A Budding Career Is Strangled -- Murdered Singer, Lyricist Called Brilliant By Friends

Mia Zapata was a street smart, tough young woman who told her friends she would get a cab home late Tuesday night.

A few hours later she was found lying in an alley in the Central Area, face-up, strangled to death.

Seattle police spokesman Sean O'Donnell said no arrests have been made and no motive is apparent in the murder of Zapata, the 27-year-old lead singer and lyricist for a local punk-rock band called The Gits.

The musicians who knew Zapata and who play music together and socialize at places like the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill, struggled to absorb the news of her murder.

"It is still unbelievable what has happened," said Selene Vigil, the lead singer for Seven Year Bitch, a popular local band The Gits often opened for. "Mia was one of the most inspirational people I've ever met."

"She was brilliant," said The Gits drummer Steve Moriarty, who first met Zapata when the two were students at Antioch College in Ohio. "She was a blues singer and a jazz singer and a punk singer all at once."

The Gits had been playing mostly local clubs since they relocated to Seattle from Ohio in 1989, but next week they were scheduled to play at the New Music Seminar in New York, a music convention geared toward independent and alternative record labels. According to Barbara Dollarhide, who first signed The Gits to record with C/Z Records, playing at the New Music Seminar was an opportunity for The Gits to earn a national reputation.

Dollarhide said The Gits were working on a second full-length release, a follow-up to their 1992 LP, "Frenching the Bully."

"The tragedy is that Mia would have been laying down her vocal tracks this week," said Dollarhide. "And she was so very, very excited about this album."

Zapata was known as an independent thinker, a determined young woman who always stood her ground. Her music reflected a strong social agenda and liberal convictions, and her relationships with band members and associates were reportedly more like that of a family.

"It's really like having your sister die," said Daniel House, the owner of C/Z Records, explaining that the group had been together for eight years, not an inconsequential length of time for a young punk band.

Band member Steve Moriarty said the group had come together partly through a shared sense of humor: The name The Gits came from a skit on the British comedy show the Monty Python Flying Circus called "The Sniveling Little Rat-Face Gits." They later shortened the name because it was too long to fit on the spine of their demo tapes.

Zapata wrote most of the lyrics for the band, often scribbling away for hours in a journal, then putting words to music.

Friends said she was less interested in commercial success than in making a connection with the audience.

"I try to make my lyrics a universal thing that relate to people," Zapata said in an interview with The Times earlier this year. "I've had 15-year-olds come up to me relating to what I'm saying in the songs, and I've had 40-year-olds do the same thing. When people almost twice my age and half my age can relate to us, we must be doing something right."