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MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Opens November 18, 2017

Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith

Al Smith’s photography chronicled Seattle’s vibrant Central District neighborhood and the city’s African American community with great warmth and intimacy. Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith honors 65 years of Smith’s brilliantly expressive documentary photography and celebrates the neighborhood and people who inspired him. Take a look at Seattle through this distinctive lens.

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Who was Al Smith? Al Smith’s personal story is as compelling as his photography. He described himself as “a real native son.” Smith grew up at Fifth Ave and Jefferson St above a grocery store and attended O’Dea High School in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. After sailing around the Pacific Rim as a steward on merchant vessels, Smith returned to Seattle with a new camera and a desire to capture his home city on film. What started as a hobby soon became an art and a profession. He eventually started taking his hobby more seriously and formed his On the Spot photography side business.

Seattle on the Spot is a special glimpse into Seattle’s African American community, the local jazz scene, as well as the life and the work of this unique artist. Smith’s pictures give a peek into a vibrant part of Seattle’s history and culture.

Through the Lens of Al Smith

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Swingin' Seattle

Seattle vocalist Clarence Smith singing with the Leon Vaughan Band, ca. 1948.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Mardi Gras in the Pacific Northwest

Seafair festivities formerly featured a Mardi Gras parade in Seattle’s Central District. This photo shows parade royalty riding a float ca. 1955 celebration.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Miss International Center

Miss Mardi Gras becomes Miss International Center in a 1952 coronation ceremony. The pageant was related to Seafair.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Musical Sweethearts

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated all women’s jazz band, played Seattle in the 1940s. They were billed as “America’s Number 1 All-Girl Musical Attraction.”

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

The Royal Esquires

Seattle’s Royal Esquires Club was founded in 1948, and is currently located in Columbia City. As a premiere private black social Club in the Pacific Northwest, the organization continues to provide a place for members to interact, enjoy themselves, and add value to the community. This photo shows members in a 1950 parade.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Singing the Blues in Seattle

Blues singer Dee Dee Hackett performed with Al Pierre at the Union Club in Seattle in the 1940s.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Ellington Performs

Post-War Seattle’s music scene went through a period of change as African Americans migrated to the city and brought new types of music. Along with that, many jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues clubs and dancehalls opened in the Central District. Both national and local acts played at venues throughout the city, and on August 27, 1947 Duke Ellington and his orchestra performed at Civic Auditorium.

MOHAI, Al Smith Collection

Al Smith Aboard SS President Grant

Al Smith on deck of the SS President Grant. Smith worked on several ships between Seattle and Asia after high school, and here he is aboard the SS President Grant, ca. 1938.

Advisors and Community Partners

Many thanks to all the individuals and organizations who have advised and participated in the development of the Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith exhibit.

Black Heritage Society of Washington State

The family of Al Smith

Exhibit Supporters

Generous support provided by