Discover Detroit and the Magic of Motown: A Journey of Rich History, Vibrant Culture, and Soulful Music

Graham McKenzie makes a return visit to ‘Comeback City’

Nestled along the banks of the Detroit River, the Motor City beckons travellers with a magnetic allure, offering an unforgettable experience that blends the best of a rich history, vibrant culture, and the soulful beats of Motown music. I first visited the city way back in 1987 and Detroit has often been overshadowed by its struggles from that era. Now commonly referred to as the Comeback City it has undergone a revitalisation that makes it a captivating destination for tourists seeking an authentic and diverse American experience. It, in short, bears no comparison to the place I visited in the late 1980s.

Motown Music started here

At the heart of this city’s soul is Motown, a musical genre that transcends time, touching the hearts of millions worldwide and one that has created many memories over more than 50 years.  A musical genre that I first came across as I secretly listened to my older brother’s LPs on the family record player. Is there anybody over the age of fifty that cannot name their favourite Motown sound?  ‘Reach Out I’ll be There’ by the Four Tops is still to this day in my all-time top ten.

Motown, often referred to in the United Kingdom as Tamla Motown, revolutionised the music industry, and was born in the heart of Detroit. Berry Gordy Jr, the visionary founder of Motown Records, launched the label in 1959. Hitsville USA, the original headquarters and recording studios stands as a living testament to this musical legacy. As you step into this historic site, now known as the Motown Museum, you’ll be transported back to the era of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops and The Temptations. The air hums with the melodies that shaped an entire generation, leaving you enchanted by the sheer magic of Motown.

A pilgrimage to the Motown Museum is a must for any music enthusiast. The unassuming house on West Grand Boulevard is where the Motown sound was cultivated and polished, setting the stage for the worldwide success that followed. Step inside Studio A, where timeless classics were recorded, and witness the very piano that Berry Gordy used to write some of Motown’s greatest hits. The knowledgeable guides will share stories of the label’s humble beginnings and the struggles overcome, making your visit an enriching and emotional experience.

Listen to the Music

Beyond the Motown Museum, Detroit continues to be a city deeply rooted in musical heritage. Today, the city’s music scene thrives with diverse genres like jazz, rock, hip-hop, and techno, which also originated in Detroit in the late 1980s. From the soul-stirring tunes in cozy jazz bars to electrifying performances in iconic venues like the Fox Theatre and the Fillmore Detroit, you’ll find a tune to suit your taste. The real bonus is that every so often you will hear a song that you haven’t heard for years and with it comes the immediate flashback to past times.

Get the show on the road

Motown is, however, short for Motor Town and the industrial heritage of car manufacturing is also something that pervades everyday life in Detroit. The two main industrial giants, Ford and General Motors, are well represented throughout the urban area with plenty of references to their size and importance with modern day research, development and manufacturing facilities some of which are dedicated to the evolution of driverless cars. Premises that go as far back as the early 1900s have been gentrified and given rise to an enormous number of artisan businesses that have a distinct ‘motor edge’ to them. To the visitor this gives an enormous range of  unique retail, food and art outlets to examine and enjoy.

Detroit Institute of Art

The industrial past has also given Detroit its distinct skyline with architectural marvels such as the Guardian Building, with its intricate Art Deco design, and the historic Michigan Central Station, once a bustling railway hub. These are just a few examples of the city’s stunning architecture. Taking a stroll through Detroit’s streets reveals an exciting mix of modern skyscrapers and beautifully preserved buildings that recount the city’s journey through time.

Take a visit into modern American history

Just a small journey out of town and you can spend all day at what I would consider to be the most comprehensive Museum in the entire country. The Henry Ford Museum of Modern Innovation has just about everything to ensure you get a complete history of the USA from the mid 1800s onwards. Here you can view the car that President Kennedy was travelling in on that fateful day in Dallas in November 1963, get up and close with one of the buses upon which Rosa Parks refused to move from the ‘white’ seats and one can even be driven around the grounds in the vehicle that started the whole motor manufacturing revolution, the Model T. This and an enormous range of other Americana history is under one roof but be sure to allow enough time to experience it all.

Sport and Food of the highest quality

Detroit boasts a passionate sports scene with teams like the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Tigers (Baseball), and the Detroit Pistons (Basketball) taking headline billing. Access to games is a relatively simple affair once you have acquired a ticket with the major stadia which are walkable from the downtown area. Attending a game at the iconic Ford Field or Comerica Park is an experience not to be missed and the local fans leave nobody in doubt as to whom they are supporting. Before or after enjoy one of the many nearby restaurants that represent a melting pot of flavours. Detroit is famous for its Coney Island Hot Dogs and their square pizza where the ingredients are kept under the cheese. Just around the block is the Eastern Market which is one of the nation’s largest public markets and all types of fresh and seasonal produce can be found with on-site pop-up outlets preparing truly mouthwatering street food.  

Take Detroit for a spin

In conclusion, Detroit beckons visitors as a city brimming with history, culture, and music that has shaped the world. A visit to the birthplace of Motown music promises an unforgettable journey through the soulful melodies that continue to resonate. Beyond the music, Detroit surprises with its architectural gems, diverse culinary scene, and a vibrant community that celebrates its past while embracing a dynamic positive future. So, dust your luggage down, and let Detroit and Motown work their magic on your heart and soul, ‘So get ready, get ready ‘cause here I come’ – a journey you won’t forget.

Find out more

Go to Pure Michigan for information on Detroit and the rest of Michigan State.

Call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 to book your trip.

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Graham McKenzie

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