SHDHS in Memphis: Day 2, Keep An Eye on the Sky

SHDHS Music Students Learn About the Past, and the Future of Detroit Music

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Our tour started out with a whirlwind tour of three iconic locations in the Motor City. Things began - as they did 'back in the day' - at United Sound Systems Recording Studios (USSRS), the oldest independent recording studio in the United States, and a catalyst for change in the industry as we know it. Just being in the various studio spaces, and hearing about the unbelievable history in this building was incredible.  Unfortunately, the building is in danger of being torn down to make way for an expanded highway, but there are a number of people who are fighting this action. United Sound Systems Recording Studios has a number of good friends including SHDHS Music Director Isaac Moore. Together with Carleton Gholz and a group of like-minded individuals in the Detroit Sound Conservancy, advocacy and preservation action has been ongoing over the few past years to historically designate the building and help save it from demolition. We will hopefully see the highway restructuring take a different path and spare the deep history that is United Sound Systems.

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Our group had a terrific tour of the various studios inside USSRS.  These rooms have seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Parliament- Funkadelic and the Red Hot Chili Peppers record hit after hit, and the spaces are still available for recording today. For more information about United Sound, visit unitedsoundsystemsrecordingstudios.com and for more information on the work of the Detroit Sound Conservancy, visit www.detroitsoundconservancy.org.

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Next we were off to Hitsville, USA! Also known as Motown’s Studio “A”, where we watched a film detailing the history of how Berry Gordy built his multi-million-dollar business from an $800 loan. The original house in which Gordy lived and worked, grew to involve a block of houses before moving into a commercial building that could accommodate all of the functions that had been divided up in that block. Motown eventually relocated to Los Angeles, but not before recording and releasing hundreds of hit records that were recorded in the “Snakepit” in Hitsville, USA. “My Girl”, “Dancing in the Streets”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and many, many more hits came from that little house on West Grand Boulevard.  It was an honour to visit such an important place, and even do a little dancing and singing on the studio floor.

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Before taking on the longest part of our journey we had a special visit to Third Man Records. Jack White, a native of Detroit and part of the famous White Stripes, opened the original Third Man Records in Nashville and then came home to open a large location in the Cass Corridor in Detroit that houses recording facilities, merchandise and performance space for music, poetry as well as art shows. The attention to detail, colour and function in the building made for a fascinating visit, and we all came away with a few goodies courtesy of Third Man’s staff.  Some students even got to play guitar through the same amps that Jack White used on the Grammy awards in 2004!

A huge thanks to these places for making us feel so welcome, and sharing their incredible stories with us!

Ahead of us lies a long drive which should see us arrive in Memphis around 1:30 or 2:00 AM on Thursday. Stay tuned for our adventures on this blog and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We are having an amazing trip so far.

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