It's official: Seattle is a second- class city.
Oh, the Emerald City likes to pretend it's a cosmopolitan contender. After all, we are home to an evil genius who is trying to bring the world to its knees. But even with a top-notch symphony orchestra, the Space Needle, and a season of The Real World to our credit, Seattle lacks the key prerequisite that separates the cities celebrated in timeless songs ("New York, New York," "Chicago") from the ones immortalized in bad Nora Ephron films: We cannot lay claim to a single great '70s disco diva.
Philadelphia gave the world Sister Sledge, Detroit spawned Diana Ross, and Donna Summer hails from Boston. Even Nashville, Tenn., a town more renowned for country music, can point proudly to porn-star-cum-singer Andrea True and her 1976 No. 4 pop smash, "More, More, More (Pt. 1)." But Seattle? Nobody.
This sorry reality dawned on me last week while I was packing my DJ crate for a party celebrating the latest edition of the Northwest Music Directory. The hosts had asked me to spin exclusively regional artists, and I was determined to program the widest cross section possible. So along with Screaming Trees and the Sonics, Queensrche and the Kingsmen, records by jazz singer Ernestine Anderson, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and our own homegrown IDM whiz kid plastiq phantom were pulled down from the shelves, too. But when I tried to find a suitable disco selection, I was stumped.
After a week of research, my findings remain pitifully scant. Seattle's few notable contributions to the Titanic of musical fads are mostly tenuous. Quincy Jones had long since split town by the time he produced such classics as Michael Jackson's Off the Wall and the 1978 jam "Stuff Like That," featuring Ashford & Simpson and Chaka Khan. Local sax player Kenny Gorelick—a.k.a. Kenny G—sat in with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra very briefly when he was a mere 17. Legendary New York DJ Walter Gibbons, who practically invented the art of the extended dance remix, played sets at the infamous Monastery on Boren Avenue. But we never nurtured even the most forgettable Studio 54 chanteuse.
Some might propose the reason for this oversight is that the Seattle music scene is as white as Wonder bread, and disco was a genre originally cultivated by minorities. But that argument crumbles when one investigates our city's '70s funk heritage. The aforementioned Mr. Gorelick was the only white member of the long-running Cold, Bold, and Together. And according to a 1999 Seattle Times article, African-American singer Bernadette Bascom, veteran of multiracial acts Epicentre and Acapulco Gold, was even being groomed for bigger things by Stevie Wonder at one point.
So Seattle missed its chance to have a Donna or Diana to call our own. Maybe it was too much to expect some glamorous young songbird to risk pneumonia running around in this rotten weather wearing a spaghetti-strap dress and stiletto heels. But I've come up with a way to fill this gaping hole in our musical universe. Since most of these ladies are getting a little long in the tooth, and global warming seems to have done wonders for our climate, let's invite them to retire here.
Just imagine it—all these slightly faded starlets whiling away their golden years at Seattle's Vicki Sue Robinson Memorial Rest Home. I envision Carol ("Doctor's Orders") Douglas and France ("Come to Me") Joli lounging around the rec room, resplendent in silver-embroidered kaftans and oversized sunglasses, waiting for Patti LaBelle to plop down and relate how she's just turned down another bus-and-truck production of Your Arms Too Short To Box With God. Yes, the demands on the staff might be a bit rigorous—what with dinner being served circa midnight instead of 5 p.m. and making sure that the champagne and cocaine are administered in just the right doses to keep catfights to a minimum—but the inflated salaries could be offset by offering guided tours. ("And napping quietly in the room to your left, you'll see Stephanie Mills. . . . Oh, sir, I have to ask you to put away that copy of The Wiz. Our residents don't sign autographs.")
The crew at Experience Music Project is currently assembling a huge disco retrospective for later this year, and if Paul Allen can funnel his funds into that glittery exhibit, he should underwrite my idea, too. Admittedly, it might not be sufficient to push Seattle onto the international A-list, but it'll make a stellar new entry in all the guidebooks. And hell, even if he doesn't make a lot of dough on the venture initially, he can always recoup his investment by renting out the gals when gay pride season rolls around.