Michigan and in particular its largest city, Detroit, is synonymous with Motown, the iconic record label founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959. During its heyday in the 1960s, superstars such as Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Jackson Five churned out blockbusters at Hitsville U.S.A., Gordy’s modest, garage-turned-recording studio located on a residential street in Detroit.
But Motown is just one chapter of Michigan’s musical story. A surprising number of punk, pop, rap and rock ‘n’ roll entertainers hail from the state. Many still dwell in the region and perform regularly for hometown fans. In addition to the recognizable artists, lesser-known but still talented local acts take the stage, especially during the summer months when music festivals are in full swing across the state. The abundance of entertaining offsite activities, coupled with modern hotels, convention centers and interesting musical venues that can be rented out, make Michigan a prime choice among meeting planners.
A Musical Mash-Up
While Motown R&B will always be Michigan’s legacy, the state has produced its fair share of famous rock ‘n’ rollers. One of the earliest was Charles Weedon Westover, better known as Del Shannon, who was born in Grand Rapids. Bill Haley (1925−81), whose popularity rivaled Elvis Presley’s, was a native of Highland Park. Haley and his Comets recorded the smash hits “Rock around the Clock,” “See You Later, Alligator” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
Bluesman John Lee Hooker (1917–2001) was born in Mississippi and drifted around the South before arriving in 1948 in Detroit, where he found work at Ford Motor Company. He got his musical career in gear performing at blues clubs and saloons on Detroit’s East Side.
Many Michigan-bred rockers croon about the heartland they grew up in. Bob Seger, 69, who was born in Lincoln Park and raised in Ann Arbor, rose to fame in the 1970s with hits such as “Night Moves” and “Against the Wind.” Hard rocker Ted Nugent spent his childhood in Redford and still lives in the state on a 340-acre hunting ranch. Robert James Ritchie, better known as Kid Rock, was born in Romeo and still calls Michigan home. He has sold 25 million albums in the United States.
Female musicians in Michigan have also enjoyed success Undoubtedly, the most famous is Madonna, who was born in Bay City and raised in Rochester. A straight-A student and high school cheerleader, the pop icon attended the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in Ann Arbor. The superstar, who has always pushed the boundaries of music and fashion, has a long string of hits including “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl” and “Into the Groove.”
Sonny Bono (1935−98), half of the pop duo Sonny and Cher, was born in Detroit but moved to California at age 7. Another Detroit native is Vincent Damon Furnier, aka Alice Cooper. The 67-year-old godfather of shock-rock now resides in Phoenix, where he is a restaurateur.
Michigan has spawned several notable punk rockers. James Newell Osterberg Jr., who changed his name to Iggy Pop, grew up in a trailer park in Muskegon. One of his first bands was called The Iguanas, which is how he acquired his unique nickname. Anthony Kiedis, the Grammy Award-winning vocalist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, hails from Grand Rapids, but relocated to Hollywood, California, to live with his father when his parents divorced.
Michigan has also produced rappers Mike Posner, Big Sean and Marshall Bruce Mathers III, more commonly known by his stage name, Eminem. The controversial white rap star was born in Missouri, but spent his formative years in a primarily black, lower-middle-class neighborhood in Detroit. Eminem starred in the critically acclaimed film, 8 Mile. The movie’s title is derived from 8 Mile Road, a highway that divides inner city Detroit from its predominately white suburbs. While Eminem has said that the movie is not autobiographical, he calls it a representation of growing up in Detroit.
Doo-Wop in Detroit
Control Room in Motown Museum, Detroit
For music lovers, a visit to Detroit would be incomplete without a visit to Hitsville U.S.A., now home to Motown Museum. The site, which can accommodate up to 150 guests and be rented out for special events, has become one of Michigan’s most popular tourist destinations. Fans can harmonize in Studio A, where legendary acts such as the Temptations, Four Tops and Supremes recorded their hits, and marvel over the museum’s collection of costumes and memorabilia.
Gordy, an entrepreneurial African-American songwriter and producer, opened Hitsville U.S.A. in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He named his pioneering label Motown because Detroit was known as the Motor City. A visionary who had worked on the assembly line at Detroit’s Lincoln-Mercury automobile plant, Gordy dreamed of automating the music business in a similar manner.
The museum website offers these comments from Gordy: “Every day I watched how a bare metal frame rolling down the line would come off the other end a brand new car. Maybe I could do the same thing with my music…create a place where a kid off the street could walk in one door an unknown, go through a process, and come out another door a star.”
Gordy ran Hitsville U.S.A. like a factory—signing a stable of young singers, songwriters, producers and musicians and encouraging them to work together. His proteges flourished in the competitive environment, transforming hundreds of simple pop tunes into catchy blockbusters. Ever the perfectionist, Gordy outfitted the performers with sharp wardrobes and taught them crisp dance routines. They rewarded him by spitting out hit after classic hit—keeping Motown at the top of the Billboard charts.
Diana Ross, a Detroit neighbor of Smokey Robinson and Gordy’s former secretary, had an unprecedented string of five consecutive No. 1 hits with the Supremes. Stevie Wonder was just 11 when Motown signed him to a contract in 1961. The blind genius sang, played multiple instruments and wrote music that was considered way ahead of its time. Over the course of his long career, the prolific artist has sold 100 million records, had 30 Top 10 hits and won 25 Grammy Awards.
Motown became the most financially successful African-American-owned business in America, and had an undeniable and profound impact on popular music and culture—uniting a racially divided country and touching people of all ages and races. Gordy broke barriers and forged new ground for minorities, helping them cross over to previously white-dominated television and stage. Under his guidance, Motown grew into a musical empire that has never been duplicated. Gordy sold the company in 1988.
Another interesting music museum in Detroit is the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Founded in 1995, the nonprofit is dedicated to the preservation of gospel music. Thus far, 127 gospel legends have been inducted into what is now a virtual organization. They had a physical space several years ago, but are currently soliciting funds to build a new site on Detroit’s waterfront. The ambitious development plans call for a world-class museum with interactive displays, a state-of-the-art auditorium, an amphitheater and a restaurant. The project is still in the embryonic stage, with no projected date for opening.
Greater Lansing: Great Music
Lansing is the capitol of Michigan, and the entire Greater Lansing region offers unique venues, updated, affordable lodging and conference options, and a responsive convention and visitors bureau that stands ready to help planners. It also offers plenty of music.
“Greater Lansing proudly hosts nearly 60 festivals and events each year, many of which celebrate a diverse musical landscape,” says Tracy Padot, CTA, vice president of marketing communications for the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Couple that with world-class Broadway theater, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra and venues that attract nationally touring artists, and Greater Lansing provides event planners with a multitude of options for entertaining attendees.”
Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, East Lansing
Planners looking to inject arts and culture into their events will find an abundance of options here. As home to Michigan State University, Lansing offers an array of world-class musicians available for hire, as well as access to musical performances at Wharton Center for Performing Arts. Wharton Center hosts the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, as well as acts such as Harry Connick Jr., Itzhak Perlman and others. Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera and Kinky Boots are extremely popular outings for groups. Wharton has fantastic event space for receptions before the show.
Michigan Bluesfest, Lansing
Greater Lansing presents a year-round schedule of mostly free annual festivals and events, many of which focus on music. For example, visitors can enjoy great jazz at the East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival June 19−20, discover blues at the Michigan Bluesfest Sept. 18−19 or experience a variety of musical genres at the weeklong Common Ground Music Festival on the city’s scenic riverfront July 7−12. For a complete list of offerings, visit
The Michigan State University College of Music in East Lansing presents an array of performances annually—from small chamber group ensembles to full-scale operatic productions. Arts aficionados can catch band, jazz, choral and new music recitals and concerts, often at very reasonable prices. For a complete schedule, visit lansing.org.
Grand Rapids Grandeur
DeVos Performace Hall, Grand Rapids
Forbes has named Grand Rapids “one of the 10 best downtowns in the USA.” The clean, safe city in western Michigan offers a plethora of musical options. Grand Rapids Symphony, established in 1930, has been recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras. Each year it presents more than 400 classical and contemporary offerings, and many include pre-concert conversations with musicians and guest artists. Some of the performances are staged at DeVos Performance Hall, part of the DeVos Place Convention Center.
DeVos is conveniently connected via a climate-controlled skywalk to several downtown properties, including Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. This presents a great option for planners seeking an integrated package of meeting place, hotel and quality entertainment options.
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Grand Rapids
Amway Grand Plaza successfully merges Old World charm with technological sophistication. It features 47,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, four elegant ballrooms and 42 meeting rooms and conference areas. When combined with the nearby 337-room JW Marriott Grand Rapids and the 214-room Downtown Courtyard by Marriott, planners can take advantage of 1,100 guest rooms, 337,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 11 restaurants and cafes.
St. Cecilia Music Center is located in the heart of Grand Rapids. Established in 1883 by nine women determined to promote the study and appreciation of music, it was named for the patron saint of music. Today, the nonprofit center provides affordable music education and performance programs. Rooms in the historic building can be rented out for events. The Dexter Ballroom seats 175; Royce Auditorium has 650 seats, Mika Music Library accommodates 75; President’s Room accommodates 100 and the airy Terryberry Art Gallery features exhibit lighting and beautifully tiled floors.
Adventurous women willing to get off the beaten track can experience six days of bliss on 650 acres of woodlands at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015. The female-empowering festival attracts thousands who take advantage of workshops, film screenings and musical performances by three-dozen female acts. This year’s festival takes place Aug. 4−9. To get to the remote site in Oceana County, participants fly into Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) and catch a two-hour shuttle bus to the festival site.
Traverse City Surprises
Traverse City is located in northern Michigan. Its main claim to fame is that it is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Yet travelers who venture to the pristine destination will also find music galore.
Interlochen Center for the Arts is a 1,200-acre arts education institution in nearby Interlochen. Founded in 1928, the institution attracts thousands of artists who journey to the facility to study music, theater, visual arts, film, creative writing and dance. Concerts are presented on an almost daily basis. Famous alumni include Josh Groban, Norah Jones and Jewel, as well as many classical virtuosos.
An offbeat musical surprise awaits visitors in Williamsburg, located about eight miles from Traverse City. Music House Museum, housed in a charming, 100-year-old dairy barn, showcases a collection of rare instruments and music boxes from the late 18th century to 1950. The space, which evokes nostalgia for a bygone era, can be rented out by planners It can seat 60–80 guests inside, and accommodate considerably more outside under tents.
There are many reasons to choose Michigan for your next meeting. Bound by four of the five Great Lakes, the state boasts more than 3,200 miles of coastline and 100 public beaches. If plans call for outdoor activities, there are plenty of rivers and miles of trails. The key cities offer quality convention centers, luxurious hotels and many dining options. And if music matters, planners would agree that Michigan rocks.
Test Your Motown Mojo
- What is Stevie Wonder’s real name?
- What are the names of the three original
- Smokey Robinson gave Motown its first million-dollar seller in 1961. What was the song?
- Which Motown group has more Top 10 hits than any other R&B group in history?
- What are the names of the original members of the Jackson Five?
- How were Marvin Gaye and Berry Gordy related?
- What was the last song Diana Ross released with The Supremes before going solo?
- Which act started out as The Matadors?
- Aretha Franklin was a Motown artist.
True or false?
- Motown’s anti-Vietnam protest song “War” was later covered by which famous artist?
Answers at the end of the feature.
Who: Youmacon 2014; 17,000 attendees
What: Anime Convention
When: Oct. 30−Nov. 2, 2014
Where: Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center and Cobo Conference Center, Detroit.
Quote: “Detroit has always been home, and we wanted to show that it was a great place—not the scary place the media has shown. To do this, we work year-round to build one of the greatest fandom experiences. We have a great relationship with the city, and have become a local landmark event that the region looks forward to every fall.”
−Morgan Kollin, chairman and founder, Youmacon Enterprises
Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitannarbor.org
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitdetroit.com
Experience Grand Rapids – experiencegr.com
Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau – lansing.org
Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau – mackinacisland.org
Travel Michigan – michigan.org
Traverse City Tourism – traversecity.com
Michigan’s Great Lakes
Great Lake States
The name “Michigan” is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake.” Michigan’s nickname, “The Great Lakes State,” is appropriate considering the state is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes. With thousands of other inland lakes and ponds, a person in Michigan is never more than six miles from a natural water source. Here are more facts about Michigan’s Great Lakes:
- Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world.
- Lake Michigan covers 22,300 sq. mi.
- Lake Huron was the first of the Great Lakes to be discovered by European explorers.
- Lake Erie is the warmest and most biologically productive.
- Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area.
- Combined, The Great Lakes provide one-fifth of the nation’s fresh surface water supply.–Information courtesy of Pure Michigan
–Information courtesy of Pure Michigan
Major Meeting Venues
Atheneum Suite Hotel
Newly renovated Greek-themed hotel; 174 guest rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Cobo Conference Center
Green venue overlooking Detroit River that just completed a five-year, $279 million renovation; 178,446 sq. ft. of meeting space; 100 breakout rooms; free, high speed Wi-Fi; linked to downtown by the Detroit People Mover, the city’s elevated railway.
Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront
Adjacent to Cobo; 367 guest rooms; 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. q
Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center
Newly renovated 70-story building on the RiverWalk; 1,298 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; 34 meeting rooms.
30-story hotel with casino; 400 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 11 breakout rooms; 4,000- square-foot ballroom; live entertainment; spa.
MGM Grand Detroit
Forbes Four Star, AAA Four Diamond gaming property; 400 guest rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; entertainment and dining options.
MotorCity Casino Hotel
Gaming property; 400 guest rooms; 67,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Sound Board theater seats 2,400; AAA Four Diamond restaurant; spa.
Renaissance Conference Center
20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in six rooms; connected to Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center and Courtyard by Marriott Detroit Downtown.
The Henry, Autograph Collection
Luxurious property in nearby Dearborn; 308 guest rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; gallery-style art collection.
The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
Italian Renaissance-style hotel built in 1924; named to National Register of Historic Places; 453 guest rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Michael Symon’s Roast restaurant.
The Westin Detroit Metro Airport
Connected to Detroit Metro Airport (DTW); 404 guest rooms; 7,330-square-foot ballroom, 34 meeting rooms.
The Westin Southfield Detroit
20 minutes from downtown; 388 guest rooms; more than 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 25-plus meeting rooms; IACC-certified conference center.
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel
Old World charm with downtown riverfront location; 682 guest rooms; 47,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; four elegant ballrooms; 42 meeting rooms; many dining options.
Boutique LEED Gold certified; 28 guest rooms; 19,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; CitySen lounge.
Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown
214 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; eight meeting rooms.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Grand Rapids-Airport
Three minutes from airport; 320 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 21 meeting rooms.
DeVos Place Convention Center
On Grand River; linked to three downtown properties by covered walkway; 162,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall, 40,000-square-foot ballroom; 26 meeting rooms totaling 32,000 sq. ft.; 2,404-seat DeVos Performance Hall.
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
23-floor, downtown property with river views; 337 guest rooms; 15,369 sq. ft. of meeting space; 12 meeting rooms.
Courtyard by Marriott-Lansing
New lobby; 115 guest rooms and 14 suites; 767 sq. ft. of meeting space; accommodates up to 50.
Crowne Plaza Lansing West
212 renovated guest rooms; near Michigan State University; 17,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; 17 meeting rooms.
East Lansing Marriott at University Place
One block from MSU; 180 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center
At Michigan State University; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 32 meeting rooms; 160 guest rooms.
Radisson Hotel Lansing at the Capitol
256 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space including 6,900-square-foot ballroom.
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
Located in Acme; currently undergoing a $7 million renovation; 600 guest rooms; 86,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; woodlands; beaches; golf courses; spa; indoor water playground. q
Great Wolf Lodge
281 guest rooms with themed suites; 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; free passes to 39,000-square-foot indoor water park; spa; multiple dining options.
Park Palace Hotel
Downtown near shopping; dining; 140 guest rooms; 12,873 sq. ft. of meeting space; nine meeting rooms; indoor pool.
Shanty Creek Resorts
Three interlocking resorts in Bellaire; 526 guest rooms; 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; golf; dining.
Answers: 1. Stevland Morris 2. Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard 3. “Shop Around” 4. The Temptations 5. Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Marlon and Michael 6. They were brothers-in-law 7. “Someday We’ll Be Together” 8. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles 9. False 10. Bruce Springsteen