Renowned Detroit Jazz Musician Phil Ranelin Returns for 80th Birthday Performances

The musician is one of the founders of Tribe Records, an influential — and, now, collectible — label behind early Detroit jazz recordings.

Meta Stange/WDET
Meta Stange/WDET

Renowned Detroit jazz musician and composer Phil Ranelin and saxophonist Wendell Harrison formed Tribe Records in the early 1970’s, an underground jazz label that became highly coveted by record collectors over the years. Now, Ranelin is returning to Detroit to celebrate his 80th birthday with two live performances at Trinosophes this Saturday and Sunday.

Although originally from Indianapolis, Ranelin made his roots in Detroit with Tribe Records. He credits the label’s sound to the variety of musicians contributing to its catalog. 

“It was a group of individuals, everybody had a unique sound,” says Ranelin. “The fact that we were all composers led to the sound.”

The original partnership was green to the music business, but Ranelin says the musicians needed the credentials of an album or label to advance their names. Thus, Tribe Records was formed. The first record, “Message From The Tribe,” was recorded in typical low-key fashion: Ranelin says they huddled in a Grosse Pointe basement and created their first series of recordings. 

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that Ranelin learned the label’s records had become collectibles. Later, he saw one on eBay selling for $1,900. 

“And I said, man I was giving them things away!” Ranelin says. 

Click on the player above to hear WDET’s Sam Beaubien interview Tribe Records Phil Ranelin on his history in Detroit, the labels founding and it’s influence today. 

Phil Ranelin will be performing at Trinosophes, 1464 Gratiot Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, this Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14. Tickets are available at the venue.



  • Sam Beaubien
    Sam Beaubien is a musician, composer, producer, and educator in Detroit. He is also the founder and leader of the acclaimed ensemble, Will Sessions.