By Holly Myles
On Friday night at Detroit’s Fox Theatre, Grammy-award winner Michael Bolton hosted an exclusive sneak preview live event for his Detroit documentary, “Gotta Keep Dreamin”. Yes, that Michael Bolton, the one with the hair and featured on The Lonely Island’s “Jack Sparrow”, is in love with Detroit, so much so that he’s spent the past few years working on a film focused on Detroit’s 21st century renaissance.
Photo credit: Lisa Brighton
The first time I heard Bolton was working on a documentary on Detroit’s comeback, my eyes rolled so hard I nearly went blind. It seems every month or so we hear about some outsider coming to the city to tell the story for Detroit, and at this point I’m either numb to it or annoyed. Bolton becoming one of our global ambassador’s seemed like a stretch to me. That was until I heard his story.
As a young boy living in Connecticut, Bolton was enamored, like many, with the sounds of artists like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Eventually he discovered that a great body of work came from a little record company called Motown Records. Some forty years and many albums later, Bolton decided it was time to take a musical heritage tour to a charming house on West Grand Boulevard where he found inspiration for his 2013 project, “A Tribute to Hitsville USA”.
It was during this time that he says, “the history of Detroit started revealing itself.” Eventually he was introduced to Detroit tycoons Dan Gilbert and Chris Illitch, who helped open doors and provided access for the documentary project. But for Bolton it wasn’t just the iconic characters that drove him, it was the individual lives that gave him inspiration. As he passionately stated on Friday night, “It’s the individuals, the heart and soul here that is really worth fighting for.” This sentiment is shown throughout the segments of the film we were fortunate to preview.
The history of Detroit is told beyond Ford Motor Company and Motown music, pulling in Detroit Historical Society historians to help share the history, from fur trading and prohibition to the creation of the middle class. Interviews with Chris Illitch and Bill Ford help shape the story of work ethic and sports fanaticism. And many interviews with Detroit-native artists like Aretha Franklin, Alice Cooper and Mayer Hawthorne tell the stories of how Detroit shaped them. But like it was for Bolton, it was the individual stories beyond the iconic figures that made the greatest impact.
This film gives voice to the everyman in Detroit. The folks that give meaning to the words used often to describe the city, such as grit, determination and resilience. From factory workers at Shinola and the Big Three to entrepreneurs and educators, the stories showcasing pride, hope, hard work and determination are in abundance. Some will inspire you, some will move you to take action, and some may even move you to tears. In fact, and I’m not ashamed to admit this, the segment on Veronika Scott’s Empowerment Plan, which hires women from local shelters to make coats that transfer into sleeping bags, made me tear up a little.
Photo credit: Lisa Brighton
Not only does the film tell Scott’s story, but it takes us on a tour of the company and introduces us to the employees who share their stories of resilience. Highlighting the need to change the perception of homelessness and to keep open minds to those that find their home and livelihoods on the streets of Detroit.
Scott came on stage for a panel discussion and the inspiration (and tears) continued. What stood out to me and really showcased what makes Detroit great, was the opportunities and support Detroit has provided to help Scott’s vision come to life. She told us that if she was not a student at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit and had the opportunity to learn how to sew and witness a clothing manufacturing facility from Detroit’s own Carhartt, she wouldn’t have been able to do what she’s doing today. The people that believed and supported her mission came in many forms, including Mitch Albom, who bought her a second sewing machine to help her hire employees.
For me, this is why Detroit is so great and what makes this film important. Detroit’s story isn’t just about the tycoons, entrepreneurs, or artists, but about the community as whole coming together as human beings and Detroiters to build something great – understanding that we’re all interconnected and we need each other.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned from this experience, and this film, is I should release the negativity and annoyance I feel about outsiders telling our stories. This documentary proves that Detroit is one-of-a-kind. It’s not a fad. It has a spirit that draws people in and gives them hope and inspiration. Detroit enters your soul and changes how you view the world. I’m learning to be grateful for those that want to share in this experience and want to help challenge misperceptions and change the negative dialogue.
Detroiters are not only those that are born and live here, but those that carry our spirit with them, share our stories and fill their souls with the passion, hard work and determination to rise that makes our city so contagious and important to the world.
As emcee Mitch Albom declared on Friday, Michael Bolton has become a Detroiter. And I’m not ashamed of it, in fact I’m grateful.
We’ll keep you posted on any updates about the documentary. Check back soon.