Before Seattle Rocked

A City and Its Music

Kurt E Armbruster

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Perfoming Arts; Pacific Northwest / Art and Culture
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 50 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Seattle is a music town with rich, deep roots that have influenced the culture and identity of its civic life for decades. In a society that appreciates music but is ambivalent toward the profession of making it, the importance and contribution of Seattle's musicians have been routinely overlooked in historical accounts of the city. Kurt Armbruster fills that gap in this far-reaching and entertaining panorama of Seattle music from the 1890s to the 1960s, "before Seattle rocked."

For this once-remote city, music forged links as real as those created by railroads and steamships. Classical music embodied the middle-class aspirations for gentility and cosmopolitan stature; jazz and blues gave Seattle's small African American community a vehicle for affirmation and economic advancement; ethnic music helped immigrants adjust to a new home; songs and drumming kept the memories of the Duwamish alive in a changing world. Before Seattle Rocked is enlivened by personal anecdotes and memories from many of Seattle's most beloved musicians and is enriched by historic photos of the changing music scene.

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Kurt E. Armbruster is a Seattle native, historian, professional bassist, and singer-songwriter. He has played music of many genres and has written numerous historical articles and three books, including Orphan Road. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Cedar, and is a proud card-carrying member of the Musicians' Union of Seattle Local 76-493.


1. Song of the Duwamish
2. Gaslight Serenade
3. Music on the Make
4. Musician's Dream
5. Easing Depression
6. Wartime Whoopie
7. Dizzy Decade
8. Groovin' High
9. Carrying the Torch


"This book is an excellent contribution to the history of music cultures in the Pacific Northwest and is a laudable example of a civil history based on a cultural form that impacts daily life but often remains invisible."
-Sarah Dougher, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Armbruster's research is deep and wide and his writing style, graceful, clear, and vastly entertaining, so carries the reader along that one doesn't want to put the book down."
-W. Royal Stokes, Jazzhouse Diaries, March 2013

"Armbruster spins an informative narrative thread. . . . Before Seattle Rocked recalls how this connective tissue [music] binds all of the city's inhabitants and reconstructs the musical skeletons overlooked or under cooked by previous local history books."
-Steve Griggs, Examiner, February 2012

"Covers most imaginable music-related subjects in our community's past, from Bach through the Wang Doodle Orchestra and beyond."
-Paul Dorpat, Pacific Northwest Magazine, December 2011

"Finally, for those who prefer to trace local music history even further back, Seattle historian and musician Kurt E. Armbruster offers this extensively researched and compelling book."
-Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine, December 2011

"This is a lively tour of Seattle's musical heritage which opens a new window on local history."
-Mike Dillon, City Living, November 2011

"[Seattle's] culture and nightlight were dependent upon live musicians, from saloons at the turn of the century, to taverns in the 1920s, to symphony halls in the '40s and '50s. Throughout Seattle's history, music was truly woven into the city's cultural fabric."
-Andrew Gospe, The Daily, November 2011

"It's amazing how much musical history Kurt E. Armbruster has uncovered . . . He clearly talked to everyone . . . and as lucid and lively as his own prose is, he's often upstaged by interviewees who are born raconteurs."
-Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times, October 2011

"The book details a vibrant local scene featuring every kind of music, reflecting both the people of the time and the places they came from."
-Josh Kerns, My Northwest Blog, October 2011

"Armbruster's book effectively analyzes Seattle's professional music scene and provides a solid overview of the city's classical, jazz, and blues cultures. The author's attention to subsets of Seattle music previously underrepresented in the scholarly literature provides a refreshing deception of a rich pre-rock musical culture."
-Alexandria Waltz, Pacific Northwest Quarterly