1.05.2009

IDLEWILD: THE BLACK EDEN OF MICHIGAN


The "Chitlin' Circuit" was the name given to a lot of clubs and venues throughout the Eastern and Southern US States.They were safe for African American musicians, comedians,and entertainers to perform at during the age of Jim Crow laws forcing their segregation (ending in the 1960s). Chitlin is slang for a soul food dish made from pork.


Some of the venues on the Chitlin' Circuit were the Cotton Club and Apollo Theaters in New York City, Regal Theatre in Chicago,Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., Fox Theater in Detroit and the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, and a bunch of 1 night stand places in the middle. A lot of these acts played Idlewild to incorporate some relaxation
along with work.


Many of these fabulously talented artists started on the chitlin' circuit, including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald,Lena Horne, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, The Supremes,
 
 Jackie Wilson at the Paradise Club

Moms Mabley, Ike and Tina Turner,George Benson, B.B. King, Richard Pryor, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Redd Foxx, Patti LaBelle, Jimi Hendrix, Gladys Knight & the Pips,The Temptations, John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Isley Brothers, and The Four Tops. ( The dancers were love with Otis)


And a Motortown Revue Dancer named Donna Dixon….I met Donna on the phone as she called into me for tech support a few years ago. It was just before the holidays and we struck up a long conversation as I fixed her computer problems. Donna was a backup dancer for the Funk Brother's band. They were the massively talented studio musicians that created the "Motown Sound"


See a bit of their movie:Standing in the Shadows of Motown HERE The touring company of acts from Motown were called the Motor Town Revue.Donna told me all the gossip "on the road"with the famous groups.She also sadly told me then how Levi Stubbs had just had a large stroke and was wheel chair bound. He would never perform again. See my post about him HERE



Donna told me about playing in the summers at Idlewild,Michigan's Paradise Club. This was an area of Michigan that I had never heard about and found it fascinating that there was very little information about Idlewild. Here is a little history from the book: Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan

Once considered the most famous African-American resort community
in the country, Idlewild was referred to as the Black Eden of Michigan in the 1920s and '30s, and as the Summer Apollo of Michigan in the 1950s and '60s. Showcasing classy revues and interactive performances of some of the leading black entertainers of the period, Idlewild was an oasis in the shadows of legal segregation.

Donna suggested I read a book that mentioned her and Donna's picture is in it twice! The book was written by Dr. Ronald J Stephens an acclaimed expert on African American History at several large universities.


It was a fascinating hour long conversation with a woman that has lived a fascinating life in Detroit. She is still as as sparkling as her costumes were back then.

5 comments:

-sphinxs- said...

Wow, nice blog. I was in Michigan for a year but i never knew they had such a fantastic background when it comes to music. If i am not mistaken it is where "soul music was born", i was right about Flint, the original motor city before the Big City Detroit. I was in a museum once but too bad i didn't pay attention to anything else but the cars. Nice blog, can we exchange links?

RetroKimmer said...

OH Yeah Detroit Rock is the best! Flint too! Gran Funk's Mark Farner is still a big crush I have. I am going to blog about him and them from their beginning. I appreciate yourstopping by!
We can trade links! I love that!

-sphinxs- said...

Hey, thanks for visiting my site too...I am sorry if all you saw was the "B-day post" in the coming days there should be a lot more interesting things there. Have you been in Flint? God i miss the place, i haven't been back since 05, though the Golden Era of Flint and the so-called Mo-TOwn is long gone, there's still quite a lot of things about that small town. Good blog! I will add you today.

Jon Campbell said...

ANOTHER great story, Kim. Although I was hip to that place, I'd never really known the depth of the story--or the fact that it went strong into the 60s. C-O-O-L!!!

Alfred Pierce said...

I used to go there as a kid growing up in Detroit in the 60's when it was still open.

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