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This story is published in collaboration with BridgeDetroit.

In 1945 in Detroit, Michigan, a man who is believed to be the first African-American independent record producer opened up a blues and gospel record store called Joe’s Record Shop. The store was lined with vinyl records and music posters, with a big, upright piano in the back. Joe Von Battle started the business by selling records from his personal collection. Later, he remodeled the store to include a recording studio. His shop was a focal point for the music scene on Hastings Street — the center of Black business and entertainment in 1950s Detroit. 

“People sang up and down the street, they played their guitars on the corner, they sang gospel,” said Von Battle’s daughter, 67-year-old Marsha Philpot, “so my dad began to record these people.”

Von Battle recorded blues artists like John Lee Hooker and was the first person to ever record Aretha Franklin. At one point, Joe’s Record Shop had 35,000 albums in its inventory and generated the present-day equivalent of $2.5 million in revenue. “My father had been very, very successful in his record business,” ... Read more

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