Five Sites Significant To Black Music In Detroit: Black Music Month (Video Series)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

By Roger McClellan, Serena Maria Daniels & Terry Parris Jr.

We visited a site where Miles Davis used to play. We went to the place that housed the first African American owned and operated radio station. We popped into the old Phelps Lounge where James Brown once graced the stage. Below we tell the stories of these sites, and a few more, in our five-part video series for Black Music Month.

June became Black Music Month on June 7, 1979, after Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams lobbied Jimmy Carter to formally recognize the contributions of African Americans to the music industry. Kenny Gamble, in an interview, said this the inception of Black Music Month: "...we picked June as a time where we could concentrate on recognizing and celebrating the economic and cultural power of Black music and those who made and promoted it. The slogan we came up with was, 'Black Music Is Green' – it was about economics. So in an effort to galvanize, as well as create an advocacy entity, Black Music Month was born."

The city of Detroit and its people, of course, has had a huge impact on Black Music throughout the world. From Black Bottom to Motown to techno to artists like J. Dilla, Detroit's contribution has been, and continues to be, significant.

We wanted to go to a few spots around that city important to Black Music in Detroit and tell the stories associated with them. We had to choose five, so there are a lot of stories missing here. And we didn't include some very obvious contributions like Motown. What we wanted to do is look at stories and buildings that had significance but may have slipped under the larger radar. Below are those five sites and their stories narrated by Ken Coleman and accompanied by WDET's Jay Butler. Feel free to tell us in the comments other sites that people should know about.

Below are the five videos we produced and a map that shows where each spot is around the city.

Phelps Lounge – 9006 Oakland Ave

In the '50s and '60s, Phelps Lounge hosted the talents of James Brown, The Temptations as well as local artist Alberta Adams. This was the place to go if you wanted to get dressed up for a classy night on the town.

Bell Broadcasting – 2994 East Grand Blvd

This is the first radio station in Detroit to be owned and operated by African Americans. Dr Wendell Cox and Dr. Haley Bell started WCHB in the 1950s using their initials as the call letters. During the '60s and '70s it became known for playing some of the best R&B music and hosted radio personalities like Jay Butler, Ed Love, Butterball Jr. and Martha Jean "The Queen".

Blue Bird Inn - 5201 Tireman Street

Owned by Clarence Eddins, in the 1950s this was the place to be if you wanted to hear Jazz. The big names that have played here include Miles Davis, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd and John Coltrane.

Miller High School – 2322 Dubois St

Opening in the mid 1920s, this was a predominantly African American high school. Quite a bit of musical talent walked these halls including names like Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson and Della Reese. It is now the home to the youth musical group Mosaic as well as being reopened as a prep school.

The Music Institute – 1315 Broadway

This is where the emergence of Detroit techno music happened in the 1980s. Names like Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson played music and kept people dancing long into the night.

We also mapped the stories to show where they were throughout the city:

(Don't forget to check out our first series highlighting five spots around Detroit significant to Black History Month, also with Ken Coleman.)