Amid retirement talk, Aretha Franklin to headline Detroit music fest

The Queen of Soul has at least one more hometown show up her sleeve.

Amid talk that she's winding down her career, Aretha Franklin will play a free hometown concert June 10 as an ambitious new music festival stakes its place on Detroit's summer calendar.

Franklin will be the star attraction at the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend, an arts fest along Madison Street in the heart of the city's theater district, set to run June 8-11.

She'll perform on a stage to be erected in a parking lot between Music Hall and the Detroit Opera House, capping a bill that will include sets by hometown stalwarts such as Mitch Ryder, Laith Al-Saadi, Josh Gracin and Larry Callahan's Selected of God choir. Also featured throughout the weekend will be showcases from 20 performing arts organizations and a cultural village with exhibits from metro Detroit groups.

The festival also will feature a handful of ticketed events, going on sale in April, including shows from retro-soul artist Mayer Hawthorne, hip-hop DJ D-Nice and the 2017 R&B Hall of Fame induction ceremony. A June 9 gala at the Detroit Opera House will celebrate Franklin's career, with singers joining an all-star Detroit band led by seasoned session players such as Kern Brantley (Lady Gaga), Nate Watts (Stevie Wonder) and Luis Resto (Eminem).

Detroit Music Weekend is being spearheaded by Music Hall in collaboration with a host of metro Detroit organizations and sponsors Lear Corporation, Fifth Third Bank and Ford. Fund-raising continues as the festival seeks a first-year operating budget of about $1.5 million, said Music Hall director Vince Paul. His group has a festival pedigree: Music Hall was contracted to produce Detroit's jazz festival from 1994 to 2008.

A joint news conference with the City of Detroit will be held April 27 to announce full details about the festival weekend.

While acknowledging the importance of long-running events such as Movement, the Detroit Jazz Festival, Arts, Beats & Eats and others, organizers hope Detroit Music Weekend can distinguish itself over the long haul as a genre-spanning celebration of homegrown music — set in one of the country's most concentrated theater districts. Paul envisions it someday growing into "our Austin City Limits Festival, our Coachella."

Looming over this inaugural year is the big question: Could this be the Queen of Soul's final hometown show? Franklin, who will turn 75 later this month, recently told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) that she's "retiring this year," though she left open the possibility of occasional performances going forward.

Detroit Music Weekend is one of eight dates on her 2017 concert schedule at this point.

While the festival won't be calling it Franklin's final Detroit performance, the intrigue is a built-in boost for the fledgling fest, which has been quietly in the works for several months after being hatched by Paul and former General Motors executive Vivian Pickard. They're part of a Detroit Music Weekend host committee that includes representatives of Michigan Opera Theatre, Detroit City Council, the Motown Museum and the Detroit Entertainment District Association (DEDA), whose members include the operators of the Fox Theatre, Gem Theatre, Fillmore Detroit and others in the area west and north of Grand Circus Park.

"Starting an annual festival in the heart of Detroit to celebrate Detroit music is a brilliant idea, and long overdue," said DEDA president David Di Rita, a developer whose properties include the David Whitney Building. "Vince has a broad vision here to create the true Detroit music event that everyone in the world already thinks we have but don't."

Paul sees Detroit Music Weekend as a chance to build on the momentum of the entertainment district, the 1-square-mile territory that houses more than a dozen theaters along with Ford Field, Comerica Park and the forthcoming Little Caesars Arena.

"This is about cultural organizations coming together," said Paul. "The more we recognize it as a sector, the more we can sustain each individual organization. This is an opportunity to showcase everyone in one grand display."

Nearby restaurants and retailers are also being tapped to participate, and fest-goers will be encouraged to venture beyond the event grounds to check out neighborhood offerings.

More than anything, though, the weekend will be billed as a music celebration.

Pickard, who left GM last year to form a consulting group, echoed others on the festival committee who said Detroit must do more to play up its music legacy, a history that that has included Motown, Eminem and pioneering rock and techno.

"As a team, we feel that it's an economic and imaging resource we haven't taken advantage of," she said.

While Detroit may be "the city that put the world on wheels," said committee member and public relations specialist Leland Bassett, "Detroit music put the world on its toes."

Contact Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or


Detroit Music Weekend

With Aretha Franklin, Mayer Hawthorne and others

June 8-11

Madison Street and nearby venues

Bree Birr