Marsha Music

The Detroitist

HOME – A Grown Woman’s Tales of Detroit

Photo18 001
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 – studying Latin, classical music and literature.
However, I spent a good part of my life – with my siblings – 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.
V0n Battle Joe Jr Floyd Taylor

My father, Joe Von Battle, left, in front of his record shop at 3530 Hastings, with his eldest son Joe Jr., and the barber next door. Photo by French photographer Jacques Demetre, 1959.

I developed a hyper-awareness of music and became a lover of many genres. I was immersed in the blues, soul and gospel of my father’s record shops, laboratories of meter and song; where bluesmen smokes cigarettes, had a “taste,” and cut a record or two before long.
My maternal family was steeped in old-time, sanctified church music where the Holy Ghost reigned – and still does. I came of age during the British Invasion and the integrated airways of Detroit’s AM radio in the 60’s. The musicality of it all is deep in my bones.
The music of my surroundings morphed into my own tastes – I spent my young years loving the Beatles and the new sounds, my teens knee-deep in Motown, Soul and R&B, my twenties in the Album-Rock/FM radio world. Later, I lived the jazz life. Through it all, I’ve had a love and a critical ear for the “Old School,” and today, my ear is turned towards gospel – and a hankering for Opera. Here I am below, in 2020, as “Erda, Goddess of the Earth,” in Michigan Opera Theatre’s (now Detroit Opera’s) production of Twilight:Gods – I wrote and performed the narration.  

I’m a witness to my father’s first Hastings Street record store that he opened in 1945. Along with recording many blues artists, including John Lee Hooker, he was the sole producer of the sermons and songs of the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Through this collaboration my father was the first to record the voice of Franklins daughter Aretha, at age 14; her first gospel records were on his labels. [see my story about my father, in the menu – Requiem for a Record Shop Man.]

I witnessed the relocation of his business to 12th Street, due to “urban renewal,” and I watched his business’ demise in the 67′ Rebellion (below, his record shop being looted, in the upheaval.) 


I’m a witness to the economic contraction that hit Detroit like a tsunami, and its profound effects on urban life – conflagrations from which Detroit has not yet recovered. I have seen, in recent years, the revival of sections of Detroit and the return of suburban sons and daughters to the city and urban life.
In addition to my writing on culture and music, I’ve been an activist, and a labor leader. I am a speaker, a presenter on media from radio to films – including on HBO, the History Channel, Amazon Prime and PBS.  I am a voice artist and narrator – including on the seminal Detroit film, 12th and Clairmount. I am a consultant for Hollywood film projects on Detroit and featured in numerous films and books, and I have contributed to over a dozen literary anthologies. 
Today, I write and tell my stories; I’m part of the amazing cultural community here in Detroit; where I was awarded a 2012 Kresge Fellowship in the Literary Arts, a Knight Arts Challenge award, and have been blessed to receive acclaim for my work. Today, young folks call me an OG – a complement indeed. 

Yours truly, Marsha Music, at the Max Fisher Center, during rehearsal – reading my poetry – with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a performance of composer Tod Machover’s Symphony in D


Here, on Marsha Music, you’ll find mature, thoughtful observations of life in Detroit – from a Grown Black Woman. Welcome! Please keep coming back to this place where I’ll tell more of my true stories; writing from Detroit in transition, one of the most amazing cities in the world! Check the menu on the top and side for my stories. 


Video by Stephen McGhee for Kresge Arts in Detroit 2012: 

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Comment or question below:

{Comments meant for my eyes only will not be posted, just let me know}


Photo by Gabriela Cordoba Vivas, of Columbia, who was visiting Detroit, 2016.

                              My small book, The Detroitist, a collection of five works, available at Amazon.

                                                   But all of the selections are here on this site. 

Reading my commissioned poem – Memories and Dreams – for Symphony in D, with the DSO
Yours truly, little Marsha, in front of our record shop. My brother Darryl in the background. C 1960.

51 thoughts on “HOME – A Grown Woman’s Tales of Detroit

  1. Marsha,

    I linked to your Elvis piece. I hope you got my message. Please email me.


    Hairy Larry

  2. I recently came across this blog and I find all the content to be informative, intelligent and most cogent.

  3. Thank you Alan, for visiting Marsha Music and for posting such positive comments.

    I am making every effort to post content that is worthy of your words.

    Keep coming back as I post more about music and Detroit.


  4. Marsha,

    I really enjoyed the Elvis article and I linked to it from my website, Delta Boogie. Please send me an email.


    Hairy Larry

  5. Dear Thinker-woman,

    Your website is intelligent, thought-provoking, and beautiful, like you.

  6. Larry,

    Thank you for stopping in and enjoying the Elvis piece. I’ll email you asap.


  7. Tumerica,

    Thank for the kind words; I hope to live up to them as I continue this sweet work of writing.


  8. You have a fantastic blog!
    Most interesting story. I am a Dutch writer, could you please e mail me?


  9. Hi Marsha,

    just now checking out your blog — thanks a lot! anybody from Detroit knows how important music is, and how great Detroit music can be!!!!

    cheers, -ig

  10. Wow, what a wonderful collection. This is important stuff and I am very glad to have come across it. Marsha, you may remember me from 35 years ago from some classes we attended together. I still have BoBo Jenkins’ photograph on my office wall. I now own a printing company and play a little music from time to time with some 80 year old swing musicians.

  11. I love the blog, Honey Marsha! And I love you and The Thinker face to face. I think he’s saying: “This woman has alot to say!”


  13. Thanks Derrick – I know that must be you! John! Thanks!

  14. Hi Honey Marti! Thanks for your kind words. The Thinker is one of my Favorite Things in the D!

  15. Tomorrow we reposting a portion of your blog post on your father’s record store. What a wonderful history. We think this is a marvelous contribution, we thank you for all your wonderful work.

    The Folk at

  16. Marsha!
    Your writing creates a journey! It’s fresh, exciting and makes me want to know more about your life whose soundtrack was the music of Detroit.

  17. I love the new look of the blog and the ever changing look of its author!

  18. Lynn! Nice website!

  19. Your blog is beautiful!

  20. Thanks; yes I have seen your site and the posting, and I thank you for your attention to Joe Von Battle’s Story.

  21. Great site! I will continue to visit.

  22. this is MASTA TEACHA shizz!!!

  23. Thanks Sista Crown! I appreciate your youthful kudos!

  24. Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams recorded a few songs at John Von Battle’s record shop including Thirtyfive – Thirty (35-30), Hastings Street Bounce, and “The Hucklebuck”.

  25. Enjoyed the quick positive trip through Detroit — good to see there’s a good side! Enjoyed your blog!

  26. It was a pleasure to meet you, Marsha, and your husband, David, at the Detroit Collision event in Eastern Market on Saturday, September 14. You are an engaging and creative teller of the very complex and spiritual tale of this grand old city. As I told you, your use of the metaphor the “kidnapped children” to describe part of the tale was very insightful and illuminating. I’m looking forward to reading the essay when it was finished. Thank you, and I’m glad to know we are neighbors in Lafayette Park.

    Paul Andrew (“Andy”) Kettunen

  27. A lovely visit with a new friend. Thank you.

  28. Hi Marsha,
    I wanted to ask you the authorisation to use one picture from your blog (the one of you as a kid in front of the record shop), I host a radio show on a little local French station and I always use old 50’s or 60’s black and white photos related to radio, record shops to illustrate my show when I upload it on line. And this one was fitting! I read some of the stuff about your dad and his shop, great story! So let me know if it’s possible (I can put a link to your blog). here’s a link to my show : Kind regards Ed

  29. Hi Marsha! Great blog! I’ve been reading in tonight since Rachel Lutz recomended it to me. I have a book coming out at the end of October that deals with one part of the pre Motown music scene in Detroit that’s gone undocumented thus far. I was talking to Rachel about it and after I explained the whole Southern move north to Detroit starting in the teens she said that you might be interested in our research. The Book is called Detroit Country Music; Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies. I’d love to get a review copy to you from University of Michigan Press as soon as they are ready for shipping. If you’d like to get one or would like to know more about our research please feel free to contact me or check out or blog to see a taste of what the book has to offer.
    Thanks and best of luck!

  30. We met last year thru Kresge Arts. My husband is Stephen Mack Jones. Steve and I will be attending Failure Lab and look forward to seeing you and hearing your story.

  31. I went to Ferris School and my grandmother ran a party store on Hastings Street. I remember Mrs. Ashford…in fact she was my favorite teacher of all time. That was about 1959 or 1960. Could it be the same Mrs. Ashford you speak of? Is she still alive? I recently wrote an article published in The Journal of Multiculturalism in Education and I told a story about her.

    God bless, Frank Bailey

  32. Like your blog.

  33. Thank you.

  34. Sorry for my belated reply. Yes, it’s probably Mrs. Ashford who was widowed and remarried and became Mrs. Ashford-Dash. She passed away a few years ago. I am friends with her daughters; if there is a link to this article I’m sure she’s like to see it. Thank you for your comments.

  35. As a Detroit boy, , long gone already in teh 60’s off to South Oakland County, and From the little I follow about what’s happening in the Detroit area, assuming that the Phoenix will yet rise to give region a spirit, it may just be that people that have pockets that are “not as deep”, as they say in my part of the world, might go a few blocks over to Highland Park. I may mean they have to “take the bus” to the Main Branch, or the Art Institute. The proximity to Palmer Park, of course makes it a good place to be, too. Ah! and it may catch on to the apartment buildings that might be renovated.

    Mind you, I am not a Midtown person, and my prayer is that the West Side revives, even in more interesting ways, that the populations likely will not reach the numbers it did then.

  36. Ms. Music~

    If not for my love of music, my love of words would make me return to this blog! It’s a wonderful mix of music, poetry, history, love, magic. I was interested any way, then I read your opening paragraph about Elvis. I’ve always loved the Motown artists — didn’t immerse myself, but always thought of them as a singular, changing moment in history. And I find it ever encouraging that music is a leveler of all.

    I am a high school English teacher and found you as I searched for some bit of commentary or a film clip to show my students in relation to Warriors Don’t Cry. It is difficult for them to understand how such things could’ve happened to Melba Patillo and the other kids. I look forward to reading more here and am so glad you’ve taken time to share so much. Thank you. 🙂

  37. I enjoyed your visit to our class last week.
    THANKS so much!

  38. I enjoyed my visit to College for Creative Studies too, especially our discussion on your projects on Detroit topics. I got as much as I gave, I assure you. Thanks Hilarie! Go to my Marsha Music Facebook page, I have our “class photo”.

  39. Robin,
    Please forgive my delay in posting your lovely words. I appreciate your compliments about my “tales” here on these pages, and how my work as resonated with you. Thank you for taking the time to write, and please come back.

  40. Marsha,

    I love your writing. You have not only a well rounded view (or perspective) of an important history and your community, but you also have the great ability to express your memories and thoughts in an engaging, straightforward way, that is hard for many other writers.
    I don’t know if this is intentional… or just how you do it 🙂 … but either way I love it.

    Respect to you and please keep writing and sharing.

  41. Thank you for your kind words. I hope to continue to be blessed with the gift of telling this story.

  42. So sorry I’m just responding! I enjoyed you all too and I had a great time! Thanks!

  43. Well thank YOU very much.

  44. Amen Zev.

  45. I know this is an but if you still want, you can contact me on facebook

  46. I know this is an but if you still want, you can contact me on facebook.

  47. Hi Marsha,

    I’ve begun work on a documentary in part influenced by Danielle Aubert’s book “Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies.” The film will explore the beauty of the community while keeping in mind and presenting the gentrification and destruction of a vibrant black community that occurred in the process of creating it. After reading Danielle’s book and your piece in it, I immediately knew that I wanted you to participate in the film as a subject and a voice. Danielle and a number of residents I’ve met with have had such kind things to say about you and your work, furthering my interest in meeting and including you in my film.

    I’d love to discuss the project more with you and get your take on it. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Ryan Clancy

  48. Thank you Ryan; we have, since your comment, talked and worked together on your great project.

  49. Marsha, I’m the son of Elizabeth Banton, your high school Latin teacher. She is now at Sunrise Senior Living in Grosse Pointe Woods and has just celebrated her 103 birthday . Suprisingly her college, “Wellesley” posted a web page honoring her and included an article you had written years ago. You can see it at Wellsley.ed under alumnae and search for “banton”. At the end of the 4th paragraph there is a highlighted phrase “her students remember her fondly”.
    Please keep in touch

  50. Oh my goodness! I recently had inquires about her! I am glad she is not 103! Thank you for letting me know, it was an honor to write about her, I think of her often.

  51. Pingback: Jolene – First of the Month

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