Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on April 1, 2014

I woke up to the gentle sound of rain on the skylight. It has been raining for most of the night, something I have not heard since last fall. Right now it is forty degrees out and only 3:30 in the morning, all good signs of spring pushing back winter for a while. By peering out the window in the dark I can see that the deep snow is gradually receding, literally washing away.

As for me, I have not been in the essay-writing mood for quite a while. Instead, have been working on the studios, pulling them into shape for the forthcoming Michigan Folk Project.

One of the first sections of the video documentary will be a sidebar on the legendary Idlewild Resort, often called the "Black Eden." Idelwild is just up the road from where I live here in Michigan, and was created around 1912 as a summer resort for African Americans, since they were pretty much not welcome at White resorts. And it became a Mecca for Black Americans by the thousands who came from all over the United States to spend the summer or part of the summer here in Michigan, with all its lakes, swimming, fishing, and natural beauty. And there was dancing and great entertainment.

The greatest Black entertainers spent time here, folks like Count Basie, Della Reese, Jackie Wilson, Bill Cosby, Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, T-Bone Walker, The Four Tops, Brooks Benton, and scores of others. One could purchase a lot in Idlewild back then for $35 and put a cabin on it for not a lot more. The story is that the name Idelwild came about because it was a place where the men could be idle (have some time off), and the women be just a little wild.

Idelwild lasted from 1912 until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after which Black Americans were guaranteed a right to enjoy their summers anywhere in the country, and, sadly, the Idlewild Resort gradually diminished.

This is part of the theme I am suggesting, that Michigan is indeed a wellspring of music and creativity. Tomorrow I am hosting at our studio, John Meeks, all of 92 years old, a participant in the original Idlewild and an very much an advocate of restoring the resort area once again. As a student of black music history most of my life, I am going to enjoy this.

[A photo I took last spring, a reminder of what is to come.]