9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo via Matthias Wagner on Unsplash)

By Lisa Green

December 13, 2023

You know Eminem, Stevie Wonder, and Kid Rock—but do you know the Michigan venues that made them famous? Many are still open.

MICHIGAN—You’ve seen the rap battles in “8 Mileand heard “through the grapevine” about Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown empire. But the Detroit area has so much more history than what’s widely known.

From hip-hop to soul to punk rock, Michigan has a diverse local sound that can’t be defined by just one genre. In fact, most of these genres started right in Michigan’s own Motor City of Detroit, diversifying through the decades and branching out into the surrounding areas.

Tracking the musical timeline of the area can be a little tricky, though. Fortunately, we’ve pieced together the development of a variety of eastern Michigan music as it’s developed over the decades—with iconic locations to go with them.

Detroit Jazz and Blues: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Baker’s Keyboard Lounge via Facebook)

20510 Livernois, Detroit

Much like other cities, Detroit’s historic jazz boom in the early-20th century was caused by the migration of members of southern Black communities to the north to find jobs during the Great Migration. In its heyday, Detroit’s jazz scene was comparable to those in Chicago, New Orleans, and St. Louis.

Black jazz musicians such as McKinney’s Cotton Pickers found prominence in Detroit’s jazz scene, primarily because of the predominantly Black neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. Within these neighborhoods, Old Hastings Street was Detroit’s version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, with jazz clubs on every corner. The adjacent neighborhood, Paradise Valley, was like Detroit’s version of Las Vegas. These neighborhoods were at their most prominent as cultural hubs in the 1930s and ’40s, where Detroiters of all racial and social backgrounds enjoyed the numerous offerings of live music and nightlife.

Due to racial segregation, many Black musicians could play in Detroit’s clubs when they were not allowed in other venues, which caused a surge of performers. Famous names such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday all played in these neighborhoods regularly. John Lee Hooker, known as “King of the Boogie,” pioneered an electric guitar adaptation of a genre called Delta blues when he started performing and recording in 1948.

Unfortunately, the cultural renaissance of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley had an expiration date. At one point, a third of Detroit’s Black population lived there, leading to high population density and negative social attitudes toward the district. When the Federal Housing Act of 1949 passed, it set in motion an urban renewal project and demolition of more than 600 homes and businesses. By the late 1950s and early ’60s, with the passing of the National Highway Act, the former Black Bottom district had been entirely replaced by the Chrysler Freeway, or Interstate 375, and Lafayette Park, a primarily white residential district. With Black Bottom went most of Detroit’s jazz clubs.

Although Detroit’s Black culture had been dealt a significant blow, not all jazz clubs were lost. The city’s oldest continuously operating jazz club, sometimes called the “World’s Oldest Jazz Club,” is Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, founded in 1933. Baker’s is located to the north in the Green Acres neighborhood, in the section of Livernois known as Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion, a historic district of Black-owned businesses. With a charming keyboard-shaped bar and dim lighting, Baker’s has played host to jazz greats including John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Nat King Cole, and Dizzy Gillespie. The jazz club is still in operation today, serving up delicious soul food and the sounds reminiscent of a bygone era.

The history of Black Bottom is still highly sought by the Black Bottom Archives, which seeks to preserve the historical significance of the neighborhood. Detroit’s affinity for jazz has primarily translated into its thriving hip-hop, rap, and R&B music scenes. However, the Detroit Jazz Festival has been operating since 1980 and remains a popular attraction today.

Flint Jazz: The Golden Leaf Club

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy The Golden Leaf Club via Facebook)

1522 Harrison St., Flint

The jazz scene is also prominent in the city of Flint. In fact, one of Michigan’s earliest African American jazz venues is located in Flint. The Golden Leaf Club is one of the only remnants of one of Flint’s oldest Black neighborhoods, Floral Park, also called Southside. During segregation and redlining, Floral Park was one of the only places Black residents could buy homes.

The Golden Leaf Club, originally called the Maple Leaf, was first opened in 1921 as a social club for Black people. During that time, Black-owned bars often had a difficult time obtaining a liquor license. Since social clubs were less regulated, this was a common workaround—and it worked well for the Golden Leaf Club.

Racial regulations on entertainment at the time restricted the times Black people could attend entertainment events. Thus, the Golden Leaf Club became a hotspot for Black musicians and performers passing through. Famous local musicians of the era like John Lee Hooker played on the Golden Leaf Club’s stage during the golden age of jazz and blues.

Today, the Golden Leaf has a laid-back atmosphere that unites people from all walks of life in the celebration and enjoyment of music. And it just passed the 100-year mark—so it’s got a lot of history within the walls.

Motown: Hitsville U.S.A.

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Motown Museum via Facebook)

2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit

Motown has become a genre of music all its own, but it didn’t start that way. Motown Records was derived from Detroit’s nickname as “Motor City.” Originally called Tamla Records, Motown Records was a record label Berry Gordy Jr. started in 1959 with a family loan with the now-famous Hitsville U.S.A. Studio A. The home was formerly a photography studio located in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood, with a recording studio in the back and living space on the second floor.

Over the years, Berry Gordy Jr. picked up several other adjacent structures in New Center to create a hub for Motown. In the 1960s, the record company branched into Los Angeles and New York, eventually moving the main location to Los Angeles. Today, the label is part of the Universal Music Group.

From Motown Records’ start in 1959 until 1972, the label’s sound was a unique variant of soul and R&B music that took inspiration from both the call-and-response patterns of Black gospel music and the syncopated rhythms and improvisation of jazz’s bebop movement. The result was a unique type of popular music that transcended racial boundaries, finding popularity among both Black and white listeners.

The Motown Record Corporation produced more than 100 top ten hits. Popular Motown artists included Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, and The Marvelettes.

The Motown Museum in Detroit provides tours of the original Hitsville U.S.A. Studio A and Berry Gordy’s original apartment.

Michigan Folk: The Ark

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy The Ark – Ann Arbor via Facebook)

316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor

Folk songs have been a staple of Michigan culture for decades. At least a century ago, Michigan’s lumberjacks, miners, and sailors on the Great Lakes traded in folk music recording oral and cultural traditions. These folk tunes often told tales of migrant populations and natural Michigan beauty, incorporating acoustic elements from guitar, banjo, and mandolin. This folk music legacy helped contribute to The Ark in Ann Arbor, one of the top music clubs in the world.

The Ark was created in 1965 by representatives from four Ann Arbor area churches that sought to provide a creative gathering place for students without alcohol and drugs. The early version of The Ark included presentations and dialogues with faculty and informal discussions with students. Shortly after opening, folk music became part of the offerings and it stuck. Some of the earliest famous performers included Iggy Pop and Gilda Radner of “Saturday Night Live.”

After opening, the four churches could no longer financially support the venue anymore, so The Ark set up its first major fundraiser, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, in 1976. The event is still held yearly to this day. Though the location of The Ark has changed three times, its commitment to folk music has held strong. The Ark and its folk festival are frequented by actor Jeff Daniels, a Michigander who is originally from the nearby town of Chelsea as well as founder and executive director of Chelsea’s Michigan Purple Rose Theatre Company.

Dance Pop: Menjo’s

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Menjos Entertainment Complex via Facebook)

950 W. McNichols Road, #928, Detroit

The legendary “Queen of Pop” Madonna started a dance pop revolution that would inspire divas for decades to come—and she’s from right here in Michigan. The “Material Girl” was born in Bay City and spent her formative years in the Mitten before she got famous. She attended high school at Rochester Adams High School in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.

During high school, Madonna and her ballet instructor Christopher Flynn started frequenting Menjo’s, an established gay nightclub complex in Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood. Menjo’s is supposedly the first gay bar that Madonna ever danced at, and both the bar and Christopher Flynn became an iconic experience inspiring her towards decades of LGBTQ+ advocacy. Though Madonna was allegedly kicked out of Menjo’s for flashing her genitals in the club, she remains a popular story for the gay bar to this day. In fact, they still have the original disco ball she danced under in 1976.

Other hotspots Madonna danced at are in Ann Arbor, dating back to when the entertainer briefly attended the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship. She most often frequented Rick’s American Cafe when it was known as Blue Frogge and LIVE Nightclub when it was known as Rubaiyat.

Proto-Punk: Sanctuary Detroit

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Sanctuary Detroit via Facebook)

2932 Caniff St., Hamtramck

Though the ’60s were most commonly associated with Motown when it comes to Michigan music, a thriving American garage rock scene was bubbling under the surface—one that would eventually evolve into Michigan’s proto-punk movement. One of the biggest names of the movement was Muskegon’s Iggy Pop and his band The Stooges.

Originating from Ann Arbor, The Stooges are billed as “America’s first punk band.” Another punk band from the area during the same time was MC5 from Lincoln Park, whose most famous song was “Kick Out the Jams.” Both bands are considered archetypal proto-punk bands and both frequently played in Detroit’s emerging punk music scene.

Punk music in Michigan was most prominent in the “Bookie’s era,” named for the former Bookie’s Club 870, a jazz supper club that opened in 1935 in Detroit. In the mid-’70s, when the Michigan rock scene was hard to break into, Bookie’s was more of a gay bar. A band called The Sillies decided to start a Detroit club that took inspiration from the legendary punk venue CBGB in New York City. What started as a couple local bands playing at Bookie’s soon turned into a venue for national touring acts, hosting acts such as The Police, David Bowie, Blondie, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, and more. The success of Bookie’s soon inspired other venues in the city to start taking on punk acts.

Bookie’s burned to the ground in 1989. It’s currently a parking lot just down the street from Menjo’s. Many other punk venues from the era faced similar fates and no longer exist.

As early as 1981, another venue that was also playing punk shows was Paycheck’s Lounge in Hamtramck. It was named after an expression often heard from the Polish immigrant owner: ”All’s we need is a paycheck.” Paycheck’s became one of the top punk venues post-Bookie’s, to the point that it’s currently considered the longest-running live music venue in Hamtramck. It became a fixture of The Hamtramck Circuit, which included three other venues. Before Jack White and his band The White Stripes became famous, Paycheck’s was one of the band’s recurring gigs.

In 2017, Paycheck’s Lounge changed hands as it became the new home of Sanctuary Detroit, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and hosting performance art events. It specifically was a busy venue for hardcore punk, metal, and emo bands. This way, the Paycheck’s spirit is kept alive, even after so many other punk music venues shut down.

Other former punk venues still technically standing include The Painted Lady Lounge in Hamtramck, formerly known as Lili’s, and Necto Nightclub in Ann Arbor, formerly known as the Second Chance. Sanctuary Detroit is a frequent venue for the Hamtramck Music Fest.

Detroit Techno: Saint Andrew’s Hall and The Shelter

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Saint Andrews Hall via Facebook)

431 E Congress St., Detroit

The immensely popular Electric Forest festival proves that electronic music is huge in Michigan. But on the other side of the state, Detroit is often called the birthplace of techno music, a legacy that shows Detroit music to be quite an underground hit.

The precise birthplace of Detroit techno is Belleville, also within Detroit’s Wayne County. The Belleville Three are Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, founders of the Detroit techno genre. All three attended Belleville High School in the 1970s and bonded over their experience of music and being Black students in a white Detroit suburb. The three learned how to DJ, primarily inspired by Parliament and Kraftwork, but listened to a variety of music, including cutting-edge tracks from overseas. Eventually, each member of the Belleville Three became associated with their own respective record label, with all of them performing in various groups over the years.

Emerging in the 1980s as its own music scene, Detroit techno was originally called progressive music. It paralleled the development of house music in Chicago. Detroit techno is electronic dance music that uses synthesizers, multi-track mixers, drum machines, and samplers. Unlike other electronic music at the time of its emergence, Detroit techno explores dystopian, Afrofuturism, and extraterrestrial themes.

Though many of Detroit’s dance parties were hosted in underground venues or dance clubs that no longer exist, a few of these historic venues remain. The most prominent of these still-existing historic techno venues is St. Andrews Hall in Bricktown, including its underground intimate venue space, The Shelter. St. Andrews Hall is a brownstone-style venue originally built in 1907 as a meeting place for the Saint Andrew’s Society of Detroit. It is most noteworthy for being the site of Eminem’s first performance.

Located underneath St. Andrews Hall, The Shelter played a big part during the rise of techno and hosted many DJs and house parties in the early days. Patrons enter The Shelter through a back alley entrance. Both The Shelter and St. Andrews Hall have a history of hosting undiscovered and emerging acts, often before they get famous. By the 1990s, the Shelter also became known for its place in the hip-hop community, famously serving as both Eminem’s first performance venue and the location for the rap battles in his movie “8 Mile.” Other legendary acts such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Bob Dylan have also played St. Andrew’s Hall.

The Belleville Three were part of the original lineup for the first year of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, now the ever-popular Movement Detroit festival. They also contributed to the early years of managing the festival.

Detroit Hip-Hop: Def Sound Studio

18315 Winthrop Ave., Detroit

Thanks to metro Detroit native and Grammy award-winning rapper Eminem, most Michiganders are already familiar with Detroit’s substantial hip-hop scene. His Academy Award-winning film “8 Mile” introduced the world to Detroit’s rap battle scene. But there’s a lot of things to love about the history of the hip-hop scene that you might not know.

Hip-hop music spread to Detroit in the early ’80s, as it did in many other large cities. Aside from Eminem, rappers like Big Sean, Danny Brown, and J Dilla have emerged from Detroit’s scene. The horrorcore rapper Esham, who incorporated imagery from slasher films into his lyrics, set the stage for both Insane Clown Posse and Eminem. But this hip-hop behemoth was slow to start. In 1972, the Detroit music scene was feeling a void due to the departure of Motown Records for a new home in Los Angeles. At about the same time, hip-hop music was starting to emerge in New York and had not quite been accepted by the Michigan music scene. For a long time, rappers and hip-hop artists were considered dangerous, a potential invitation for street violence. Many recording studios simply wouldn’t offer studio time to artists in these genres.

Thankfully, Jerry Flynn Dale was there to help. In the mid-1980s, a teenaged Dale built a sound studio in his home after learning sound engineering by attending rehearsals for his neighbor’s band. He was also learning from working at Sound Suite Studios, which had hosted recording sessions for acts like Bob Seger and Aretha Franklin. He took these skills to his own home studio, which he named Def Sound Studio.

A number of hip-hop artists have recorded tracks at Def Sound Studio over the years including D12, Smiley, George Clinton Jr., and Street Lordz. Slowly, throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s, more and more Detroit hip-hop artists began emerging, creating an abundance of hip-hop music.

Though Dale no longer lives there, Def Sound Studio is set to become Detroit’s third historic recording studio and first official hip-hop landmark.

Garage Rock Revival: Third Man Records

9 landmarks on Michigan’s east side where music history was made

(Photo courtesy Third Man Records Cass Corridor via Facebook)

441 W. Canfield St., Detroit

The rock group Kiss released the song “Detroit Rock City” in 1976 and Detroit truly did start living up to the name. By the late ’90s and early 2000s, Detroit was investing in a garage rock revival, sometimes called a post-punk revival. Though there were many local favorites, by far, it was Jack and Meg White, known as the White Stripes, who stood out.

Jack White and his ex-wife Meg were Detroiters who married in 1996 and eventually formed their two-person band. Much like John Lee Hooker before them, they innovated a sound based on the Delta blues. In this case, though, The White Stripes were playing more of a garage-rock version. Their first-ever gig was at the Gold Dollar in Detroit’s Cass Corridor.

In 2000, before they made it big, Jack and Meg got divorced. A year later, though, Jack White founded Third Man Records, eventually gaining a brick-and-mortar location in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. The name refers to Carol Reed’s “The Third Man starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

Third Man Records in Detroit is one of only a handful of vinyl pressing plants in the country and was the first one to open in Detroit since the mid-’60s. The location also had a record store, photo studio, stage, and recording studio. Tours are also available.




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