Written by Ashley Zlatopolsky
There’s a reason Detroit, Michigan, has many musically-inspired nicknames. Known alternatively as Detroit Rock City, Motown, Techno City, and more, the metropolis has long been a creative hub that has laid the foundation for world-renowned artists and music genres to develop. Over the decades, Detroit has played a key role in the growth of Motown, techno, punk rock, soul, and blues music. Now, tourists checking out the Motor City can visit an array of musical hotspots that proved essential to the Midwestern city’s music history.
Check off some of the best sights (and sounds) that Detroit has to offer with a road trip to these eight landmarks that every music fan should visit.
Jack White’s influence doesn’t stop at Third Man Records Cass Corridor. When Detroit’s famous Masonic Temple—a longtime music venue where White’s mother was employed—faced foreclosure in 2013, White stepped in as an anonymous donor to pay off the $142,000 in taxes needed to save the historic building. Later, in 2014, White played a sold-out concert at the venue, which also happens to be the largest Masonic temple in the world.
In addition to White, the temple’s stage has also seen the likes of Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King over the years. With so much to see and explore at the sprawling temple, it’s worth a visit, whether through a tour, attending one of its many events, or simply driving by to admire the building’s incredible architecture.
Beautiful inside and out, Detroit’s historic Fox Theatre is one of the city’s top cultural icons. It draws visitors from around the world, some who come simply to admire the art deco architecture adorned with Indian, Persian, Chinese, Hindu, and Burmese motifs. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Fox Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie hall and was later transformed into a live music and performance venue. Over the decades, it has hosted some of the biggest music stars of all time, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Iggy Pop. Perhaps most famously, it was home to Prince’s final Detroit show and the last performance of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.
One of Detroit’s newest musical landmarks is Aretha Franklin Way. The street designation can be found on Madison Avenue between Brush and Witherell streets. It was created in honor of the Queen of Soul, who passed away in 2018, and pays homage to the Memphis native who became one of the biggest voices in soul music of all time. Unveiled in 2017 while Franklin was still alive, Aretha Franklin Way officially debuted during the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend. Visitors can stop by to take a photo with the sign and remember the Queen of Soul at this Instagram-popular hotspot.
Third Man Records’ Cass Corridor location is more than just a record store. It was opened in 2015 by Detroit native and rockstar Jack White and is home to a sprawling vinyl record pressing plant, live events, and music memorabilia. Tours of the pressing plant are currently paused due to COVID-19, but guests can still visit the store and check out numerous rare releases and posters up for grabs.
Aside from being the home of Third Man Records’ Cass Corridor, Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood (formerly known as Cass Corridor) was once home to a thriving garage rock and punk scene that saw bands like The Gories, The White Stripes, and MC5 rise to fame.
With or without a tour, Submerge Techno Museum is worth a visit—even if just from the outside. It’s here—at the homely structure that looks no different than any other on its block—that one of the biggest music movements of all time was developed, planned, and recorded in the basement below the museum. Submerge Techno Museum is an off-the-beaten-path place you likely wouldn’t know about unless a local clued you in. Detroit’s “secret” techno museum is also the home of techno collective Underground Resistance and their Submerge record label. The first floor of the recording studio is dedicated to Detroit’s vast electronic music history and the people who made the now-world-renowned music genre come to life.
The official Motown Mansion—and home of Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label—is one of Detroit’s best-kept secrets. Though you can’t go inside the private residence, visitors can drive by to check out Gordy’s stunning former home, located inside Detroit’s historic Boston Edison neighborhood.
Gordy’s mansion was the place for Motown greats and soon-to-be pop stars to see and be seen, and it even had a bowling alley inside. Now officially known as “The Michelson Estate,” the mansion was built in 1917 by a Danish immigrant and later sold to Gordy. He lived there for several years with Diana Ross before moving the Motown business to California.
Nearly a century ago, Detroit had a teeming jazz scene that rivaled those of Chicago and New York. Often overshadowed by the growth of Motown, Detroit was influential in the growth of jazz across the country, and later, the entire world. Today, visitors can pay tribute to that significant era of music history and relive jazz’s glory days at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, an intimate music venue keeping the sound alive and well. Since 1934, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (which claims to be one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world) has been serving up dinner with a side of jazz. During nearly 90 years in operation, Baker’s has hosted dozens of jazz legends, including Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis.
Arguably Detroit’s top musical landmark, the Motown Museum pays homage to the birth of the groundbreaking genre that paved the way for modern-day pop music. The museum is housed in Motown’s first headquarters and recording studio, nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A.” Inside, guests can find the musical instruments that created some of the biggest hits of all time, plus artifacts, rare photographs, original performance costumes, and other memorabilia. The Motown Museum also showcases rotating exhibits that further tell the story of Motown and how a small grassroots movement in Detroit blossomed and shook up the music world forever.
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