5 Black artists in Seattle everyone should know

By LeAnn Nguyen
January 15, 2018

Seattle has no shortage of art to explore. Some of the most compelling works to come out of the city have been produced by African-American artists. However, like many artists of color, they are often overlooked. In honor of MLK Jr. Day, here are five African-American artists from our hometown you should know about. Their work, spanning across time and media, illuminate the myriad experiences of being Black in America.

C. Davida Ingram
Conceptual artist C. Davida Ingram won the 2014 Stranger Genius Award in Art and received the 2018 Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residence at the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design. Seattle Magazine named her one of the most influential Seattleites of 2017. Her works include “Bodies of Knowledge,” which explored femininity through the experiences of black women and communities of color, and “Come Hungry,” which involved Craiglist ads seeking white men to engage in shared meals and conversations about race and gender. Ingram’s current work as part of the JLL Residency is a video project entitled The Deeps, in collaboration with musician Hanna Benn.

Ishmael Butler
Garfield High School graduate Ishmael Butler is a prolific musician. Under the moniker Butterfly, he is a member of the acclaimed hip-hop trio Digable Planets, which produced the Grammy-winning single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” in 1992. More recently, he has performed under the name of Palaceer Lazaro in the experimental hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, whose debut album Black Up was named the best local album of 2011 by the Seattle Times. Shabazz Palaces’ latest releases are the 2017 twin albums Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines, released on Seattle’s own Sub Pop Records.

Jourdan Imani Keith
Playwright, naturalist, educator, and storyteller Jourdan Imani Keith blends art and nature through her work. Her writing, including the choreopoem The Uterine Files: Episode I, Voices Spitting Out Rainbows and the non-fiction collection Coyote Autumn explore themes of political, personal, and natural themes. She was the 2006 Seattle Poet Populist and Seattle Public Library’s first Naturalist-in-Residence, where she used a Natural Literacy curriculum to enhance childhood literacy, and she continues to promote social and environmental change through storytelling as the founder and director of the Urban Wilderness Project.

August Wilson
Playwright August Wilson, a Seattle transplant, wrote plays that truly spanned the spectrum of African-American experience. His Pittsburgh Cycle of ten plays chronicled the lives of African-Americans across the ten decades of the 20th century, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson and Fences (which also won a Tony Award and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 2016). Following his death in Seattle in 2005, a pedestrian promenade running through the Seattle Center was renamed August Wilson Way.

Pat Wright (Total Experience Gospel Choir)
Gospel singer and choir director Pat Wright, dubbed “Seattle’s First Lady of Gospel,” founded the Total Experience Gospel Choir in 1973. Since then, they have performed around the world, received numerous awards, and even performed for U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Equally as notable as their accolades are the choir’s humanitarian work, such as volunteering with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005. Pastor Wright has led the choir throughout their nearly 50 years of efforts, for which she was recognized as a Person of the Year by ABC’s World News Tonight in 2007.