Upcoming events in Seattle celebrate the life and legacy of jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson
Remembrance and recognition of one of Seattle's best-loved musicians is the focus of November's "Celebrating Ernestine Anderson Series." Robin Lloyd spoke with co-executive producer Eugenie Jones.
RL: Tell us about the “Celebrating Ernestine Anderson Series.” That's kind of a mouthful to say out loud!
EJ: Well, we went back and forth with a number of names before we landed on that one.
More important than the name is the heart behind it, which is to acknowledge a great Seattle icon and recognize her for the contributions to music that her career and her life sacrifice have made, and also how she represented Seattle throughout the world in all the places that she performed and in the hearts and minds that her music has touched. So knowing all of that and knowing that she was a little girl going to Garfield High at one point, we wanted to do something as a community to recognize that accomplishment, not only for her legacy and for her family's recognition but also for the youth that are following in her foot tracks who have goals and aspirations, too, in terms of music or whatever else it may be. But she's an inspiration as far as what hard work and effort can get you.
RL: I know she was originally from Texas and that she was a big part of the Seattle jazz scene. What makes that relevant today?
EJ: A number of things that make it relevant today. One of the things that I learned about Ernestine Anderson as I was reading her history, was her talking about her life as a little girl in Texas and how racism touched her life. And I imagine it continued to touch her life as a performing artist, going around the country in the time period that she did, when people were more overtly racist and comfortable with communicating their racism. As a little girl, she witnessed her father losing his job because a white man told his boss to fire him. And the guy did. And her family, of course, was impacted by that. That was her first experience with seeing the effects of blatant racism, and what it meant for her life.
Then as an artist going forward, she had to contend with that racism. There were rooms that she wasn't allowed to enter, hotels she couldn't stay in. She had to use back entrances and was not allowed to be seated in certain restaurants. And that was the environment that her career grew up in. So it impacted her life, but it didn't stop her from creating the legacy that she created.
And so why is it relevant now? It's relevant because the racism that existed in her day and affected her life is still affecting us today, and her ability to rise above it and still create an astounding career is still relevant to us today. Just as today in our society there is now this intense focus on diversity and inclusion within our communities and within every industry, including the music industry.
It's also relevant to the Seattle community because this is her community. She lived here. She supported it, with the nonprofits and different organizations she was involved with, she took part in her community. She was honorable about it, and she became basically an ambassador for Seattle throughout the entire world.
So it's relevant because a lot of kids growing up now don't know about Ernestine. They didn't grow up listening to her music. They didn't go to concerts and see her perform. So it's important that those of us who know her music, who know her legacy, that we pass it on to the next generations.
Especially, it's important for African Americans to pass it on to the next generations because we, as a culture and as a people, have lost so much of our identities over time and periods because of different types of racism being forced upon us. So at a time where we have a legacy and we can communicate and talk about it and tell those stories and pass them down generation by generation, this is the time for us to be doing that, and it's important and relevant because of that.
For the Celebrating Ernestine Anderson Series, we put our heads together — and I should say that "we" are a group of volunteers and sponsors that have made this event possible. There were a number of us kind of siloed off, each having different ideas about acknowledging Ernestine Anderson. Because of one person, who knew all of us, we all got together under this umbrella of "Celebrating Ernestine Anderson." And that was you, Robin. I'm giving you that credit, because you knew John Gilbreath from Earshot Jazz, you knew me from the Jackson Street Jazz Walk and, of course, you knew drummer and impresario Stix Hooper.
RL: To be fair, Stix Hooper contacted me with an idea and asked me to reach out to the people that I knew who could make it happen. I think I did a good job with that!
EJ: And because of that connection, now we're all working together toward accomplishing this. So we not only have the benefit of sponsorship from KNKX, we also have Stix Hooper, who was one of Ernestine's former managers; his daughter Megan Hooper; and Shelley Young, who is Ernestine's daughter and who has acted as a consultant and worked with us, giving us advice and assistance along the way. Brenda Vanderloop and also Brenda Goldstein-Young have both also been involved as committee members, and Jim Wilke.
All of us have spent our own time volunteering for this effort to put together a series of events, with some celebrity guests and a City of Seattle proclamation honoring Ernestine. We have a panel discussion coming up on November 2nd, where we're going to hear some historical perspectives about Ernestine from people in our community, including writer Paul De Barros, jazz host Jim Wilke and also videographer and historian Kay D. Ray is going to be there to share video footage of interviews with Ernestine and some of her peers. It is a webinar, so you do need to register and go to the website.
In addition to that, we are acknowledging a couple of youth as winners of our first Ernestine Anderson vocal competition, and they are going to be performing November 13, along with a host of other musical talent for the musical tribute honoring Ernestine Anderson at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
We also have an assembly at Garfield High because we want to reach youth, and this one is more about outreach, education and information and also personal inspiration. The presentation that we'll be sharing with the students at Garfield, the jazz ensemble and other students who might want to sign up to come, is going to talk about the character attributes of Ernestine Anderson, what they were and how they led her and enabled her to accomplish the things that she did, and how those same attributes, if they possess them, grab hold of them and apply them to their lives, how they can make their dreams more of a reality as well. So that's the topic that will have the life and legacy and influence of Ernestine Anderson at Garfield High. If you're not at Garfield, you won't be able to come to that, but that's a private ceremony that's happening.
So we're looking forward to people coming to the music tribute on November 13th and also tuning in to the discussion with our guest panelists on November 2nd, because we will be taking questions from the audience during that time.
RL: I'm looking forward to that. Tell us about the affiliation with the Rotary Boys & Girls Clubs.
EJ: That's exciting as well. Ernestine, when she was here with us, supported a lot of charities throughout her community. She had an affinity for the Rotary Boys & Girls Club, which is in Central Seattle. She did a lot of fundraising activities for them. She made donations to them.
The paradigm that I like to follow in my production efforts for the Jackson Street Jazz Walk includes supporting charities. We gave a $3,000 check to the Central Area Senior Center's meal delivery program, and we raised that money in conjunction with the Jazz Walk.
So when we were trying to identify how to benefit a nonprofit organization this time, we thought of raising money for the Rotary Boys & Girls Club to support the efforts that they're offering there for community children. So people have an opportunity to not only buy a ticket, but to also make a contribution towards the Boys & Girls Club because that was an organization that Ernestine loved and supported when she was alive.
RL: Is there one site to go to get all the information?
EJ: Yes. Just think “celebrating!” We're at CelebratingErnestineAnderson.org. You will find all the dates, details, information, ticket links and an opportunity to make a donation to the Boys & Girls Club, too.
We need and appreciate your support, and we hope to see you at the tribute at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on November 13th.