You'd hardly guess it, but we're having a quiet anniversary here in Detroit. We're at the 100-year-mark of the Northern Migration, a time when black people in the South, tired of poverty wages and Jim Crow, packed up their belongings and began moving north in droves, drawn by the promise of greater freedom, and Henry Ford's $5-a-day profit-sharing package.
It's hard to get your head around just how huge an effect the migration had on Northern industrial cities like Detroit. In 1916, most Detroiters' idea of the "old country" was small Midwestern towns, European villages, and Canada. A century later, most Detroiters trace their heritage to the South. It has culturally enriched the city enormously. Without the Northern Migration, Detroit wouldn't be able to lay claim to a heritage that includes such great gospel, jazz, blues, Motown, and techno. Without it, we wouldn't have had Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, John Lee Hooker, Joe Louis, or Berry Gordy Jr., nor would we have had Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Proof, Dilla, or Danny Brown. Without their example to inspire, perhaps many of our best-known luminaries of other races might not have made the mark they did.
There's so much there to celebrate, and yet one time and place that gets chronicled on stage time
is Detroit's near east side of the 1920s through the 1950s. That's when most African Americans were settled in the overcrowded but vibrant neighborhood that was roughly where I-75 is now. Before the 1960s, it was Hastings Street, and it was the main drag that led from Grand Boulevard down to the black entertainment district dubbed "Paradise Valley" in the 1930s. (Earlier, it had been called "Black Bottom" — not for its residents but because of the rich, dark soil.)
Well, another chronicle of that era hits the stage tonight at 8 p.m.
It's called Black Bottom Paradise
, and it chronicles the arrival of "one family’s migration from Georgia to Detroit, struggling to survive in the Motor City." And, as you'd expect, it's quite a show, a "foot-stomping, hand-clapping, body-swaying step back into time, with a mixture of culture and entertainment. Audiences can expect lushly choreographed swing dancing, and glorious period costuming, an entertaining and uplifting way to honor the cultural contributions of black Detroiters.
Black Bottom Paradise takes place at 8 p.m., Sept. 23, at Music Hall, 350 Madison St., Detroit; tickets are $25-$55, available at Ticketmaster.