Paw'd Defiance

Grit City Music History

June 13, 2019 UW Tacoma Lecturer Kim Davenport Season 1 Episode 13
Paw'd Defiance
Grit City Music History
Chapters
Paw'd Defiance
Grit City Music History
Jun 13, 2019 Season 1 Episode 13
UW Tacoma Lecturer Kim Davenport

UW Tacoma Lecturer Kim Davenport takes us on a magical history tour of music in the City of Destiny. Davenport is a professional musician who has written articles and books about different aspects of Tacoma's history, including music. We'll hear some original recordings of Tacoma booster songs which were designed to bring people to the city. Davenport will also discuss different artists who lived in Tacoma as well as famous artists who played here. 

Show Notes Transcript

UW Tacoma Lecturer Kim Davenport takes us on a magical history tour of music in the City of Destiny. Davenport is a professional musician who has written articles and books about different aspects of Tacoma's history, including music. We'll hear some original recordings of Tacoma booster songs which were designed to bring people to the city. Davenport will also discuss different artists who lived in Tacoma as well as famous artists who played here. 

Music:

[ Intro music]

Speaker 2:

From UW Tacoma, this is Paw'd Defiance.

Speaker 3:

Welcome to Paw'd Defiance, where we don't lecture, but we do educate. I'm your host Maria Crisostomo. Today on the Paw'd, Go Giants Go, 100 years of progress, and the larger musical history of the Grit City with UW Tacoma lecturer Kim Davenport. Davenport teaches music classes at UWT, and has spent the past few years exploring Tacoma's rich musical legacy. We will hear songs devoted to the city, and we'll also learn about the artists who live and create here.

Speaker 4:

So today we have Kim Davenport . Can you please introduce yourself?

Speaker 5:

Sure. So I am a musician and a teacher, and also someone who loves studying local history. And I've been at UW Tacoma for almost 20 years now, and teaching classes there for about 10.

Speaker 4:

So what do you do?

Speaker 5:

So my focus in the last few years has been bringing together different areas that fascinate me. So music, obviously, because that's what I'm trained in and that's what I love to do. And then also local history. So I've been working on this Tacoma music history project, bringing those things together.

Speaker 4:

So what led you to research Tacoma's history in terms of music?

Speaker 5:

I love going to the library and looking at primary source material . So old newspapers, old photographs, and seeing what kind of stories they tell. And for me, this really started with moving back to Tacoma, which is where my family's from several generations back, but I grew up in Seattle. So moving back to Tacoma as an adult, and wanting to find out more about my family. And it turns out a lot of people in my family are musicians and teachers just like me. So that really kind of solidified that, that that's something I want to keep researching.

Speaker 4:

Were you always interested in music when you were little or did that change as you grew older?

Speaker 5:

I really have always been involved in music because both my parents are musicians. They actually met in music school in college, and my grandmother was a piano teacher here in Tacoma 50 to 70 years ago. So it's really been part of my family. My whole memory is filled with memories of music.

Speaker 4:

I'm curious to know what instruments you play.

Speaker 5:

So my main instrument is the piano. But I also grew up playing the clarinet, that was my dad's instrument, and I grew up wanting to be just like my dad, so I insisted on playing the clarinet. And my other claim to fame is that when I was in college, I played baritone sax in a saxophone quartet. So that's that just a huge instrument that my friends had had fun teasing me about my playing that.

:

So I want you to talk more about what a booster song is.

Speaker 5:

So that's actually one of the first research projects I did. I kept finding these sheet music examples in different library archives. So just like three or four pages of music with usually a really pretty cover , like a nice drawing on the front. And it was something about Tacoma. The title was something about Tacoma. And so I got curious about what was this about. And it turns out that booster songs all over the country were a form of advertising. If you go back to an era before television, before radio , before even really the recording industry had gotten off the ground. So people were writing songs and assuming that most households had a piano, and that at least somebody in the house would be able to read music. And so they'd write these quick little songs and sell them in music stores in towns to boost civic pride in a certain town. And there's a lot of them from Tacoma, from mostly the 1890s and 19 hundreds.

:

I was actually gonna ask you, how does that connect to Tacoma ? So I have found at least 20 of them from those 15 to 20 years. And then there's some later ones, which we'll actually talk about, cause I have some examples that are from way further into the 20th century. But, but yeah, it was just really a form of advertising. So they're not necessarily great music, but they're kind of a fascinating way to learn more about any town where you find them. But specifically Tacoma, we can learn a lot about what was it that people were trying to advertise about Tacoma to the rest of the country. What are some of the advertisements that you found? So really it was mostly about Tacoma is, you know, we still use that phrase, city of destiny. And it's this place where you can do anything. There's mountains, there's water, there's infinite business opportunities. Just come on to Tacoma, on the train. Even if just to visit, or to live here. It was always really extravagant language about just how wonderful Tacoma was. So I want you to talk about who Joe Jordan is. Yeah. So this was a really fascinating story when I found out about Joe Jordan. So he kept showing up in my research, and at first I couldn't figure out why he had a connection to Tacoma. He was born in the 1880s in Cincinnati, and he was an African American composer and arranger, and he was in the ragtime era. So he was writing ragtime piano. And a lot of people know the name Scott Joplin. He was doing the same thing, and he was a little bit more famous, but a lot of scholars think Joe Jordan was just as important a ragtime composer. And his life is fascinating, because in his early years he performed in Chicago, he performed in New York, he went to Europe even. He also dealt with a lot of race issues, as any black artists did at that time in the country. You He had to decide, do I want to be part of minstrel shows where I'm really playing a stereotypical version of my race in order to get a job so I can get paid? And he did make some difficult choices like that in his career. But finally I figured out his connection to Tacoma, and it's a connection that a lot of musicians have to Tacoma, actually. He came out here because of Fort Lewis. So during World War II, the military was trying to figure out, this was before they had desegregated. So everything was still split and they were trying to figure out how to have enough entertainment for both white troops and black troops on all the big bases around the country. And so they actually hired Joe Jordan. He became Captain Joe Jordan, even though he was already an older man. He certainly wasn't going to go fight in the war. But he came out to Fort Lewis to make music for black troops to listen to when they were relaxing on the base. And what I thought was really cool about his story is he loved Tacoma so much when he got here. He loved looking at Mount Rainier, he loved a lot of things that we all like about Tacoma. Just, it's a pretty place and it's interesting. So he moved his whole family out here and spent the rest of his life here. And that's how he got involved in writing some booster songs about Tacoma, well after the era of booster songs . So he was writing those in the 1960s. So can you describe some of the songs that he wrote?

Speaker 5:

Yeah. So he actually did write a lot of great ragtime. So for anybody who's interested in ragtime or early jazz piano, you definitely should YouTube those things and find some of his music. He has booster songs about Tacoma, which I've studied because that's my focus. They're not as great in terms of the music, but they're neat stories about Tacoma, and it's a neat story about someone who was a transplant to Tacoma and was excited about Tacoma and wanted to celebrate that with music. And even as an old man, he couldn't seem to stop writing music. It was just part of him. So he wrote , for example, a song called 100 Years of Progress in 1969, and that was for the Centennial of the city of Tacoma. Um, and then he wrote probably my favorite story. Again, not great music, but it's a fun story. He wrote a song called Go Giants, Go for the Tacoma Giants, which was the first AAA baseball team to play at Cheney Stadium when it was first built in the 1960s. And it's kind of cool from our modern perspective, because Cheney Stadium has always had a AAA baseball team ever since then. He wrote this song, and I found the recording finally , in the basement of the Tacoma Public Library, downtown branch. They were kind enough to pull out a bunch of old records for me, and I was able to digitize it. So we can hear it now.

:

Yeah, we can listen to it.

Music:

baseball time is one smaller again, go and see a giant scar again. Football out in the field. You watch those giants and the faces, they stay you with hope . [inaudible]

Speaker 5:

So you mentioned that this song was written in 1963. Why does this sound very different?

:

Why does it not sound like music from 1963? So I haven't been able to find anything that he wrote about what his intentions were, but my guess is he wanted it to sound like throwing back to old time baseball, you know, baseball being America's pastime, so let's think about what a baseball song would've sounded like in the 1920s or something like that. It seems like that's what he was going for with that song . It's a nice s ong, it's very catchy. The beginning is very catchy. Can you talk about 100 years of progress? Yeah, absolutely. So , there's actually a tie between these two songs, which is kinda cool. So we just listened to the recording of Go Giants Go that he actually paid to be made. He wanted that to last. But before the recording, it was actually done live at games at Cheney Stadium. And the very first time was by the Lincoln High School choir and orchestra. And that's not just a coincidence. Joe Jordan actually kind of took Lincoln under his wing. He didn't have any personal connection to it, he just decided, "I'm going to make this my school that I help out." And he did fundraisers that helped them buy instruments for their music program, and he also used the choir and orchestra and stuff to play his music. And so they performed it at Cheney Stadium, and then they also were the ones to make the recording of 100 Years of Progress. So it's kind of a cool story where you've got student musicians, and the soloist that we'll hear was also a Lincoln student. So this one was meant for celebrating Tacoma in general, because Tacoma was turning a hundred. I thought it was neat that rather than using professional musicians, he used high school students. Yeah. That's very interesting because he's using local people from Tacoma as well. Yeah. And he definitely made that connection with that specific school. So I think that's kinda neat too.

Music:

One [inaudible] 100 years [inaudible] 100 years. [inaudible]

Speaker 5:

So I really like this song. Can you describe more about the lyrics?

:

Yeah, so what's interesting to me is, this was written in 1969, but it actually so much reminds me of the old booster songs. Cause the language is kind of generic. You wouldn't necessarily know we're talking about Tacoma. And the lot of the old booster songs were that way too. But I also think that Joe Jordan seems to have hit on, there's a lot of talk about that line about sweat and toil, and we still talk about Tacoma that way today, as a grit city, and this is a place of hardworking people, and he seems to have hit upon that with, with those lyrics. And even the sound is very marching too. It makes that connection.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, absolutely.

:

So can we talk more about other musicians that played in Tacoma? Yeah. I want to start with the very first research project I ever did on this theme. It was very personal. So I think I mentioned at the beginning that my grandmother was a piano teacher here in Tacoma from the 1920s through the early 1950s. And she also was kind of an interesting lady. She had an interesting personality, and one of the things about it was that she would kind of exaggerate stories sometimes. And so you didn't necessarily always know what was true. And one of the stories she had was that when she was quite young , Rachmaninov the famous Russian composer had come to Tacoma. And I heard this the whole time I was growing up, I heard about this story, and I thought, no , that's not true. Grandma's making that up. And so once I kinda got into doing this kind of research, I thought, well, why don't I start there and I'll see if that story was true. And it turns out that it was. So, just a little bit of background on who he was. He was world famous at the time that he came to Tacoma. And, really a fascinating story, so he was a Russian composer born in the 1870s, and he was actually part of the Russian upper-class . And so during the Russian revolution in 1918, his family had to flee because all of their properties were taken from them in the revolution. So he went from being a very comfortable person to being someone who needed to figure out how to make a living all of a sudden. So he moved to the United States and because he was famous, and because he was a very successful musician, he was able to make a touring career for himself and he traveled all over the United States performing. And when you think about the fact that he had to go everywhere by train, and then you look at that, he had sometimes he'd be in three States in two weeks. That's pretty amazing given that everything was on the train. Just imagine an artist doing that today. And so it's not really surprising that he came to Tacoma, cause he really went to any city of any decent size that was on the train. So that's what brought him here. But he only came here once, and he went to a lot of other cities multiple times. So the fact that my grandmother remembered that story was kind of neat. It was in February of 1925, and he played at the Tacoma Theater, which no longer exists. So if you know where the Pantages is downtown, and then the Rialto is a little bit up the hill from it. Right in between those two on the hill was this theater, and it was actually really grand. It was built in the 1890s, and it had bigger seating than either one of those theaters. And it was where all the biggest artists came way back in the day. And it later became a movie theater, so there are people still around in Tacoma who might remember going to movies there as a kid. And then unfortunately it burned down in the 1960s. But he played there along with a lot of other really famous people . Famous writers and actors and musicians came to that theater. So that was kind of a cool way for me to get into this research, was making that personal connection and then finding out this cool story. Can you talk more about Marian Anderson?

Speaker 5:

Yeah. So this is another great story about a nationally famous, and even world famous musician who came to Tacoma. She was an opera singer , and lived, really throughout the entire 20th century. She was born in 1897 and she lived till 1993, so she lived a very long life. And what was unique about Marian Anderson is that she was an African American opera singer at a time when that was really very unusual, and there were still a lot of places where she, at the start of her career, would not have been welcome to perform. But she had such an amazing voice that her musical ability broke down a lot of those racial barriers. And the most famous story about that and her role in changing how people thought about race when it came to musicians is in 1939, she was invited to perform at a concert hall that was used a lot by a lot of musicians in Washington, D.C. It's called Constitution Hall, but it was managed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which was a very conservative organization. And they refused to let her perform, not because she was black, actually, but because the audience was going to be a mixed audience, there would be white people and black people together in this hall listening to her. So they refused to let her perform. And, as with a lot of stories that we see like this, their intention to keep this from happening actually backfired. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the first lady at the time , stepped in and organized for her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people came, and it was also broadcast live on national radio. So millions of people heard this performance. So that happened in 1939, and just a few years later is when she came to Tacoma. And so one of the really great stories about that is she was here to just perform classical operatic music, and her fans of that music came to the concert. But in the middle of the recital, she stopped singing that classical music and she sang My Country 'tis of Thee, which is what she had sung at the Lincoln Memorial. And everyone would have known what that reference was about. And it's interesting, because she wasn't really an out there political figure. She just made statements through her music, and through her desire to perform, and did break down a lot of barriers for black musicians in the United States. So it's just neat that Tacoma was able to play any small part in that, because her story is really important.

:

Um , can you talk more about Nirvana? Yeah. So I think, this is just a guess of mine, that all but the most diehard Nirvana fans would not have a clue that not only did they play in Tacoma , but they actually had their very first public performance with the name Nirvana in Tacoma. This brought me to another story that I knew nothing about, cause it's a little before my time. I mean, I certainly remember Nirvana. They were really big when I was in college, but this is their early, early days. So I was in middle school when this was going on, and I wasn't paying attention to up and coming grunge bands yet. But they, along with some other local musicians, played at a place called Community World Theater, which only existed for two years in 1987 and 1988, and it was in the South end of Tacoma , just off of South 56th and M street. And the building was a former movie theater, and it had been kind of boarded up for a while . And then a local gentleman decided he wanted to turn it into a music venue for local bands. And Nirvana played there several times. They used at first some of their original old names, which again, probably diehard Nirvana fans know about. These were new to me, like Pen Cap 2 was one of their first names that they tried out. And Ted Ed Fred. I personally think it's good they went to Nirvana. I think that's a better name. But it's just a cool story. The poster, which apparently Kurt Cobain drew himself, where it first said Nirvana, was for this concert that happened in Tacoma. So there is that really cool Tacoma a connection. So there's a lot of bands from that grunge era that are only associated with Seattle, but a lot of them actually came from all over the region. And so I think a lot of interesting stories are probably out there about some of those famous bands from that time.

Speaker 5:

I wanted to ask more about how certain artists are usually associated with Seattle, like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. What about Tacoma?

:

One of the biggest things I've learned, and especially being classically trained, and my background is more in classical music and jazz and stuff like that, so there's a little learning curve for me sometimes with rock and stuff like that. But Tacoma is a really important city when it comes to early rock , leading through to some other bands that really ended up influencing the grunge movement. So one that I would like to talk about is the Sonics. And it's a band that a lot of people I know, being a musician, and people of my parents' generation, they're like, "Oh yeah, I know all about the Sonics," but I think especially the younger generation doesn't necessarily know about this band. But if we take ourselves back to the 1950s, there were some really important garage rock bands that came out of Tacoma. The Fabulous Wailers , The Ventures, there's actually a documentary being made about The Ventures right now, they just finished a Kickstarter and that'll probably come out in the next year or so. So they were really active in the 50s, kind of setting up that scene in Tacoma. One of those bands formed a record label, which ended up producing the music of some other bands later. And then the Sonics came around in 1960 and actually, really cool, they're still around. They've had some changes in personnel, obviously, cause people have gotten older, but they've been around all that time, making music. They were known for a really aggressive, hard edge to their sound . So kind of picking up on a simpler rock sound from the 50s, and then adding this harder edge to it. And a lot of grunge and punk and hard rock artists from more recently have talked about how the Sonics were really influential.

Music:

[music]

Speaker 5:

So I really liked the sound of the song. It's very different. I really like how it sounds.

:

Yeah. And it's fascinating to me, because I've spent a lot of time listening to the music of the bands from just a few years before that. It's so different. They really were going in a new direction. And I read somewhere, and I don't have the exact quote, but apparently Kurt Cobain really loved the drum sounds, specifically, that they came up with, and talked about that in a few different interviews about how that was influential for him. That's very cool. I mean, each band has their own style too. Would you say Tacoma has a distinct style?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, there were garage rock bands all over this region and all over the country, but that push towards that harder edge sound seems to be a Tacoma staple, and if we want to talk about the grit city connection and that sort of edgy working class element that Tacoma has, I think maybe that makes some sense. So I mean, I think if we were going to try to give Tacoma a sound , that would probably be it.

Speaker 4:

I'm really curious to ask you, what do you think about modern day music?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, that's an interesting question. I guess I have a few different answers to that. I mean, as somebody who grew up in all acoustic stuff, I really don't like the super overproduced sound that comes out of a lot of popular music these days, where you wonder, am I actually listening to anyone's real voice or am I actually hearing anyone play an instrument? And I think I particularly have that bias, again, growing up around classical and jazz and stuff where it's all about, you know, what does your voice sound like? Or how do you play your instrument? But I will say I had a teacher in college, in one of my music classes, who said something that has stuck with me. If you were to go back to the time of, let's say, Beethoven, so someone from way in the past that we think of as this great musician , and you were to just find yourself on the street in that time, there were a lot of other composers, a lot of other musicians, who really weren't very good, and probably people at that time were saying, gee, the music these days is really terrible. But there was like one great artist that came out of that time. And I think it's probably fair to say the same about now. So I think there's probably some people making music now that are doing something special and new and different and keeping the art form moving, even if those of us living through it are saying, I don't like the music these days.

:

Music changes all the time. It's an evolution of music all the time. And that's one of the reasons I like studying the history of it in a particular place, is because it's constantly changing, and it helps you tell the story of that place by watching the music change. What do you think of music these days?

Speaker 4:

Well for me, I also grew up with a family of musicians all my life. I do not play instruments, so unfortunately I don't know how to play anything, but I've been influenced by music because of my family. So that made me open a lot of doors and learn about different types of genres of music. I've listened to a lot of classical music, my grandpa will listen to a lot of classical music. My uncle as well, my brother, all my family, both sides, my mom's and my dad's. They all listen to music. So that made me listen to a lot of music that usually people don't listen to when they're my age. And I'm very passionate about classical rock music, old school rap, all that old stuff.

Speaker 5:

Yeah . And so you don't feel like you're listening to what some of your classmates are listening to now?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, and even if I am listening to modern day music, I'm very specific about who I'm listening to. And it's those underground rappers or underground musicians that are not really known about. And it's like, it is modern music, but it's good modern .

Speaker 5:

So you don't have strong opinions at all.

:

Yeah. That basically summarizes my opinions about music. So I'm very passionate about music. It was because I grew up with musicians as well. Yeah. I really relate to that because I think when you grow up around it, you appreciate it, and it's important to these people you love, it's just becomes part of your life and you kind of can't be without it.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. For me, I don't play any instrument, but even if I don't, I still recognize the music.

Speaker 5:

Absolutely. Music is very bad opera. It's very good. Yeah . It sounds , I know how to , how it sounds in my head, but it's don't know how to play the instrument. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I always say this, whenever anyone says that, it's never too late to learn how to play an instrument. [inaudible] I'll just put that out there for you. You can think about that.

Speaker 4:

Try learning the violin, but it's kinda hard. Yeah. So I want to ask you more about how you implement that in your music class.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. So, so I've , um, had a really neat opportunity here at UWT because there's no music department and there's no like established curriculum. Um, which is really cool because that means we can do new and different things. So I've, I've created a few classes that are pretty traditional. Like we have a music appreciation class that's taught at a lot of different campuses and I just use a textbook for that and it's pretty standard. Um, but my favorite class, I called musical history of Tacoma. So it really, when I started that class, it's been three years now, I really had a goal of finding a way to make music relevant to people from all majors because I know that when someone takes one of my classes here, they're not a music major. They're not a music minor cause we don't have those things here. They're just someone who needs an elective or they have an interest in music. And I wanted to find a way to make that elective relevant to them. Um, teach some new skills, maybe even things that are relevant for other things. They're gonna study. So my musical history of Tacoma class is secretly a local history class. I just pull people in by saying it's a music class. But really what I'm doing in that class is trying to get students excited about doing the kind of research that I like to do. So digging into tangible artifacts that you can put your hands on at the library, like old newspapers, old photographs, things like that. Because I think especially now students have really great skills in doing research online and using digital archives and databases and all that, but often they haven't had a chance to use actual physical artifacts in a library. And it's kind of a generational thing cause there's so much amazing stuff available online now. But from my experience, I think there's a lot of great stories out there that you can really only find if you look at actual artifacts. So again, it's a, it's a music class and that's often what pulls people in because people think, great, I want to take a music class. That sounds fun. But secretly I'm trying to get them excited about doing local history research. Did they get to listen to some of the music pieces? Yes , absolutely. Yeah . Yeah. So there's lots of listening and then students get to pick their own research project . Um, and it's interesting to me cause some people want to, you know, they want to be pretty much current. They want to be looking at a band for maybe the last 10 years, but some people want to go back to the 1890s and learn about that. So I, I leave that totally up to student choice. And the favorite thing about it for me is I started a blog a couple of years back@tocomeonmusichistory.org and that's where I published my own research. And every quarter I tell students, if you do a really great job on your final project and you give me your permission , uh , I will publish your work on the blog too. So every year I add some student research too. So just that idea that, cause you know, I have my own biases, I have my own things I'm interested in and I know it's not a complete picture of all the music that's ever been made in Tacoma. There are certain things I just don't care enough about to , to want to research. Um, so that's why I think it's really neat to get other voices and students from, you know, a little bit different generation than mine and with different backgrounds who want to go off and research something different than I would. And we can get, get that research out there.

Speaker 7:

[inaudible]

Speaker 3:

thank you to our guests. Thank you to Moonia recording studio and thank you for joining us today. Be sure to subscribe and go to iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts , Stitcher and pocket casts.