When President Joe Biden signed a bill in 2021 officially making Juneteenth America’s eleventh federal holiday (the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983) — it was an exclamation point on a day many African Americans had already been celebrating for a century and a half.
Juneteenth National Independence Day, (also referred to as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Black Independence Day) is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States that's observed yearly on June 19. Although the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation put a formal end to slavery in the United States, an estimated 250,000 African-Americans in Galveston, Texas were not freed until Union General Gordon Granger traveled there on June 19, 1865 to inform them. The newly freed slaves began a yearly celebration that has been passed down several generations from state to state.
This year, music collective D.Cipher will be bringing back its 12-week Black Bottom Live Music Series to the Dequindre Cut to celebrate.
Lufuki & Divine Providence.
The collective is dedicated to advancing the Michigan music economy through shared learning, collaboration, and partnerships. The collective is made up of Dominique Campbell (Executive Director), Wayne Ramocan (Director of Media & Productions), and Sophiyah Elizabeth (Director of Artist Relations & Director of Programs).
“We have a partnership with the Riverfront Conservancy,” says Elizabeth. “Through that partnership we pretty much curate down on the Campbell Terrace memorial […] we started bringing down small business, having vendors, and specifically for Juneteenth we were asked to do programming for 2020.”
The group will kick off the series on June 19 with a Juneteenth-themed musical celebration.
“We do focus on amplifying the Michigan music economy that's here, we do have touring artists, and so Juneteenth was kind of built off of that momentum,” says Elizabeth.
The featured line-up includes Pirahnahead, a well-traveled musician and DJ with a heavy funk, techno, and hip-hop background. Then there’s Monique Ella Rose who specializes in electronic soul while the Gabriel Brass Band is well known for their own brand of New Orleans jazz. Lastly, Yolanda Perez will bring a Latin-Afro-Cuban dance vibe to the stage.
“Really the model is kind of a mix of emerging talent and then also some of the old heads, some of the legends, and vets of the Detroit music scene will also touch the stage,” says Campbell. “So it's really all ages, all genre lineup that we provide. It's something for everybody.”
“Sophiyah does a phenomenal lineup every year. It's really the gamut of what Detroit music is. So we have everything from hip-hop artists that sometimes rock with a full band and sometimes rock with a DJ to Jazz artists, we have reggae artists,” adds Campbell.
Detroit’s Black Bottom, which the series is named after, was a predominantly Black neighborhood with roughly 100,000 residents by the end of the 1950s (who mostly had relocated from the southern states). Notable residents of Black Bottom include actress and singer Della Reese and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche. The neighborhood was also full of Black-owned businesses and a general aura of prosperity. Black Bottom was razed in the name of “urban renewal” during the 1950s and1960s.
The D.Cipher cohort feels the Juneteenth celebration channels Black Bottom’s opulent spirit and brings a meaningful historical lineage that Detroiters heavily embrace and are proud of.
“It ties back to intentionally, bringing music and culture directly to the community, and uplifting the history, legacy that is black music in Detroit,” says Campbell. “Uplifting the music and culture of what was once Black Bottom since the Dequindre Cut is the eastern border of what was Black Bottom. So we definitely pay homage to that.”
The members of D.Cipher are more than a collective. They’re all individual musicians in their own right who thrive off of the musical fellowship they’re bringing to Detroit. Over the next 12 weeks, notable artists such as emcee Boog Brown, blues mainstay Thronetta Davis, and songstress Baddie Brooks are all scheduled to perform. The goal is for the series as a whole to become a cultural hub for many Detroit families seeking summertime entertainment or maybe a fun musical break in the action. While Detroit has other musical events and festivals that attract people from all over the world; ticket costs have created a financial barrier for some residents.
“It definitely fills a void, on the surface level; our programs are free so it automatically removes the cost barrier for a lot of folks who maybe want to go to events and maybe want to bring their family but can’t afford to bring the whole family down,” says Campbell.
Elizabeth sees the series as a win-win. D.Cipher is able to promote itself and financially support Detroit artists while also curating an event that's fun and free for the community.
“Having those Black artists, those black musicians and being able to compensate, and support the longevity of their carer is also a deep reflection of the infrastructure of Black Bottom as well even though it was stores at the time and a utopia of sound,” says Elizabeth. “It still has that common thread down into the future of now where our energy lies a lot in originality, solidarity, honoring our elders, creating resources, paving a way so those who are inspired or are aspiring to be in the discipline in sound music or creativity — they can see that music.”
D.Cipher will be organizing additional events throughout Detroit and hopes the Black Bottom Live Music Series will stay a yearly musical melting pot that Detroiters can continue to enjoy moving forward.
“So doing these things, it's kind of divine, we’re very spiritual. As much as we're out here doing music, we’re very humble in the sense that we work diligently, and actively in creating the things we don’t have and opening up spaces to receive the things we need to move,” Elizabeth adds.
All photos taken by Dan McDougal.