Detroit Blues and Jazz

Although Blues’ and Jazz’ origins lie in the Deep South, the Midwestern cities such as Detroit and Chicago had an essential role in shaping these two musical genres during the early twentieth century. These two cities helped make blues “urban,” or adding a piano and rhythm section to the singer-guitarist.

Detroit was home to Big Maceo originally from Georgia, and a representative of the immigration into Detroit from the South. Unfortunately, many of the other larger artists resided in Chicago, due to their desire to record and distribute their music in a larger market. This lacking desire to record in Detroit makes it difficult and inaccurate to characterize Detroit’s blues and jazz sounds before 1940. The most famous artists from Detroit in this time period were pianists, however, suggesting Detroit was responsible for the “boogie-woogie” style of playing.

Although the scene wasn’t as big in Detroit as in Chicago, it provided great opportunity. Artists often played at parties and would receive good pay. Maceo claims, “the best money I ever made was in Detroit. Once I had a car and a chauffeur, I just left because I wanted to see the country”.  Detroit provided southern players with an escape from poverty and inspiration for their songs. Blind Blake sings in his song “Detroit Bound Blues,” “I’m goin’ to Detroit, get myself a good job/I’m going to get me a job, up there in Mr. Ford’s place/ stop these eatless days from starin’ me in the face”.

Music served as a source of expression. Detroit jazz bands were characterized by a mixture of society bands and blues, and he eventual creation of “big band” jazz . The McKinney Cotton Pickers became known as one of the largest big band jazz groups out of Detroit and toured the country.    The group infused the structure of “head arrangements” with the freedom of improvisation. Detroit was becoming a city of style and artistic flare.

This movement in music was accompanied by a number of dances such as the fox trot and would be a part of the spark of creativity in Detroit.


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