Detroit and Memphis - Visiting Detroit Part 6 by Rob Moss
The latest in the Visiting Detroit series - Rob Moss expands things with a visit to Memphis making up part 6 of this great series of soul articles
In many ways, Detroit and Memphis have little in common. Historically and geographically, they were at either end of the slave trade — Memphis became the main ‘distribution centre’ for the forced African labour brought in to the southern US States to service the cotton industry, amongst others, whereas Detroit was the final stop in the north for those escaping the horror and degradation of the practice, on their way to freedom in Canada. Tennessee is essentially a rural State. By the 1950s Memphis had become the world’s largest market for spot cotton, hardwood lumber and mules (!). Detroit, and other smaller centres in Michigan, on the other hand, was exclusively industrial, boasting the largest and most powerful automobile industry in the world. Throughout the twentieth century huge numbers of southern blacks migrated north in search of employment and a better life, eager to escape the rampant racism and segregation that existed in the South. From as far back as the nineteenth century, Memphis fostered the musical and artistic expressions of its large black population in the form of Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and Soul and became world renown for the innovators and the innovation it produced. But, many musicians joined the exodus north too, so it is not surprising that those same stylings surfaced in northern cities, albeit in somewhat convoluted or reconstituted forms. As the two streams developed, they each reflected the cultural, political and social environment in which they were created. If Detroit was politically liberal and progressive, Memphis was conservative and reactionary. Whereas Detroit was urbane and cosmopolitan, Memphis was rudimentary and puritanical. Detroit created ‘The Motown Sound’. Memphis gave us ‘Sweet soul music’. This creative divergence reached its zenith in the 1960s when both cities combined to impose their own, quite different, interpretations of black musical expression on the world...
note from the soul source team - sorry but all Robs non-current articles are now clipped due to a future book release - watch out for news of that!