While the Aretha SuperNatural exhibit was assembled to honor Detroit’s Queen of Soul, our impetus had every bit to do with this neighborhood – the gallery’s spatial relationship to Franklin’s childhood home and her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church, and a profound sense that we are building on the same rock that buttressed young Aretha’s life and career. Here we are in the midst of it all, with Hitsville up the block, signs of historic black businesses still peppered across The Boulevard, and the aftermath of the ’67 riots palpable fifty years later. In paying tribute to Aretha, we also honor this West End Detroit community from which her voice first rang around the world, and all it has endured, cradled, and inspired. Through pictures and words, Marsha Music, shares a family story, a Detroit story, a story of Aretha and how this neighborhood grew to become a Detroit focal point of black music and enterprise….
JOE’S RECORD SHOP: From Hastings to 12th Street
by Marsha Music
Essay and photostory
featured in Aretha SuperNatural: Tribute to the Queen
“I wasn’t literally born in a record shop, but I might as well have been, growing up as I did, the daughter of a legendary pre-Motown record producer – Joe Von Battle – and working and playing in our records shops during all of my young years.
I have had a unique view of America’s economic and musical explosion of the last half of the 20th century. I grew up in Highland Park – a “city within the city” of Detroit – during its lush, green, prosperous days. However, I spent a good part of my life around my father’s old Hastings Street and 12th Street record shops. I was witness to the intense “street life” and the excitement of music and life in the tumultuous 1960’s.
Hastings Street was the western border of and main thoroughfare of Black Bottom – the community to which most African Americans coming to Detroit from the South were relegated, due to segregation. After the demolition of Detroit’s Black Bottom, starting in the late 1940’s, Hastings Street survived until about 1960. The record shop was then demolished to create the I-375, aka Chrysler Freeway. After the destruction of Hastings, the record shop moved, with other surviving businesses, to the West Side of Detroit, on 12th Street.
Down Hastings Street was New Bethel Baptist Church, and Joe Von Battle began hearing about the extraordinary preaching of the Reverend C.L. Franklin (father of Aretha). Reverend Franklin’s church services were played live on radio and heard far and wide in the Detroit area and beyond; he was already regarded a phenomenon – “a preaching machine.” My father heard about Franklin’s gifts as preacher and singer, and he began visiting the church to hear “the man with the million-dollar voice.”
Soon, Joe was recording Rev. Franklin’s Sunday night sermons and songs, mostly on the Battle and Von labels. Joe Von Battle was the sole producer/recorder of the sermons of Reverend Franklin and this was a relationship – and friendship – that was to last through 75+ albums and records, for many years. My father initially released and distributed the records himself, mailing them all over the country as demand for them increased. After a time, the songs and sermons of especially Reverend Franklin were mainly released and distributed by Chess records, where my father had numerous recording and financial arrangements.
My father would play Rev. C.L. Franklin records through loud-speakers onto the street, and passersby would gather in great crowds to hear the sermons and Psalms; the police often came to control the crowds. Joe’s recordings of Rev. Franklin’s sermons, done at the church, were clear and electrifying, capturing the excitement of Franklin’s choir and church services.
Many a night after church, Ms. Aretha, Reverend Franklin’s daughter, sat playing that piano and having a good time with my older half-brother and three half-sisters, who worked at the shop with my father (in later years, my brother and I surely plunked that old instrument out of tune). Joe Von Battle was the first to record her voice as she sang in the New Bethel Baptist church choir. He produced her first record, the gospel song, “Never Grow Old” when she was 14, and went on to produce many of her gospel songs before she moved to the larger record labels to sing secular music.
Musicians from far and wide found their way to Joe’s Record shop. Today, the remaining Blues and “religious” records that he recorded are repositories of an important part of the history of early R&B and modern Gospel. They are pure, raw and unadorned by later contrivances and techniques.”
Read more: Detroit writer recalls time when her father produced Aretha Franklin’s 1st record by Lauren Edwards | FOX 17 Western Michigan
Ms. Music is a self- described “primordial Detroiter,” and a “Detroitist”. She became an activist in her early teens in the social tumult of the late sixties, and was founding member of the iconic League of Revolutionary Black Workers. She was later a labor union president – the first Black, first woman and youngest in her local union’s history. Throughout all, she has been a writer, and has penned acclaimed essays, poems and narratives about the city’s music, and its past and future. She is a self-educated scholar, a noted speaker and presenter, and has contributed to important anthologies, narratives, films, oral histories, and an HBO documentary. In 2017 she was a narrator in the documentary film 12th and Clairmount.
Ms. Music was awarded a 2012 Kresge Literary Arts Fellowship, as well as a 2015 Knight Arts Challenge award; she was a 2015 Ideas City Detroit Fellow, and has received accolades for her One Woman Show, Marsha Music – Live On Hastings Street! In 2015, she was commissioned to create a poem about Detroit for the acclaimed Symphony in D, which she read in performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
A Detroit cultural luminary, Marsha was the opening speaker for the July, 2016 opening of the Detroit ’67 project at the Detroit Historical Museum, and was commissioned to create a poem for the Belle Isle Conservancy. She plans a book and a documentary film about her father’s record shop, with veteran Detroit film-maker Juanita Anderson, as well as a memoir of her own amazing life. In addition to her writing, she pursues a life of fiberworks, cultural events, and style.