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Detroit Music Awards turns 20
10 April, 2011
The Oakland Press - Steve Hart
In 1988, a group of music and broadcast industry professionals worked toward a concept that would honor the efforts of Detroit’s talented local musicians. Al Wilson, then-Vice President of Harmony House Jerry Adams, Millie Felch Coffey, David Handleman of the now-defunct Handleman Corp. and music journalist Gary Graff gathered during their spare time to develop the Detroit Music Awards with one goal in mind — to promote the local music scene and support the city’s musicians. Wilson, who is now chief financial officer of the DMA, said the idea was first conceived by Coffey, who had recently put together a reunion of Detroit music and radio veterans and was inspired by similar ceremonies happening elsewhere in the U.S. “Millie wanted to start an award show similar to what San Francisco and Minneapolis had, a local kind of Grammy situation focusing on Detroit music,” Wilson said. “We originally got together in 1988 and it took us until 1991 to put the award show on, going through a number of ways as to how we should go about doing it. It was a rocky road at first; I kept asking myself if this was going to happen or not because we all had day jobs and were meeting on a hit or miss basis. At the, time we wanted it to be an annual event, but when you’re meeting for three years on a monthly basis the goal at first was to just make the show happen.” Wilson was doubtful in the developing stages, figuring the DMA would be nothing more than a one-time event, but with the success of the first show at Detroit’s Music Hall, the award ceremony carried on. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the DMA continues to serve as a gathering between the artists and players of the music industry. Big-name winners over the years have included Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Uncle Kracker, Hot Club of Detroit and Marcus Belgrave. The list of perennial favorites goes on to include Billy Brandt, Buggs Beddow, reggae band Immunity, Liz Larin, Nadir Distorted Soul, Brothers Groove and its individual members, Mack Avenue, Tempermill studio in Ferndale, live sound technician Neil Sever, Carolyn Striho, Johnny Bassett and Thornetta Davis. Since he was first asked to perform along with Sponge and a lesser-known Kid Rock back in the early ‘90s, Howling Diablos frontman Martin “Tino” Gross has always enjoyed attending the award ceremony. “Whether you win or lose, it’s just good to get together and see everybody. There’s always a good vibe in the room and it’s pretty much a great party. I always look forward to it,” he said. “The awards put a spotlight on this living, breathing music scene that exists within our society, and it brings forth the real essence of musicianship in a city that has always had a reputation of being the top music scene in the world.” Jill Jack, a singer-songwriter and previous award winner, spoke highly of the DMA and regarded her awards as a great way to be recognized by her peers. “The awards bring us together on a night where normally we’re all gigging. It almost feels homey,” she said. “We all run and gig and work like crazy, but there is this one night where we get to put our instruments down and hang out. When we’re all together it makes me proud and gives me more energy to keep progressing and pushing the Detroit music scene further.” Every year the DMA has generated long lasting memories those who attend. Some of the memorable performances at the ceremony have come from Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, a reunited Amboy Dukes, the Frost, George Clinton with rockabilly star Johnny Powers, Charm Farm with Insane Clown Posse, Was (Not Was) and Grand Funk Railroad, which celebrated its Distinguished Achievement Award with an impromptu a capella version of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” For Jack the most vivid memory is of entering her first ceremony late only to receive exciting greetings and congratulations from her peers, later to find out she had won several awards while she was absent. For Gross it was getting the chance to pay tribute to the great jazz organist Lyman Woodard after he passed away in 2009. But when 20 years of hard work and dedication muddle memories as they did for Wilson, it’s hard to judge which moment was the best. “Everything has always run smoothly and it’s always been special. Honestly, I’ve never left a show and said it was a bust. There have been some great shows and there have been some all right shows, but we’ve never had a bad show,” Wilson said. “I remember the show last year being great, when we honored The Rockets. I’ve seen them a lot, but not recently and they blew the place up. They were great.”

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