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
Thornetta Davis invited me to an event that captured how Detroit is Different for her “Around Detroit” feature. I attended the Marche Du Nain Rouge 2015 Parade with Thornetta Davis and her husband, James Anderson, on Sunday March 22, 2015.
The Marche Du Nain Rouge Parade is an event that launched in 2012 in recognition of a 300 year old myth. Legend has it that in 1701 French Colonist for the Detroit territory Antoine de le Cadillac met a fortune teller who warned him to beware of the Nain Rouge. Nain Rouge is French for red devil, and is thought to be representative of Cadillac’s personal faults and ambitions.
The Marche Du Nain Rouge is a parade that takes this concept to rid the Detroit of that very same “Devil”.
Thousands of Metro-Detroiters gathered in Detroit’s Midtown district to parade down Second Ave. The parade was full of music; guitar bands, brass bands, and boom boxes played the sounds of a joyous occasion. The parade is reminiscent of the Jazz funerals generally held in New Orleans. The costumes worn by participants were unique, their make-up was colorful, and many people danced along with the parade. I felt like I was in the second-line on Bourbon Street.
The parade was led by a float with the “Red Devil”. The float had an actor atop a car playing the role of the Nain Rouge. The car, which led the parade, looked like something from Mad Max. The parade was closed by a mix of butterflies which represent the transformation of Detroit (shout out to my friend and excellent dancer/instructor Tene from the House of Bastet who was a butterfly). All negative images, thoughts, and energy from the past year are thought to be released with the butterflies, freeing Detroiters from the devilish past and launching them into the new year, lighter than before.
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!
Thornetta Davis and James Cornelius Anderson became engaged to be wed in 2005. At times during her stage performance Thornetta will joke about the time it took for her to find “the right man”. If you’ve had the opportunity to witness James and Thornetta together, the impact of their bond is humbling. Thornetta is a gem of Detroit’s vocal talents. Thornetta carries a historic tradition of soul, blues, and rock divas of Detroit. James is a world class percussionist. James has performed alongside a collection of funk, reggae, and rock artists across the globe. Together their marriage is a mix of business, artistry, and spirituality built upon love.
This is the story of their memorable wedding day, August 17th 2008, at the 26th Annual African World Festival in Detroit’s Historic Hart Plaza.
For the three years during their engagement James and Thornetta were consistently approached with the same question: “When and where is the wedding?” Originally the wedding was planned to take place on Belle Isle. The Detroit Grand Prix derailed that. Shortly after the Grand Prix, during a performance at Detroit’s Tastiest, Thornetta and James realized they should have been married right then and there between performance sets. “We always wanted to get married outdoors while allowing the city to join the ceremony and celebration,” said Thornetta, “So when I saw the crowd full of family and friends I felt we missed a perfect opportunity to host our wedding.”
Days after the Tastiest performance, Thornetta received a call from Njia Kai, who is an event specialist that has helped execute and produce performances at major cultural events throughout Detroit for over 25 years. Njia knew of Thornetta and James’ plan to host their wedding outdoors and before Detroit. So when Njia took the helm as the event coordinator for the 2008 African World Festival, she reached out to Thornetta with a simple offer: “I’m running the African World Festival this year and I got three days so pick a time for your wedding”. Thornetta immediately shared the news with James and planning for the wedding began.
One of the most challenging elements of the process turned out to be the catering. Thornetta and James had planned their dream wedding. This dream was full of a mix of African, Caribbean, and Southern American foods. The director of Detroit’s Board of Health was originally not on board with the plan. Thornetta writes:
“Our caterer visited [Detroit’s Board of Health Director] a series of times and felt she was disrespectful towards her. Specifically she said she was ‘evil.’ The director of the Board of Health requested our caterer pay for an African World Festival vending permit, Hart Plaza kitchen access, and city permits. The collective costs for all this access was unreasonable. James and I talked our caterer into a final meeting with the director of the Board of Health and one fateful Friday morning we visited her office and waited. Luckily, as we waited three hours for the director of the Board of Health to arrive to work, we had the chance to fill out all the paper work needed to cater the event. So when the director of the Board of Health finally arrived to her office three hours late, and welcomed all of us [James, Thornetta, and the caterer] into her office we were ready. We sat down at her desk and she asked us: ‘so ya’ll still wanna’ do this thang?’ As angry as I was that she called my wedding a ‘thang’ I patiently responded yes. After that the director of the Board of Health continued to question us with every possible reason why a wedding at African World Festival was a bad idea … ‘where will people park?,’ ‘where will people sit?,’ ‘why do yall’ want to get married outside?,’ and finally she asked ‘what if it rains?’ I told the lady I don’t think it will rain because God got this. Immediately after I said that her whole attitude changed. She went from questioning everything I said, to helping us out. She provided clearances for kitchens, tables, chairs, and full access to Hart Plaza. Upon leaving her office that day she thanked us all for starting her day off so well.”
The stage was finally set for a wonderful occasion. Singer-Songwriter and Detroit native Kim had agreed to sing at their wedding years before, and flew in from his tour in San Fransisco to make good on his promise. The Bill Moss Jr. choir, who had performed at the Festival earlier that day, sang during the ceremony. Finally, Kenfense Cheike led a group of African percussionists and dancers who had also been featured in the African World Festival. Every element that was planned to be in the wedding of Thornetta and James came together in a harmonious celebration of culture, love, and Detroit. Thornetta remembers the honor of spending the day preparing for her wedding with her mother and daughter (Thornetta’s daughter Wanakee Davis was a fellow classmate of mine when I attended King High School from 1998-1999). The ceremony was one of the most memorable events in the history of Detroit’s African World Festival.
Today, eight years after the ceremony James and Thornetta are still approached by many Detroiters with the statement: “I was there”. “The wedding was also moving for so many people and their relationships,” said James, “Many of our friends who attended mended broken relationships and began new ones from that day forward.”
After the ceremony, James and Thornetta led their percussion ensemble to the Pyramid stage in hart Plaza for her performance. In her wedding veil, Thornetta performed for Detroit, sharing the joy of her wedding day with the audience. She opened her set with “Honest Woman,” written in honor of James. This song will be featured on her upcoming album to be released this year.
James wrote a poem that was placed on the invitations, reprinted here with his permission, in honor of Thornetta.
Once upon a time in the city by the river … There was a girl The blues she would sing A voice heard the world over There was a boy The music he would promote For the people in the city by the river Two people in the city by the river Two people who share The same hopes, dreams, aspirations For Detroit, for music, for love, On Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 3:30pm At Phillip Hart Plaza At the African World Festival On this day of love will be fulfilled As two unite as one in holy matrimony A reception jam session from 7pm to 9pm At the Nile River Jazz Club Stage With music to share and love to give A charmed life they will live And all is well in the city by the river
Artistry in Detroit has always been anchored by music. As the industrial age brought families of descendants of enslaved Black people, immigrants from embattled European nations, and hundreds of thousands of American White migrants from across America to Detroit throughout the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s; the culture of Detroit enriched. Vocalists and musicians from Detroit have ranged from Jackie Wilson, to Bob Seger, to Aretha Franklin, to Madonna leaving lasting impacts on music. The storied history of legends in Blues, Rock and Roll, Soul, and Dance music have changed the world. More importantly, the culture of Detroit music shaped Detroit. For the month of March 2015 I feature an active, inspiring, and talented legend in music; the Singer: Thornetta Davis.
I was introduced to Thornetta Davis by our mutual friend Paul Miles. In 2008 we both were performers at Palmer Park’s ‘Art in the Park Fair.’ Mile’s booked us as both as performing artists separately. Thornetta and I arrived at the same time. I was glad and humbled to meet her and surprisingly she was aware of my music. I didn’t have the time to tell her then that I had been a fan of hers for years.
I was introduced to her music in Los Angeles CA (Detroit music has an audience across the world!). One of my favorite places to visit is Amoeba Music in Los Angeles. It’s one of the largest record stores in the world. Stocking over 250K records (I think my music maybe shelved there). Amoeba Music has a ‘Detroit Soul’ music catalog. Amongst the complete catalog for Aretha Franklin, and Ortheia Barnes sat the music of Thornetta Davis. I was looking for Aretha Franklin’s ‘Spirit in the Dark’ album. I walked away buying Aretha’s ‘Spirit in the Dark’, Ortheia’s ‘Person to Person,’ and Davis’ ‘Sunday Moring Music.’ Ever since then I’ve been a fan.
Below is a link to listen to the song ‘Sunday Morning’ from the ‘Sunday Morning Music’ album.
Thornetta is the ‘Blues Diva.’ Her music and range of creativity is rooted in Blues and blossoms to Gospel, Soul, Rock, and Jazz. Davis (as many of my favorite music artists) creates music that goes beyond musical genres. ‘Sunday Morning’ is a song featured on her 1996 debut album ‘Sunday Morning Music’ that uses her vocals, and acoustic guitar to fulfill the track beautifully. The accolades she’s received throughout her career only further support her talents. Thornetta has been inducted into Canada’s Southern Blues Museum, won over 25 Detroit Music Awards (including Best Blues/ R&B Vocalist in 2014), and the Living Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society, all honoring her great talent.
The coolest honor I feel she’s had is the chance to share a marquee, stage, and performance with Blues royalty BB King at the Fox Theater. Thornetta’s performance only supports her talent tremendously. Recently attending her Valentine’s Day show with my mentor and friend Helen Love we witnessed Thornetta at her best. Her charisma, demeanor, and charm on stage build a bond with the audience in the style of performers like Nancy Wilson, Diahann Carroll, and Ortheia Barnes & Miley Scott. As a hip-hop performer, I find each of these women to have a talent in establishing a rapport, context, and relationships with audiences throughout a performance. This is style of performance neglects the 4th wall many performers use on stage. Thonetta’s on stage persona captures her humor, wit, and charm creating an experience that is amazing.
This month it’s my pleasure to feature the Singer: Thornetta Davis for Detroit is Different.
Tuesday March 3rd INTRODUCTION the Singer: Thornetta Davis
Tuesday March 10th MY DETROIT STORY: Marrying at African World Festival
Tuesday March 17th WHAT IF: What if Paradise Valley were still in Detroit?
Tuesday March 24th AROUND DETROIT: with Thornetta Davis
Tuesday March 31st DETROIT is DIFFERENT PODCAST with Thornetta Davis