The Ladies Musical Club: a ‘real meat and potatoes’ organization

  • Written by Kirsten Abel
The Ladies Musical Club of Seattle has a quaint-sounding name.
“You immediately see hats and gloves and teacups and so on,” said Dorene Kenkman, a Carnation resident and a former Ladies Musical Club president.
But the club—organization might be a better word for it—is anything but quaint. 
Angie Kam Ladies Musical Club 14 002Angie Kam, a violinist and member of the Yakima Symphony, performed at an LMC public concert earlier this month. (Photo by Chris Bennion)“This is something that’s got real meat and potatoes to it and it’s been going for over 100 years,” Kenkman said.
Ellen Bartlett Bacon, along with several other women, launched the organization out of her Seattle house in 1891. According to the Ladies Musical Club website, the group was dedicated to “developing the musical talent of its members, and stimulating musical interest in Seattle.”
From what Kenkman says, that’s exactly what they did, and more. 
Maybe most importantly, the organization started an international artist series that brought classical musicians and singers (Marian Anderson, the London Chamber Orchestra, and the New York Symphony Orchestra, to name only a few) from around the world to the Seattle area. The program ran from 1900 until 1995.
“You name them, we brought them,” Kenkman said. “We started the first concert series in Seattle.”
There are currently about 200 members of the Ladies Musical Club. 
“All of the people that are members of the Ladies Musical Club are teachers in music, performers, and so on,” Kenkman said. It’s not an easy cut to make.
Kenkman herself was a longtime singer. She joined the group in the early 1950s when she was about 23 years old. Now 91, Kenkman is one of the LMC’s most enduring members.
“It isn’t just a club. It is not just a bunch of old ladies getting together,” she said. “These are people who are active and have really made a difference as far as the cultural scene in Seattle is concerned.”
Like any hundred-year organization, the Ladies Musical Club eventually had to attempt to shift its format and its goals in order to keep up with the changing times.
“The image was changed gradually, it didn’t happen over night,” Kenkman said. “It took a lot of creativity. It took a lot of energy. It took a lot of guts, you could actually say.”
Ladies Musical Club Steinway Installation and Seattle Centra LMC member Risa Jun and guest pianist Yelena Balabanova at a free public concert at the Seattle Central Public Library. (Photo by Chris Bennion)The  organization  still  hosts about 50 free concerts every season (visit for the upcoming calendar).
But now, the organization also offers a comprehensive program called Music in Schools.
“We’ll choose one or two schools and create and produce a musical program in the schools for a couple years for them,” Kenkman said. The schools then come away with a curriculum they can use going forward.
One thing Kenkman emphasized was the interconnectedness of the Ladies Musical Club. Even if you’ve never heard of the group, it’s likely involved with organizations you have heard of, like MOHAI (the Museum of History and Industry).
And it’s likely that the culture and the music scene enjoyed by King County residents today have been enriched by the actions of LMC members over the past century.
“These have been women that have been courageous and willing to spend time and money and their musical reputations in order to make some of these things in Seattle,” Kenkman said.

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