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Original hipster: Marsha Music, cultural icon and griot of Detroit

Marsha Battle Philpot and David Philpot


A few months ago, i-D Magazine (a Vice Media property) published a feature entitled "Patti's kids: Why seven young people love Detroit." For the story, a writer and photographer walked around Midtown and asked some young hipsters a series of questions about why they think Detroit is the place to be.

After reading that piece, we were inspired to ask another group of people about Detroit, a group we're dubbing the "original hipsters." Young hipsters may be "good for cities," but they wouldn't be here if it weren't for the older cool folks who paved the way. Over the next few weeks, we'll check in with original hipsters who have helped make Detroit cool for the young upstarts claiming Detroit cred.

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Marsha Battle Philpot, aka Marsha Music, is a Detroit cultural icon.  In 2012, Marsha was recognized for her writing with a Kresge Literary Arts FellowshipIf you're at a literary or arts event in the city, look for Marsha and her husband David. You can't miss their distinctive, imaginative style.

Model D: Describe the work you and your husband do.

Marsha Music: I'm a writer and a griot, a storyteller, and a talker. I'm working on a feature length film about my father, Hastings Street, and 12th Street. David's an assemblage artist and mosaicist.

Marsha's father was Joe Von Battle, a legendary record producer and owner of the JVB and Battle record labels. Over his career, Joe recorded blues and gospel legends like John Lee Hooker, Little Sonny, and Rev. C.L. Franklin. To learn more about Joe, read Marsha's piece "Joe Von Battle -- Requiem for a Record Shop Man."

MD: How long have you lived/worked in Detroit?

MM: I've lived in Detroit my entire life. I was born in Detroit and raised in Highland Park. David has been in Detroit two years. He came here to do a show of his work at the George N'Namdi Gallery. We met there and got married a few months later. George was our best man.

MD: What's your neighborhood?

MM: I live in the Mies Van Der Rohe community of Lafayette Park.

MD: What is Detroit style? Is it shown through the type of clothing people wear or is it more of an attitude?

MM: I think it's a reflection of the extreme creative energy here combined with an African American aesthetic. I've been immersed in it all my life. Having grown up in the musical tradition of the city -- my father was a record producer -- and coming up in the Motown era, the high level of style that's been in Detroit has been a great influence on me. David always says he can feel the creativity in Detroit.

MD: Who's your favorite Detroit musician?

MM: That's too hard, that's not a fair question. I live immersed in musicians and art, so that's not fair.

MD: What's one piece of advice you have for young people moving to the city today?

MM: Just say 'hi.' That's my new mantra. Those who are coming here have the responsibility of acknowledging those who have been here. Detroit is like a small southern town. It's about connecting with people.

You can follow Marsha's work on her blog, Marsha Music: A Grown Woman's Tales from Detroit.

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Model D will be checking in with other "original hipsters" over the coming weeks.

Photo by Marvin Shaouni.
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