Paradise Valley Music Festival returns to Hart Plaza

ow in its fifth year, the Paradise Valley Music Festival-a homage to the demolished entertainment district of the same name-is back at Hart Plaza. Producer Johnnie Washington created the fest in 2011 to celebrate the legacy of Black entertainment in Detroit. About 35,000 people showed for the first year, immediately signaling a new tradition in Detroit.

This year, the three-day festival boasts more than 30 contemporary performers, bringing the sounds of blues, R&B and Motown. Artists on the bill include Pieces of a Dream, Ronnie Laws, Howard Hewett, Thornetta Davis, Phase 5, Lady Champagne, Gwen Charles and more, as well as a Sunday service with Second New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Eric Burr.

The Paradise Valley community boomed during the Great Migration of Southern blacks to Detroit. With more than 300 Black-owned businesses in a 66-block area, the community flourished until an expansion of I-75 and the construction of I-375 tore up the area in the 1960s.

We caught up with Washington as he continues to find the inspiration from the Paradise Valley legacy.

Why were you interested in starting the Paradise Valley Music Festival?

To preserve the history. If we knew our history, we can understand where we came from. History has a major impact of our lives. A lot of people remember vague information on Paradise Valley, but the depth of the memory is fading.


This is to remind folks this is our legacy this is what we are about.

Paradise Valley was one of the richest African-American communities in the United States during its time. Millions were brought into the Paradise Valley businesses, which maintained the community – we’re talking about businesses that supported their children to attend college to come back as doctors and lawyers. It created something that felt unstoppable. African-Americans have to create a new paradise to keep the legacy alive.

Why did you decide to include a business expo in the festival?

I wanted to give the community the chance to support local entrepreneurs and the goods that they are selling. People need to know where the businesses of their community are.

What are your future goals for Paradise Valley Music Festival?

I want to make this Detroit festival an international festival. Our goal is to be the size of the Essence Music Festival.

Do you think it is important for younger generations to attend this event?

It is very important! One thing I discovered about the younger generation is their great love for music and history. They are very intrigued. Paradise Valley is for all ages-a great summer event for the whole family.

What were some challenges of the festival?

Having a small budget. It can be difficult because it depends on establishing the brand! Whenever doing a festival, the branding establishes the budget. A lot of people barely remember Paradise Valley and it continues to fade. We even urge performing artists to do mandatory research and learn the Paradise Valley history before their performance.

How do you feel about the incoming population and change within Detroit?

I encourage everyone to go down and be a part of the change and not feel alienated. This festival will encourage it. The growth of Detroit is phenomenal. If we stay with the change, we grow with it. We are excited to see the inclusion of all Detroiters. It should be a melting pot of celebration. We are just blessed to have Detroit on our side to continue on.

The Paradise Valley Music Festival is July 15-17 at Hart Plaza in Detroit. The event is free till 5 p.m. Saturday and until 2 p.m. Sunday; hours after are $5. More at

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