(As Detroit is once again recognized by the world as a wellspring
of musical talent, thedetroiter.com columnist Francis Grunow takes a look
at an earlier chapter in Detroit's celebrated musical history.)
a desolate, truncated row of industrial buildings, Detroit's Hastings
Street was once the heart of Detroit's "Paradise Valley,"
an African-American community that thrived from the 1920s through the
1950s. The neighborhood extended from Jefferson Ave. to Warren with
Hastings Street serving as its commercial spine.
As the area's established Jewish population moved north
and west, blacks coming from the South looking for industrial jobs in
the Motor City moved into the inexpensive, wood-framed houses that lined
Hastings Street. The new residents started many businesses, including
drugstores, bakeries, doctor's offices-many of which were "firsts"
for entrepreneurial blacks in segregated Detroit. As the area developed,
a fully functioning, self sufficient neighborhood evolved. But what
Paradise Valley was most famous for was its music and entertainment
district, which came to rival Harlem and Chicago's south side.
like The Palms, Club Harlem, the Corner Bar, Jake's, the Ace Bar, the
Silver Grill, the Three Star Bar, The Flame, Sportee's Lounge and the
Horseshoe Bar would host nationally renowned performers such as Ella
Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington.
Homegrown talent was not to be outdone. Willie Warren, Baby Boy Warren,
Calvin Frazier, and Bobo Jenkins were just a few Detroit musicians who
made their names in Paradise Valley. A young Berry Gordy made the clubs
along Hastings Street his second home, developing his keen business
sense running numbers on the street by day and immersing himself in
world class music at night.
Lee Hooker arrived in Detroit in 1943 via Memphis and Mississippi playing
his unique brand of blues in places like the Forest Inn and Club Basin.
T-Bone Walker is credited with giving the guitarist his first electric
guitar in the late 40's, and a legend was born. Hooker was soon discovered
by the record producer Bernie Besman while playing with his trio at
Paradise Valley's Apex Bar and went on to record thousands of tracks
over the next half century.
the dreams of Paradise Valley were doomed to die a premature death.
During the urban "renewal" era of the 1950s, a huge swath
of land that encompassed most of the neighborhood was condemned with
a combination of Federal programs that dramatically altered Detroit's
landscape. The Federal Housing Act facilitated the demolition of hundreds
of "sub-standard" (read African American) homes and businesses,
forcing many Valley's residents into the new Brewster Housing Projects
on the eastern edge of Brush Park. Under the auspices of the Federal
Highway Act much of Hastings Street was bulldozed to create the stretch
of I-75 known as the Chrysler Freeway. During the period of highway
construction, over 3,500 dwellings were demolished, displacing thousands
the neighborhood is no longer, some Hastings Street veterans carry on
the neighborhood's torch, including 75-year old Eddie Burns' whose haunting
voice, harmonica and masterful guitar "hearken back" to the
heyday of Detroit blues. Burns was a Hastings Street regular and played
often with Hooker, among many others. Burns still performs today and
lives on Detroit's East Side with his wife of thirty years. The last
vestige of Paradise Valley's halcyon days, The Horseshoe Bar located
at 606 Adams, came down with the construction of Ford Field just last
For a virtual tour of Hastings Street visit. http://www.bluesharp.org/tour/hastings0010.html