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Tacoma has been singing about itself from the start. Here’s why Grit City music matters

Published on July 27, 2021

Three covers of old Tacoma booster songs, including "You'll Like Tacoma", "Watch Tacoma Grow", and "Tacoma The Rose of the West".
Tacoma booster songs Image Credit: Kim Davenport

With some 20,000 people in the newly opened stands of Tacoma’s Stadium Bowl, the city’s elementary students broke into song — and a number specifically written for the occasion.

The chorus was prideful and catchy — at least by 1910 standards — describing the City of Destiny as “Tacoma, The Rose of the West,” which we’ll just have to trust was more of an ear worm back then than it seems today.

Composed by a local school teacher, it was penned at a time when civic aspirations often mingled with popular culture and the robust music publishing business, which remained the surest way to bring music into people’s homes. There were no mixtapes or Spotify channels or promotional downloads in the early 1900s; just sheet music for people to read and perform in their living rooms.

According to local historian Kim Davenport“Tacoma, Rose of the West” was one of many booster songs written during a roughly 30-year period between 1890 and 1920 in the City of Destiny, most of them intended to sell Tacoma to the world. Other popular jingles included the 1899 instrumental march “Salute to Tacoma,” the 1906 tune “Watch Tacoma Grow” — which was the first to put Tacoma’s rivalry with Seattle into music — and 1919’s “Tacoma: We’re Proud of You”, written by an organist at the Rialto Theater for the Northwest Peace Jubilee that year.

More than a century later, Davenport believes these songs help to bring to life a specific chapter in Tacoma’s history, and they’re only one part of a much larger tale. From the sheet music distributed during Stadium Bowl’s opening festivities to the early garage rock bands that would go on to greatly influence the Pacific Northwest punk and grunge years, the story of music in Tacoma — in many ways — mirrors the story of the city itself in its grand aspirations and do-it-yourself ethos.

Those reverberations continue today, as evidenced by musicians like “Washington’s newest buzz band” Enumclaw (named like the city, but based in Tacoma) and local rap artists like Lewie or ILLFIGHTYOU.

Fostering music and culture have long been a part of the city’s fabric, which is one reason why Davenport — who in addition to her work as a local historian and University of Washington Tacoma professor is a trained pianist with a long lineage of music in her family — has spent the last several years researching this slice of Tacoma’s history.

Much of this work has been compiled on Davenport’s blog as well as an exhibit at the Tacoma Historical Society that runs through Saturday, July 17. The stories she’s collected also serve as the backbone for the latest installment of the society’s 21 Tales book series.

Continue reading at the News Tribune.

Originally written by Matt Driscoll for the News Tribune. 
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