BMC History

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The Bellingham Music Club’s 2015-2016 season marked its 100th year of nourishing the musical and cultural life of Bellingham and the Northwest. The largest music club in Washington, the BMC also ranks among the oldest of its kind in the nation. Be sure to listen to two podcasts produced by WWU students in May 2016: one featuring Nancy Bussard who has been associated with the BMC since 1952. and the other, Hélène Minari, who was BMC president 1993-1998.

The first meeting was called to order on February 22, 1916, by co-founders Mrs. C. X. Larrabee and Mme. Mary Davenport-Engberg, at the Larrabee home, Lairmont Manor. Mrs. Larrabee was a New England Conservatory-trained violinist. Mme. Davenport-Engberg was a prominent violinist and conductor with European training and reputation, by then teaching at Western Normal School (now Western Washington University). She had previously founded the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra in 1910, and was later credited with reviving the languishing Seattle Symphony Orchestra as the Seattle Civic Symphony Orchestra, which she conducted between 1921 and 1924.

Constituted as a women’s organization, the new club soon became the heart of Bellingham’s musical life. Members would audition for the privilege of performing for invited audiences, while raising funds to bestow occasional awards on exceptional student musicians at Western Normal School. Many of these students went on to further musical study and ultimately careers as performers and teachers.

Following World War II, the rise of electronic entertainment media and the surge in women entering the workforce had an eroding impact on the Club’s membership. Change was needed, and in 1988 a dynamic new President, Ethel Crook, violinist and co-founder of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra (now the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra), threw open the doors and invited men to join the club for the first time. Soon local artists and WWU faculty were invited to perform at meetings, while the BMC expanded its student award program with competitions for piano, voice and orchestral instrument, particularly strings.

By the 21st century, the Club’s leadership again moved to respond to the changing musical landscape. Dynamic new programs were instituted, student awards were increased to five separate competitions for Whatcom County high school and Western Washington University students, and by 2014 the Club’s mission was expanded to include evening music performances for the public, under the series title of Night Beat. These very successful public programs have included solo recitals, ensembles from strings to percussion, and cabaret-style shows. Now at its 105th year, the 250+ member Bellingham Music Club is growing in size and diversity, while it continues to nurture promising young musicians and share the best of Whatcom County’s musical talent with growing audiences.

The BMC was founded on the belief that making music nourishes the soul, uniting family, friends and community. Over the decades, the mission of the club has evolved from staging musical performances to supporting music education and performance in all of its forms. Today, hundreds of musicians and teachers in Whatcom County, across the state and around the world are grateful for the support and encouragement they received from the BMC, and for the strong musical community the club has inspired in the Northwest.

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BMC records for 1916-2018 are located at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies on WWU campus. To learn more about the BMC, please visit