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Oral History Program

An archive of interviews with key figures from the worlds of music, cinema, and literature that have shaped American popular culture.

EMP has created an archive of interviews with musicians, authors, filmmakers, producers, and other key figures that have profoundly shaped American music, science fiction, and popular culture.

In 2005 generous funding from the U.S. Congress allowed EMP to grow its collection, which currently houses more than 850 recorded oral history interviews. Most have been featured in a wide range of exhibitions at EMP.

Oral History Live!

EMP's Oral History Live! series brings notable music makers, science fiction luminaries, pop culture legends, and the public together for an intimate curator-hosted interview recorded before a live audience, allowing EMP visitors to become part of history in the making.

Recent Oral History Live! guests have included:

Def Jam25: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label

Launched in 1984, Def Jam’s roster created the sound of young America, from LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, to Ludacris, Kanye West, and Rihanna. An oral history comprised of interviews with the label’s key artists and executives, and text complemented by images from some of the best-known photographers of the era, Def Jam: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label is the first book to document the label as a whole. The Def Jam25 lecture series was conducted by the co-authors of DEFinition: the Art and Design of Hip-Hop, and Def Jam Recordings founding staff members, journalist and biographer Bill Adler and creative director Cey Adams.

John Landis

John Landis, prolific horror film director and recent author of Monsters in the Movies, sat down with Jacob McMurray, curator of Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film, for an intimate interview. As guest curator for the exhibit, Landis hand-selected films that best exemplify the horror genre and illustrate its creative power in cinema. He shared his personal purview of monsters and gave a peek inside the pages of this new book, which celebrates a century of cinematic nightmares.

Jane Espenson

Battlestar Galactica writer Jane Espenson joined curator of Battlestar Galactica: The Exhibition, Brooks Peck for an intimate interview. A crucial member of the Battlestar Galactica writing and producing team, Espenson was the executive-producer and co-writer of the Emmy nominated Battlestar Galactica webisodes and an executive producer of the spin-off series Caprica.

Mary Wilson

Ms. Wilson shared her experiences as a founding member of The Supremes, as well as the stories behind the glamour of her gown collection featured in Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection. This intimate conversation was led by EMP Director of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons.

Graham Nash

Graham Nash was interviewed by EMP Director of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons during the opening of Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n' Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash. During the interview, Nash played a few songs, including "Peggy Sue," on a guitar formerly used by Buddy Holly. Nash first became famous as a member of The Hollies during the mid-1960s, and went on to co-found Crosby, Stills, & Nash. He has also pursued a parallel career as a photographer, collector and digital imaging pioneer. In 1990, he co-founded Nash Editions, the first professional fine art digital printmaking studio, with R. Mac Holbert.

Jane Henson

Jane Henson, co-founder of The Muppets and wife of the late Jim Henson, gave a behind-the-scenes look at a cultural phenomenon. Viewers saw seldom-seen video clips from the Jim Henson Family Archives, and heard about the early days when she met Jim Henson in a puppet class. Time Piece, the rarely seen Oscar-nominated short film, directed and written by Jim Henson was screened following Jane Henson's interview.

YES

An intimate interview with Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White from the band YES, was hosted by EMP Senior Curator Jacob McMurray. As a dominant force for more than four decades, YES has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, stretching the boundaries of progressive art-rock with their dynamic instrumental contrasts and abstract lyrics. Their symphonic use of sound and innovative musical styles makes them one of the most successful and long-standing groups in rock history.

Commercials and Experiments with Karen Prell

A mind-blowing collection of shorts, crazy commercials, and other rarities from the Henson vault. Highlights include an industrial film for Wilson's Meat that must be seen to be believed, excerpts from experimental TV programs The Cube and Youth '68, and Time Piece, an 8-minute masterpiece that showcases Henson's talent for making music out of everyday sounds.

Karen Prell is a puppeteer and animator. She first worked with Jim Henson in 1979 on Sesame Street and is best known as Red Fraggle on Fraggle Rock. Prell also performed on The Muppet Show, Dreamchild and Labyrinth. Prell now works in computer animation, and has worked on several Pixar projects including A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. Recent animation credits have included The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Son of the Mask and Frank Oz's The Stepford Wives.

Muppet History 101 with Craig Shemin

Learn your Muppet history with material you won't see anywhere else: early TV appearances, commercials, guest spots on The Dick Cavett Show, and more! Plus, this program contains the rarely-seen pilot for The Muppet Show, The Muppets: Sex and Violence.

Craig Shemin is a former Jim Henson Company staff writer, who began with the Henson organization in 1988. His Muppet writing credits include Muppet press interviews and appearances, and text for licensed products, and video games. He also co-wrote The Muppet Show Live. Part of Muppets, Music and Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy.

Perspectives in Poster Design

The evolution of poster design in the Northwest with prominent local graphic designers discussing poster art and design process to unsung graphic heroes and influences, all illustrated with examples of their work and others. Panelists included Barry Ament and Coby Schultz (Ames Bros.), Don Clark and Ryan Clark (Invisible Creature, Tooth & Nail), Art Chantry (Art Chantry Design Co.) and Jeff Kleinsmith (Patent Pending Industries, Sub Pop). The panel coincided with EMP’s exhibition American Letterpress: The Art of Hatch Show Print.

Stockpiling Star Wars

After five years of research, Gus Lopez and Duncan Jenkins created Gus and Duncan's Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles, the largest Star Wars collectibles guide ever assembled. This international guide covers over 75,000 unique Star Wars items from over a hundred different countries. During this event, Duncan and Gus shared their adventures tracking down memorabilia. The presentation included highlights from their private collections and showed some of the more unusual and humorous Star Wars collectibles that have been produced over the years.

Al Kooper

Songwriter, record producer, and musician Al Kooper organized the group Blood, Sweat & Tears and has recorded with several distinguished artists, including Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, B. B. King, and Cream. Kooper recently updated and released his memoir, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'n' Roll Survivor, which chronicles his many misadventures as an experienced musician.

David Bryan

As the keyboard player, songwriter, and founding member of Bon Jovi, now in its twentieth year, Mr. Bryan's journey has included selling 130 million albums, traveling the world playing to millions of people in more than 50 countries and circling the globe for 25 years. In his time off from recording and touring, Mr. Bryan began a career as a composer and lyricist of musicals. The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle opened his newest musical, Memphis, in January 2009. Memphis, written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro (the author of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and Over the River and Through the Woods), is a rafter-rattling musical that immortalizes the DJs who gave rock its original roll.

Doug Chiang

Doug Chiang is an Academy Award-winning artist, production designer and author. Chiang began his career as a stop motion animator on the Pee Wee's Playhouse TV series. As a production designer, he has designed films such as The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol. Before that, he was design director for Lucas film's Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, and Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones. Chiang has received an Academy Award, two British Academy Awards and a Clio for his work. He has written several books, including Mechanika and Robota, co-authored with Orson Scott Card.

Sub Pop Records Founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman

Bruce Pavitt started Sub Pop in Olympia, WA in 1979 as a radio show called Subterranean Pop. By 1980 it has grown into the music fanzine Sub Pop, and a year later began releasing cassette compilations. In 1983, Bruce moved to Seattle where Sub Pop became an indie specialty show on KCMU-FM. In 1986, Sub Pop Records released its first record, and in 1987 Pavitt teamed up with Jonathan Poneman to release Soundgarden's Screaming Life EP, after which Bruce and Jonathan quit their day jobs and opened a full-time Sub Pop Records office, leading to recordings of some of Seattle’s most powerful area groups, including Nirvana.

Krist Novoselic

Krist Novoselic is an acclaimed rock musician best known as the bassist for Nirvana. In addition to performing with Nirvana, Novoselic currently plays in the band Flipper and has been active in politics, including creating the Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee (JAMPAC). JAMPAC has been active in local politics including fighting the Teen Dance Ordinance, a 1985 law that limited the ability of minors to attend shows. Novoselic published his first book, Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy in 2004.

Billy Cox

In honor of the exhibition celebrating Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix: An Evolution of Sound, EMP members were treated to a special Oral History Live! with Billy Cox. Billy Cox is a bass guitarist best known for playing with Jimi Hendrix. Cox and Hendrix met in the army and played on the chitlin' circuit together. They played together in bands such as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows and Band of Gypsys up until Hendrix's death in 1970.

El Vez

El Vez, the self-proclaimed "Mexican Elvis" (aka Robert Lopez), has a musical career spanning twenty years. He began with the early LA punk band the Zeros, followed by Catholic Discipline. His lyrics, from plays on words ("Say It Loud, I'm Brown and I'm Proud"), to sharp musical revues ("I've got my green card...I want my gold card!"), combines activism and humor to create compelling social satires.

Michael Shrieve

As the original drummer for Santana, Michael at age nineteen was the youngest performer at Woodstock. He helped create the first eight albums of this seminal group, and was on the forefront of shaping a new musical era.

Clive Barker

Best known for his Hellraiser film series, Clive Barker is one of the leading authors of contemporary horror and fantasy fiction. His characteristic style often involves hiding fantastical worlds within familiar settings, and exploring the role of sexuality in the paranormal as part of his richly constructed and complex universes. Barker is also a prodigal visual artist and often illustrates his own books.

Jeff Baxter

Jeff Baxter is a highly versatile session guitarist and prolific and highly respected producer, most noted for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers in the 1970s. His musical career has led him to play with Jimi Hendrix, and as a session guitarist with musicians as diverse as Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, and Rod Stewart.

Lorraine Gordon

Instrumental in the jazz scene since 1939, Lorraine Gordon is the owner of the Village Vanguard jazz club in New York City. She helped to discover and promote some of Blue Note's most beloved artists, including Thelonius Monk. The Village Vanguard continues to thrive, hosting jazz fans from across the world eager to hear live music performed by today's top musicians.

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a noted author, critic, and music journalist who made his mark by redefining rock music criticism. He propagated the literary essay that places rock music into a broader framework of culture, art, and politics.

Ruth Brown

The legendary R&B songstress, known to many fans as "the girl with a tear in her voice," Ruth Brown is famous for both her recordings made under the Atlantic recording and later for her work on Broadway. Brown was an innovative force in the blues world. It has been maintained that it was her unique rhythmic style which led to the development of R&B as its own genre and musical phenomenon; simply put, she put the Rhythm in Rhythm & Blues.

Dick Dale and Jimmy Dale

Dick Dale is a pioneer of surf rock. He is well known for creating a use of guitar reverb that has since become a surf music staple. He began playing with The Del-Tones, and wrote "Let's Go Trippin," commonly regarded as the first surf rock song. His first full-length album was Surfer's Choice in 1962, which was distributed nationally by Capitol Records, propelling Dick Dale toward fame. The use of his song "Misirlou" in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction gained him a new audience of surf music fans.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his group exploded on the scene in the mid-1990s and garnered huge amounts of radio airplay on commercial radio. Shepherd began playing at age seven and at age 13 was invited on-stage by New Orleans bluesman Brian Lee. Shepherd's latest project involved traveling throughout the American South with a documentary film crew and portable recording studio as he backed up several veteran blues players on their home turf. The resulting album and film, 10 Days Out (Blues from the Backroads), was released in January 2007.

Andy Summers

Andy Summers is the English guitarist and composer who rose to fame playing in The Police. He began his recording career in the 1960s playing for Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, and later joined Eric Burdon and The Animals. He spent the 1970s as a session guitarist for Neil Sedaka, Tim Rose, and Joan Armatrading, among others. After joining The Police, he wrote such songs as "Omegaman" and "Mother," and his instrumental "Behind My Camel" won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental in 1980.

Trimpin

Trimpin is a Seattle-based kinetic sculptor, sound artist, musician, and composer, who uses sculpture and music to create spatial musical experiences. He was the recipient of a 1997 MacArthur Genius Award, and his work has been a part of the Henry Art Gallery, the Frye Art Museum, the Museum of glass, the Missoula Museum of Art, and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, among others.

EMP would like to thank Wells Fargo for its generous support of EMP’s Oral History Program:

Wells Fargo Private Bank