Marsha Music, September 21st, 2015

Title

Marsha Music, September 21st, 2015

Description

In this interview, Music discusses growing up in a black community in Highland Park and the differences she perceived growing up between southern-born African Americans and northern-born African Americans. She recounts her personal family history, including race issues her grandmother encountered and her father’s successful record shop that originated in Black Bottom.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, Mi

Language

en-US

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Marsha Music

Brief Biography

Marsha Music was born in Detroit, MI as Marsha Von Battle and grew up in Detroit near Sugar Hill and Paradise Valley. Her father owned Joe’s Record Shop, a very successful record shop and recording studio on Hastings Street prior to the building of the freeway. Marsha Music is an author, playwright and activist based in Detroit.

Interviewer's Name

Tobi Voigt

Interview Place

Detroit, MI

Date

09/21/2015

Interview Length

01:52:42

Transcriptionist

Hannah Sabal, Katie Kennedy, Alexis Draper

Transcription Date

6/01/2016

Transcription

TV: Let’s get started. Where and when were you born?

MM: I was born in Detroit, MI in Women’s Hospital. Which I understand to be a hospital that had as its clientele, African Americans- obviously African American women who could not be serviced at the white hospitals in Detroit. I was born in Women’s Hospital and my mother and father lived on Hancock and John R.  They lived in an apartment building over there in a time which it was quite a pretty swanky area in which to live.  It was on the edge of what was known as Sugar Hill. And it was not far from Paradise Valley.  My father was a record store owner on Hastings Street. His named was Joe Von Battle and he owned a record store and recording studio that he had opened in 1945 on Hastings Street the address 3530 Hastings. He opened his record shop after the ending of World War II.  He had previously worked in a factory.  He had tried various jobs. He worked in the Eastern Market.  He came to Detroit in the 30s.  He came to Detroit with his first family, his first wife and their children.  They had four children. The first ones were born in the South and the later one or two in the North, here in Detroit.  He was here with his first wife and children.  He was working in various jobs because in that time even though there were periods in which there were labor shortages, because of the tremendous need for labor in the automotive factories.  There was also intense segregation at the same time. So that blacks were limited as to what jobs they could actually get even during times of labor shortages. Eventually, he ended up in auto plants. Which I believe one was the Hudson plant and he worked two jobs for a period of time which many people did during those days.  It’s hard to see today, in a time at which we have very little manufacturing in Detroit.  It’s hard to imagine the extreme presence of manufacturing facilities that were here in Detroit at that time. You know in Detroit there would be factories just in the neighborhoods.  People working in the neighborhoods.  There would be little corner factories of small manufacturers, automotive suppliers—well not so much suppliers—but ancillary production because in those days, the automotive industry had not necessarily decentralized their production. Everything the auto company needed, the auto company created. They had seat departments, steering wheel departments, leather departments and all of this. Over a period of time, these ancillary industries that fed into them became subsidiary industries or separated industries, but bottom line is many, many people worked two jobs. They would go to one job, my father literally had a period of time in which he would work in one plant and then he would cross the street—I believe this was on Jefferson—and he would go work in the other plant for 8 or 10 hours and this went on for a long period of time, months and years or whatever. And I’m told by my elder brother, Joe Van Battle Jr., who was my father’s second oldest child, his only son of his first family, he tells me that my father worked in the factory and did various jobs and at the ending of the war [World War II], the soldiers that were returning from the various theaters of war began to come back home to Detroit, because the automotive plants had be transitioned into war production.  When this war ended, the auto plants went back to automotive production and the soldiers went back to their jobs and due to the agreements they had, the auto companies allowed them to come back to their jobs, with their seniority-I suppose and the blacks that had managed to move into some positions in the plant while many of these white soldiers were gone had to be bumped out of the plants. So there was a higher amount of unemployment particularly around black soldiers where we get the adage, “Last hired, first fired” that was very much in play during that period of time in the mid 40s. So my father doesn’t have any gainful employment for a period of time. Even before that my father had an episode where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Tuberculosis was a very virulent and not uncommon affliction.  Particularly the Black Bottom area of Detroit which was heavily populated, it was teeming with residents.  Many of whom were coming up from the south- by the hundreds every day. People were coming here. They were escaping the segregation and the Jim Crow in the South and the degradation that were living with there.  But they also were coming here to enhance their lives because of the lure of factory pay, because Henry Ford had made his famous offer to Americans, “Come here to my plant in Detroit to be paid $5 a day,” which is an astronomical sum particularly to share croppers who were working for virtually slave wages, virtually nothing. So they were coming here still by the droves, even by the 40s they were coming here.  So my father’s family who had come here a couple decades earlier had settled into the Black Bottom area and gradually moved upward into the Brewster projects. Today when we look at project home developments, we tend to regard that as hardscrabble existence.  However, during the time of Detroit’s housing shortage and housing crisis and coming from the dilapidation that existed in Black Bottom and the extreme crowding, the Brewster Projects was a significant step up into middle-class housing.  A lot of times, when they talk about Diana Ross coming from the Brewster Projects, it is said in order to affirm her hardscrabbled roots, however, in reality the Brewster Projects were a real center of upward mobility.  Of people who were working people, who needed substantial housing.  There’s a reason why the Douglas towers stayed up for so long.  Because the sheer substance of those places.  I mean, they were built to last!  And they were substantial housing.  The projects were very well made, well-constructed. So they were a step up from the very crowded conditions in Black Bottom.  One of the problems in Black Bottom was the constant threat of tuberculosis, because of unsanitary conditions, because of the close quarters in which people lived.  In Black Bottom, people lived, often more than one family in a place. People came here from the South and they would offer their cousins or other people to come stay there to get their feet on the ground.  But what you also had was segregation that compelled people to stay in Black Bottom.  You only had a few other exceptional enclaves in which people lived in Detroit. Those exceptions sort of proved the rule. Black Bottom was essentially the place where black people lived in Detroit. You also had a small enclave of people that lived in what’s called the A-B-C streets: American, Brighton, Central and it was a 9 or 10 square block enclave of black people who lived in the midst of basically a completely Polish neighborhood which fed into the Mackenzie High School.  That was a very unusual black community there.  They were very close knit.  They lived not far from this area that I’m speaking of, between Tireman and Grand River, East of Livernois.  That was a small enclave of blacks.  That’s where my mother grew up.  You also had another enclave of blacks that lived in the area around 8 mile a small community that lived on the Detroit side of 8 mile.  Then you had another community of blacks that lived on the other side of 8 mile in Royal Oak Township. Which was sort of like a segregated area of Royal Oak that they maintain its Township designation to keep blacks from living in the actual cities of Royal Oak or Ferndale or what have you.  But there was another area that blacks lived.  You had the city of Inkster.  Which I understand to be created by Henry Ford in order to house his workers.  You a community in Highland Park that lived on the Northwest corner of Highland Park who were also, Henry Ford had a very special relationship with Highland Park and these were people that also worked in and around the Henry Ford System, but were not yet by the 1950s only just beginning to move into what’s called the big houses of Highland Park.  They weren’t there yet at that point, generally.  And then you have Conant Gardens which is very special.  Because Conant Gardens was a community that was founded by Shubael Conant.  Can I just keep talking about this?

TV: Sure. No this is interesting.

MBP: Okay, Alright. About Shubael Conant.  Shubael Conant was an abolitionist during the time of slavery. And this was the time when Detroit still had a number of strip farms.  You know strip farms that ran from the river and going North.  And Shubael Conant had some this land located in what we know call the Lower East side of Detroit.  Near boundary of 7 and 8 Mile west of Ryan in that pocket area over there, Dequindre over there.  I may be wrong about the specific boundaries, but it’s in that general area. And Shubael Conant made a decision that he would never sell his land to be developed to developers who would put restrictive covenants in the deeds.  Consequently those deeds were open deeds in which restrictive covenants in which the deed language that says, “I as the buyer of this house, hereby agree that I will not sell this house to a black or a Jew,” and it may have had other kinds of people thrown in the mix too.  That language did not appear in the Shubael Conant’s properties that developers bought from him.  Consequently, it was an area in which blacks ended up moving and building homes.  Many blacks built their own homes in Conant Gardens because you did have quite a community of home builders.  People that were literally skilled artisans and were skilled home builders.  I know people whose grandfathers built their homes in Conant Gardens.  Conant Gardens consequently ended up being another, larger enclave…a real community of black people who were really the first general working class home ownership and because of that it is a historically designated area.  In the midst of all of that my mother had grown up in the A-B-C streets on the west side.  She had not yet met my father.  My father was living in Black Bottom with first wife and they lived there and they at some point ended up going to the Brewster Projects.  But my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis—TB as it as known.  And it was quite a scourge, you know.  One of the most marked things about TB is that people didn’t necessarily know how to give it any kind of immediate cure. And therefore people who were diagnosed with TB had to go on very extended quarantines.  They were quarantined.  If you presented in the doctor’s office with a mysterious cough, and if it’s determined it’s tuberculosis then you were quarantined and those quarantines generally lasted for months.  They were not for a week, they were for months-sometimes years.  And my father was taken away from his home in one of these quarantines and of course he was a person that had to provide for his family and couldn’t do so and he lost a substantial [amount] of his earnings or whatever. But most importantly in my father’s case, my father—if I might-go back a little bit—when my father came to Detroit, he was an ordained minister.  He was an African Methodist Episcopal Minister in training.  And in the South he would take his eldest daughter, and probably his other children, to his trial sermons.  And my father was one who was an admirer of preaching.  And my father was a person who was truly gifted with the gift of gab.  He was a real raconteur and storyteller and a man of great charisma and vocal ability.  He was not a singer, but a talker by nature.  I think talking is one of the hallmarks of Battle genes.  His name was Joe Van Battle and we Battles we are talkers.  So he was diagnosed with this tuberculosis, but his response to that—he had been a religious man—and his response to that, he became extremely demoralized.  His eldest daughter (my older half- sister) tells me how he became so despondent at this abrupt ending to his normal life and his income, to his ability to work that he just became embittered at life- embittered with God.  He was angry with God. So he went through a very difficult thing. And when he emerged from his quarantine, first of all it was determined that he didn’t have tuberculosis to begin with because there were often incidents of false diagnosis. And he happened to be one of these people who had been falsely diagnosed.  It turns out he had pleurisy of the lungs which was another affliction, but not tuberculosis.  So he was very embittered and came out, from that experience, a different man when he emerged.  My eldest sister also suspects that came in contact in that quarantine with various people who were more or less taunting him about his beliefs. You know like Job.  You know, “Why do believe in God when you a situation like this?” kind of thing. But the whole situation wore on him and he was deeply disturbed by it and he came out very different than when he went in. That being said, when he did get out, he continued his life. Later on as a matter of fact, my other older half- sister (his second daughter), was diagnosed with tuberculosis and did have tuberculosis and she was quarantined for I believe two years. These quarantines were very long and their entire lives were changed and really affected by these quarantines.  This was a very not uncommon situation in Detroit. A lot of it was because of the conditions in Black Bottom.  See it is hard for us here today to be able to, with all of the space we have from the change in the built structures and destruction of the buil structures to understand how dense Detroit was and Black Bottom was extremely dense.  And the housing stock was similar to what we would find in Corktown. Corktown was the west side analogous neighborhood.  I remember Corktown before it became as developed and restored as it is now.  Those houses were much similar to what would have been here in Black Bottom.  However, the powers that be were not inclined to save the housing in Black Bottom as they did eventually in Corktown, because both the areas were slated for demolition. And apparently there was a real struggle that was waged in Corktown by a woman whose name escapes me at this time.  A woman who may have been Irish, I hate to not be precise about this, but she spearheaded a struggle in Corktown to not destroy that community and was successful to some degree. Now a great deal of Corktown was destroyed.

TB: Is this in the late 50s early 60s during the Urban Renewal movement at that time, before the freeway?

MBP: Yes, yes, before all of that.  She raised a real courageous fight and managed to hold back some of that destruction which is why we have remaining Corktown today. But for people to have an idea of what Black Bottom would have been like, it would have had been like the housing stock similar to Corktown.  Except it was bedraggled and ragged just like Corktown was. But also, Corktown had very poor Irish people, but it didn’t have the same level of just plain oppression that is associated with a segregated black community.  Also, another thing that is common misconception is that people tend to treat Hastings Street and Black Bottom in their destruction simultaneously.  People will sort of colloquially say “Oh when Black Bottom and Hastings Street were destroyed,” or, “When Hasting Street and Black Bottom were destroyed,” but in fact, Black Bottom was destroyed by decisions that were made by leadership in the city at that time. They were trying to stymie white flight. One of the tropes in the city and the false narratives is the idea that white flight began after 1967. And this is just so wrong and so wrong-headed. The white flight was so significant even by the early 50s that all kinds of measures were being taken to staunch this flow of people which was happening from downtown throughout the city in a certain domino effect as people were being suctioned by development in the suburbs and the need to develop that empty space that existed out there. You had a number of money making engines that were driving this flight and driving whites out of the city. Because of that you had a tremendous transition in living that was taking place in the city. But whites were leaving here.  After 1945, it was understood that there was a tremendous problem on their hands, because people were leaving here.  They were trying to figure out what to do. And Black Bottom was also here, and it was in a terrible state.  On the other hand this is peoples’ homes.  “It might be a bad place to live, but it’s my place to live” “It might be horrible, but it’s my horrible, it’s my home.”  It wasn’t all horrible.  It was parts of it that was more bedraggled than others. You had homes that were here that people maintained at a certain middle class order no matter what. It was a mixture of things. It wasn’t all a slum or anything. So this thing that Black Bottom and Hastings is analogous is not accurate.  Black Bottom is a specific area here on the East side, that technically the north boundary was Gratiot. And Hastings Street is a street that ran all the way from the river all the way to the Boulevard.  Hasting Street was a main thorough fare of the Eastern edge of Black Bottom.  But it isn’t just the same.  And they didn’t disappear at the same time. Because Black Bottom was razed and by the early 1950s it was gone. There was nothing here. It was a big empty space like we see big empty spaces all over the city today. It sat that way for a decade—just empty land—because there had been the promise that there was going to be something here to replace. Many people in Black Bottom were told, “Well, you have to move because we are going to build new and better housing for you.” And they were sort of tricked in this, because really that was not the intention to provide living for these poorer black people- that was not the idea.  They were really trying to figure out a way of how to maintain a population of whites in a sort of a rather suburban type situation. By 1960, the freeway—during that period of time… and I’m not good on the dates, but during that period of time the freeway had begun construction around 1960 starting from around the river and moving north. So by the time I was a little girl, and we ‘ll get back to my dad- my dad opened a record shop in 1945 on Hastings St., 3530 Hastings, near the corner of Mack. And it would have faced what is now the Western Service Dr. Like where you would go down onto the freeway at Mack, going towards downtown and that’s where the record shop would have been. And across the street going west, would’ve been the Brewster Projects right there where my dad lived with his family by those years. I always remember as a little bitty girl, I was born in 1954, and I remember as a little girl being well aware that I shouldn’t go over there across the way to the projects. Don’t go over there, and you know I was a little kid but was very aware of that I could not go over there. And it wasn’t until much later in my life, in fact only in recent years, that I understood that one of the reasons why was not just merely my personal crossing the street safety—but because my father’s wife lived in the Brewster Projects. Because he still had a wife and I didn’t realize this. My father had opened his record shop in 1945, about nine years before—no 11 years before I was born and in the early years of the record shop, my mother came to work in the record shop with him. My mother is a woman of particular beauty. My mother was a very, very comely woman as they say; and she was a woman that would have passed any of the brown paper bag tests of the time and which ones light skin wasn’t attribute for entry into the upper echelons of black society. Although she didn’t necessarily qualify for that, because her father was a working man, her father worked at Ford Motor Company was a very industrious Ford motor person. My aunts tell me stories about how they all remember my grandfather. He was a very industrious and very frugal man. They say that very euphemistically because they also say that he was real stingy but he was saving type of person and what have you, and he had a Model T Ford very early, when a lot of blacks did not have a car and he had a Model T Ford. My mother and my aunts all remember and would tell me about having gone to Chicago in their dad’s Model T Ford driving up Michigan Avenue the whole way. With blankets over there their knees, covered in blankets because of the cold, if it was in the winter time and they would just chug along you know, and it would take all day long to get there. He was a prosperous man—my mother’s father—he worked at Ford Motor Company and owned property. He was well-to-do enough that he bought more than one house, and he actually had moved from one neighborhood to another they just pick up the whole house and put it on rollers of some kind and they take this house and they would move this house down the street. My mother and aunts talk about how what an exciting thing it was when all the people in the neighborhood watched this house coming down the street to its new locale, its new lot. So my mother grew up with my grandfather being this prosperous man, and my grandmother, her mother, was a very religious woman. She was always deeply religious and she attended a church over here on Clinton St. which is now in the middle of Lafayette Park. In the middle of the park, that’s where that would sit- we figured it out from the addresses. In the old days, the old-timers often in the Church of God in Christ denomination, they often referred to their churches by the street names. They often did that because it was helpful for the newer people coming from the south who couldn’t read, and they didn’t have a way to identify places through literacy, so they would tell them, “You know we go to Clinton St. Church.” That church was founded by the Elder I.W. Winans, and Elder I.W. Winans was a real patriarch and a great deal of his ministry during those days of the 1920s was to not only spiritually guide his people, but to teach them how to live in this difficult Detroit. A lot of the ministry that he had was teaching people how to dress for the cold because people would just be shocked when they came to Detroit from Mississippi, from Alabama, from these hot states. And they would come to Detroit and just be overwhelmed by the utter cold and some of his ministry consisted of these auxiliaries of women who would teach [other] women how to dress their children for this cold to survive. So it was a very practical ministry as well as being very spiritual and very orthodox. So my grandmother comes up in a church environment like that, the church was on Clinton St. where they went, and eventually that church moved to Mack Avenue. It’s on Mack Ave between St. Aubin and DuBois, and that church is called Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ that was founded by the same pastor, I.W. Winans who moved his flock there. One of the interesting things about that is that it moved during the height of the depression, and now how they managed to move a black congregation across that far north to Mack, I am not sure except that the Eastern Market was also rather larger than it is now, and perhaps because it wasn’t quite as residential maybe, it wasn’t quite such an issue, but I remember when there were houses over there across the street over on Mack. But anyway when they moved him to Mack Avenue, they were having this church built, and the contractor was a white contractor and he did not believe that a black congregation could support a church—being built from the ground up because this was exceedingly rare to have a black congregation build a church, because generally African-American Detroiters would find themselves in church congregations in storefronts in the community, or if they were a particularly affluent denomination or congregation, they would inherit the church of another denomination. So many of the Jewish Temples became African-American churches  and many of the middle class churches, so it was very rare to have a church built from the ground, and I think that’s a part of its historical designation. It has a Detroit historical placard and designation, and I think that’s one of the reasons because it was built for its congregation in the 1920s. And the contractor did not want to build this place for them because he did not believe they could support a church, but they convinced him to do so, and he said only on a condition: that if he could make the church so it could be easily transferred into a factory, turned into a factory. He would only agree so that he could recoup his losses, when after they lost the church. However in short order, they paid that mortgage off in a very few years. Even the old timers that are there that remember their parents telling them that story, well there’s a few of them whose parents were living during that time, always speak with great pride because of that. That pastor who shepherded that congregation during that time, Elder Winans,  later on his progeny is the Winan singers and those Winans grew up in that church. So that area of my life has a lot of history as well and my mother’s maternal family. So my father hired my mother, she was coming home from church, because her church was on Mack Ave and St. Aubin. And just down the street was the record shop on Mack, just down the street on Mack and Hastings. So she would take the crosstown bus going home, and they would stand on the bus, her and her sisters. Now my mother is not only is pretty herself, but she came from this family with these five beautiful sisters. So my grandmother and grandfather had five daughters and they were beautiful women. So her and her pretty sisters would wait at the bus and they would take this bus home, and I guess one day she met my dad, now my brother’s older brothers says that when my dad saw my mother he said, “My goodness she can sell a lot of records, because she is such a pretty woman,” and he hired her—I guess she was a teenager looking for a job. And he hired her, and he was about 15 years older than her, so let’s say she was 15 or something like that then he was 30—he’s a grown man. He ends up hiring her and she worked in the record shop for several years before I was born. So she began to work there in the late 1940s. When the shop opened in 1945 she began to work there shortly thereafter within a year or two, and pretty much until I was born in 1954, I believe. Or either worked there off and on; however my dad supposed became enamored of her, and had a failing marriage that he was in with his first wife and ended up with my mother. And I did not know until I was well in my 50s, that they were not married when I was born because his first wife would not give him in a divorce in those days. In those days you had to be given a divorce, and she is very angry for this adultery. So he could not marry my mother and he did not marry her until not only myself was born, but my brother. And then when my sister was soon to be born, my mother’s entire maternal family put their foot down and said- look this cannot go down like this. Because this is utterly scandalous; this is unbelievably scandalous! My mother is the daughter of this eminently regarded church woman and she’s having these babies by this man who’s this really big man on Hastings Street. So my dad’s record shop in the meantime, had really taken off because he sold blues music. And he sold blues music to people that were coming from the south, and this was their music and because they were segregated in Hastings Street; that’s where they tended to be. That’s where they would congregate and listen to the blues: the music of home. He sold all kinds of records from Opera to pop music, to Frank Sinatra, jazz, he sold all types of music but he was known for blues music and he began to sell these records while my mom worked there and his older son, Joe Van Battle Jr., worked there as well. He was an integral part of the record store in those early days. So the record shop is coming along and my mother’s mother and my grandfather aren’t doing well and the end up splitting up. Because my grandfather was regarded in his real industriousness and relative affluence is also being quite a womanizer. And my grandmother apparently at one point had enough of it and was not going to tolerate this and my grandmother ended up leaving him. She had begun to save up for the process of separation. She saved up her money to buy a house. My grandmother did day work and cleaned homes, like many, many black women did. That was the most significant source of income for black women during that time, to clean the houses of white women, and the suburban women particularly in Grosse Pointe and the affluent suburb of Grosse Pointe. So that was what my grandmother did, she cleaned houses. She was also a nurse, and at some point, went to school to nurse. But at first I think her nursing was, of a natural kind of nursing, she was a care for people type person. She tended to always nurse people in the church, and I remember her being a nurse of the church. Back in those days, black woman would wear nurse caps and minister to people in the church. They would minister them in their divine exhortations of joy and distress, but they would also administer them in the healthcare needs that they had too. Because black people could not go to white doctors or hospitals or all these hospitals; they couldn’t go to them. So an entire healthcare network, formal and informal, developed in the city. There were black hospitals but they weren’t hospitals as we understand hospitals as being huge complexes and big buildings and all that. They were houses; it might be a large house that functioned as a hospital and it had beds and offices and things like that, and maybe a bigger house would do that. And there were various black hospitals throughout and where nurses would work there and all kinds of things, because there had to be some kind of way to service the needs of the community. There were also black pharmacies even though the pharmacies that were chain pharmacies that had pharmacies not only in Black Bottom, but as blacks began to move to other parts of the city somewhat, they began to have chains not franchises, but chain offices in other places. Segregation caused a great deal of self-reliance which was one of the more positive byproducts that took place as a result of that. So you had all these businesses and it was quite vibrancy to life in the Black Bottom and Hastings Street areas. It was also quite integrated area because there were many immigrants that lived in the Hastings Street area and the Black Bottom area, so there were German immigrants, and this is where we had the German churches over here on Gratiot. You had the Lutheran church, and you had a number of some Italians living here, and Lebanese, some the first people to come here from the Middle East, and a great number of Jews that were here, particularly from Russia. One of the people—I hesitated because I always call him a character. One of the characters that my father exposed me to as a child, was a man that was known as the mad Russian. Because he was this old, Jewish, big bearded curmudgeon, and he was this grouchy old man who was the wholesale record supplier, and he had a record store on Hastings Street too. He was a wholesaler, and you know because my father wasn’t the only record dealer in the city, there were dozens of record shops in the city, there were many record shops in the city, but my father’s record shop was unique. And he is unique because he’s a seminal figure in Detroit music because he is the first, we believe, independent black record producer of music in the postwar period. This is a very significant thing, because many Blacks were not producing music at the level that he was with his own record labels. He had several record labels and he was doing his thing like that. So my dad has this family of his wife and kids, and he’s askew with his wife, who is later not with him anymore, and he’s with my mother because his first wife is not letting him have a divorce, and now he’s developing a new family. He moves with my mom when I was a little kid, a baby to Hancock and John R in the Sugar Hill area, it’s quite swanky and nice but pretty much an all-black area as blacks are beginning to move outward a little bit. It was like a constant pressure moving out into these different areas outside of these areas to which we were restricted, testing the water in different neighborhoods, hoping you can live in an area that you would not be attacked or burned out or whatever. So they buy a house in Highland Park eventually when I was a little baby, like about three—two or three, my dad buys my mother a house in Highland Park and they’re still not married, but they lived as married all the time. I didn’t know that they weren’t married. I think that it was just so shameful that she didn’t want us to notice. So they moved Highland Park and my dad bought my mother a house, sight unseen, she had never seen it, he had just bought her a house. But he was in a financial position to do such a thing, which is really amazing considering he was selling records. You know a record cost a dollar maybe it costs $.69 at that time, but that’s a lot of records to buy a big house and all of that. He talked about in interviews that he had a stock of over a hundred thousand dollars and he was doing very well, you know very well. He was an avid golfer and he lived a good life, and he was quite the man about Hastings Street, he was the man. Then one day he goes down the street because he’s hearing about this man called Rev. CL Franklin, and Franklin already—his reputation has preceded him—because he is regarded as a phenom in preaching, he is just regarded as an extraordinary preacher. See the impact of listening to Rev. CL Franklin preach today is not as profound, because now his style of preaching is sort of normal with what we associate with Black preaching. This kind of demonstrative, singsong, kind of preaching, that is very strong and passionate preaching, and at that time he was a real vanguard in this kind of preaching. So he was extraordinary and people would come from miles to listen to Rev. CL Franklin preach. He had come up here from other cities where his church had assigned him, and his Baptist denomination had assigned him to be in the South, and then he was in Buffalo New York for a time, and they assigned him a post here in Detroit. He ends up coming to Detroit, and after a while his reputation is all over the place. Now he is a Baptist, and my mother people is our Church of God and Christ, what we call sanctified, or what was colloquially known as Holy Rollers, and these are not necessarily compatible denominations. But that being what it is, my dad begins to go down on Hastings Street to find out what’s going on with this Rev. CL Franklin, and he determines that this guy would be really something to record. Now my dad begins to record CL Franklin in 1953, he opened up his record store in 1945 but he began recording people immediately after that, but he did not have his own recorded studio. He would take a person who wanted to record, and he would take them down the street to another record store called Raise. Raise record shop. It was a record shop down the street, and they would have a little recording machine down there. They would record and my dad would get the tapes, or they probably weren’t even tapes, they were masters of some kind, and my dad would put them on his record label in the way that they do that. He would go to Owasso, Michigan in order to have his records pressed into records because there weren’t necessarily this technology here, they would go to Owasso. So they would drive to Owasso and I remember one of those trips to Owasso. And one of the things about Owasso that was very distinct about Owasso is it was called a sun down city. And that is a black person better be out of Owasso by sundown, or you else you were risking your life and limb. I do remember that, now I don’t remember any incidents but I do know that is one of the distinguishing things about Owasso, as well as the general sense of up north for black people in this area. Consequently because of this restriction of black people, one of the places that they went often was to Idlewild, Michigan. And there was a resort in Idlewild that was the main sort of place of entertainment and leisure. It was a main place that Blacks could travel to and go driving up 75 for a couple hours to get to this Idlewild. And they went to this place fairly often in the summer months especially, rode horseback and had a great time up there, and all the big singers would come there: Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, all the people would come there and play at Idlewild. So it was a way to have some semblance of a livable life, when you could get in your car and at least go there because you were restricted everywhere else. And Belle Isle of course was one of the very few places that we could go, and that’s one of the reasons why Belle Isle is very special to black people. Because it was essentially the only place that a poorer person who could not go to Idlewild could go get relief from the summer heat, to get some entertainment and respite in like that. But this was a period of time of great vibrancy, you had all these people coming from the south, you had black people in the north who are developing an entire new type of identity, you have a lot of music being produced. So my father had been producing these people, and then he began to produce people like John Lee Hooker, who was just a guy who would be just walking down the street. He would like to record, and he would come into my dad shop and he would sit in the shop, and would stay in the shop sleeping on the couch for days at a time. And these were in the early days of early recording, and then my father created a recording studio. He replaced a wall with a glass window and he created a quasi-studio, which was really sort of this junkie place that was full of his junk, so I guess it was like a man cave kind of place really.  ‘Cause I think my mother always sort of relegated us to, “Go to the record shop with your dad!” [Laughter] That’s one of reasons why I would spend a lot of time there. We would go to the record shop and my dad would cook dinner there. You know like a man cave dinner like chicken and rice on a hot plate. And we might even share it with the cat!  My dad loved animals and he would be feeding them too. So anyway, I’ve talked about all of this I have even gotten to the riots at all.

TV: That’s okay, let’s keep going a little bit.

[Break in audio]

TV: So, alright. We’re back.

MM: I had left a train of thought as far as my grandmother and grandfather. So my grandmother had been saving to buy a house from her monies as doing day labor and maybe she did other things. Maybe she sewed a little bit or things like this too, because there wasn’t a lot of actual work as we understand it today to do. Black women were not necessarily working at the plants at that time. So she did day labor and she had this job. That’s what she did. She was saving her money to buy her a place to live so she could be out of this unhappy marriage that she was in although she was never going to divorce him. Because she was a very righteous, sanctified-type woman and didn’t believe in divorce. I think she just felt that she needed to exit the marriage and not divorce. So she ended up finding a house on Clairmount Street. This is now in the mid-50s, no the early 50s and she’s found this house. It is an all-white area. Now Clairmount Street is the southernmost street of what we now call Boston Edison. It’s not in Boston Edison, but it’s the southern border after Boston Edison. It is a rather challenged area now, but at that time, I’m sure it was a quite a substantial neighborhood. She found a house there and she had saved her money.  And on the eve of getting this house and presenting the money to the realtor, the realtor comes to her and says, “Ms. Vergie, the neighbors don’t want you to come live here.” And perhaps he said it in some kind of other euphemistic kind of way or whatever. “Is there something we can do about this, can we work this out?” She was like, “No, this is where I want to live, I like this house, and I’ve saved my money and I have a right to live wherever I want to live.” And he went hat in hand and left and said, “Okay.” Well she proceeds to get ready for this move and finishing of the closing of the house and whatever she’s going to do.  And then they come back to her again, this realtor come back to her with an envelope full of money. And says, “The neighbors have collected enough money that will pay for all the money that you have for the down payment, plus enough money for you to move.” And this time she did not turn it down, because she was also fearful of what might happen if she did move and if she were somehow to get into this place. She was fearful of that, and I remember her telling me that in her very elder years before she became afflicted with dementia and she would tell me this story. And she was also a woman who had in the South—she was from Missouri—she had experienced hiding under her bed when the Klan had come into their home to get her brother. And being a little girl and hiding under the bed and watching the feet of the white men who came to get her brother. I don’t know whatever happened to that, I believe that he survived, because I knew who her brother was as an adult. And she also was a woman who experienced the Jim Crow travel in which train cars were segregated so passengers that were coming to the train station, the Michigan Central Train Station, would leave the South in segregated train cars and when they crossed the Mason Dixon line, maybe in Ohio or something like this, they could get back into other cars and then travel to the North, to the train station. Michigan Central Train Station is very important to black people here because it was one of the primary ways that black people ended up in Detroit from the South. Coming in from the various train lines from the various states: Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama. The train station is their first look at this city when they got here, this massive edifice, this symbol of Northern might. This magnificent thing and they came here like this. But also by the same token, if they were visiting and they went back down to the South, they could leave in the regular car, but when they crossed into the South, the car stopped, they got out of the car and then they had to go into a segregated car. My grandmother in one of these visits to Chicago, her older brother had moved to Chicago and was raising a family there. She had an infant child and two boys. And that infant child died—became sick during the trip and you know they were not allowed to get treatment from white treatment providers of any kind and that child died while on this train run. She talked about how she had to carry this baby on her bosom, dead, his body dead all the hours back because there was nothing they could do.  My grandmother was one who was a very godly woman, and what you would call long-suffering and quiet. She was what they would call one of the quiet saints—unlike me. She was very, very well regarded. But she had suffered some privations like that. And when this came to her about this, “You better not move. We’re going to give you this chance to get out of here,” she made a decision to take that money and run. And so she ended up going to Conant Gardens where she had heard that black people could actually own a house. And that is the Conant Gardens of which I spoke previously. And she was able to buy a house there. In fact—in my little girl coming up—that was her house that I always visited her at as a young kid, my grandmama’s house. And I had an aunt and uncle and cousin that ended up living there too because it was a duplex kind of thing. My particular history, I think, converges on a lot of different historical things like many black people’s do. In which our histories and our families are connected with a lot of very important historical movements in the city or things that are taking place. I just think that mine is kind of maybe unique because I was such a watcher as a child. But also because I had this life, this kind of peripatetic life of being connected and going over to this Hastings Street area and having these family in the Conant Gardens over here and having a mama in the ABC streets over here, and then growing up in Highland Park which was this totally middle class enclave. So my dad bought my mother a house in Highland Park. He ended up being with her through the years he met her after 1945 and then I was born in 1954 and then a couple of years, two or three years after that he buys her this house in Highland Park. This house is on the corner of California and John R. And it’s a magnificent mission style, arts and crafts style house—it was just magnificent. My mother was a pretty and my mother was one who was not in love with house work and all that. My mother was like my father’s trophy wife. And she was not in love with this house. I think all she could see was, “Oh my God, you know I like to keep my nails done,” and my mother liked to party and she liked to go out and she liked to be dressed up. I have inherited that from her. I’m a dresser. And my mother loved to dress and you know look good. So they lived in Highland Park, and they eventually had four children; I am the eldest of their four children. They finally got married when my mom was pregnant with the third child. But I never knew any of this until after she died because she took that secret to her grave. And then the truth begins to come out. My dad had the record shop, he begins in 1953. He had been recording various blues artists. His first recording was something called “Hastings Street Opera,” which is a classic Detroit tune. It is what we call today a spoken word, it’s by this eccentric poet guy that would walk up and down the street of Hastings singing and talking, and he was known as “The Detroit Count.”  I can’t remember his real name, but I know he was “The Detroit Count.” And he made this record where in which he recounted all the bars and clubs on Hastings Streets. It’s a real kind of novelty record, it’s a joking kind of record. He talks about going in this bar because there’s saw dust on the floor. He talks about, you know, he picks out these different spaces on Hastings Street. He says about my dad’s record shop, “Joe’s record shop, he’s got everything in there but a T-bone steak!” [Laughter] It’s just like a funny thing to say, but it’s also some truth in it, because my older brother talks about how when dad, if business was slow selling records, then he would sometimes dispatch my older brother to sell straw boater hats. He would have them stacked up outside selling those. Or especially, I remember him selling sugar cane. He would sell sugar cane stalks out outside, that was a real treat. Because that was something that was so—you had to realize the schism between those that come from the south and those that were born in the north. There was a complete different life. We, little spoiled northern kids, we were so disconnected from anything having to do with the earth, or farming, or the life they had lived sharecropping, or their southern rural life. We just would be either terrified or fascinated about anything approaching that. Even his old country friends, we were just scared of ‘em. And it’s because they had a certain gravitas about them, you know? And just like I’m sure there were elder Jewish people that the younger generations would look at them and maybe they’re Holocaust survivors, but nobody talks about it though. Nobody’s going to say anything about it, but they have a gravitas about their existence, and the kids sort of know that and have a terror and respect and regard about this unspokenness of the terror in which they lived. I think that’s sort of what we experienced, that we knew that there was something going on in the south that was very different from what we experienced. But the parents didn’t always talk about it, because they wanted to protect us from this reality, because they had gone through all kind of sacrifices to kind of live a life in the north and bring people up here, and I think a lot of times they didn’t want to burden the children and put a cloud in their possibilities. So a lot of times, they didn’t speak of the things they experienced when they were growing up. Now in my house, I had sort of this division in my own home, because my mother, wasn’t born in the south at all. She was a city girl, and her and her sisters. My dad was a country man. So this was like the source of endless foolishness between them. Because my mother, she was a little bit, you know, high society, and she regarded my father’s blues and his blues friends—she had a rather upturned nose about them and about his country ways, and his country food. He’d want to eat all this sort of country hog food, hog head cheese, and hog this, you know, country stuff and country life, and my mother, man she just ridiculed all of that, she couldn’t stand it. My dad loved to barbecue, and he’d have a lot of barbecues, and sometimes I’m struck even in Detroit, when we talk about a lot of the built structures here. People here have no idea of what it took for these black people who had come up here—many of whom came literally off of sharecropping farms where they were virtual slaves—to come here and to work so hard to be able to then be in these homes that are bigger and better than these plantation homes that they labored around back in the south! This was a profound thing that happened here in Detroit! People don’t understand what it took to even maintain some of these houses for even fifty years that they’ve been here! Because sometimes there could be a certain contemptuousness in Detroit, “The destruction of the built environment of Detroit! We have to reclaim this city!” Not really understanding the struggle that it took or what it meant to see this flight of people from here. To just watch people leave these magnificent homes. If I was a white person, in some ways, I’d be a little embarrassed, like, “Dang, what’s wrong with us?” Detroit has some of the most significant housing stock in the United States. And it still does, even with all the troubles we’ve been through, it still has some very significant housing, you know? There’s still this unspoken thing of, dang, what sort of people just up and left stuff like this? Because there’s a lot of convergences of things going on. I’m not pointing blame, but I’m just talking about the absurdities, the ironies, of leaving these built structures, of leaving these things because of the bogey man of race. Driving people out of their homes, driving people out. I don’t speak of whites leaving the city as an abandonment. I don’t use that term. I don’t believe that white people abandoned the city. I believe that companies abandoned the city. Companies, corporate entities, Chrysler abandoned, abandoned, abandoned. I don’t believe that people—families, husbands and wives, no matter even their racial feelings about black people, I don’t believe that you say that about families, that they abandoned a city. They left a house. They moved. They moved for a number of reasons. But I’m just preaching now, let me stop. Let me see where else I can go. So my grandmother ended up in Conant Gardens, my grandfather ended up staying over there in the house on Brighton, and that’s where I always visited him as a young child, my mom and me, and he had grape arbors on the outside of the house and we’d eat grapes off the back of the roof of the back of the house. There was a little factory next door and we were terrified of it. We were scared like the factory machines would get us or something, because they’d make noise—these factory machines, you know? And it was very noticeable the factory was filled with white guys that worked in there, but no black people could work in there. No blacks could work in these factories. So you would have these ironies of these factories that would be in the neighborhoods, and it was often tool and dye shops, and skill shops, and blacks were barred, effectively, from them. So there would be all these white guys working these factories, but black people lived there but they couldn’t work there. So we had that. The church ended up paying that mortgage off, very handily, and the church is still there to this day. At this time, it is pastored by Elder James Hall. I say that, because he shepherded the church through some years now. There had been a number of pastors previous to him, but he’s there holding it down. We’ve seen the whole neighborhood around it just disappear. The area between Mack Avenue and Gratiot is now virtually empty except for less than four or five houses. And that’s acres. And I can remember when it was teeming with people, when the houses were so closely connected next door to each other there would be this little path between the houses that sometimes you have to squeeze to get through. There were just so many houses in the city. So yes, the city has changed much. My dad ended up being quite a successful entrepreneur. He ran this record shop, and was renowned, and one of the most signature things that took place [Coughs] was two gentlemen from France in 1959 came to Detroit, and they were writing a book about the blues in America, and they were choosing three places to come to—Detroit, New York, and Chicago. And the man’s name was Jacques de Metra. He was the photographer in Marseilles. Cheveaux was the writer, and they were collaborating on a book. They had come from France, and they wanted to cover this, and they knew that when you come to Detroit, they knew the place to go was Joe’s Record Shop. And they went to Joe’s Record Shop and some of the most iconic photographs of the blues were taken there at that session. It just so happened that they got there and my older brother, my dad’s oldest son, happened to be there, and they said, “We want to write about the blues,” and he says, “Oh, okay,” and he gets on the phone, calls my dad, “Dad, there’s a couple people here wanna talk about the blues.” At the time of the late fifties now, you’re starting to see the beginning of rock and roll, and the music is changing. What you’re also seeing is blacks’ tastes are changing as well. And blacks are wanting a different music, not necessarily this country, rural-type music of the old days. They want the new modern music. Nat King Cole, smooth, and Harry Belafonte, these smooth singers—Frank Sinatra—all of this kind of thing. That was my mother’s music, she liked that. She didn’t like no country men like Howlin’ Wolf, singing about the train going through. She didn’t want to hear none of that, no Robert Johnson, none of that. So you have this division taking place in the tastes of people, and then the people that began to—it’s like an entire other discussion about what happened when these people from Black Bottom had to disperse, because an entire perfect storm of historical factors begin to take place, because by the 1950s, you had whites beginning to move to these new developments in the suburbs. So you had housing that had to be turned over and filled, and a lot of this was done by this real estate speculation and all of that. But this began to open up housing, available housing. But this is—you’ve got a problem. You’ve got restrictive deeds on the property. One of the most significant things that happened was that the Jewish people made a determination very unevenly and not totally, but generally, after much struggle and soul-searching and all of this, they made a decision that, “We’re not going to adhere to the restrictive covenants.” And they made that decision, so that blacks were able to move into those houses that they had vacated on the west side of Detroit, around the 12th street, Linwood, 14th street, Dexter area, that area which was primarily Jewish at the time. As this domino of housing began to domino north, so that was a factor in the movement of the blacks. Now housing is beginning to open up in other areas. On the east side, blacks begin toward the east. The Jewish presence wasn’t as great there, and it was a different dynamic to the move on that side. But on the west side that’s kind of some of the form that it took, that process had begun to start happening after the destruction of Black Bottom in the fifties, in which many begin to move to the further east side, and some begin to move to the further west side. Kind of on a class basis, almost. Maybe the more middle class, more well-to-do blacks begin to go toward the west side, and the more poorer blacks and working class blacks began to gravitate toward the east side. A lot of this was based on the housing stock as well. Because that substantial brick housing stock on the west side was very attractive, and it was probably much more expensive. So you begin to have this drift over to the west side, and Hastings Street began to be torn down in about 1960. By that time, Black Bottom had been gone for a decade. But it means that a lot of the business people on Hastings Street had been probably struggling for years because their market was gone, their primary market was gone. But you have to realize this encroachment took some time. It moved from the river, coming down this way, as gradually this crevice gets dug. And then the streets are being destroyed, and everybody can watch this happen, you know, you’re watching it! So we would go back, my dad now, he’s on 12th, and we would come back and visit Hastings Street.

TV: So your dad moved his shop to 12th street in 1960, but Hastings Street was still there and there were still businesses on Hastings Street.

MM: They were still there, a few businesses left. Because the encroachment was moving up, up, up, but those who were remaining were still there. Some of the businesses that were on that side of the service drive were still there. On the upper hill, of the crevice. On the western cliff of the crevice. That was the Chrysler freeway. So we would go back and visit, and I remember seeing this big hole in the ground and where it used to be stores. And I’m a little kid, I’m like six, and I remember going over there, and we would encounter The Mad Russian, who was the Jewish curmudgeon and he was real crabby, but I know now he was just playing with us. We would come in and he’d go, “AHHH, what do you kids want?!” and he had a big beard, and he was just this old Jewish guy, he would speak Yiddish all the time. And we’d kinda learn how to speak a little Yiddish with him. He was just like an old pirate. We really loved him because he was crazy about us too, and what he would do was he would—see, in this transition in the music, my dad—this [man] was a wholesaler—he would go and buy records, you know, the records he didn’t make himself that he was just going to sell—and he would go to get these records and my dad wanted to buy the old time records. He still wanted to buy Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf, and Bobby “Blue” Bland and all these people. Well, we’re here in this new generation, and we’re here in this new stuff, we’re hearing this. And gradually, we’re starting to hear these new people, and we don’t like this old stuff. We would go there, and he would sneak us records. He knew that we wanted, and in a way, in his way, he was reaching out to us, as these little kids who had their ear on what was going to keep my daddy in business. Because we knew what people were beginning to listen to. And so, my dad was reluctantly buying something by these—what you might call them? These jitterbugs, the Temptations! So he might reluctantly buy a few of those. But Aaron—his name was Aaron Harris, that’s what I find out much later, that’s his real name. And Harris was probably some Americanized form of his real name when he came here. But he would sneak us the new records by Mary Wells that we want to hear, and shoo us off. So he was really a charming old guy, but there was a lot to that, and this is not the story of my life. I’m just going on. There’s another person I want to talk about.

TV: Let me just ask a clarifying question. So 1960, your father had to move his store because he was on the east side of Hastings which was became dug out to be the crevice? Did he move because the neighborhood had changed and the business was moving to the….?

MM: It was my father being very like a stubborn man, was probably holding off as long as he could from the move. He and the Mad Russian. As the building encroached, as the freeway was being dug out, it became impossible, because what remained were the stores on the west side of Hastings Street. The east side stores were gone. The east side stores would have been inside the freeway. As this began to encroach, he just could no longer stay there as the building took place. They had to pack everything up and try to move it. And in the process, you know, they couldn’t take everything, and there were like hundreds of records that were left behind, just because they just couldn’t get the whole thing moved. And in the transition to 12th street, a lot of the entrepreneurs that could survive ended up over there on 12th street, so there was sort of a built-in community when they got over there of Dot and Etta’s Shrimp [Hut] company, I remember that, and there were a lot of other businesses that made the transition, but many of them died, because you can’t sustain a loss like that. Think about this: many of them had survived the transition coming from the south to the north. You also had in 1943, the riots, the race riots in 1943, don’t forget that. That’s a factor that’s—I’m not aware of it, because I’m a little kid, but the adults are aware of it, that in 1943 you have a tremendous race riot in the streets of Detroit. People being hunted down in the streets. There’s a really iconic photo in front of the theater on Woodward with the dome—is that the Bonstelle? There’s an iconic photograph of whites overturning a trolley car with blacks in it, trying to get to the black people. And this stuff was happening all over the city, so you have to realize that you’ve got that tension that’s there. Black people are very much aware about the struggle about housing, about where they can live and where they can’t live, that’s going on. There’s a lot of stuff brewing underneath the surface, even when they begin to move to the west side of Detroit. There’s a lot going on. There’s a person in particular, his name I want to look up in a second and tell a little bit about his story and I think that will cover this. There’s some very interesting historical things that take place in our different lives that you don’t even realize that they’re historical because you’re just living your life with your family. Okay let’s see. I’m trying to get to this one story of mine. I don’t want it [the audio recorder] to run out.

TV: Oh no, we’re good.

MM: I keep passing it. There’s some interesting people, and one of them was Dave Usher. Dave Usher was a friend of my father, and he was a white guy who was a part of the Detroit black music scene in those days. When we talk about the city, and we talk about these areas and all of that, we talk about them as being black and white and segregated, and this and that, but there’s always this—it’s not monolithic—there’s always some whites among these blacks, or people who were willing to transcend these color barriers. Dave Usher was one of these people. He was a white guy who came from, I guess, a prosperous family. He was friends with my father because he was real tight on the music scene, because in those days, Hastings Street, Paradise Valley, Sugar Hill, these were the areas of entertainment, but they were also the only areas where blacks and whites could socially mingle. So they would go to these clubs. Now the clubs might have had a level of segregation too, but there was also a level of whites being able to kind of go to these places, and even if it was that kind of slumming character to it, there were still aspects, still whites there that weren’t like that, and who were generally seeking black entertainment because they loved it and they loved the people, but Dave Usher was one of those people. And he was friends with my dad for a long time in those early days of the record shop. However, his taste or genres—he began to produce records himself, and became one of the hip cats, what they would call them—a hip cat. He began to record artists. But his taste tended to run toward jazz. And he eventually became very friendly with Dizzy Gillespie, who was a trumpeter. Dizzy Gillespie, of course, was a renowned figure in jazz, and he became best friends with Dizzy Gillespie, during these same years, in which he was friends with my dad. They shared many experiences together, they were very good friends. Dave Usher also happened to come from a family of maritime shipping people on the Detroit River. He’s like the black sheep that wants to do the artistic thing, but he comes from a family of business owners, and they own businesses, which involve ships and boats and stuff on the river, and the docks and all this kind of thing. I think even his family, or he even ended up developing this process by which oil, used oil, was recycled in order to reuse oil, which was a very lucrative thing in early years. But anyway, he came from a very prosperous, legitimate family in Detroit and he ended up being Dizzy Gillespie’s manager, and he’s one of these people in Detroit—they’re very unusual people in the city. He is one of those people, and he is still living as far as I know, at this writing, and he is over 90 years old. He gradually began to move—well his family was always in this business. And then that business in the ships, morphed into an oil clean-up business, and he became the person, when they had the big oil spills around the country, and around the world, that’s who they would call to have him do these oil spills—clean up these oil spills all over. So he’s a very interesting person who was a part of the Hastings street scene, and was very dear friends with my father, and musically, he ended up being best friend of Dizzy Gillespie, and his manager, for his entire life—Dizzy’s entire life. And he’s still living, he lives over on the riverfront in Detroit. Very interesting people that my life has intersected with, as well as a number of these radio personalities that I came in contact with in my life. My father ended up producing the albums of the Reverend C.L. Franklin, after he in 1953 was agog at this preacher and his possibilities, and he began producing Reverend C.L. Franklin’s records. He would go to this church and record these sermons because they were just electrifying. They were not only electrifying because of the spiritual messages, but there were also sometimes not very well-hidden, coded messages on the civil rights movement. What Franklin would do on these sermon times, he would basically be sending out messages through the airwaves of what must be done at this time, with these biblical parables about freedom, and about the need for education. He would do this all through, you know, “The Eagle Stirs Her Nest” was his first and most magnificent, one of his early magnificent sermons, “The Eagle Stirs Her Nest.” These were allegories for the need of things to happen in the world. So he was very, very renowned, and there were Reverend C.L. Franklin albums in a—I’m sure—a majority of black families in Detroit. I’m sure, he was that renowned. So my father ended up recording a total of, I understand the number to be over 75 albums by the Reverend C.L. Franklin. He was his sole record producer during all of those years. And then after the earliest recordings, the demand for these were so great on the market that my father contracted with Chess Records in Chicago, with Phil and Leonard Chess, in order for them to do the distribution of records, because it had gotten to the point where they were doing mail order, they would record a sermon, and then the calls would start coming in, “Send me that thing on the fastest train coming!” They put these boxes of records on the train, or send them [to the] post office. And then my father had a radio show, on CKLW. CKLW is an iconic radio station, it is a “white Canadian radio station.” [Sings] “C-K-L-W!” Any baby boomer in Detroit knows that! And my father leased air time on CKLW in order to have his radio show, and he played the records of the Reverend C.L. Franklin as well as other gospel music. It came on late Sunday night. Reverend C.L. Franklin had a radio show, so Reverend Franklin’s show would come on [at]—let’s say—10 or 11 o’clock, and my dad’s show would come on right after that. He had this radio show for some time, and my father would record the sermons, take the master tapes for the radio show, and he would record the sermons, and then produce the records, then take the records and tapes to CKLW, who had its American offices in the Guardian Building, and they would go to the top floor of the Guardian Building, and then do the radio show there and transfer the tapes and all of that. It was really quite a business that my father had for a long time. And then, because he was dealing with Reverend C.L. Franklin—you have to realize that I told you that earlier story about the Tuberculosis—because my father was not a religious man, but I do believe that he connected with his religious roots through his beloved relationship with the sermons of C.L. Franklin. I think he protested too much about how he wasn’t religious. Because I think that he was very engaged with these sermons as his own way of resolving those issues he had going on internally.  He also was an alcoholic; my father became alcoholic in those early years of hard partying. He was a partyer, he and my mom loved to party, and drink, and be in those night clubs of Paradise Valley, I’ve got pictures of all that, and they were have a great time. But I think that episode of the rejection, of the setback of the tuberculosis, changed him somehow in his internal makeup, and maybe gave him a propensity toward depression. As he began to see this music shift in the late fifties, the music began to change, and Barry Gordy was reaching an ascendence, and Barry Gordy in fact used to come to the record shop and talk to my dad about all of this music business and get tips and all of that. My brother says that one of Barry Gordy’s first recording machines was once my father’s recording machine. It was sold to him, because my dad just couldn’t get it to work right, and he ended up selling it to Barry Gordy. Many of these Motown artists would come by the record shop, because you have to realize that the record shop was on Hastings Street, but you began to have these artists that were beginning to be associated with the Motown sound. Like James Jamerson, as a famous bassist. And James Jamerson was playing on blues records that were being recorded in the back of my dad’s record shop, particularly of an artist named Washboard Willie. Washboard Willie was this unique percussionist who had this whole contraption, on which he played a whole lot of things at one time, and I would come home from school and sometimes Washboard Willie would be in the backyard. I didn’t like that, I was very embarrassed by that. I wanted my dad to bring Paul McCartney home. So growing up in that business was something big but to be a witness to watch Motown grow into a behemoth. And Detroit was literally quivering with creativity. Musically, mechanistically, spiritually, there was so many things going on in the city. It was so exciting, you know, and I feel that same energy right now. I feel the same thing now. It’s taken different forms of course, but I feel that same energy and creative impulse here. Which is one of the reasons why I’m so engaged with it, because I know that feeling from those days, having grown up in it, in that particular music and creativity and all of that. That was taking place, and my dad recorded all of these sermons by Reverend C.L. Franklin, and he also recorded the daughter of the Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin. Because she was a phenomenal singer, she had a phenomenal voice, and when she was 13 years old, she was singing better than most grown women. So my dad recorded her often in her church, in her dad’s church, as a part of the choir or standing in front of the choir, but she also, I believe, recorded in the record shop too. She spent many, many hours in my dad’s record shop. She was friends with my older siblings, my older half siblings, and she has told me in her recent years that she remembers him very, very well and very fondly, what a great man that he was, my dad, and was great friends with her father. So it was a great creative relationship that they had all of those years. I was very blessed because my elder siblings, despite the fact that we had this triangle between my mother and dad, my eldest siblings loved my mother—they just loved her—and they loved us too. They were very, very doting on us so that was a blessing in and of itself. My dad’s mother wasn’t crazy about us, I’ll say that. She was not crazy about us. I didn’t know who that elderly lady was that lived with my elder sister. I knew that she was related somehow, and I knew that she didn’t like me. It wasn’t until I was grown until I figured it out. “Oh, that’s why!” I guess you would say that I was a love child, along with my siblings, but we were very, very blessed in which our siblings really did care for us and my mom. Okay, that’s chapter 1!

TV: Okay, that’s great. Thank you.

 

Interviewer

Tobi Voigt

Interviewee

Marsha Music

Location

Detroit, MI

Files

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Citation

“Marsha Music, September 21st, 2015,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed November 20, 2019, http://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/267.

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