Marsha Music and Claire Nelson

Recorded January 18, 2017 Archived January 18, 2017 40:26 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: chd000749


Marsha Music (62) tells Claire Nelson (40) the story of how her father's record store, a hallmark of the Detroit Black music scene, was burned down during the Detroit Rebellion of 1967.

Subject Log / Time Code

Marsha Music (M) recalls the night of the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 to Claire Nelson (N): It was hot and her father got a call that something was going on on 12th Street.
M illustrates Detroit in 1967 as being "in the throes of its magnificence." Motown music was played everywhere, cars were coming off the assembly line, and there was diversity to be found in every corner.
M remembers accompanying her father to the Saks Fifth Avenue lingerie department, where the saleswoman told him he could not afford to shop there.
M speaks on the nostalgia that white people currently experience of the city when it was segregated. She describes the the J. L. Hudson Building, a department store that was unwelcoming to Black folks and did not allow them to try on shoes or clothing.
M describes the Black Bottom neighborhood, named for its rich black soil, where most of the Black folks arriving from the Great Migration were forced to settle. Her father's place was on Hastings Street.
M recalls that her father did a recording for Reverend C.L. Franklin, a preacher down the street, and became his sole producer. He later became the first person to record his daughter, Aretha Franklin, as well.
M says she sees the destruction of Hastings Street and Black Bottom as tantamount to the destruction of a generation of Black wealth.
M remembers accompanying her father to 12th Street, seeing scattered glass and smelling extinguished fires everywhere. Her father's collection and life's work were destroyed.
M shares that the folks that were displaced from Black Bottom found a new community in Lafayette Park. She has taken on the mission to preserve the spirit of Black Bottom in Lafayette Park.


  • Marsha Music
  • Claire Nelson

Recording Locations

Urban Consulate

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type




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00:00 Beauty Brands

00:05 Claire Nelson age 40 the date says January 18th 2017. We're in a Detroit Michigan and I know Marcia from her great storytelling and teaching work around town. She's I would call her an inspiration and a mentor and a friend bless your heart.

00:31 My name is Marsha music.

00:36 I am aged 62 years old. And today is January 18th, 2017. We are here at the urban Council it at Detroit Michigan and my relationship to clear is she is one of my Detroit daughters.

00:58 Young women who I have become very close to in their work in Detroit in the reconstitution of this city, and she is one of the young women whom I admire and with whom I have worked on a number of projects. Thank you.

01:22 So it's dive-in. I'm really excited to have you here today because you've done beautiful storytelling and teaching around town for many years. It's how I've learned a lot about the history of the city and for this conversation because this year is the anniversary of the 1967 Rebellion here in Detroit. I know you've been really active in marking that occasion locally and I was wondering if you'd be willing to tell your story of your experience with that if you don't mind sharing some of that with us,

02:02 Yes, that is a a very Seminole part of my life and of the stories that I tell.

02:11 I would start out.

02:14 On the night

02:18 In a hot summer day.

02:21 It was very hot. It was in July of 1967.

02:27 And my father got a phone call in the middle of the night.

02:34 Someone told him you're you're you're

02:41 There's something going on over on 12th Street.

02:46 And of course this causes quite a tumble in the middle of the night.

02:51 But we also had a sense of what that something might be.

02:57 Because

02:59 We were in the midst of the real social tumult that had pervaded.

03:10 The culture of the city of Detroit

03:15 It was quite an environment. Then Detroit was such a dynamic town.

03:23 Detroit was still in the throes of his magnificent in in the buildings and the built structures.

03:34 The music was manifesting itself as just this amazing cultural explosion not only here but throughout the world Motown music was being played everywhere.

03:49 The production capacity of the city was at a height in which automobiles were turning off of off of assembly lines here the streets were so wide here in Detroit today that wideness has manifested in Detroit becoming really one of the bike capitals of the world because we have such white streets. But in those days those white streets had the purpose of accommodating this extraordinary traffic that existed here because of the density of the housing stock hear the density of the population and because of the intensity of work-life here in Detroit Detroit was literally turning

04:41 It was a cauldron of activity of culture and of a social dynamics of anger.

04:52 Because the

04:55 The promises of the new society as they call it back in the post Kennedy era.

05:03 Had not reached black Americans at the same levels as it had many whites.

05:11 And it was those disappointments that caused so much to rest in the community because there was a great deal of

05:24 Discrimination here. I remember when I was a child.

05:29 And

05:32 I went to the store with my father. My father was buying a

05:41 Nightgown of some kind or trusoft some time for my mother, you know, I was a little kid so I wasn't going to be really privy to that but he was buying this gift for my mother and he was letting me accompany him and we went to Saks Fifth Avenue, which was a major store in Detroit and in what we call today the new center area and it was a very Posh luxurious place.

06:06 And my father answered the store and went to the women's lingerie department didn't know the place where you know, all of the beautiful scented things in the lovely silks and downs were and I was a young girl and I'm got my daddy until you know, he have got him by the hand and I'm proud of my dad's got his big Overcoat on in his suit and the sales woman walks up to him and meet him at the threshold and just flat-out tells him you can't afford to shop here.

06:45 And

06:48 At that moment

06:51 It was a moment that just froze in time. You don't know what to do to respond to it. And I I don't even remember how my father responded to it. I almost hit it. If you might say blacked out my memory of it blacked out. It was so awful to me.

07:10 But this was the type of thing that was not in any way uncommon in Detroit in the sixties when we were children there. There's a lot of nostalgia here.

07:24 And there is a resurrection.

07:28 A feeling about Detroit here.

07:33 Particularly of whites who have left the city and are we gaining a certain kind of love for the city?

07:42 But they have a Nostalgia for a segregated Detroit in which they grew up and

07:51 Often still don't have a real sense of what it was like for everyone else in the city. So there can be a great Nostalgia for the Magnificent JL Hudson's building which at the time and the early sixties was the largest department store in the world.

08:09 And

08:12 Our experience of J.L. Hudson was very different because blacks could not work in most areas of the store black women generally can only be elevator operators and you can only be a certain color a certain light skin color in order to do that. You could you can work in the kitchens and in maintenance and things like that and I understand that Diana Ross was the first bus girl to work on the floor as a high-schooler and and it was a job of great great pride to be black and be able to bus tables, you know open but it was a there was it at Hudson's like when I was a younger child and we visited Hudson's because Hudson's was a real Center of Detroit life.

09:12 But as I said, it was different for us and it was for them and you could we couldn't try on clothes are our parents made it clear to us not just in the sense of admonishing a child. Oh don't touch that. It was more than that. We couldn't try on the clothes some Mother's even Drew like up drew a silhouette around their child's foot and then they carry that in their purse to the stores downtown because we couldn't try on shoes you would you would go to the to the to the shoe store the shoe department and you would tell the sales guy that this is a size shoe you wanted. I remember being you severely admonished about a a bonnet that I want to Easter bonnet. I want it and I just spontaneously grab for the hat and I remember being really admonished by my mother and

10:12 And she admonishment with a certain amount of fear to not try on that hat, you know, so this these changes that took place in Detroit and many people don't realize how much even the impact of Motown artists were not just musically but in Breaking some of the cultural bounds of segregation in Detroit because they were often they were high-profile celebrities in Detroit and then they had to confront some of this discrimination in the stores and some of the stores had to loosen up some of their policies because it was a light being shined on them with some of these Motown Stars shopping in the stores and you know, it look really bad, you know that some of the conditions that were experienced at the time we're there but I remember things like that and I

11:12 Remember how they were very clear spatial limitations about where we couldn't really could not comfortably go. So this was not in the olden days. Although I am older person. It was I was in our clear clearly modern times contemporary times. So my dad had that experience in Saks Fifth Avenue, he was a record producer.

11:42 He had been producing records in Detroit in his record store, which he opened in 1945 in Detroit. After World War II. My father's name was Jovan battle and he was a record man. He produced a the people that walked in it to his record shop off of Hastings Street, and because it was a reflection of the dynamism of the city at the time Detroit was extremely Dynamic there was so much intensity of activity going on at the time so many crowds of people

12:23 During shift change in Detroit streets were virtually paralysed there would be so many cars in the street going in and out of the boulevard to the city during shift change going in and out of these factories are there was so much going on all the time. And because it was a lot of work going on all the time. There was a lot of ancillary activity always going on on time. So all the stores around the neighborhood would be active all of the the

12:58 Miss a red light situation would be also active in certain areas, you know what you know guys get off work and want to have a good time and that kind of thing you had that as well. But my father had the Record Shop that he open the 45 on Hastings Street and Hastings Street was the main thoroughfare that ran through black bottom black bottom was the area of the city not far from the Detroit River where blacks were relocated to do to self segregation. It was known as black bottom. Not merely because black people came to live there. But because of the dark soil, it had been known as black bottom prior to the arrival of blacks because the soil was remarkably verdant of fertile and darken loamy soil

13:54 So black people would come up from the south and they by the 1920s were coming up by the hundreds had a particularly on the train station the Michigan Central Station and they were coming up from the segregated South and then they were facing another set of segregation as soon as they moved here and they were segregated mainly into black bottom. Although there were a few enclaves around the cities around the city that had African American neighborhoods a very few. So my dad's business cater to this community of black bottom and of people who were coming up from the south and bringing their musical here with them.

14:44 My dad's Record Shop was not in black bottom per se but it was just outside of black bottom and it was near what today we would say is the corner of Hastings and my soul my dad had this record shop there and after a few years and he began to record there. He began to record people like John Lee Hooker who was a Blues singer who would go up and down Hastings street singing and doing his thing and he would snow to stay at my dad's record shop for days at a time and my dad recorded many other artists like Della Reese when she was a gospel singer percussionist by the name of washboard. Willie who had a drum that was wired up with all kind of other accoutrements that made a lot of noise and made a lot of Rhythm and I remember one day him being in my backyard at home.

15:44 When I got home from school, I guess my dad was recording him there and I remember being just mortified at this country man being in my backyard with this drum set that had all kinds of harmonicas and drum stuff and all kind of a washboard and all kind of stuff attached to it. I was just mortified cuz I was a kid and you know, I was really cool, you know, and you know, and I just can only think you know, if you going to bring somebody home dad why you got to bring wash four-wheeler? Why can't you bring Paul McCartney home? If you going to bring somebody home, you know, but, you know, my dad had his record shop and it was he was the man on Hastings Street and he was had become renowned in the Blues world and he recorded all of these various people of Detroit.

16:34 In about 1953 It Came Upon him to go down the street to check out the

16:42 Preaching of a minister down the street

16:47 At a church called New Bethel Baptist Church.

16:51 And he had been hearing about this preacher that was caught a Preacher machine this guy could preach and he goes there and he encounters him and his name is the Reverend CL Franklin and my dad begin to record the Reverend CL Franklin and so he was the person that catapulted Reverend Franklin's recording career because of the recording said he did and he over the course of Reverend Frank his career record it probably over a hundred sermons and songs of the Reverend CL Franklin. He was his sole producer all of those years and because of that Association, he also recorded the voice of Reverend CL Franklin daughter who was in the choir and her name was Aretha and Aretha Franklin could sing, you know circles around anyone in my father was the very first person to record her voice and he recorded her first gospel record.

17:51 And over time she became a secular artists and moved to other a record labels, and then the rest was history, but they're recording careers began in and around my dad's Record Shop on Hastings Street in about 1960 Hastings Street was

18:17 On The Chopping Block

18:21 The municipal chopping block it was determined that they were not going to continue to have Hastings Street as we know it that they were going to destroy Hastings Street.

18:35 And so is this for a free way or another project for for a freeway black bottom had already been destroyed in the name of urban renewal about a decade before that process had begun.

18:52 And so after the destruction of black bottom, which also move people out of that area.

18:59 Then they began to

19:08 Destroy Hastings Street and they begin to build the Chrysler freeway what we call today the Chrysler freeway.

19:15 And

19:17 Bat removal of Chrysler of the Chrysler freeway really destroyed a really a generation of General generational wealth of African American Business people who had begun to service the community there in their various businesses the area of Hastings Street and black bottom was a kind of a a smorgasborg of Nations because people with first come here and they would settle in those areas particularly up people from Jewish people. It was a heavily Jewish area as well as even Germans Greeks and this is where we have Greek town today in the same area coming from the same area people from all over the world Lebanon began to settle their butt as they begin to

20:17 Simulate and move outward the blacks were always relegated into that area and remained. So when they begin to destroy Hastings Street that was quite a ripple throughout the community because number one where they going to go because of segregation is so intense. It's not like they can just go anywhere you had restrictive covenants in the Deeds of the houses throughout much of Detroit, which was the language that literally barred the seller. The seller would agree that they would not sell to a black person or a Jew Jewish person. And so this language existed in so many houses and it was one of the means by which segregation was upheld in the area and

21:14 Looking back TimeWise. It only been a few short years from 1943, you know in 1943 there was what was called a race riot and that 1943 race riot. White's literally attack black all on the streets all over Detroit where they could find them and they overturn buses and streetcars on Woodward Avenue in it. Was there some very dramatic photographs that exist of the 1943 Riot that emanated from Belle island moves outward and in 1943. So that was a race riot in Blacks retaliated. And so they were fighting all down in the streets here and then here you have it now and 1960 Hastings is destroyed.

22:09 And you have in 1967 you have all of this social come out and all of this simmering oppression that's going on because you have a very very strong police presence in the city. That is very oppressive. I remember that you know, when the police will come by you stood stock-still. You know, it was you were you were you understood that police make sure you you know, that's why a lot of this too many of us is not new some of the new police issues that we have today because the police presence here was so I was told was so difficult here back in those days and and it was that they kind of Spurs some of the activity on 12th Street in 1967. So my father had received this phone call on the 9th of July in 1967.

23:09 23rd and he goes over to the Record Shop on Haight on 12th Street because now he has moved he been over there on 12th Street about seven years from 1960 or so until 1967 where he at re-established his business and he goes over to 12th Street and finds that the unrest is full-blown and the next day he comes back and reports to the family. What is going on by this time? We knew what was going on because this type of unrest have been happening all over the country and it was like almost like a matter of time before I came to Detroit missing. One of the curious things about Detroit was that it was believed that that unrest of this magnitude would not happen here. The powers-that-be thought it couldn't happen here because

24:09 Detroit was an area of such solid housing of such potential for employment quality-of-life issues that it was thought that it couldn't happen here, but there was a and ignoring of the real term all that was going on underneath the surface, you know, where black could not get jobs in certain industries or sit in certain positions or you know that they would borrow them from skilled trades. They couldn't only works so high up in the factories aren't they were relegated to certain jobs. So you had a level of oppressiveness that existed all over the city along with the police presence to that. There was a lot going on, you know, that was a people were straining, you know, you had Vietnam veterans that were coming back from Vietnam at that time, and they

25:09 We're making up their mind. I'm not going to serve my country over there and then come back over here and live like a second-class citizen the same thing had happened, you know our generation before after World War II so my dad had been on 12th Street in the second day and he had gone over there to protect his store. He gathered up his gun and and sat outside the store with the other store owners to SSD as the Looting began to move Southward down 12th Street, and it was becoming much much more.

25:54 Much more uncontrollable and my dad after a certain point being the National Guard of whoever was in at that point the authorities told him he had to leave and he was always very bitter about that. I thought there was a part of him that you know, I always felt that if he could have just stayed there and protect the historic it would not have been ruined but it in fact was and along with the other stores, you know on that block, but he

26:30 My father

26:33 For some years had been Afflicted with alcoholism. My dad did a lot of real party in my mom and dad party and they did a lot of real party in the back of that record shop and a lot of very cool people musicians and artists party back there in the back of the Record Shop back in the day. So they had a lot of fun but that in all our sometimes can make a turn and and there was a turn toward alcoholism and so my father by 1960 and Hastings Street had begun to show the signs to other people who tell me now that they believe that he was really getting worse by 1960 because that move from Hastings to 12th broke him in a way and was very difficult for him to have to to shut his business down and then start all over again in a new milieu because the these stores over on 12th Street were different then I'm black bottom you had a different

27:33 More middle-class existence that had begun to set up over on the other side of town. Where is the old Hastings Street still has so many of the people that were still pouring in directly from the South but you had a more a Detroit assimilated middle-class that had begun to not only populate the west side over there. But even boston-edison blacks were beginning to live on boston-edison then and so you had a different type of culture and you also had a different music because by that time Berry Gordy who my father knew my father preceded Barry Gordy by about 15 years and Berry Gordy had reached his ascendancy and so he was making music right around the corner on the boulevard at his field and he's making the music that everybody wants to hear. So even myself and my little brother, that's what we want to hear.

28:33 Do not want to hear our Daddy's Groove notice whatsoever. We do not want to hear the blues. We don't want to hear Howling Wolf. We don't want to hear Muddy Waters. We don't want to hear that. We want to hear The Temptations. We want to hear the Beatles. We want to hear The Rolling Stones. We want to hear Smokey Robinson Martha Reeves. That's what we want to hear the new music and my dad he felt that you know, and it was coming from everywhere this change this shift, you know, so when the tumult happened in 67 on that night, I think that there was a part of us we when my dad went over to 12th Street that night that next morning my family that were still at home. We went out on on our sidewalk in Highland Park we lived in Highland Park, which is a which at that time was a very Lush

29:32 Green Enclave in the middle of the city of Detroit is a city within the city of Detroit where we lived.

29:41 And my week we could look out out on from John R Street where we lived we could look out over the horizon to 12th Street, which is a couple miles away and we can see the black smoke everywhere and we knew something really bad was happening over there. So after the first couple of days, he was no longer allowed going out to go over there. But then after a few days the authorities allow the business owners to come back into the area and on the first day that they could go back my father and my uncle and my boy cousin and my brother in other words, it was a guy Mission they they went over there and I don't remember anything isn't about that. But I remember the next day my dad took me and I remember the stench

30:42 I'll smoke in the evidence of complete Mayhem and the hellish nastase of 12th Street on that day when we return the helplessness of those burned buildings in those destroy buildings and glass everywhere and the stench of fire and I remember going into the Record Shop trailing behind my dad and I was 13 years old at the time and I had been particularly because of our dad's alcoholism my brother and I we had effectively been running the Record Shop even as young kids, you know, we were we had to be kind of hyper responsible because Dad wasn't doing well all the time. And so when we walked back into that record store and I can see all of these reel-to-reel tapes on the ground opened up.

31:42 They always came and Scotch brand flat square boxes. And in those boxes had strewn about and unravel in these tapes were all over the Scotch tape Brown Scotch tape all over the ground in the in this debris as weak as we kind of stumbled over all of this debris and that treat a n and I remember even as this kid knowing that there was a whole lot of voices in those tapes that would never be heard, you know, because that was probably my dad's lifetime of tapes and of all of these people that he have been recording for many years. So I have said and I do say that the day that my father walked into that record shop.

32:35 And saw that his livelihood like that had been destroyed and his life's work had been destroyed. I say that my father died on that day.

32:46 He continued to function.

32:51 Although he also he proceeded to drink himself to death. He no longer was employed and I don't know as a kid how they really survived. My mom had to go get full-time work for the first time in her life and he proceeded to drink himself to death and we then entered the world of the real hellish Ness of alcoholism as he became more insane by drink and also buy some physical ailments that he had at the time and he actually passed away on in 1973 several years later, but I say that my father died that day when he walked back in his record shop, but I don't think that only that killed him. I think he was killed by all of the things that led up to that to that Mayhem, you know.

33:51 All of that disappointments and the Discrimination that was so intense and the the ability to have to come here from the south and have to face and protect your children from the same thing that you tried to escape, you know is wearing and difficult and my father of he was a great man in his days on Hasting Street when he began his business and I am very very grateful that I was old enough that I remember my father when he was a great man on Hastings Street. So there was a part of me that held onto those memories, even when he was in his sickest and most alcoholic Lee insane in his late years, and I really have dedicated my life and my work in many respects to the upholding of his legacy as a pillar of Detroit music and and I have

34:51 Greatly aided by people who understand his significance in the development of the Detroit sound.

35:00 Thank you. That's a that's a hard story. Thank you for sharing.

35:05 Do you have I made some sense. It's kind of all over the place a little bit.

35:11 Okay. Alright. I just started out the way I would have wanted to I started up way over there somewhere. But today you live where you're near where your father's record store once was right. Do you have any thoughts on that? And also there's talk to of potentially covering the freeway that once decimated that neighborhood or is now just like real contentious and I don't know what to think about it. Well, I was your choice to live in the neighborhood you live in from your own personal history. Well, yes. Today. I live in Lafayette Park and Lafayette Park is the community that eventually a rose on the land that was there after that.

36:11 Destruction of black bottom and in the way that so many projects of urban renewal tend to displace people. That's what happened. The people were displaced from black bottom and then they build a new development there that most of the people that lived in black bottom really can't afford or have access to other some did and the new community sort of exist on top of the old one in a certain sense.

36:44 I have dedicated myself in many ways in that community.

36:49 Along with others there

36:52 To keep the existence in memories of black bottom alive, even though we're in a community that displaced it. I say that the souls of black bottom have given some

37:12 Kind of recompense from the heavens.

37:18 Because Lafayette Park is renowned is a very tranquil and relatively safe place and I always believed that because the people in Lafayette Park down through the years insisted upon making sure that that neighborhood remain diverse as possible. I believe that there was some spiritual forgiveness that was always extended to Lafayette Park and it exists as the only urban renewal project in the United States that remains and it is now on the national register of historic places. I will say that now that Detroit is becoming

38:08 A desirable place again and many of the real estate prices are rising astronomically or exponentially I should say Lafayette Park is experiencing a a real increase in value. Although I guess you could say it's really becoming properly valued and because of that less and less quote regular people will ever be able to live in Lafayette Park in the townhouses there that were designed by mies Van Der. Rohe the German architect.

38:48 Or in the apartments that ring those townhouses in the park, but I do believe that the colonel is there for doing whatever is possible in order to maintain Lafayette Park as a kind of Beacon for a living together in a level of diversity and in in in peace.

39:17 That's beautiful. What will you do to Mark the anniversary of 67 the Summer? Where will you be on that date?

39:28 July I don't know where I'll be on the specific day, but I will be very much engaged in a number of projects particularly around the Charles Wright Museum and around the Detroit Historical Museum in which I've been very engaged in ensuring that many stories of black detroiters in particular are included and are a main feature of the historic Gathering of documents and of the stories of detroiters, that is an amazing project that is taking place called Detroit 67 and I am going to be very active in some form or another of that this summer and in July in particular.