The other day, I was invited to a Zoom house party by my friend, renowned TV and radio show host, author, and humorist Dorothy Wilhelm. It was there that I first met another Washington State icon who immediately impressed me, musician Linda Allen. She presented a video that made me even more curious about her story. And her absolutely clear singing voice simply stunned me.
Born in Seattle in 1945, Linda Allen graduated with a degree in teaching from Pacific Lutheran University. She also started teaching – but half-way through her first year in a classroom in Minnesota, she dropped out. San Francisco was calling her, and we know what a colorful era that was back in the day. In short, Linda discovered the folk music scene and became part of it. “I became an activist, using music as a tool for transformation”, Linda remembers. “I lived there for about three years before coming back to Washington. Since then, I have spent many days in the classroom as a visiting artist.”
After Linda left the Bay area to return to the Northwest, where Linda’s home now is Bellingham, she was “fired up with the idea of a community gathering place for all ages and all kinds of music, poetry, and maybe a little ‘soft shoe’”. So, Linda founded the folk center “Apple Jam” in Olympia and “The Sunny Side” in Chehalis. They did very well, as people seemed to enjoy the national touring acts but also the local artists’ performances.
But these were not the only big projects Linda Allen accomplished. She had started writing her own songs in the Bay area, and she continued doing so. “Telling stories, particularly about women’s lives and history, were what I immediately started writing about”, says Linda. “I learned a lot about the connection between social justice and folk music. It became a means, not only of personal reflection, but also of using music as a tool for cultural transformation.”
In 1989, Linda was named Washington State’s resident song writer. Traveling all over the state ensued, along with workshops and performances. Among other projects Linda took on and participated in were the Cultural Enrichment Program for the Washington Arts Commission and the Artist-in-Community Program in Bellingham. In 1991, Linda was recognized as a composer with an Artist Trust Fellowship.
As Washington State celebrated 100 years of Suffrage in 2010, Linda pulled all her songs about women’s history with an emphasis on the battle for the vote together in one CD. That same year, Linda was induced into the Northwest Women’s Hall of Fame. But there are more musical treasures, Linda has created – there are twelve recordings to date, and you can order them from her website www.lindasongs.com.
Another matter of personal importance for Linda Allen are hospices and social institutions. Linda founded two choirs up in Bellingham. One was inspired by the National Threshold Choir movement, The Bellingham Threshold Singers singing at the bedside of those seriously ill or dying. Linda’s second choir, Women with Wings, was “to broaden the mission”, as Linda puts it, “with song circles in care facilities, the homeless shelter, and other places who might need the healing of singing together”. These days, Linda is not with the choirs, though, but employed by Hospice of the Northwest as a therapeutic musician. Due to Covid much of her work is now online.
But Linda doesn’t only see patients virtually. You can also book her as an artist – virtually, of course (email firstname.lastname@example.org). For with the help of her husband, Scott Slaba, she has created a virtual production of her program. “Here’s to the Women!” is the story of both the silencing and the raising up of women’s voices as they fought for the vote, using original songs, stories, and images. You get a taste of it with this wonderful trailer of hers: www.lindasongs.com/suffrage. And as if that wasn’t enough, Linda also creates Suffrage-themed jewelry for Etsy.
Of course, somebody this creative will never sit still in times as these but figure something to do despite the social limitations that are imposed on us. “Only a couple of weeks ago another project started shaping up in my head”, Linda Allen let on to me. So, there may still be another recording of this prolific songwriter’s deep lyrics, moving melodies, and vibrant voice. Let’s keep fingers crossed.