Randolph Street between Gratiot and Madison in downtown Detroit will be renamed “Michael Jackson Avenue” according to city officials and organizers of the second Detroit Music Weekend, June 14-17 in downtown Detroit.
The renaming, and other details of Detroit Music Weekend were announced Thursday at a news conference at the Music Hall that featured an appearance by Marlon and Jackie Jackson of the Jacksons.
The weekend, outdoor event will include free entertainment by some 500 acts including the Jacksons, Jeff Daniels and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, as well as a shopping day Saturday featuring Detroit-styled merchandise and food booths run by some 100 restaurants.
The naming of the street hit a roadblock, at least for now. After the event, Marlon Jackson told The Detroit News that he was confident the street would be named after the Jackson 5, not just his late brother. “We’ll work that out,” he said, as brother Jackie nodded. Behind the scenes, city officials scurried to see if they could make it happen.
And indeed, there would be no Michael Jackson without the Jackson 5. It was 1968 when the group, discovered by Motown artist/producer Bobby Taylor (with help from Gladys Knight) signed with Motown.
A group of Berry Gordy Jr.’s top songwriter/producers were sequestered in a room at the Hotel Pontchartrain in 1969 and commanded to come up with hit songs for the Jackson 5.
The boss, Gordy, even came by and jammed, helping them compose “I Want You Back,” which was released in late 1969. That and the next three singles--“ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” –all went to No. 1.
“Before us, there was no music for kids,” Marlon Jackson said later. And indeed, they invented a genre of teenage pop, spawning magazines such as Right On!, years before Michael Jackson’s solo career.
There will be a tribute performance honoring the Jackson 5 Friday featuring guest musicians (June 14), and at 9 p.m. Saturday June 15, after receiving a key to the city of Detroit, the brothers will perform as the Jacksons—with digital technology allowing for a tribute to brother Michael.
Marlon and Jackie Jackson spoke at the news conference, which touted Detroit's "Entertainment District," a cluster of downtown venues in the vicinity of the Music Hall that includes three major sports stadiums, four sports teams, and a number of theaters, all within a few blocks.
Jackie Jackson was effusive in his praise of Detroit music and its cultural impact on the world. “This is Detroit — you have Big Sean, Eminem, Aretha... it should have a music festival,” Jackson said.
While most of their music over time was produced out of Motown’s Los Angeles operation, they did a lot of recording in their first year here in Detroit.
“We spent most of 1969 here in Detroit, staying at Bobby Taylor’s apartment, and rehearsing,” said Jackie Jackson, laughing. “We signed to Motown in 1968, but nobody believed us. They said, when is your record coming out?”
“We recorded all these songs!” But the wait was worth it, he admitted, because “ then our first four records went to No. 1.”
At last year's Detroit Music Weekend, the city honored Aretha Franklin with a street named in her honor as well as the key to the city of Detroit.
“The purpose of Detroit Music Weekend is to articulate the impact our creativity has on our economy,” said Vince Paul, founding director of the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.
The city is working on officially designating the Entertainment District to highlight downtown Detroit’s theaters and other entertainment venues.
Susan Whitall is a longtime contributor to the Detroit News. You can reach her at susanwhitall.com.
Melody Baetens contributed
Detroit Music Weekend
Downtown Entertainment District, Detroit