Few things suggest the tranquility of summer more than dulcet strains of music heard under a starry sky with soft river breezes adding to the atmosphere. For decades this idyllic scene played out on Belle Isle as the Detroit Concert Band (DCB), under the direction of Leonard B. Smith, performed at the Jerome H. Remick Bandshell to throngs of music lovers. (Here, Smith leads the band before appreciative fans in 1953.)
The shell was erected in 1950 and named for Remick (1867-1931), a wildly successful Detroit music publisher. Remick’s company published such sentimental early 20th-century hits as “Baby Face” and “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” In addition to the DCB’s performances, the Remick Bandshell hosted performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles. The DCB last performed on Belle Isle in 1980, and thereafter the bandshell faced years of neglect and decay.
Enter the nonprofit group Music on Belle Isle Group (MOBIG), founded in 2017. Although MOBIG President Craig Strain says the bandshell is “in very bad shape structurally and cosmetically,” he’s determined to bring it back to life. “I knew of the historic significance of the Remick shell, had visited the site many times, and had for years wished it could be restored,” says Strain, who also leads the Motor City Brass Band. It’s his dream that his band, along with other ensembles, might one day perform under the shell.
MOBIG raised $20,000 for an architectural/structural assessment of the bandshell in October 2020. Strain says the findings determined a complete overhaul, including structural stabilizing, would come close to $1.5 million. But he’s undeterred. After all, it’s a fact that Detroiters guard their musical heritage. Consider the renovation of Orchestra Hall, the transformation of the Grand Circus Theatre into the Detroit Opera House, or the creation (and expansion) of the Motown Museum. And let’s not forget the State Fair Bandshell, which was to be razed as part of Amazon’s plan to build a distribution center on the site. But it was saved. At press time, the shell was to be disassembled and moved to nearby Palmer Park.