This Grammy award-winning songstress almost single-handedly brought the jazz and soul influence back to contemporary R&B music in the mid-80s. A favorite of both fans and critics alike, she currently lives in the Detroit area with her family.
Dr. Ralph Bunche
Dr. Ralph Bunche won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for mediating peace in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Upon his return to the United States he was greeted with a ticker tape parade in New York and honored with a “Ralph Bunche Day” in Los Angeles – at a time when segregation was at its height. Born and raised in Detroit, no stranger to Civil Rights’ struggles, Dr. Bunche helped to lead the 1965 civil rights march in Montgomery, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also once turned down an invitation to serve as assistant secretary of state because of segregated housing in Washington, D.C.
Donald Byrd was considered one of the finest hard bop trumpeters of the post-Clifford Brown era. He recorded prolifically as both a leader and sideman from the mid-‘50s into the mid-’60s, most often for Blue Note, where he established a reputation as a sold stylist with a clean tone, clear articulation, and a knack for melodicism.
The Queen of Soul grew up and still makes her home in metro Detroit. She is considered to have one of the great voices of the 20th century. Perhaps no musician infused the gospel influence into American popular music more than Franklin.
Berry Gordy, Jr.
A songwriter and former autoworker, Berry Gordy, Jr. parlayed an $800 family loan into one of the most successful music venture’s the world has ever seen. Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and the original Temptations were just some of the Detroit-born talent that made Motown an international success story.
This singer and actress released her first hit album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number before finishing high school. She went on to release two more albums and star in two movies before her tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 22.
Thomas Hearns has held world titles as welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight and light heavyweight; four career losses have come against Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and twice to Iran Barkley; pro record of 59-4-1, 46 KOs.
Elvin Jones will always be best-known for his association with the classic John Coltrane Quartet (1960-65) but he has also had a notable career as a bandleader and has continued being a major influence during the past 30 years. He is one of the all-time great drummers (bridging the gap between advanced hard bop and the avant-garde).
No conversation regarding the greatest athletes of the 20th century would be complete without discussing the “Brown Bomber.” Louis, who grew up and trained in Detroit, held the World Heavyweight Boxing championship for an unmatched 13 years. His victory over German boxing champion Max Schmeling is one of the most famous sporting events of the 20th century.
This 19th century inventor was responsible for more than 78 inventions and 48 patents. Among his innovations was a better way to lubricate steam engines in motion. The quality of his work would give rise to the American phrase, “the real McCoy,” as railroad engineers and workers would ask for his inventions by name.
The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” made her home in Detroit. Ms. Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white rider on December 1, 1955 ignited the historic Montgomery bus boycott and helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement.
If you’re looking for the all-time number-one purveyor of mainstream romantic soul, Smokey Robinson may well be the man, in the face of some towering competition. With the Miracles in the 1960s, he paced dozens of tuneful Motown hits with his beautiful high tenor. As a solo performer from the 1970s onward, he was one of the staples of urban contemporary music.
Diana Ross, while still in high school, joined the Primettes with friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Barbara Martin. After Martin left the group, the Primettes signed to Motown and became the Supremes. Diana started working with Barry Gordy who renamed the group “Diana Ross and the Supremes”. In the early 1980s, Diana Ross left Motown and formed her own production company in which she’s had a number of hits.
Jackie Wilson was one of the most important agents of black pop’s transition from R&B into soul. In terms of vocal power, few could outdo him; he was also an electrifying on-stage showman. He was a consistent hit maker from the mid-‘50s through the early ‘70s, although never a crossover superstar. Wilson was well-known on the R&B scene before he went solo in the late ‘50s.
Stevie Wonder’s groundbreaking albums of the 1970s established him as one of the most important and influential popular musicians of the 20th century. He is also a celebrated activist, having campaigned for a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. and an end to apartheid in South Africa.
Coleman A. Young
Coleman Young was Detroit’s first African-American mayor and a former Tuskegee Airman. Before his career in politics Young established a reputation as a tenacious Civil Rights and labor movement activist. Never one to back down to anything, Young once told Senator McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities while being questioned: “I consider the actions of this committee un-American.”