50 States in 50 Days: Michigan – Pure Michigan

Posted by: John Engstrom, Anti-Corruption Resident Legal Advisor

Читати українською

Michigan is commonly referred to as “the Great Lakes State,” in reference to the fact that its mitten-shaped border is virtually surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes (Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron and Erie). Michigan’s largest city, Detroit, is often referred to as the “Motor City” and “Motown,” in reference to the fact that Detroit is the automobile capital of the world. While Michigan is often defined by its lakes and cars, for me Michigan is also defined by its rich and diverse music, as I’ll explain below.

Michigan Isle Royale National Park

Certainly cars and lakes are a big deal in Michigan. Although the automobile was not invented in Michigan, Henry Ford transformed the world of manufacturing when he perfected assembly line production of his “Model T.” The development of Ford’s assembly line radically transformed not only the nascent automobile industry, but all manufacturing. Because of assembly line manufacturing, automobiles suddenly became affordable for a tremendous number of Americans, not only the very rich. In 1914, an assembly line worker at Ford could purchase a Model T with four month’s pay. During World War II the U.S. automobile companies efficiently transformed into weapons manufacturing facilities, supplying the United States and its allies (including the Soviet Union) with state of the art weapons. Today, metropolitan Detroit remains the automobile capital of the world and the home of Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler.

Old Ford cars in a museum

Virtually surrounded by the Great Lakes, Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world and more shoreline than any state, except Alaska. Moreover, Michigan has over 11,000 inland lakes. Twenty percent of the world’s fresh surface water is contained in the Great Lakes, which guarantees Michigan a plentiful supply of water to support its agriculture and tourism industries. Every summer, Northern Michigan in particular draws visitors from around the world to enjoy its beaches, golf courses, camps and natural beauty. These short “Pure Michigan” advertisements capture some of Michigan’s natural charm:


Michigan’s music often reflects the rich and often gritty, industrial environment from which it was produced. Michigan’s love for its homegrown music and musicians was reflected in a Chrysler advertisement that premiered during the 2011 Superbowl, featuring Michigan’s most famous rapper, Eminem.


The Detroit area’s diverse population, including French, German, Hispanic, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and African American mixes many rich cultural traditions. This melting pot has produced some of the United States’ finest music and musicians in the fields of jazz, early punk and garage rock, Motown and soul, rock and roll, and techno. In jazz, for instance, Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, James Carter and Kenny Garrett all rose out of the Detroit jazz scene. In the past year, post-bop saxophonist Kenny Garrett has played to enthusiastic Ukrainian audiences in both Kyiv and Lviv.

Of course, Detroit is most identified with Motown music from the 1960s and early 1970s. Motown records and the Motown sound was founded by a Ford assembly-line worker named Barry Gordy. In a manner similar to Ford’s assembly line, Gordy produced original music by then-unknown African American musicians that quickly gained international popularity; the songs were written by a team of songwriters, the music was performed by a house band (now known as the “Funk Brothers”), and the singers were hand-picked by Gordy. All of the songs were recorded in a single Detroit house (currently a museum in Detroit) and when the musicians were not performing, they were expected to package their records in the same house. Motown’s musicians were some of the first African American groups to gain immense popularity outside of the African American community. In this way, they were able to influence the advancement of civil rights issues that were heating up at that time. Among Motown’s many musicians were Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Smoky Robinson and The Four Tops. (Editor’s Note: Former Supreme Mary Wilson visited Kyiv last year.)

Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, which previously served as Motown’s headquarters, Hitsville U.S.A.

Detroit continues to produce creative music and musicians. One cannot attend a Eurocup match without hearing a contemporary Detroit influence again and again, as the refrain from the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” is repeated to rev-up the crowd. For a long time, the White Stripes were a regular fixture in Detroit bars and clubs. Last year, the band officially broke up.

As an introduction to some of Michigan’s music and musicians, here are fifteen videos reflecting Michigan’s world-famous and the not-so famous. Enjoy.

1. The White Stripes: Seven Nation Army.
2. ? and the Mysterians (1960’s garage rock): 96 Tears.
3. Kenny Garrett (live in Kyiv): Giant Steps.
4. Aretha Franklin: Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
5. Alice Cooper: I’m Eighteen
6. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly
7. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
8. Madonna: Like A Virgin
9. The Romantics: What I Like About You
10. Stevie Wonder (and Jeff Beck): Superstition
11. Eminem: Lose Yourself
12. Diana Ross and the Supremes: Love Child
13. Detroit Cobras: Cha Cha Twist
14. John Lee Hooker: Boom Boom
15. Cybotron (Juan Atkins): Cosmic Car


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