Remembering Jazz Legend Ernestine Anderson

Image Number: 2002.45_ErnestineAnderson_01 Jazz Singer Ernestine Anderson
MOHAI, King County News Photo Collection, 2007.45, photo by Sally Tonkin.

We are proud to share this very special post, featuring two legendary figures of Seattle’s Jazz community. Grammy-nominated jazz singer Ernestine Anderson passed away in March, leaving behind the legacy of an incredible career that began in Seattle’s Central District. Her friend and Garfield High School classmate Grace Holden—daughter of Seattle Jazz’s “royal family”—generously shared some of her memories of Ernestine with us.

In 1944, the Anderson family—Joseph, Erma, and their teenage twin daughters Ernestine and Josephine—had just relocated to Seattle from Houston, in search of wartime work. Ernestine, who had already begun performing in Houston clubs, quickly located Seattle’s active underground jazz scene. She connected with other young musicians at Garfield High School, including Grace Holden. Grace says of Ernestine:

“She was someone I looked up to. My experience with her was that she was always pleasantly quiet yet strong in my presence. During our youth we first met during our Garfield High School classes. As time passed we began to find we enjoyed music. We listened and hummed sounds of songs and artists like Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn.”

In fact, some of Ernestine’s earliest recorded music was a cover of a Sarah Vaughn song. By 1947, Ernestine had formed a band with another Garfield student, trumpeter Quincy Jones, after playing music together at the Washington Social and Educational Club, located above a butcher shop at 23rd and Madison owned by local bandleader Robert A. “Bumps” Blackwell. Ernestine, Quincy, and their band  recorded an acetate “instant disc” cover of Sarah Vaughan’s classic song “Lover Man” at Tom and Ellen Ogilvy’s Electro-Mart record shop and recording studio.

Scan_20160609 (2)
Scan of the billing for the Local 493 Reunion Review Concert at Jazz Alley, October 17, 1994. Courtesy of Grace Holden.

Ernestine and Grace continued to make music together: “Eventually, we decided that we would enter into local contests in and around Seattle. We had fun entering and being identified as local performers.” Even as their careers and lives spanned decades and took them across the state, country, and even abroad, the two women found ways to share the stage. Grace recounts that, “One of our most memorable appearances was when we were showcased and appeared on the program at Jazz Alley’s Local 493 Band.” The event, which took place on October 17, 1994, billed itself as “A musical celebration of the proud history of Local 493, the African American Musicians Union through the first half of this century” and invited audiences to, “…enjoy and honor this important history and hear these jazz pioneers perform reunited for the first time in decades.” The impressive roster of performers, which of course includes Ernestine and Grace, can be seen in the document above, shared with us by Grace.

Of her friend and fellow musician, Grace told us: “Surely, I shall never forget her and her genuine personality.” We thank Grace for sharing these memories, and we thank Ernestine for sharing her immense talent with the world.

All biographical information on Ernestine Anderson is courtesy of