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Washington in the United States

The U.S. state of Washington has been home to many popular musicians and several major hotbeds of musical innovation throughout its history. The largest city in the state, Seattle, is known for being the birthplace of grunge as well as a major contributor to the evolution of punk rock, indie music, folk, and hip hop. Nearby Tacoma and Olympia have also been centers of influence on popular music.

Several world-famous musicians have hailed from Washington. Bing Crosby, legendary crooner who was born in Tacoma in 1903 and raised in Spokane, had a number one hit in the U.S. in 1942 with "White Christmas". Jimi Hendrix, one of classic rock's most enduring guitar legends, was born and raised in Seattle and is buried in Renton; and folk rock singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins, who had a No. 1 Hot 100 hit in 1984 with "Footloose", was born in Everett. Saxophonist Kenny G is from Seattle and attended the University of Washington.


The Seattle Symphony was founded in 1903. Milton Katims (1954–1976) and Gerard Schwarz (1985–2011) have been the longest tenured conductors. The Spokane Symphony was founded in 1945. The Seattle Chamber Players was founded in 1989. They are known for their interpretations of modern compositions. Seattle Pro Musica (founded 1972), Seattle Girls Choir (founded 1982) and Choral Arts (founded 1993) are all award-winning choral music groups. Notable individuals from Washington state include pianist Kenneth Boulton, composer/pianist William Bolcom, composer Peter Scott Lewis, composer Mateo Messina, composer/clarinetist Sean Osborn, composer/pianist/violinist Jennifer Thomas, all from Seattle, and composer/pianist Charlie Albright from Centralia.

The Seattle Opera company was founded in 1963 by impresario Glynn Ross, who then served as musical director until 1983. Notable vocalists from Washington state include the sopranos Patrice Munsel from Spokane and Angela Meade from Centralia and the baritones Roald Reitan from Tacoma and Thomas Hampson, also from Spokane. All have performed at the Metropolitan Opera at one time or another.


While not a jazz hot-bed, Washington state has had a jazz scene since the early 20th century, mostly centered in Seattle. In the early years there was a thriving African-American jazz scene on Seattle's Jackson Street, led by the Whangdoodle Entertainers featuring, amongst others, Frank D. Waldron (trumpet/alto saxophone). Waldron later joined the Odean Jazz Orchestra, one of the rare African-American bands in that era to play in downtown Seattle. He remained active in Seattle jazz as a musician and teacher until his death in 1955. On the other side of the tracks, Vic Meyers (saxophone) led jazz bands playing in Seattle's Pioneer Square and Belltown districts. Meyers left music for politics in the early 1930s and served as Lieutenant Governor of Washington from 1933 to 1953 and then as Secretary of State of Washington from 1957 to 1965. Another notable jazz figure in the early days was Harold Weeks, a ragtime composer/lyricist known as the co-writer (with Oliver Wallace) of the 1918 song "Hindustan", which is considered a jazz standard. Joe Darensbourg (clarinet/saxophone) was active in Seattle from 1929 until 1944 and Dick Wilson (tenor saxophone) played in his band from 1930 until 1936.

The early 1940s saw Jimmy Rowles (piano) come out of Spokane and Corky Corcoran (tenor saxophone) from Tacoma. In the late 1940s Bumps Blackwell led a Seattle band that featured teenaged future icons Ray Charles (piano), Quincy Jones (trumpet) and Ernestine Anderson (vocals), as well as Buddy Catlett (double bass). Also emerging out of Seattle during this time was Patti Bown (piano/vocals), Gerald Brashear (congas/scat singer), Elmer Gill (piano/vibraphone/vocals) and Floyd Standifer (tenor saxophone/trumpet), while Don Lanphere (tenor & soprano saxophone) came out of Wenatchee. Catlett, Brashear, Standifer and Lanphere spent their latter years playing jazz in the Seattle scene.

The 1950s–1960s saw Tom Collier (percussion/vibraphone), David Friesen (double bass/electric upright bass) and Tim Gemmill (tenor & soprano saxophone/flute/keyboards) come out of Seattle, Ralph Towner (12-string & classical guitar/piano/synthesizer) from Chehalis, Gary Peacock (double bass) from Yakima and Larry Coryell (guitar from Richland. Only Collier returned to the Seattle scene.

The 1970s saw the emergence of Kenny G (soprano, alto & tenor saxophone/flute) from Seattle, who is one of the leading smooth jazz artists of all time with 16 Grammy nominations. Jeff Lorber (keyboards) came out of Vancouver WA and also forged a fine career in smooth jazz, as well as jazz fusion, with 7 Grammy nominations of his own. In 1971 Clarence Acox Jr. (drums) arrived in Seattle from his native New Orleans to revive the marching band at Garfield High School. In 1979 he started the Garfield Jazz Ensemble, which he led until his retirement in 2019. The Ensemble has earned many awards and honors. Acox has also been active as a musician in the Seattle scene. Hadley Caliman (saxophone/flute) moved to tiny Cathlamet in the 1970s and later led combos in Seattle during the 1990s and 2000s. John Holte (reeds) was a leader of the West Coast Swing Band revival of 1970s and continued to lead various swing bands in Seattle until his death in 2003. Cheryl Bentyne (vocals), who grew up in Mount Vernon, sang in Holte's New Deal Rhythm Band before joining the renowned vocal group The Manhattan Transfer in 1979, with whom she has won 10 Grammy Awards.

The 1980s were the career beginnings of native Washingtonians Diane "Deedles" Schuur (vocals/piano) from Auburn, who has won two Grammy Awards, Bill Anschell (piano), Jeff Kashiwa (saxophone) and Skerik (tenor & baritone saxophone/electronics), a pioneer of saxophonics. Anschell, Kashiwa and Skerik remain active in the Seattle scene, with Skerik playing in a number of diverse local bands. The 80s also saw Julian Priester (trombone/euphonium), Amy Denio (saxophone/accordion/vocals) and Bill Frisell (guitar) relocate to Seattle. Frisell had previously been active in New York City's Downtown Scene.

The 1990s saw the emergence from Seattle of Cuong Vu (trumpet), Marc Seales (piano), Jim Black (drums), Joe Doria (Hammond organ) and Jessica Lurie (woodwinds). Lurie is active in the Seattle bands Living Daylights and The Tiptons Sax Quartet. The aforementioned Amy Denio is also a member of The Tiptons Sax Quartet. Seales and Doria are also active in Seattle. Lounge band Nightcaps was formed in 1995 and continues to occasionally play in the Pacific Northwest.

The new millennium has produced Roxy Coss (saxophone), Aaron Parks (piano), Emi Meyer (piano/vocals) and The Bergevin Brothers band, all from Seattle. Meyer and the Bergevins remain active in the Seattle scene. In the early 2000s husband and wife Wayne Horvitz (keyboards) and Robin Holcomb (piano/vocals) relocated to Seattle. Both had previously been involved in NYC's Downtown Scene. In 2015 Dmitri Matheny (flugelhorn) relocated from his long-time base in San Francisco to Centralia. In 2022 he released the album CASCADIA, celebrating the Pacific Northwest. The album also features the aforementioned Bill Anschell.


Washington state has a limited tradition in country music, but has produced some notable artists. In the 1920s Paul Tutmarc established himself as a fine tenor and lap steel guitarist in Seattle. He is also known for inventing the first electric bass guitar in 1936. Tutmarc continued to perform and teach guitar in Seattle into the 1960s. Fiddler Bus Boyk came out of Everett in the 1930s and had a long career, eventually being inducted into the Western Swing Society's Pioneers of Western Swing Hall of Fame.

The late 1950s saw three Country Music Hall of Famers active in Washington state. Loretta Lynn began her performing and songwriting career while living in the tiny logging community of Custer. She also played in nearby Blaine. Loretta wrote and recorded her first single "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl" while living in Washington (although the song was recorded in Los Angeles). The song was a hit and it was off to Nashville and superstardom. Willie Nelson took a job as a DJ at KVAN in Vancouver WA in 1956, where he also played local clubs. While there he cut his first record "No Place for Me". Nelson was still a ways from fame when he left Vancouver in 1958. Also in 1958 Buck Owens was working in Tacoma at radio station KAYE, when he saw Don Rich, a young fiddler from Olympia, play. Owens immediately asked Rich to join his band and soon they were being featured on the weekly BAR-K Jamboree on KTNT-TV. Loretta Lynn made her television debut on the same program. Owens left Tacoma around 1960 to return to Bakersfield, California and in a few months Rich followed and became a member of Buck's backup band The Buckaroos, eventually becoming the lead guitarist. Rich's Fender Telecaster was an instrumental part of the Bakersfield sound of the 1960s.

The late 1950s also saw the emergence of native Washingtonian Bonnie Guitar, who grew up in Redondo and Auburn. She is arguably the greatest country star ever produced by Washington state. Bonnie had her first hit, "Dark Moon", in 1957, which charted on the country and pop charts. She continued to have hits into the 1980s. Guitar was also a co-founder of Dolton Records and later co-owner of Jerden Records in an era when this was extremely rare for a woman. Before she became a star she was a student and wife of the aforementioned Paul Tutmarc. After their divorce in 1955, she did session guitar work for several labels in Los Angeles. Later in life she bred cattle and quarter-horses near Orting before finally settling in Soap Lake, where she continued to perform on weekends until the age of 92. Guitar died in 2019, at the age of 95.

The remainder of 20th century was a quiet period for country music in Washington state, but there were a few notables. Seattle based Lavender Country released their self-titled album in 1973. It is the first known gay-themed country & western album. They would not have another release until 2022's Blackberry Rose. Fiddler Mark O'Connor came out of Mountlake Terrace in the 1970s and has had a long and diverse career, winning three Grammy Awards. Michael Peterson grew up in Richland and released his first self-titled album of contemporary Christian songs in 1986. A decade later he hit it big in Nashville with the release of his second eponymous record in 1997, which produced five Top 40 country hits, including the No. 1 "From Here to Eternity". The 1990s saw alt-country enter the scene, led by Neko Case of Tacoma. With her powerful "flamethrower" contralto voice she has released a series of critically acclaimed albums and has also been a part of the revival of the tenor guitar. The Supersuckers formed in Tucson, Arizona in 1988, relocated to Seattle in 1989 and have been playing cowpunk ever since.

The new millennium has seen the emergence of mainstream country artists Brandy Clark from Morton, who has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards as a songwriter and performer, James Otto from Benton City, who had a No. 1 country hit with "Just Got Started Lovin' You" in 2008, Vince Mira from Federal Way, who began his career busking Spanish-language songs in Pike Place Market, Adam Craig from Tenino, who has been most successful as a songwriter and Seattle based Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, whose image is influenced by Johnny Cash, the "Man in Black" and Spaghetti Westerns. Their live shows sometimes include the "Whiskey Baptism" of fans into the "Church of the Rodeo". Jaime Wyatt from Tacoma plays outlaw country and had a song on the 2004 soundtrack of Wicker Park. Megs McLean from Snohomish plays "crunge", a combination of country and grunge, and had a Country Pick of the Week in 2016. Star Anna from Ellensburg performs alt-country and, with her band the Laughing Dogs, appeared with the Seattle Symphony in 2012. Seattle based alt-country band The Maldives live shows have been described as "transcendent" by KEXP-FM.

Garage rock

In the mid-1950s, the Washington rock scene was kick-started by a Seattle group, The Frantics, led by guitarist Ron Peterson. The Frantics were the first rock group from Seattle to have songs in the national Top 40 charts. Later, several garage bands achieved regional and some national fame. Perhaps the most famous of these are The Wailers, whose regional fame was paramount for several years in the early 1960s. Their version of Richard Berry's "Louie, Louie" became the state's unofficial anthem.

An influential garage rock band called The Regents became local icons in the Tacoma area, but the original incarnation never signed to a record label. They are known for pioneering a distinct sound technology when they fed the rhythm guitar through a Leslie organ speaker during a concert at the University of Puget Sound; this gave them their original sound.[citation needed]

Another Tacoma band, The Sonics, also proved to be influential, and are still a cult favorite. Their name was inspired by one of Seattle's most important employers, Boeing, an aircraft manufacturer, and The Sonics' brand of aggressive guitar rock made them icons in the later development of music in and around Seattle.

Record producer Jerry Dennon of Jerden Records was responsible for bringing The Kingsmen (of Portland, Oregon), best known for their national hit "Louie Louie", to the ears of northwest audiences. The Kingsmen soon found themselves in a rivalry with local favorite Paul Revere & the Raiders (of Boise, Idaho), who also released a version of "Louie, Louie". The Kingsmen's version eventually caught on nationally after a Boston radio station picked up the song and Dennon negotiated distributing rights with Wand Records out of New York City. The song's supposedly suggestive lyrics led to it being banned in some localities, including Indiana.

Heavy metal

Notable heavy metal bands that emerged in the Seattle area in the 1980s include Metal Church, Queensrÿche, Mentors, TKO, Prowler, Q5, Forced Entry, Sanctuary, Culprit, Bloodgood, Heir Apparent, and Fifth Angel. Metal Church was initially formed while Kurdt Vanderhoof was in the San Francisco scene, but moved back home to Aberdeen and reformed the band with new members from the Grays Harbor area. They became one of the most well-known metal bands from the 1980s thanks to albums like Metal Church (1984), The Dark (1986), Blessing in Disguise (1989) and The Human Factor (1991); they resurfaced in 2004 with The Weight of the World. Queensrÿche is better known for falling somewhere between the heavy metal and glam metal scene, with strong influence from progressive rock, which can be seen in their albums Operation: Mindcrime (1987) and Empire (1991). Going to the mid-end of the '80s, Seattle featured successful thrash metal bands, such as The Accüsed (a crossover thrash band), Assault & Battery, Bitter End, Coven, and Forced Entry.

Also of particular note are Seattle's Slaughter Haus 5, Tacoma bands Sword of Judgement, Hammer Head, Diamond Lie (featuring Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains), as well as Olympia bands Cyperus and Death Squad. Two West Seattle metal bands from the 1980s were Sanctuary and Rottweiller. Sanctuary, after two albums and some years revamping, reformed with two original members (bass and vocals) and a former short-term replacement guitarist (along with some new members) and became known as Nevermore. Heir Apparent came out of North Seattle in the mid-1980's, signed to the independent label Black Dragon Records of Paris, France in 1985, and released what remains the highest-rated album in the 40-year history of Germany's ROCK HARD magazine[1] in January 1986. Heir Apparent performed with Sanctuary in 2012 at the Metal Assault Festival in Wurzburg, Germany.[2] In 2019 at the Headbangers Open Air Festival in Germany, Queensrÿche, Sanctuary, and Heir Apparent each headlined an evening of the 3-day event.[3]

More recent underground metal bands include Himsa, Aemaeth, Blood & Thunder, Midnight Idols, Fallen Angels, DEATHBEAT, Big Business, Drown Mary, Evilsmith, Vigilance, Skelator, Ceremonial Castings, Inquisition, Hoth, Inquinok, Pure Hatred, Riot in Rhythm, Deathmocracy, Blood of Kings, Wolves in the Throne Room, Twisted Heroes, Ashes Of Existence, Bleed The Stone, Casualty Of God, Mechanism, I Am Infamy, Devilation, Beyond Theory, Future Disorder, Edge of Oblivion, Last Bastion, Phalgeron, and Bell Witch.

Punk rock

Seattle's punk rock scene was always limited, but is important for its influence on the development of grunge as a distinct genre. In the 1970s, Ze Whiz Kidz made a unique and bizarre variety of confrontational music and helped launch a hardcore punk scene that included ZEKE, Mentors, RPA, The Rejectors, The Lewd, Violent World[4] The Refuzors, Crunchbird,[5] Pod Six, The Enemy, and, most influentially, Solger and The Fartz, as well as new wave bands like The Heats, The Cowboys, The Meyce, The Telepaths, Visible Targets, Chinas Comidas, X-15 and UC5. Hardcore skinhead bands like Extreme Hate, The Boot Boys and Firing Squad also gained a following. Green River, a punk rock band that splintered into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, was one of the first grunge bands. Also drawing on the punk rock scene were Melvins, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Fitz of Depression of Olympia and Vitimin C of Centralia. Musician Duff McKagan made his entry into the global rock scene in the punk rock scene of his hometown of Seattle. On the other side of the state, Spokane also contained an insular but vibrant punk and new wave scene in the 1980s, as chronicled in the documentary film SpokAnarchy!

In the early 2000s, Washington proved to be the breeding ground of a prominent experimental punk rock scene, with bands such as Botch, Pretty Girls Make Graves, These Arms Are Snakes, The Fall of Troy, Jaguar Love, and The Blood Brothers achieving dedicated cult followings.


Tribute to Kurt Cobain in Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington. "Come as You Are" is a song by Nirvana.

Grunge began as a mixture of heavy metal, punk rock and indie rock in the 1980s and gained mainstream prominence in the early 1990s. The earliest bands included Green River, Skin Yard, Screaming Trees ("Nearly Lost You"), and Soundgarden, among others, with most signed to legendary indie rock label Sub Pop. This new style was featured on the 1986 compilation album Deep Six (CZ001) released by C/Z Records, with tracks by Soundgarden, Melvins, Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun and The U-Men. By the late 1980s, several future stars had begun performing, including Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney, while the death of Andrew Wood (d.1990, buried in Bremerton, WA) of Mother Love Bone led to that band's disintegration and subsequent reformation as Pearl Jam. In 1991 (see 1991 in music), Nirvana's Nevermind, along with Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, Pearl Jam's Ten and Alice in Chains' Dirt, quickly brought the grunge scene to international attention and its music to the top of the national charts, where it stayed for many years and influenced a number of popular spin-off acts and subgenres across the world. Pearl Jam has recorded five No. 1 albums featured on the Billboard Top 200 between 1993 and 2013, including Vs. (1993), and also had a No. 2 Hot 100 hit with their cover of "Last Kiss" in 1999. Nirvana had four No. 1 albums, Alice in Chains had two, including Jar of Flies (1994), and Soundgarden had one, Superunknown (1994). Later successful grunge acts include Foo Fighters, which had a No. 1 album with Wasting Light (2011). Seattle is also home to newer alt-grunge-rock acts such as SixTwoSeven.

Riot grrrl

Riot grrrl is a form of punk rock which arose in Olympia in the 1990s with all-female and woman-led acts like Bikini Kill, known for their militant feminism and raw, uncompromising sound. The genre never achieved mainstream success due to an on-going media blackout along with their harsh criticism of society and often grating musical style, and eventually faded. However, stalwarts Sleater-Kinney stayed together and found themselves approaching mainstream audiences after the turn of the millennium. The movement generated many notable bands, concentrated in the Olympia area and including Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, and Excuse 17.

A new wave of the riot grrrl movement continued in the 21st century with bands like NighTrain, The Gossip, The Black Tones and Thee Emergency, which feature soulful vocals, heavy drums, a driving, intense rhythm and blistering guitar. This revitalization of interest in the AfroPunk and girl group-inspired soul music was well-received outside American borders, leading to the departure of some of these groups to European countries.

Twee pop

In the late 1980s, a form of alternative rock called twee pop was popular in the United Kingdom. A small cult following around bands like The Orchids and Heavenly formed in the U.S., centered on Olympia's K Records and the band Beat Happening.


Arguably the most famous hip-hop star to come out of the state of Washington has been Sir Mix-a-Lot, best known for his songs "Posse on Broadway" and "Baby Got Back", an early nineties novelty hit. Also prominent in the Seattle rap scene at this time was Kid Sensation (Steve Spence), who got his start on Sir Mix-a-Lot's first album, Swass (1988). Wordsayer (Jonathan Moore) was influential in bringing hip hop into Seattle's mainstream with his group Source of Labor. Oldominion (featuring Mr. Hill, Onry Ozzborn and Xperience amongst others), Blue Scholars, THEESatisfaction, Shabazz Palaces, Grayskul and Common Market (featuring RA Scion and Sabzi) are other notable acts. Art of Movement (featuring Jay Park and Cha Cha Malone amongst others) is a notable b-boy crew from Seattle. The Guinness World Records holder for Fastest Rap MC is the Seattle-based NoClue, breaking the record previously held by Chicago rapper Rebel XD. Brown rapped 723 syllables in 51.27 seconds on his track "No Clue" at B&G Studios, Seattle, on January 15, 2005. More recently, local indie rapper/DJ duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have achieved worldwide fame with The Heist (2012), scoring two No. 1 Hot 100 hits with "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us" in 2013. Also, teenage Rapper Lil Mosey has grown in popularity since his song "Pull Up," but most notably "Noticed" in 2018, and "Blueberry Faygo" in 2020.

Origins of notable artists





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(Note: years active are as of July 23, 2022 and are in some cases approximate)

See also


  1. ^ "Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  2. ^ "Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  3. ^ "Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  4. ^ "FFanzeen: Rock'n'Roll Attitude with Integrity: Chinas Comidas: An Inside Look – Rock'n'Roll in Washington State [1980]". November 15, 2015.
  5. ^ "Jaime "Crunchbird" Johnson Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More". AllMusic.