Did Tina Bell Help Invent Grunge?

On September 7, CBS aired a special on the seminal Seattle rock band, Bam Bam, fronted by Tina Bell, in which the special posed the question: Did Tina Bell and Bam Bam create grunge music? Was she the Queen of Grunge?

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(Watch the 7-minute special here.)

Bell, who was Bam Bam’s frontwoman and principal songwriter, founded the group with her husband, guitarist Tommy Martin. “Bam Bam” is “Bell and Martin” twice. The two would later have a son, TJ Martin, who went on to earn an Oscar Award for Best Documentary Feature Film in 2012.

Before Nirvana, before Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, there was Bam Bam. In fact, the group included a young drummer, Matt Cameron, who would go on to win awards in Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog.

Bell, who stood just 5’2” and often sported bleached hair, was known for her energy, scream, and her beauty. She was revered by Pacific Northwest rockers and helped shepherd them in the scene early in their careers. But many say Bell never got her due because the world at that time wasn’t ready for a punk rock frontwoman who was also Black.

Bell, who passed away at 55 years old in 2012, did gain some attention. Bam Bam was courted by labels but they independently released the 1984 EP, Villains (Also Wear White). Bam Bam is one of several Black-woman-fronted area bands that may have gone without their proper attention, including Imij.

In July, Seattle musicians, including Cameron, paid tribute to Bell and Bam Bam at Seattle’s historic venue, the Central Saloon. Guest artists included Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, Ayron Jones, Fishbone’s Kendall Jones, and powerhouse singers Om Johari, Shaina Shepherd, and Eva Walker of The Black Tones.

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