Detroit Jazz Festival

Music Always Finds Its Way to Detroit

Story By: Meghan Simonie

Photos By: Jason Vaughn


Detroit may have left its mark on music history as Motown but it is known for a wide variety of genres. As Hitsville, USA, Detroit has been the birthplace of many other music types and musicians of all origins.

Cliff Bell's drum set


While very different instrumentally, jazz and blues music genres have very similar roots in Detroit. Growing deep prior to Motown’s renowned success, The Jazz Age had taken over the Detroit area in the 1930s. Some of the top jazz musicians came out of the Detroit jazz hub like harpist Alice Coltrane, trumpeter Donald Byrd, and drummer Louis Hayes just to name a few.

The architectural visuals and reputation for hard-working class people made a city like Detroit the ideal location for up-and-coming musicians in the early 20th century. And often compared to jazz but very different at its core, Blues also made its way through Detroit.

During WWII, labor was a necessity and the prospects for steady employment was brewing. Blues has already made its debut in Detroit in the 1920s. However, the message that Blues delivered resonated across all social aspects of Detroit and was the key to bringing so many together during uncertain times.

Events/Festivals/Local Attractions: Aretha’s Jazz Café, Cliff Bell’s, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Gospel Jazz Music, Jazz Night at Souls, Detroit Jazz Festival, Annual Motor City Blues Festival

Aretha’s Jazz Cafe, @ht_i_am

Live music at Tin Roof in Detroit


In the 1930s and 40s, migration from the west brought with it a strong bluegrass influence on Detroit. This western appeal increased country’s popularity on radio broadcasts and the story of the displaced southern rural worker inspired new country music, including Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City.”

Festival/Events/Local Attractions: Music Hall, Chris Stapleton concert, Toby Keith concert, Tin Roof Detroit, The Old Miami


Long before Detroit’s reputation was solidified as Motown City, gospel music dominated the city. Churches served as the main stage for many gospel musicians, including Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder.

Festivals/Events/Local Attractions: Gospel Jazz Music, Summer of Sounds, Palmer Woods Music, Love N Gospel Poetry & Open Mic Night

Gospel Music Cafe, @thedollfacer
Stevie Wonder mural, Nick Pham


Local legend Bill Haley delivered a huge hit with “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” at Detroit’s Olympia Arena. This local influence along with the rise of Elvis Presley, rock’n’roll swept across the city of Detroit. By the 1950s, rock’n’roll had taken over the radio airwaves, solidifying its place in Detroit.

Festival/Events/Local Attractions: Willis Show Bar, PJ’s Lager House, The Token Lounge, Saint Andrew’s Hall

Colors Presents R&B Only

R&B/Hip Hop

By 1950 the R&B community was active and strong in Detroit. However, its origin led from the Great Migration in the early 20th century when many African Americans came to Detroit in search of opportunities in an industrial city. R&B has evolved from other music genres like blues and jazz. Both Fortune Records and Motown Records have roots in Detroit’s R&B music history.

A genre similar yet so different from R&B, hip hop was built in Detroit through business empires that showcased individuals during rap battles, where their talent could shine. Eminem and Big Sean are two very notable artists from this genre with roots in Detroit.

Festivals/Events/Local Attractions: Detroit HipHop & R&B, Urban Fetes, Hip Hop Smackdown, Delux Bar & Lounge, Bleu Detroit, Exodos Rooftop


Later in Detroit during the 1980s, techno was born as a new style of dance music. Its popularity grew through some of Detroit’s local legends that sequenced electronic music to make the perfect machine-generated beats for the dancefloor.

Festivals/Events/Local Attractions: Movement Electronic Music Festival, T V Lounge, Whiskey Disco, Leland City Club

Mentioned Attractions And Venues

  1. 1
    Aretha's Jazz Cafe at Music Hall
    350 Madison Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  2. 2
    Cliff Bell's
    2030 Park Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  3. 3
    Baker's Keyboard Lounge
    20510 Livernois Ave., Detroit, MI 48221
  4. 4
    Detroit Jazz Festival
    1 Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI 48226
  5. 5
    Tin Roof
    47 E. Adams Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  6. 6
    The Old Miami
    3930 Cass Ave., Detroit, MI 48201
  7. 7
    PJ's Lager House
    1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  8. 8
    The St. Andrew's Hall Shelter & The Society Room
    431 E. Congress St., Detroit, MI 48226
  9. 9
    Delux Lounge
    350 Monroe St., Detroit, MI 48226
  10. 10
    Bleu Detroit
    1540 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  11. 11
    Movement Electronic Music Festival
    Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI 48226
  12. 12
    Cornerstone Barrel House / Whiskey Disco
    1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
  13. 13