Photography: JT Michcock

Detroit might have given birth to Motown but it’s musical future looks jazzy thanks to Carhartt heiress, Gretchen Valada.

The philanthropist – and Detroit Jazz Music Festival Foundation chair – has gifted $7.5m to Wayne State University’s music programme, to turn the Hilberry Theater on Cass Avenue into a state-of-the-art jazz performance hub.

‘Gretchen Valade Jazz Center will build on and celebrate the rich tradition of Detroit jazz,’ said WSU Dean Matthew Seeger in a statement released by WSU. ‘This gift also includes a ten year affiliation agreement between the Detroit Jazz Festival and Wayne State University.’

Built in 1916 by architects Field, Hinchman and Smith, the Neoclassical building started life as a First Church of Christ, Scientist. It was bought by WSU in 1961 and remodelled from a 1,512-seater auditorium into a 532-seater theatre.

The Valada Center will be the final phase of the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex, a nearly $50 million initiative to strengthen Wayne State’s cultural presence in Midtown. Five million dollars will be spent restoring and converting the Hilberry Theater after the construction of the university’s new purpose-built theatre on the corner of Cass and Forest Avenues.

When it opens – likely in several years time – the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center will host an array of high-profile concerts by visiting jazz artists, and serve as an educational hub for Wayne State’s jazz students and faculty.

‘Wayne State, in many ways, is the cultural epicenter of this city,’ said Valada. ‘My love of jazz music and of this great city have inspired and motivated me my entire life. I can’t imagine a more meaningful way to combine those passions.’



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