July 6, 1993 – Mia Zapata (The Gits) entered this world August 25, 1965 in Louisville, Kentucky, where she also was raised. As the story goes, Mia’s father was distantly related to Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican revolution.
She grew up a smart and sensitive kid with a natural connection to music and performing. Influenced by rock as well as jazz, blues and R&B singers such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Hank Williams and Sam Cooke, Mia learned how to play the guitar and the piano by age nine.
In 1984, Mia enrolled at Antioch College located in Yellow Springs, Ohio as a liberal arts student. In September 1986, she three friends Steve, Matt and Andy, formed the punk rock band The Gits. After playing music for a while the band got restless and moved to Seattle in 1989. They heard there was an interesting music scene happening, and it immediately felt like home.
Mia was the first of the group to get gainfully employed. She got hired at a trashy dive bar and helped Andy, Matt and Steve out with free food. The dive bar was near a mental hospital, and eccentric folks would often come into the bar. Mia’s reaction was: “I love my job, I get paid to hear people’s problems!”
Mia had a great sense of humor, loved to meet new people and had no problem cracking jokes. The four moved into an abandoned building and called it “The Rathouse”. The Gits powerful, driving music and poetic lyrics were creating a stir in the area. They had shows there often with their friends, 7 Year Bitch. In 1992, the band released its debut album Frenching the Bully. Their reputation progressively increased within the grunge scene in Seattle.
In June 1993, Atlantic Records made an offer to sign The Gits. Mia got her hair cut and started to dress more of how she liked. After talking with record execs she played a solo show in L.A. The Gits just released a CD, and national tour dates had been set. Everyone who knew Mia said she never seemed happier.
Zapata straddled the line between wealth and poverty. As her father described it: “Mia lived in two different worlds. She lived on two different sides of the street—the straight side on one, with parochial schools, an affluent family, and tennis clubs. But when she crossed the street, material things didn’t mean anything to her.” Her music often led to a rejection of financial comfort, but regardless of status, Valerie Agnew describes Mia as “commanding respect and interest immediately”.
At around 2:00 a.m. on July 7, 1993, Zapata left the Comet Tavern in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. She stayed at a studio space in the basement of an apartment building located a block away, and briefly visited a friend who lived on the second floor. This was the last time she was seen alive.
She may have walked a few blocks west, north to a friend’s apartment, or may have decided to take the long walk south to her home. She was wearing her headset and listening to music on her way home. That night changed everything. Mia was found strangled and murdered in the Central District at 3:30 a.m. The Gits U.S. tour was supposed to start in just days.
A streetwalker found her beaten and mutilated body posed in a Christ-like fashion under a streetlight in a park. A decade later Florida fisherman Jesus Mezquia was sentenced to 36 years for the crime.
The community reacted to her Mia’s death with an out pouring of grief. Many fans and friends showed up to her wake carrying a single yellow rose. Fliers were posted all over the Seattle area with the location of her wake. The eerie foreshadowing in the lyrics she wrote became apparent after her death. Friends felt fearful not yet having found Mia’s killer. In the aftermath of her murder, friends created a self-defense group called Home Alive, which disbanded in 2010. Home Alive organized benefit concerts and CDs with the participation of many of Seattle’s music elite, such as Nirvana (one of Kurt Cobain’s final public appearances), Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Heart, and the Presidents of the United States of America. After her death, The Gits second album Enter: The Conquering Chicken was released. The album cover art was a painting of Mia Zapata by artist Mark Pollard. He created it the day that she died.
Joan Jett recorded an album with the surviving members of The Gits in 1995 called Evil Stig (“Gits Live” backwards). The four went on tour for a series of benefits concerts to pay for a private investigator. In 2005, a documentary The Gits Movie was produced on her life, The Gits and the Seattle music scene.
On June 28th, 1994 7 Year Bitch released their new album “!Viva Zapata!”. It was their first album to feature new guitarist Roisin Dunne who had replaced the late Stefanie Sargent in 1992. The album’s title is in tribute to The Gits’ vocalist, and friend of the group, Mia Zapata. Some of the songs on this album relate to Zapata’s murder directly (such as “M.I.A.”, which encourages vigilante justice for her killer) as well as Sargent’s death by drug overdose (“Rock A Bye”).
After Mia’s death, Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna wrote a song called “Go Home” that was later released on Jett’s 1994 album Pure and Simple.
In 2003 DNA evidence finally came through and linked Jesus Mezquia to the murder of Mia Zapata. And on March 25, 2004, he was sentenced to 36 years in prison.