Play it again: Detroit nonprofit receives $1.9M grant to restore legendary jazz club

What’s happening: Efforts to renovate and reopen a legendary but long-vacant jazz club on Detroit’s west side have earned the financial support of the Mellon Foundation, as the New York City-based foundation has awarded a $1.9 million grant toward the rehabilitation of the building. The Mellon Foundation had previously awarded a $100,000 grant toward the project in 2021.

What it is: The Blue Bird Inn opened at 5021 Tireman Ave. in 1937, and the Black-owned bar and venue soon became one of the epicenters in the development of bebop jazz. The venue would remain a destination for live jazz through the 1960s, hosting performances by jazz luminaries including John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Live music would cease by 1970 and the Blue Bird Inn itself closed in the early 2000s.

What’s planned: The Detroit Sound Conservancy (DSC) nonprofit has centered its efforts to preserve and promote Detroit music history — and soon nurture its future — on its planned renovations of the Blue Bird Inn. The bar and venue will be faithfully restored along with added modern updates, with the DSC also planning to build an archive for Detroit music history and a space for a community and cultural heritage center. Calling the $1.9 million grant “transformational,” the DSC expects to now complete renovations and open the Blue Bird within four years.

[Related: Read “Michelle Jahra McKinney on preserving Detroit’s musical legacy and building the future” on Model D.]

Why it’s important: “This recognition is a testament to our intergenerational community’s impact on the world!” reads a statement from Michelle Jahra McKinney, DSC Director and Director of Collections. “We will support community-based activism and tell untold stories. We will empower our community and support our partners to join with us, supporting our efforts to preserve, make accessible, and secure Detroit's true gift to the world: our music!”

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.