Seattle may not be a magnet for entertainers like New York or Hollywood, but with its high quality of life, strong arts culture and uber-educated populace, Seattle generates more talent per capita than anywhere else. Perhaps all the rainy weather helps drive creativity, too. The Emerald City birthed the grunge scene, as well as many musicians from other genres, from hard rock to jazz.
Let’s count down the biggest names in arts and entertainment (sorry, Bill Gates) to call Seattle home. People like Ray Charles who spent on a brief—but formative—period here are disqualified. These people all came from the Seattle area or spent a large portion of their lives here.
He charted 38 number one singles. He was the top-selling musical act for two straight decades with over half a billion records sold. He then launched a break-out movie career. Who could this be? Michael Jackson? Elvis? No, it’s Tacoma’s own Bing Crosby. Bing was born in Tacoma in 1903 and later attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he formed his first jazz band. While he spent most of the rest of his life in Hollywood, Crosby always held a fondness for the Pacific Northwest and returned here numerous times.
You probably won't recognize Terry Brooks in line for coffee, but he’s a rock star of the fantasy publishing world. With 22 New York Times bestsellers and several robust fantasy series to his name, including The Sword of Shannara, he is one of the most successful living writers. Brooks lives in West Seattle, routinely holds book readings in town, and has set large portions of his Genesis of Shannara series in Seattle and the Northwest. With the fantasy genre “hot” in Hollywood today, several of Brooks’ works have been optioned by major studios and may soon make their way to the silver screen.
While these sisters were born in California, their family soon settled in Bellevue. The talented sisters were associated with a few now-defunct Northwest bands before finally forming Heart, the most successful female-led hard rock band of all time, with hits like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda.” After a hugely successful heyday in the ‘70s, the sisters went their separate ways musically a few times, but eventually officially reformed Heart and now tour regularly. The Wilsons have remained an active force in the Seattle music scene and greater community.
Although the alterna-crooner was born in South Africa and earned his musical chops in Virginia, he’s called Seattle home for over ten years now, and is probably Seattle’s most frequently sighted celeb. He's a regular at certain restaurants near his Wallingford home (no, I can’t tell you which ones) and his twin daughters attend school here. While many years have him on the road with his band-mates he has stated unequivocally, “This is my home now.”
Those only casually familiar with the martial arts great may assume Lee was born in Hong Kong or China. In fact, Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco and spent seven critical years (from age 19 to 26) in Seattle. He worked in a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill (now since demolished), attended Seattle Central Community College and the University of Washington, taught his unique brand of martial arts in various city parks and at his own studio in the U-District, met and married his wife Linda Emery here, and was ultimately buried here. Indeed, Bruce’s well-tended grave in Capitol Hill’s Lakeview Cemetery is a major destination for his enduring legion of fans.
Her name may not ring any bells among younger readers, but for a few brief years Farmer was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Farmer was born in Seattle in 1913 and went to West Seattle High School before becoming a sensation at the University of Washington School of Drama. She quickly became a major star in the late '30s, appearing in such hits as Rhythm on the Range (with Bing Crosby) and Come and Get It. Despite her breakaway success, Farmer always bristled against the Hollywood lifestyle. Soon she became more famous for her struggles with mental illness (she was one of the most famous residents at the old Western State Hospital in Steilacoom to the south of Seattle) and her precipitous fall from grace (for a time she worked sorting laundry at the Olympic—now Fairmont—Hotel in Seattle).
Quincy Jones may not be thought of as a Seattle musician, but the all-time great composer, producer, and arranger grew up in Bremerton and attended Seattle’s Garfield High School. Jones went on to have one of the most broadly successful careers in music history, receiving Oscar nominations for films scores, and worked with a “who’s who” of 20th century pop music, including Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and, most famously, Michael Jackson. While his musical career has taken him away from the Northwest, Jones has returned numerous times, accepting awards from his alma mater and the Northwest African American Museum.
This titan of smooth jazz was born Kenneth Gorelick in Seattle and attended Franklin High School. After graduating from the University of Washington, Kenny G quickly became a successful jazz instrumentalist (playing with Barry White on tour) and eventually recorded his own work. His massive, multi-platinum success was unprecedented for an instrumentalist. Kenny G not only dominated but expanded the audience of smooth jazz. While his slick sound has inspired innumerable detractors, he has sold over 70 million records and continues to be a popular performer.
For an entire generation, Seattle and Kurt Cobain are almost synonymous. The Grunge movement Cobain led in the early 90s shot Seattle to a cultural prominence it had never enjoyed before. Cobain grew up in the logging town of Aberdeen, and was drawn into the burgeoning '80s punk-rock scene in Olympia and Seattle. Cobain formed Nirvana with fellow Aberdeener Krist Noveselic, and soon channeled his uncanny command of melody and adolescent rage into huge rock hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and radically transformed rock music in the process. After marrying fellow grunge rocker Courtney Love, Cobain moved to Seattle where he lived with his wife and child until a struggle with depression, stomach pain and heroin led to his suicide at 27.
Jimi Hendrix's three years of stardom are among the most influential in the history of pop music. He was born in Seattle and attended Garfield High School. His first gig was in the basement of a Seattle synagogue, Temple De Hirsch. Hendrix later toured with the Isley Brothers and then went to London, where he became the singer-songwriter-guitar-phenom that launched him to worldwide fame. Hendrix ushered in a heavier guitar sound into the psychedelic rock world, and also inspired R&B acts to incorporate more rock elements into their sound. After his untimely death due to alcohol and sleeping pills, Hendrix was buried in Renton, Washington. Seattle’s Experience Music Project was largely built to honor Hendrix’s legacy.