Detroit is Different’s March 2015 feature was the great Thornetta Davis. We spent a month together sharing stories, artistry, and ideas. Saturday March 31, 2015 at the Jam Handy Thornetta Davis joined me for a live recording of the Detroit is Different Podcast.
We discussed her start as a vocalist. During our discussion for the podcast she highlighted her interest in the Blues. Thornetta shared the story of her introduction into singing, writing, and performing the Blues. Thornetta is a gem to Detroit’s artistry.
The most intriguing fact she shared was the making of her song ‘Sunday Morning Music’ from her first studio album. It’s one of my favorite songs from Thornetta. I offer you a sample of the song to begin the podcast.
Detroit is Different Podcast with the Blues Diva Thornetta Davis
Through the 1930’s and 50’s Detroit’s most active cultural district was Black Bottom’s Paradise Valley. Detroit’s Black Bottom was a bustling district full of restaurants, businesses, mix of migrants/ immigrants, and music. Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and a host of other premiere performed in Paradise Valley.
As Urban renewal struck Detroit in the 1950’s, Paradise Valley was demolished. Freeways were built in place of Detroit’s cultural gem.
Today I share Thornetta Davis’s take on: What if … Paradise Valley were still in Detroit.
Thornetta Davis is Detroit’s Blues Diva. I met her and her husband, (percussionist James Cornelius Anderson) for lunch last month at Cass Café. Cass Café resides in Detroit’s establishing Midtown district. Midtown is anchored by Wayne State University. A mix of coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique are currently flourishing the streets of Cass, Second and Third Ave. Music is missing! “It was so good to see you out at the Hop Cat for my show. I hope that it can stay open. Detroit needs places for music,” Thornetta.
Traveling America provides Detroiters the rare opportunity to witness how tourism. All destinations where tourism is prevalent, music is essential. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, and Chicago feature musical performance, performers, and venues. The wealth of musical genius throughout Detroit is unparalleled. Detroit venues featuring Detroit music are few and far between. If Paradise Valley were still here, that would be completely different.
Thornetta Davis’ Paradise Valley
“I love colors so I see a mix of it throughout Paradise Valley,” Davis. Reds, Blues, Greens, and other colors would fill window seals welcoming in guests. “Detroit is so divided. Races, ages, and most groups stay to their own. I know music could, and would bring everyone together. I see Paradise Valley being a place like that. I imagine it being like the Blues scene in Chicago,” Davis. Music as a main attraction would welcome Metro Detroit into Paradise Valley to hear what Detroit makes best … MUSIC!
Bourbon Street in New Orleans would be blown out the water by Paradise Valley’s Hastings and St. Antoine. The history is full of the storied performances from Big Mama Thornton, Joe Louis partying nights away, and Sarah Vaughn singing in clubs at dark and church in the day. Recognizing the past, while providing a stage for the present would be the role Paradise Valley would play for Detroit music.
“St Andrews Hall/ the Shelter play Alternative Rock and Hip-hop. Cliff Bells and the Dirty Dog do Jazz. Bert’s Warehouse has Blues. If Paradise Valley were here it would be a place for all music. I see Reggae clubs, next to Blues bars, next to Rock halls, and Hip-hop clubs too. All these places would feature live music. National acts would visit, but Detroit acts would be given the same billing, pay, and support,” Davis. “It’s so much talent in Detroit amongst players. I think the music industry would stay in Paradise Valley to keep a list of artists ready for tours,” Davis.
Thornetta’s role in Paradise Valley would be her owning, operating, and performing at “Thornetta’s.” “It’s always
been a dream of mine to run a Blues bar. BB King and Buddy Guy have places in Chicago. So I know I’d have one in Paradise Valley,” Davis.
Davis described ‘Thornetta’s’ as a Blues bar built on live music. A collection of acts from across Detroit, and the nation would bring their bands and shows. “I would want to have featured shows Vegas style for Blues. I’d give all acts the opportunity to create, and give a unique show. I wouldn’t give a standard set, and nobody else would either,” Davis. ‘Thornetta’s’ would feature a mix of healthy Soul food. The specialty would be turkey delicacies. All the food would be complimented by a full bar with a ‘Thornetta Davis Daiquiri’ full of color, fruit, and flavor.
That’s what would happen if Paradise Valley were still here in Detroit today!
In 2009 I was a business partner in the ‘1440 Collective Studios.’ The ‘1440 Collective Studios’ was a creative space located at 1440 Gratiot Detroit MI 48207 in Downtown Detroit. Conceptually the ‘1440’ could be compared to the maker space initiatives launched throughout Detroit today. The ‘1440’ mixed the creativity of public relations, music recording, music production, DJing, live band (music) rehearsals, and video production. It was innovative. The collective was founded by Nadir Omowale, Habiba Adams, Eric Campbell, DJ Major, DJ Man Power, and myself, in 2008. By 2009, Joey Spina and Davey G partnered. A host of artists, people, and tastemakers visited, supported, and conducted business at the ‘1440.’ In 2011 the ‘1440 Collective’ closed. Today it’s remembered for the parties, (musician) jam sessions, and music recordings.
In the Spring of 2009 ‘1440 Collective’ business partner, Joey Spina, purchased a Pro Tools recording module (Pro Tools is a music recording computer software and hardware brand). The day he bought the recording module he brought it to the ‘1440.’ Spina told me how excited he was about the purchase (I’ve always called Joey Spina ‘Spina’). I told him emphatically, “I’m going to be the first person to record on it!” We laughed about it. He agreed in one week we do a recording session.
Before that conversation with Spina, I had yet to record (music) in months. I spent the close of 2008, and start of 2009 performing, and promoting my first album ‘Preaching to the Choir.’ In that process I lost the drive to write, and record music. In a week of preparation I gathered my notebooks, and began writing.
Generally I write rap songs in three styles: premise, story, or slick. Premise is a style in which I brainstorm ideas to write the song. The brainstorming process is as important as the content.
In example: If I were to brainstorm the topic of Detroit Pistons, Isiah Thomas immediately comes to mind. Bringing more color to a reference, I would recall Terry Duerod. ‘In Detroit we on guard/ like the one that came town that kicked out Terry Duerod’ – example lyric unused. So for Piston fans (especially at my barbershop, Hawk’s off Schoolcraft and Southfield, what up Mike D!) it’s special. Isiah Thomas took Terry Duerod’s place on the Pistons. That fact makes the lyric clever. Duerod is one of the best U of D Titan basketball players ever. Mentioning him is symbolic to Detroit.
The story style engages the listener in a conversation as though we know one another. Finally the slick style is a culmination of lines that I wind together in rhyme schemes, patterns, consonant placement, and alliteration to give a rap character.
‘Use to Be,’ blends the style of premise and story. The recording session also featured two vocalists; Fee Graffiti, and Polka Dot. Fee Graffiti is a singer I knew for years. We met through her boyfriend Doug Greenwood who produced music for me. She graduated from MSU with a degree in communications. She was looking for vocal and studio experience. Polka Dot is a business partner to my friend Kaunn. We met upon Kaunn insisting that we should record together. When the opportunity opened up to record music, I called.
Recording was fun. Spina had the studio set up with three open microphones. The only headphones for the sessions were used by Joey Spina. I rapped short segments of songs. Spina played along finding chords to match. When we agreed upon matching chords, I’d arrange a hook with Fee Graffiti, or Polka Dot. In two hours we recorded seven songs. The most notable songs of the seven were ‘Teddy Bears Tied Up to Trees,” and “Use to Be.”
After the session was wrapped up we shared shots of Bourbon (Spina always drank Bourbon). Two weeks later Spina gave me the sessions. I placed the ‘Use to Be’ on my ‘Notes of an Artist and Activist I’ album.
The recording is very special to me. ‘Use to Be,’ has a blues feel and I LOVE BLUES. The characters, personal relationships, and essence of Keb Mo, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others capture my imagination. I’ve always felt the hip-hop experience is as interpersonal to me as Blues. I also appreciate the manner and style it changes dependent upon the mood of the artist. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music,” Billie Holiday. That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of the most powerful voices to be recorded. RIP Lady Day.
Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008
PRESS PLAY and HEAR THE MUSIC!