Recognizing the contributions of musician Art Lassiter, who rests in Edmonds Memorial Cemetery

Art Lassiter’s grave at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. (Photo by Ed Lorah)

February is Black History Month, and as the month winds down I want to mention that a small bit of America’s rich musical history is right here in Edmonds. Art Lassiter, one of the early greats on the post-war rhythm and blues scene, rests in Edmonds Memorial Cemetery.

I am a social worker, and I met Art and his family 30 years ago as part of his hospice team. I hadn’t thought about him for a long time. One night my wife mentioned that she had been walking through the cemetery and came across a marker for a rhythm and blues musician. “There’s photo of him, too,” she said. “What’s the name?” I asked. When she said, “Arthur Lassiter,” I was stunned. I have since stopped by Art’s grave many times. I didn’t know him well, or for very long, but he was one of those people you don’t forget. And part of my reason for writing this is so that Art will be remembered as, as his marker says, “a gifted singer, a good man.”

Art was born in North Carolina in 1928. His parents were cotton sharecroppers. As a young man, Art joined his uncle’s gospel singing group, and he never looked back. At 14 he moved to Newark, New Jersey to join his mother, who had moved there to find work. In Newark, he joined another vocal group, the Jubilaires.

Art Lassiter performing. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Art joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Korea during the war. While there, he entertained in Officers Clubs and took up boxing, competing under the name Artie Wilkins, his stepfather’s name.

After his discharge from the Army he returned to the States. During a cross-country drive, his car broke down in St. Louis. While there he performed at an “Amateurs Night” and was offered a permanent booking. He eventually formed a band, the Bel-Airs, and by 1955 they were recording and backing up Ike Turner. 

Turner offered Art and his band, now called the Trojans, a spot in his Rhythm Revue. Art was performing with three women back-up singers, the “Artettes,” who later became Ike’s singers — the famous Ikettes — featuring, of course, future superstar Tina Turner.

Not surprisingly, given Ike Turner’s legendary problems, Art and Ike Turner’s business relationship soon fell apart. Art moved around for the next couple of decades, always performing, living in San Diego, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand and Canada. In the 1970s, he co-owned a club in Honolulu where he performed and cooked. “He was charismatic” his wife told The Seattle Times after his death, “and a good cook — barbecue and Southern soul food”.

In the 1980s, Art landed in Seattle and stayed. He met and married Ruth and they had two children. He was a regular performer at clubs in the Pacific Northwest and built a steady and loyal following. Art’s friend Steven Spickard said of him, “”He lived for the stage. That’s where he was most alive. He was a master of four-part harmony . . . and picked really beautiful songs.”

Art passed away at home with his family around him on Aug. 4, 1994. Some of his music can be heard on YouTube, like this one.

— By Ed Lorah

 

  1. Thanks for writing about Mr. Lassiter and his contributions. Everyone has a story and his is definitely worth remembering.

  2. Thanks for sharing Art’s story, Ed. And a good eagle-eye catch by your wife! I often walk through Edmonds Memorial Cemetery on way to the PCC Market and have paused from time-to-time in wonderment of what Black History is buried there. You have rekindled my interest.

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