Sometimes the future looks pretty bright.
I read online that Claire Michelle and Eva Walker were going to be the keynote speakers at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at Capitol Hill’s Northwest School, so I grabbed my camera and headed over there. Claire and Eva are local musicians, but as with all of us, a one word label isn’t enough. I’ll elaborate on that later when I get to their speeches. (I should note that I know them both. I met Claire through photography, and then I met Eva through Claire. Neither of them asked me to cover this event.)
I didn’t really know much about the event beforehand. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and impressive events I’ve been to in a long time. The hosts – Olivia Kurofsky, J’dyn Plater, and Mia Day – treated the audience to a fantastic evening of creativity, art, music, and powerful champions of women.
Mia Day kicked off the evening with a brief introduction, setting the tone by referring to the actions of inspirational women. I started taking notes a little late, but Mia’s quotes stayed with me: “Reclaim your time, and don’t be small for the sake of others.”
Mia then handed it over to the performers. There was a lot of talent in that theater. Music, monologues, poetry. Here are a few photos of the performances.
Claire and Eva closed out the evening with powerful, heartfelt words of wisdom and encouragement. Granted, I’m generally pretty positive when I talk about performances and public speaking. I think it’s courageous to get on the stage, any stage. But I’m not insincere about it, either. Their comments went over very well with the audience.
Claire was up first. She discussed growing up in Michigan and coming to terms with who she is and how she was finally able to tell herself that she was transgender. She described the importance of that moment, opening up to herself. There’s another element to her address that I should mention before proceeding. She explained to the audience that in most depictions of the transgender community, individuals are portrayed as victims or villains. Claire challenged the audience to think about whether she fit that stereotype.
After acknowledging to herself that she was transgender, Claire then came out to others. Initially it seemed ok, but she got kicked out of one home. Her mother and younger brother accepted her as Claire, but Claire decided to hit the road for Seattle, a place she’d never been, but a place she knew she’d be safe. But not immediately. She lived in her car for a time, skipped meals, and made it through a couple of dark periods on food bank leftovers. She pushed right on through. She’s been a full-time self-employed artist for two years now. You can see her live at music venues in Seattle and on fashion runways. If you follow her online, you’ll see that she’s pursuing other ventures that draw on her videography/photography skills and knowledge of the music business.
Eva Walker followed Claire. I have seen Eva play with her band The Black Tones several times. It’s rock, she’s on the guitar, she’s wearing those iconic white boots, and everything about the band just exudes cool. And then she gets up on stage for a public speaking gig and lets people in on her humor, wit, and accessibility. She claimed at the outset that she’s not great at public speaking, but don’t believe it for a second.
Eva’s family’s roots are in the deep South. They got to Seattle in a very Americana, seize the moment sort of way. Unfortunately, the story starts out under the cloud of our old school racism, but it gets a lot better (with a long way still to go). Her grandfather studied physics and math. When he tried to get an engineering job, he it became clear that blacks were not getting engineering jobs. There was a recruiter from Boeing in the area who offered Eva’s grandfather an engineering job at Boeing in Seattle. The family moved.
Eva then went on to explain her musical background and history. She got the music bug early on and remembers listening to Alanis Morissette’s You Ought to Know as a child; she didn’t know exactly what the song meant, but she knew she liked it. When people pointed out that was “so white”, Eva started wondering where the black rockers were. She found them, and in doing so, she realized something that The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had also discovered – there wouldn’t be rock and roll without black musicians. Not surprisingly, Eva discovered Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix – “black people do play guitar, and they’re really good at it.”
Eva and her twin brother formed The Black Tones seven or eight years ago in their grandmother’s basement. Eva took care of the guitar; she taught her brother how to play the drums. They added a bassist and got to work. I remember when Eva had to stop playing with Claire Michelle’s band. Claire joked, “Eva’s getting too famous now.” That was readily apparent a few months later when I stood outside an Upstream venue catching glimpses of The Black Tones playing to a packed house. The trajectory just keeps pointing up – in two weeks The Black Tones are opening for Death Cab for Cutie at The Paramount.
It’s not all great news, though. Eva talked about the long, persistent reach of racism. The Black Tones finished a show, and there was a white guy who stayed around after others had left, obviously hoping for a chance to talk to the band. He told Eva that he was a super fan and loved their music. Eva was happy to hear it and asked the fan if he’d take a picture of the band. Eva’s brother used his hands to flash “I love you” in sign language. The fan shook his head and urged them not to ruin the shot with gang signs. Eva included other anecdotes, but it’s their song The Key of Black that sums things up best.
Update: I have a few corrections that I need to work into the text, but I’ll note them here first.
– I mentioned Eva’s younger brother. Eva pointed out that it’s her twin brother.
– Eva’s father’s band is more a part of Eva’s music history rather than a direct influence. I removed that line. Eva’s the focus here.
– Eva’s brother flashed a sign language sign that means “I love you”, not a heart sign.
Small world flashback – I’ve seen the hosts on stage before at The Vera Project.