Popular Music 1900-Present


The history of music in Detroit is undeniably the richest in the field of music.

The story of Motown founder Berry Gordy will live on forever. This is a man who borrowed $800 from his family and created a music, a sound, a studio, a star system, a traveling band of singers, musicians and session players into a world renowned record label that produced the likes of Aretha Franklin, (Respect), Marvin Gaye, (Make Me Wanna Holler, Mercy, Mercy, Me, Sexual Healing), The Temptations, (My Girl, I Wish it would Rain, Get Ready, Papa Was A Rolling-stone), Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, (The Tears of a Clown), Martha Reeves and the Vandella's (Dancing in the Streets), and the writing team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland who may have written more songs that any songwriting collaboration in music history.

Lest we not forget the Detroit sounds of Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Michael Jackson after he signed with Motown, Carl Carlton, George Clinton, Bob SegerKid Rock, Eminem, Edwin Starr, (War, what is it Good For Absolutely Nothing), The Fabulous Four Tops led by Levi Stubbs, The Funk Brothers, a group of background or session players who are still playing all around the world today and the incomparable Anita Baker.

Back in the day as some folks call it there was not a group of people alive who sang outside of a church who did not envision themselves singing in Detroit and even some gospel singers anted to venture into the world of Motown.

I would also be remiss if I left out a group of women who as a group and later as individuals almost singlehandedly put the stamp of Detroit on the world music map. That would be Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Diana Ross may have been the music worlds first Diva, as she would fight and work her way to the top of the music business as a solo act, an actress, a social figure and an icon. Who does not remember hits like (Baby, Baby where did our Love Go, Stop in the name of Love, Come See about Me and many, many others.

I cannot name all of the people and businesses that were affected, that were developed and formed in the aftermath of this most distinctive of Detroit musical sounds, but as we all know this music was played on every radio and television show, it was played as part of movie and television soundtracks and it was heard all around the world from shore to shore.

Berry Gordy a former factory worker who borrowed money from his mother created a multimillion dollar business enterprise from the family home and turned it into an icon, a museum and a masterpiece that will live on as the movie says, Motown Forever. (1)


Seattle’s music scene is often known nationally for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the grunge era of the 1990s. But Seattle had many more big names here in the 1940s.

The Jackson Street jazz scene was as big in the 1940s and later as grunge was in the 1990s. Ray Charles played at clubs on and near Jackson Street, and made his first commercial recording here on Down Beat records in 1949.

Charles played with Quincy Jones, a Garfield High School graduate whose family moved here in 1947. Jones later became a musical director of the Dizzy Gillespie Band, worked with Frank Sinatra, and produced Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and “Thriller.”

Ernestine Anderson, another Garfield graduate, also was friends with Charles and Jones and a regular on the Jackson Street scene. The renowned singer was a four-time Grammy nominee and toured with Lionel Hampton, another name that drew crowds on Jackson Street.Nirvana, one of Seattle’s most well-known groups, formed in Aberdeen in 1987, but in 1988 released their single “Love Buzz” with Seattle’s Sub Pop records. The label also helped the early careers of Mudhoney and Soundgarden – all bands that later switched to larger labels, but still brought revenue for the Seattle founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. (2)

San Francisco 

From 1964 to 1968, there swelled a gigantic wave of cultural and political change that swept first San Francisco, then the whole United States, and then the world. What was fermenting in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco was a powerful brew that would ultimately stop a war.

As any history book will tell you, the Haight's popularity grew as the Beat Generation in San Francisco was dying out. Many of the Beats, such as Allen Ginsberg, crossed over, but a younger generation gravitated to the Haight-Ashbury district, where the rents were cheap. Many were students at nearby University of San Francisco, UCSF, and S.F. State University. Others were musicians (such as the Grateful Dead), philosophers, artists (such as Alton Kelley), poets (such as Allen Cohen), apartment-dwellers, panhandlers, and even future CEOs of companies such as Pepsi, the Gap, Smith-Hawken, Lotus, and Rolling Stone magazine. 

"The Summer of Love [1967] was the peak of the Haight Ashbury experience," wrote founding editor Allen Cohen in his essay on the Summer of Love. "Over 100,000 youth came to the Haight. Hoards of reporters, movie makers, FBI agents, undercover police, drug addicts, provocateurs, Mafioso and about 100,000 more tourists to watch them all followed in their wake."

The efforts of the pioneers in the Haight-Ashbury to create an enlightened community took about two years, from 1964-66, to reach the flashpoint, and during those years the music reached an artistic high point. By the end, two years before Woodstock and Altamont, overcrowding and the negative reaction of police and the San Francisco city government combined to make life in the Haight miserable for everyone.

Still, the experience of enlightenment had left a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of those who participated in the "hippie scene" either in the Haight or in far-flung communities that sprouted from Be-Ins and the acid-tinged philosophers such as Dr. Timothy Leary. The experience, like acid, reached a peak, then subsided, leaving everyone bewildered and changed for life. (3)