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Carleton S. Gholz

Detroit Sound Conservancy
Founder & Executive Director Emeritus
The Audacity of Groovesville: Don Davis and Detroit’s Black Music Industry After Motown

On May 16th, 1972, as Motown Records was preparing to move its headquarters from Michigan to California, musician, songwriter, record producer, Groovesville Music label owner, and Black Detroiter Don Davis (1938-2014) purchased the building where Berry Gordy had produced the first Tamla recordings that began his Motown music empire.

Davis did not buy the already iconic “Hitsville” homes on West Grand Boulevard where the Funk Brothers had churned out hit after hit in “The Snakepit.” Instead, for the price of $71,000 (about half a million dollars today adjusted for inflation), Davis bought nearby United Sound Systems Recording Studios on Second Avenue. That night Davis, having realized a creative and entrepreneurial dream and who would now open the studios’ doors to Parliament-Funkadelic, The Dramatics, Death, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, and Mike Banks of Underground Resistance, slept in his new castle.

We know a lot about Gordy and the empire he built, moved, and sold. That story has been told, retold, celebrated, fictionalized, performed on Broadway, and “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” during Barack Obama’s historic Presidential run in 2008.

But Davis’s capture of Detroit’s oldest, most innovative, independent, Italian-American-owned recording studio in 1972 less than five years after the Detroit Rebellion is a profound moment worthy of renewed attention. However, instead of planning for a Golden Anniversary celebration in 2022, Michigan voters, through their own Department of Transportation and with Federal dollars, are presently on track to damage and, perhaps, even demolish United in a macabre moment of historic vandalism.

Therefore, in anticipation of this anniversary and with the goal of alerting a larger public to an imminent historical injustice, I will share a freshly documented story of Davis’s career and lasting impact. This presentation draws from a chapter within a larger book project on Detroit’s Black music industry after Motown.

Carleton Gholz is a public music historian and longtime Detroiter now living in Philadelphia. He began his career as an alternative press music critic and high school teacher before going on to receive a PhD in Communication from the University of Pittsburgh after graduate study in media history, music, and cultural studies. In 2012, he founded Detroit Sound Conservancy, a nonprofit community-based archive and historic music venue with the mission of telling Detroit's story through the experience of its music. From spearheading local historic districts to supervising internationally acclaimed social media accounts and publishing scholarly essays, he has spent time in classrooms, deep in stacks, behind turntables, curating galleries, hopping clubs, preserving landmarks, and supporting neighborhoods. He is now completing a research project that explores the long-term impact of Detroit's 1967 Rebellion by documenting the drive for Black self-determination within the local music industry.