Detroit Jazz Icon Wendell Harrison Named 2018 Kresge Eminent Artist

Gus Navarro/WDET

Wendell Harrison (right) with Stephen Henderson (left)

Longtime Detroit jazz musician Wendell Harrison is part of a small community of artists who truly shaped what we think of as Detroit’s modern jazz sound. 

He was one of the founders of Tribe Records, a black owned company that was about community and education as much as it was about producing music. Harrison is a saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. 

He was recently named the 2018 Kresge Eminent Artist

Harrison joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about his career as a jazz musician and the significance of receiving the lifetime achievement award. 

In the 1960s, Harrison was living in New York City, but eventually decided to come back to Detroit.

I met a lot of artists (in Detroit) that wanted to get their music out all over the world,” he says. “So we organized a record label as well as a magazine to deal with composing, promoting, and actually…developing our careers as jazz musicians.” 

In the 1970s, many Detroit jazz musicians were writing and arranging for commercial labels. They often weren’t compensated fairly and were unable to retain the publishing rights for the songs they wrote. 

That really didn’t feel right to me,” recalls Harrison. “If we created the music, we should own it.”

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 

Annie Scaramuzzino/WDET

Wendell Harrison


Image credit: Annie Scaramuzzino/WDET

About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.  

We want to hear from you.
Share your thoughts and opinions: