Thornetta Davis Band (Photo provided by Jefferson East)

Detroit’s Queen of the Blues Thornetta Davis and jazz saxophonist Dave McMurray will take the stage this summer as headliners of the 2023 Jazzin’ at the Vanity festival. 

The free, two-day jazz and blues festival is set for June 10 and 11 at East Jefferson Avenue between Newport and Lakewood streets, organizers announced in a news release. 

Formerly known as Jazzin’ on Jefferson, Jazzin’ at the Vanity celebrates the culture and history of the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, including the historic Vanity Ballroom, the last Detroit ballroom from the big band era. The event is presented by Grosse Pointe Farms community and cultural center The War Memorial and organized by community development nonprofit Jefferson East, Inc. (JEI), the Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC) and the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). 

Jazz saxophonist Dave McMurray is among the Detroit performers for the upcoming Jazzin’ at the Vanity. (Photo provided by Jefferson East)

The festival will also be a way to highlight new developments in the area, such as the new location of Detroit Soul, the Jefferson East Neighborhood Resource Hub and the recently reopened Marlborough Apartments, said JEI CEO Josh Elling. 

“The Jefferson Chalmers business district is one of the last really great surviving commercial districts in Detroit from the jazz age,” he said. “This neighborhood was the epicenter of entertainment through the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s with the Vanity Ballroom, the Monticello ballroom. And so, we wanted to honor that tradition, but more importantly, it’s also a chance for us to engage with residents, thank them for all their work improving the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, and also profile our recent successes.” 

Davis will perform from 7-9 p.m. June 10. The singer, who got her start in the late 1980s, has won more than 30 Detroit Music Awards and has opened for artists like B.B. King, Ray Charles and Etta James. Davis received her “Queen of the Blues” status in 2015 by the Detroit Blues Society, with proclamations from the City of Detroit, Wayne County and the state of Michigan, according to the singer’s website. 

McMurray has performed with an array of artists including King, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Michigan singers Iggy Pop and Kem. His latest album, “Grateful Deadication 2” comes out May 19 and features the musician’s take on Grateful Dead songs. 

Other performers in the lineup are jazz band Straight Ahead, R&B singer and producer Brandon Williams, swing and jazz band Planet D Nonet, jazz band Allen Dennard Quintet and more. Elling said all of this year’s artists are from the D. 

“We decided this year–we have just such amazing jazz talent here in the City of Detroit–that we wanted to highlight the great roster of performers that hail from Detroit,” he said. “What I also love is many other performers that play with (jazz musician) RJ Spangler, they grew up down on Eastlawn Street. So, you have your folks that grew up in Jefferson Chalmers went on to Grammy-winning careers.” 

Community resources, kid’s activities

In addition to music acts, Jazzin’ at the Vanity will have a tent full of resources for Jefferson Chalmers residents, Elling said. Attendees will be able to meet the Jefferson East staff, learn about the organization’s home repair resources and talk to partners Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency and Accounting Aid Society about foreclosure prevention. 

JEI will provide information on its small business resources with organizations Detroit Means Business and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Elling said. 

Local vendors, food trucks and kid’s activities are also a part of the festival. Elling said there will be a show car from the Detroit Grand Prix, face painters and art from the Library Street Collective. 

One activity  returning this year is Box City, where young people learn about the development process and pitch what type of businesses they want to see in the Jefferson Chalmer Business District by building a 3D map of development. 

“A lot of what the young people will express or what their parents will express; we take that data back and use it to inform our development process,” Elling said. “A few years ago, we knew that a lot of kids … wanted restaurants and so, that led to us pushing for more restaurants. 

“I still need to get toy stores and more candy stores because those seem to appear a lot on our map,” he added, laughing. 

Elling said about 7,000 people came out to the festival last year, which was the first year back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He expects to see about 10,000 attendees this year. 

“Our residents have been through a lot of challenges. Of course, we have all the flooding from 2021 we’re still recovering from and there’s the constant threat of basement backups. And so, this gives me a chance to thank our residents for their resiliency, for their perseverance and for all of their support over the years of our work and of each other,” he said. “That’s kind of what Jazzin’ at the Vanity is also about. It’s a chance to celebrate an incredibly tight knit community in Jefferson Chalmers that’s full of problem solvers that are really tackling some complicated issues.” 

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