From timeless gospel traditions to the driving bass lines of Detroit house, these Michiganders keep us moving.
MICHIGAN— Those harsh winters that Michiganders often complain about can be the key to success, according to Hilton “Deuce” Wright, II.
“If you’ve grown up there [Michigan] you know that the winter will eventually end,” said the producer, who now resides in Los Angeles. “Being in the music industry, there are times you’re ‘snowed in.’ No one is calling and you can’t go anywhere.”
The calls come from near and far for the producer, who’s helped make hits for rappers, pop stars, and even television. But before Wright was a sought-after, award-winning producer fielding calls from the likes of rapper Big Sean and ABC’s hit show Black-ish, he was a Michael Jackson-obsessed kid from Farmington willing to show his moonwalk to anyone who would watch.
Today, Wright joins dozens of notable Black musicians from Michigan who are celebrated during African American Music Appreciation Month.
Wright says Michiganders put their mark on music all over the world.
“You can see just about any artist in concert and someone in their band is going to be from Detroit,” he said.
Beyond background musicians and unsung talent, The ’Gander compiled a list of notable Black musical artists from the Great Lakes State.
If you haven’t heard of some yet, just wait for their next season.
“Something about the spirit of the city and the state in general gives us this superpower that makes us allergic to quitting,” he said. “All you can do is hunker down and prepare for the next season, because the next season is coming. I got that understanding from being a Michigander.”
Though she was born in Toledo, Ohio, the famed alto moved to Detroit when she was two years old and has won eight of her 18 Grammy nominations. In 2018, BET presented her with a lifetime achievement award. Check out her 1986 breakout single, “Caught Up in the Rapture.”
The Queen of Soul has been heralded as one of the greatest voices of her generation. Though she was never officially signed to Detroit’s famed Motown Records, founder Berry Gordy said she was part of his family. Listen to her 1967 hit “Chain of Fools” below.
The once-homeless Detroit crooner came into prominence in the early 2000s with his hit, “Love Calls.” He graces stages the world over but always speaks to his Michigan home. Listen to that first single below.
Not all great R&B comes from Detroit, and Saginaw’s Stevie Wonder is living proof. With a career that spans over seven decades, it’s hard to pick a favorite song. But we tried anyway.
The Clark Sisters
Detroit’s gospel greats are known for changing the sound of Black gospel music, paving the way for acts like Donnie McClurkin and Kierra Sheard. Check out the trailer to their Lifetime biopic below.
The Grand Rapids pastor and vocalist crossed over from the gospel to the pop charts with his 2008 hit, “Never Would Have Made It.” While he’s retired from preaching, you may hear him sing a tune on his Instagram account.
Cass Tech’s own Big Sean hit the ground running with a debut single that featured R&B superstar Chris Brown. As the rapper ages, his music has become increasingly introspective. Listen to his song “Single Again” below and see how many Detroit landmarks you can spot in the music video.
Royce da 5’9”
Some hip hop aficionados argue that Eminem’s right hand man is the better lyricist. The Detroit native released his eighth studio album titled “The Allegory” this year.
The Southfield native and international musician manages to juggle Grammy nominations with teaching music at Birney K-8 School. Check out his performance at the Dubai International Jazz Festival.
The double-bassist and cellist was born in Ferndale and began his music lessons at age 10. He became famous when he joined the second Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s. His bass lines continue to be sampled by musicians internationally. Check out this performance by the Ron Carter Quartet at the 2008 Tokyo Jazz Festival.
The geographical origins of techno music have been debated for years, but most lovers of the genre recognize Juan Atkins as one of its pioneers. Listen to how the originator created a sound that’s now loved across the globe.
Waajeed is also known as one of the innovators of house music. Listen to the Detroit native discuss his musical influences and process in the interview clip below.