Ernestine Anderson photo courtesy of the family.
BY PAUL RAUCH
The annual Jackson Street Jazz walk in Seattle provides a vital link to the rich musical legacy of Central Seattle. It unites, in spirit, present-day jazz and blues artists with the community of artists that came before them, forming the legendary Jackson Street scene of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. As the city withstands a whirlwind of change decade by decade, the legacy of the sound created by Black musicians in the historic Central District has spoken to generations of Seattle musicians performing within the legacy of the blues and jazz tradition.
Seattle based vocal artist Eugenie Jones has become a part of that legacy in modern terms. Beyond her personal artistry, she contributes significant time as a community organizer and producer, with the Jackson Street Jazz Walk being front and center among her current concerns. After some time on this project, a recurrent theme was brought to Jones’ attention, which was the need to honor Seattle’s most internationally lauded jazz artist, the great vocal stylist, Ernestine Anderson.
Anderson is herself, a vital link that connects jazz in Seattle generationally. She cast an international spotlight on what was largely viewed as a remote outpost culturally, performing from post-war Seattle in the late 1940s into the 21st century. She moved with her family to the Central District in 1944 at the age of sixteen and attended Garfield High School. Her artistry is rooted deeply in the rich musical culture of Jackson Street, including playing in bandleader Bump Blackwell’s band that included Quincy Jones on trumpet and Ray Charles on piano. Over the years, many of the top players in Seattle had the opportunity to perform with her, and become linked to the true history of jazz music in Seattle, through the city’s most honored and beloved artist.
With her passing in 2016, the need to tell her story, and the story of Central Seattle for generations to come became more apparent. As neighborhoods continue to go through rapid change in modern times, the need for youth to become familiar with the history and legacy of music in Seattle remains constant through time. With this series of events, Jones saw a way to reach out, and provide a sense of history and community for area youth. “We need to do more than entertain, we need to engage youth,” Jones points out.
The city of Seattle has honored Anderson in the past. She received the Bumbershoot Golden Umbrella in 2002, an honor that evolved into the Mayor’s Art Awards. In 2012, The Low Income Housing Institute honored her by naming their new 60-unit apartment complex, Ernestine Anderson Place. The development houses people without homes and low-income senior residents.
The Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District and the Mayor’s office, along with the Seattle Department of Transportation, also installed honorary street name signs for Anderson along a three-block stretch on South Jackson Street, between 20th Avenue South and 23rd Avenue South.
Still, none of these honors amounted to what anybody would allude to as a celebration. Jones, alongside co-producer Stix Hooper, set out to celebrate Anderson the community she inspired with a series of events during November, the month of her birth in 1928. They formed a Strategic Planning Committee that included John Gilbreath of Earshot Jazz; Brenda Vanderloop and Meghan Hooper of Stix Hooper Enterprises; and Brenda Goldstein-Young, Robin Lloyd, and Jim Wilke of KNKX Radio. The events reach across the community generationally and benefit The Rotary Boys & Girls Club.
The events kick off with Jones moderating a Zoom panel discussion about the life and legacy of Anderson with Wilke, Kay D. Ray, and Paul de Barros on November 2. Ray’s rarely shown historical video on Anderson, There Will Never Be Another You, will also be featured. Jones will share a City of Seattle Proclamation acknowledging the depth of Anderson’s contribution to the arts and her community.
On November 6, Seattle area youth are invited to participate in the First Annual Ernestine Anderson Youth Vocal Competition. Contestants will enter by submitting an online application and a 2-3 minute audio singing in a cappella. Selected finalists will perform and compete live. Cash prizes, professional vocal assessments, and SRJO tickets are among the prizes available.
On November 8, Garfield High School students will be invited to a special school assembly exploring the life and legacy of Garfield High alum, Ernestine Anderson. The program will examine Anderson’s career and the qualities that empowered her masterful achievements. The aim is to provide insights into personal attributes that fuel attainment of dreams, musical and otherwise. Due to COVID, this will be a Zoom event and only available to Garfield High School students and staff.
On November 11, on the 93rd anniversary of her birth, The City of Seattle will issue a proclamation, acknowledging her contribution to the world of music, and her strong commitment to supporting community organizations and the people they serve. The reading of the proclamation can be witnessed on Zoom with registration. Jones has posted the statement on the event web page for viewing as well.
On November 13, The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute will host The Ernestine Anderson Musical Tribute. Jones and former Crusaders member Hooper will be joined on stage by vocalist Gail Pettis, pianist Darrius Willrich, saxophonist and tap artist Alex Dugdale, bassist Paul Gabrielson, drummer Jamael Nance, and more. The event will be a celebration of Anderson’s lasting legacy that is expressed note by note on Seattle’s enduring, vibrant jazz scene.
Those well acquainted with Anderson’s work know well of her highly original sound. While her phrasing and lyrical articulation was comparable stylistically to Ella Fitzgerald early on, her roots in the blues and gospel over time influenced that sound and profoundly impacted her sheer artistry. Her style was as heavy as Seattle fog and as profoundly lyrical as the finest prose. The longevity of her career allowed the city she adopted as a teen, to adopt her as a living testament to its contribution to the art of jazz. Five years after her passing, her innate sense of melody, her fearless and powerful artistry, lives and breathes wherever the music resides in the city and neighborhood she called home.
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