Seattle Music Commissioner SassyBlack—otherwise known as Catherine Harris-White—has been an influential part of Seattle’s music scene for the past decade. A singer, songwriter and producer, SassyBlack is a psychedelic soul singer whose music is influenced by jazz, R&B, funk, hip-hop and more. Her latest EP, “Wakanda Funk Lounge,” was released in June 2018.
SassyBlack has been working toward a career in music for most of her life. “I have been writing music since before I can remember. Always liked music, always liked figuring it out. The more that I learned about it the more intrigued I was by it,” she says. “I started singing early in choirs when I was in middle school, and continued to go on learning singing and acting and stage presence, so it started at a really young age.”
Having been performing and releasing music since she was 18, SassyBlack has seen a lot of evolution in the local music scene over her career. “I see people understanding the importance of creating and fostering a community in Seattle as well as traveling back and forth between Seattle and other cities, to kind of grow that. Even between cities in Washington State, Bellingham, or Olympia or Tacoma, you know. Starting to build a scene.”
Besides a more interconnected music community, she also sees creatives becoming more strategic in their business. “I see people finding new ways to showcase their music and grow, and I think right now, there’s a lot of people understanding their worth as musicians in Seattle. So I think what I most notice as a change in the music scene is being business-minded, artists being business-minded.”
On or off stage, SassyBlack is an active voice for her community. “I really like working toward making the music industry stronger in Seattle, so finding ways to support musicians.” Being a member of the Music Commission has given her more capacity and power in her music activism: “It’s giving me a lot of perspective as an artist, and it’s giving me perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Like from an attorney’s side, licensing, or publishing. It’s a community of people who want the best for the music industry.”
SassyBlack sees young people playing an important part in the future of Seattle music. “We need to include all voices in order to grow successfully, and for it to be most beneficial for those who actually need it,” she says. “So I’m really excited for making space for more youth voices to come in, and learning from that community. And also, working things so that the next generation and the current generation can be involved in the decisions that affect them and help make the powerful change in our music industry here in Seattle, and globally, really.”
As part of their effort to elevate youth voices, the Music Commission organized a roundtable discussion with youth leaders from Totem Star, KEXP, the Vera Project, Seattle Theatre Group, 206 Zulu, and MoPOP’s The Residency. Following the roundtable, youth leaders are hosting an Open Mic at the Vera Project that will be open to the public.
Through the roundtable, SassyBlack hopes to hear “what is needed for this generation of musicians that are coming out. What do they need, what are they provided.” Feedback and ideas from the roundtable will be used to inform the Commission’s work to provide resources and support, not only for young people but for people of all ages in the industry.
The roundtable is also meant to be just the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the Commission and the youth community. “We’re trying to create some kind of foundation, repetitions, meetings, interactions. That’s what’s gonna be beneficial for Seattle’s music scene, or any music scene, having that input, having that conversation. And taking that conversation and actually applying it to something.”
SassyBlack has this advice for people getting their start in music: “Visualize it. Understand that feeling that you get when you do music, that one that makes you feel really excited. Know what makes you feel that way and harness it.”
“A lot of writers say to just enjoy the process,” she continues. “I would suggest that to any young artist, or to any artist who’s just getting into it, whatever age you are. Put together a plan, it could be a vision board. Just enjoy that sense that you’re learning. I think the folks that learn how to enjoy learning it are the ones who last for a really long time. Because they remember their joy out of it.”
If you’re new to her music, she recommends starting with “Personal Sunlight” or “Wakanda Funk Lounge.” She also released a “Best of SassyBlack” collection in August. You can catch her performing as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival on October 27 at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute as well.