Motor City Music: A Detroiter Looks Back

Mark Slobin (Author)
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This is the first-ever historical study across all musical genres in any American metropolis. Detroit in the 1940s-60s was not just "the capital of the twentieth century" for industry and the war effort, but also for the quantity and extremely high quality of its musicians, from jazz to classical to ethnic. The author, a Detroiter from 1943, begins with a reflection of his early life with his family and others, then weaves through the music traffic of all the sectors of a dynamic and volatile city. Looking first at the crucial role of the public schools in fostering talent, Motor City Music surveys the neighborhoods of older European immigrants and of the later huge waves of black and white southerners who migrated to Detroit to serve the auto and defense industries. Jazz stars, polka band leaders, Jewish violinists, and figures like Lily Tomlin emerge in the spotlight. Shaping institutions, from the Ford Motor Company and the United Auto Workers through radio stations and Motown, all deployed music to bring together a city rent by relentless segregation, policing, and spasms of violence. The voices of Detroit's poets, writers, and artists round out the chorus.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
November 12, 2018
6.3 X 0.8 X 9.5 inches | 1.1 pounds
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About the Author

Mark Slobin was born in wartime Detroit and grew up with classical and folk music backgrounds. His early work on folk music of Afghanistan shifted to studies of Eastern European Jewish music in Europe and America, film music, and theory of ethnomusicology. He spent his career in Wesleyan University's renowned ethnomusicology program and is retired in Manhattan.


"As a Detroiter, Slobin is uniquely suited to this task. Most of the book's photographs are the author's own, and his intimate knowledge of Detroit is prodigious. As a result, he easily moves between discussions of music education and training to emerging musical cultures and intersections of race and style. Slobin's approachable voice and use of interviews make Motor City Music a valuable contribution to the existing scholarship on one of the hubs of American music. Summing up: Highly recommended" -- CHOICE

"Motor City Music is a loving portrait of one person's experience with the history of musicmaking in the D. Mark Slobin does not limit himself to one or two styles or genres, thus giving the reader valuable insight into the variety of sounds coming into and out of Detroit." -- Leonard Slatkin, Music Director Laureate, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

"What at first reads like a loose memoir of growing up Jewish in Detroit ends up being a very detailed and widely comprehensive portrait of what makes Motor City's music so special and multifarious. There is no easily-drawn metaphor to stand for this sprawling, often-terrifying, still-volatile metropolis, no cliché to invoke Detroit in a few words as one might find for Chicago or New York. Mark Slobin's youthful life was exposed to an enormous number of ethnic musics derived from the many peoples throughout the world and America who jostle each other in Detroit; this has collided into an eclectic matrix which has influenced and alimented our whole nation's music." -- William Bolcom, composer