If you live in Seattle, you’ve probably passed it: A non-descript wooden storefront framed by faded posters and the name, “Luck Ngi Musical Club.” It’s right in the heart of Seattle’s International District, next door to the now defunct China Gate restaurant. You might think the Luck Ngi Musical Club was just a relic from the past, too. But if you ring the buzzer outside the unassuming door, you’ll be welcomed into another world…
Watch a slideshow:
There are Chinese opera clubs in Chinatowns all over the United States, and the Luck Ngi Musical Club is one of the oldest. It was formed in 1938 by a group of Chinese laundrymen and laborers, many of whom immigrated to Seattle from China’s Guangdong Province, a Cantonese-speaking region with a long tradition of this form of popular, “people’s” opera.
Restrictive immigration laws made it very difficult for women to immigrate to the U.S., so most of the men were forced to live in their new country as bachelors. In addition, discriminatory zoning laws forced the men to live outside of mainstream American society in segregated communities, like Seattle’s International District.
The men who formed the Luck Ngi Musical Club in 1938 did so out of a desire to have a place to meet and socialize–music gave them the sounds and stories and flavor of home. It also gave them a way to raise money to support social causes, both in Seattle, and back in China.
Cantonese opera is meant to be performed in theatrical makeup and elaborate costumes. The Luck Ngi Musical Club usually puts on an annual performance to benefit the community, and to raise money to sustain itself. The rest of the year, they meet every Saturday and Sunday to enjoy each other’s company, play music, and sing.
Check out this Seattle Times photo slideshow of the Club dressed up for a performance:
Produced by Julie Caine, 2011 AIR Live Interactive Resident. Editorial oversight by Kevin Cole. Engineering assistance by Matt Ogaz. Additional photo content by Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times. Live Interactive is a collaboration of KEXP and AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, with financial support from AIR members worldwide, Recovery.gov, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.