An Excerpt From 'Detroit Country Music'
Appalachia at Atwater.
Published: December 10, 2013
The Kentucky voices and guitars blasting “Hamtramck Mama” from area jukeboxes announced to Detroit — and the rest of America — that a substantial number of workers from the South had arrived in southeast Michigan. William Levin of the Jefferson Inn figured this out relatively late, yet cashed in on the phenomenon. Levin advertised for hillbilly acts in music industry magazine Billboard. He hired many groups from Detroit and nearby cities (due to wartime travel restrictions), initiated weekend square dances, and sponsored radio shows by his artists. To improve foot traffic, Levin ended his door charge — an unusual move for show bars, according to Billboard. “His idea is a quick turnover,” stated an article from December 1943. …
William Levin’s Jefferson Inn gave way to scores of bars and nightclubs featuring country-western entertainment across Southeast Michigan. In 1948, the York Brothers, who had moved to Nashville in 1946 and joined the WSM Grand Ole Opry, worked Detroit nightclubs for 38 consecutive weeks. Western swing bandleaders such as Chief Redbird, Arlee Barber, Luke Kelly and Jack Luker kept Detroit bars crowded with dancers. …
Most musicians who began careers in Detroit before and after World War II continued entertaining until the ends of their lives in venues such as older country bars, social halls, picnics, and house parties. Meanwhile, commercial country radio stations spinning contemporary hits for a younger generation earned strong listener ratings. The Detroit Downtown Hoedown, a weekend music festival started in 1982, drew thousands of fans once a year to Hart Plaza (on the riverfront where Woodward and Jefferson avenues meet), to witness the latest stars from Nashville along with Michigan artists.
For most of the 20th century, talented musicians who lived and worked in Southeast Michigan added fuel to the nation’s country music machine. [In this book] we pay tribute to those who took part, reigniting a spotlight on pioneers of country music made in the Motor City.
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