looks from major labels. Fly Moon Royalty starts with hip-hop to arrive at a dance-oriented soul groove.
Illustrations by Tiffany Prothero.