Over the past 60 years, Detroit’s popular music has been heard around the world thanks to the huge success of a handful of labels, bands, and solo artists. Though many of its great venues and places of significance have since been lost or abandoned, there is still plenty for fans of Motown, Eminem, Jack White and more to visit, from concert halls and clubs to studios and houses.
Where better to learn about Detroit’s greatest music label than the home where it was started and many of its hits were recorded? Berry Gordy’s sister Esther Gordy Edwards was responsible for preserving the original Motown Detroit studio and converting the whole Hitsville U.S.A. property into a museum after he relocated the label’s headquarters to Los Angeles. The offices and living quarters are now packed with memorabilia and artifacts, and the legendary Studio A remains as it was when Smokey, Stevie and more made musical magic.
The success of Motown was such that Berry Gordy was able to move into this amazing estate in the historic Boston-Edison District in the late 1960s. He lived there with Diana Ross, lead singer of The Supremes, in the years before he relocated the business to L.A. The Motown Mansion, as it is still known, was built in 1917 in an Italian Renaissance style.
Saint Andrew’s Hall
Though it dates back to the early 20th century, Saint Andrew’s Hall established itself as a staple of the downtown Detroit live music scene in the 1980s. It has since gone on to host countless important bands from Bob Dylan to Nirvana. Detroit’s own Iggy Pop, Eminem and The White Stripes all played famous hometown shows at the venue, and it was featured in 8 Mile. It remains one of the best places in Motor City to catch the next big thing.
The 54 Sound studios in Royal Oak are synonymous with Eminem, who recorded much of his albums The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show there. It subsequently got a shout-out in 8 Mile, with a promoter telling Eminem’s character, “Look, man, if everything goes well, you could be flowin’ down at 54 Sound next week.”
Though Cobo Arena (more famously known as Cobo Hall) stopped hosting concerts in 2009, its legacy for putting on some of the greatest shows in Detroit history remains. Kiss recorded part of their seminal live album Alive! there in 1975, as did local Bob Seger with the live album Live Bullet. Aretha Franklin played a momentous homecoming show there too, famously attended by Martin Luther King Jr.
The Grande Ballroom
Although it’s been closed for more than 40 years, you can still visit the remains of the Grande Ballroom, which was a focal point of Detroit’s counterculture in the late 1960s. In its peak years, it played host to heavyweights such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Cream, and The Who.
Jack White’s childhood home
One of the city’s favorite musical sons (even after he moved to Nashville), John Anthony Gillis, a.k.a. Jack White, famously grew up in southwest Detroit as the youngest of 10 children. His childhood home on Howard Street has become a site to visit for music fans since being featured in Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. The house itself is at 4828 Howard St.
The Majestic complex is home to several venues, including the Majestic Theatre, a former movie theater dating back to 1915, which has been one of the city’s top venues since the 1980s. Its Magic Stick club was a hub for the garage rock explosion in the early ’00s and saw Jack White infamously attack Jason Stollsteimer of fellow Detroit garage rockers The Von Bondies in 2003.
The Gold Dollar
Another staple of the garage rock scene was the Gold Dollar, which has been abandoned since 2001 but still stands at 3129 Cass Ave. Third Man Records recently released a limited edition vinyl of a White Stripes gig celebrating the release of their third album, White Blood Cells, recorded there shortly before it closed.
Located in Royal Oak, a wide range of artists have recorded at Rustbelt Studios since it opened in the 1990s, but it’s primarily associated with Michigan’s Kid Rock. Founder and producer Al Sutton had worked with Rock on the majority of his albums since featuring him on a Detroit Rust City compilation in 1996. The studio is located at 118 E 7th St.