Seattle Oral HIstory Project

“I met Quincy Jones in Seattle. We were kids together… liked each other when we met and have been close ever since. He wasn’t writing when we met – in fact, I more or less started him off to write; voicing, harmony, and stuff like that.”
― Ray Charles

 Seattle’s vibrant Central District was once home to Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Jimmy Hendrix and even for a short while, Ray Charles. Most people that landed there did so because there were no other areas of the city available to them. Redlining and racial covenants kept African-Americans (as well as Asians and Jews) sequestered to the most central area of Seattle. Other areas of Seattle were also off-limits for their businesses and recreation. Beginning in the 1920’s the most popular way this multicultural area enjoyed their downtime was through the magic of jazz music. The man who documented this time in the city’s history was Al Smith. Smith not only recorded the thriving jazz scene but he photographed every day life. His photos are considered the quintessential historical record of that time.

Paul de Barros started writing about music for the Seattle times in 1982. His passion for jazz lead him to interview a multitude of musicians that populated the scene beginning in the 1940’s. . In 1993, he published “Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz In Seattle. The book shed light on a lesser part of Seattle history.

Two students, Lauren Hyde and Aidan Wasserman sat down with Al Smith’s son, Butch, and with Paul de Barros in the first edition of our Central District Project. Museum Without Walls is pairing high school students with those intimately involved in Central District history. Students interested in being a part of the program are given service learning hours and a small stipend for their participation. Please contact MWW at for more information.

All black and white photos courtesy of MOHAI, from the Al Smith Collection.

Butch Smith Interview

by Museum Without Walls | Seattle Oral History Project (Interviewer: Lauren Hyde)

Paul de Barros Interview

by Museum Without Walls | Seattle Oral History Project (Interviewer: Aidan Wasserman)