“People say, What are you?’ I’m a Detroitist.” This is how Marsha Music describes herself as a self-proclaimed, unofficial ambassador for the city. The 68-year-old Detroit-born, Highland Park-raised writer and historian — her full name is Marsha Battle Philpot — grew up absorbing the sounds of gospel, blues, and rock ’n’ roll at her late father Joe Von Battle’s record store and studio, Joe’s Record Shop.
The store was located on the former Hastings Street in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood during the ’40s and ’50s, but Battle relocated his business to 12th Street in 1960, before it was later destroyed during the 1967 Detroit rebellion.
Music writes about this, as well as other personal experiences and more on Detroit’s music, art, and neighborhoods, on her website — marshamusic.wordpress.com — and in her 2019 anthology The Detroitist. Her endless curiosity about the city and dedication to its authentic preservation has led Music to many opportunities: She was a 2012 Kresge Arts fellow; she discussed COVID-19’s devastating effect on Detroit’s Black community for the Los Angeles Times; and currently, she’s co-executive producing a film about her father and Hastings Street.
In her downtime, Music attends operas around town and hand-sews her own clothing at her home in Palmer Park. Here, she walks us through her bold fashions, local haunts, and more.
My personal style is … Dramatic, eclectic, and ethnic. [I draw inspiration] from various African nations. Also some European looks; I’ve been a follower of European style for a long time, both ancient style and contemporary style. I love picking up things in places where they call out to me.
I’m not a mall shopper. One of my primary places to shop is the African World Festival and all the major festivals, Concert of Colors, and Dally in the Alley. You never know what will pop up that will become a real part of the paintbrush of your palette as a clothing artist.
My style is inspired by … My own family. I come from a maternal family of five beautiful sisters. And then my paternal family, the children of [my father’s] first marriage, were all very handsome people. … As I became a full-figured woman, I really rejected the more popular full-figured styles, and I wanted a look of real drama and comfort in a loose way of wearing a garment. [My mother and sisters are] my real inspiration; their sense of decorum and style is deeply embedded in me.
I can’t leave the house without … Earrings. Some of my favorite people [and shops] here would be Olayami Dabls of Mbad African Bead Museum, Djenne Beads & Art in Greektown, The Peacock Room, and Offin River’s Accessories, Etcetera. Other Detroit jewelers I patronize are Milton Bennett, Rena Hinton, and Karen Travis.
Local designers and shops I love: Lynette Halalay, of Knit Sew Fabulous. She makes very beautiful things and designs for me and a number of women. Sheila Melissa Palmer of Quétarshé. Another favorite style place is Flo Boutique. Flo’s is the place for funky cool fashion. Other designers I patronize include Geneva Phillips, Stef-n-Ty, Judy Sledge, and Mandisa Smith.
Where I go for inspiration: One of the spaces that I gravitate to is The Congregation. It’s such a gathering space for the various people of Detroit. I feel the energy of the space very much because that is down the block from where my father’s record store was on 12th Street. Another place I really love to go for inspiration is Savvy Chic in Eastern Market. It’s perhaps the most beautifully designed space in the city. It is the quintessential Detroit because it expresses the real creativity and beauty of the city as it emerged from its French roots. The proprietor, Karen Brown — she has been very intentional in her cultivation of that space, and you can tell.