What is the Seattle Sound? Most think grunge, that punk/metal infused and plaid donned alternative rock genre which bloomed here in late 1980s and early 1990s. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam come to mind. And while true--grunge and the Seattle Sound are used synonymously--Seattle and Puget Sound's music history is far more diverse and expansive.
With Seattle Sounds (UW Honors 242B), students and I investigate grunge but do so alongside the kaleidoscopic array of Seattle's many other musics, artists, and scenes. Each week we take a deep sonic dive into a different era, including Indigenous songs past and present; Settler colonial brass and string bands; Seattle Symphony, from founding to today; Music and misrepresentation at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition; Impact of longstanding segregation of musician unions; Songs of labor activism and the avant-garde constructions of John Cage; Cantonese Opera, Chinese exclusion, and the Luck Ngi Musical Club; Music of Japanese Americans before, during, and after incarceration; Redlining, Jackson Street jazz, and the far reaching legacies of Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson; Dave Lewis and his Trios's pioneering and segregation defying R&B stylings; Recording engineers, such as Joe Boles, Kearney Barton, and Jack Endino; PNW Rock, including proto-punks The Sonics, the growling Frantics, Tacoma's surf rock pioneers The Ventures; Jimi Hendrix, period; Ann Wilson and the Daybrakes, Heart, and East Side hair metal; Jazz visionary and educator, Joe Brazil; Funk and soul from Black on White Affair, Occupation Soul, Overton Berry, Pastor Pat Wright (aka Patrinell Staten); UW Ethnomusicology's visiting artist program; Queer performance art roots of Seattle's first punk band, The Tupperwares; Seattle's first rap groups, Emerald Street Boys and Emerald Street Girls; Tina "Godmother of Grunge" Bell and her band Bam Bam; Olympia's Riot Grrrl movement with Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater Kinney; KFOX, KYYX, KAOS, KCMU, KEXP; Teen Dance Ordinance, passage and repeal; Ragamala and South Asian classical music stars; Rise and fall of grunge, from authenticity to Hype; SubPop, New York Times spoofing, and "world domination"; Sir Mix-a-lot, Blue Scholars, Thee Satisfaction, Shabazz Palaces and accession of progressive hip hop; Muzak, Zune, Amazon Music and the commodification of musicking; Black Cat Orchestra, Sun City Girls, Walkabouts, Reggie Watts, Death Cab for Cutie, Tacocat, Earth, Brandi Carlile, The Black Tones, Jimmi James, Black Belt Eagle Scout... You get the idea.
The class itself is an interdisciplinary mix, blending elements of local-musicology, music criticism, and history. We are also lucky to have local music experts, DJ's, recording engineers, and musicians guest lecture. Past visitors have included Laurel Sercombe, Paul de Barros, Paul Chihara, Daudi Abe, Charles Cross, Robert Garfias, Eva Walker, Jimmi James, Kelsey Smith, Overton Berry (RIP), Andy Kessler, Freddie Dennis, Alan Bishop, Scott Colburn, Hannah Levin, Mike Kohfeld, and Steve Fisk.
Connected to the class is the Seattle Sounds Archiving Project (SSAP), which includes a collection of local music recordings and related materials held by the Ethnomusicology Archives and partner UW Libraries units. Founded as Puget Sounds over a decade ago, SSAP is home music and sounds across genres and styles, from folk to rock, jazz to classical, hip-hop to emo, Hindustani to nerd-core metal.
Since I first offered it in 2008, this UW course has been a work in progress that is subject to change. I strive to be inclusive and representative of students' interests. Questions? See my contact info to the right, and thanks for visiting!
- John Vallier, Seattle 2023
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