The Rhythm of Memory: Commemorating Music and Migration in Detroit

Riley Linebaugh

More than 150 years after the founding of its first musical association, the city of Detroit erected an historical marker commemorating the German-American Harmonie Club in a broader effort to rehabilitate Detroit’s suffering reputation. The plaque did not connect the city’s German-American musical tradition with its better known African American musical scene, characterized by blues, jazz and later Motown. Twenty years later, in 2021, Detroit sponsored a public marker in honor of Black Bottom, an historically African American neighborhood that was previously inhabited by German-Americans and that played an important role in Detroit’s musical development. Despite geographic overlap and chronological continuity, the city has commemorated these histories in isolation from one another, raising the question: why do cities “remember” things differently and with what consequences?

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