Blue Bird Inn Collection

The Blue Bird Inn was an institute for Detroit musicians and a hearth for the Black community. Detroit Sound Conservancy is telling the bar’s story.

THE INSTITUTE OF THE DETROIT SOUND

Updated 30 September 2020

In 1937, African American Alabama migrant, laborer, grocer, machine operator, and entrepreneur William Dubois (c. 1878-1937) and his wife Pinkie Dubois (c. 1882-1946) combined, adapted, and reused the buildings at 5019 and 5021 Tireman into a neighborhood bar and restaurant that featured live music called The Blue Bird Inn. Fellow Black Alabama natives Clarence Eddins (1918-1992) and his wife Mary Eddins (1922-2003) took over ownership from William’s son Robert “Buddy” Dubois (c. 1904-1956), carrying out significant external and internal modern renovations.

The Bird was a schoolhouse for musicians who would influence global modern music and a hearth of freedom for the Black community within a deeply racist and heavily segregated post-Depression and post-WWII Detroit.

In 2020, the Historic Designation Advisory Board (HDAB) of the City of Detroit will decide whether or not to recommend creating a local Historic District for the Legendary Blue Bird Inn (The Bird). To support their decision, we have organized source materials below from our and other online collections that we hope will begin to tell The Bird’s story in a local, national, and international context. This is very much a work in progress. If you have any questions, edits, or additions, please contact us at info@detroitsound.org or call direct at 313-444-8242. 

Pianist and griot Harold McKinney (1928-2001) enters The Blue Bird Inn 1982. Screenshots from “The Detroit Jazz Legacy Concert” produced by Ron Alpern / Executive Producer Juanita Anderson / A production of WTVS and Jefferson Chalmers Concerts by the River / Detroit Educational Television.

Blue Bird Local Alumni

Pepper Adams*, saxophone

Tribute page

Joe Alexander*, saxophone

Johnny Allen*, piano

Richard “Pistol” Allen*

Terri Allen*, voice

Willie Anderson*, piano

Albert Aarons*, trumpet

Dorothy Ashby, harp

“Miles [Davis] stayed here quite a while,” Dorothy Ashby recalls, “and influenced everybody around. And the Blue Bird got the Jones brothers often. Name jazzmen would come and sit in, and there were the great battles with instruments.” (Blonston 1967)

Will Austin*, bass

Clarence Beasley*, piano

Benny Benjamin*, drums

Gino Biandi*

George Bohanon*, trombone

Stanley Booker*, piano

“Stan Booker” via Virtual Motor City / Detroit News (click on photo for more info)

Thomas “Beans” Bowles*, saxophone and flute

Joe Brazil*, saxophone

Tribute page to Joe Brazil

Roy Brooks*, drums

Oral history interview 1989

Detroit Jazz Alive Performance 1993

Paul Brown*, bassist

Don Bryson*

Kenny Burrell*, guitar

William “Billy” Burrell*, bass

Hindal Butts*, drums

Donald Byrd*, trumpet

The young Detroiters played the Blue Bird, the Club Sudan, the Rouge Lounge, the World Stage and any other club. For [Donald] Byrd and his band, “There were always ample place to play, more so than any city I can name. There are still more places to play, more so than any city I can name. There are still more places that accept jazz in Detroit than we have full-time jazz clubs in New York,” he says. “In Detroit, it wasn’t that you had to play rhythm and blues. You could play jazz, it was respected, and you got away with it.” (Blonston 1967)

And we were analyzing, why is it that this town of all cities would have — because it’s out of the way — and why is it that it became the music center? And I was talking to some people today — actually I would say that when somebody, one of these days, sits down and writes the history they will find out that this town has produced more talent of musicians than any other city in America — on a one-to-one basis. You got more people that come out of Detroit in the music-entertainment field than any place in the world. (Quoted from Detroit Jazz: Ancient to Future produced by American Black Journal , 1981)

Detail of image of payroll ledger listing the two house band leaders at The Bird in 1948, Jimmy Caldwell and Phil Hill.

Jimmie Caldwell

Lodi Carr*, voice

Betty Carter*, voice

James Carter, saxophone

Paul Chambers*, bass

Eddie Chambliss* (1936-1998), saxophone

Ralph Clark*, drums

Johnny Cleaver*, drums

Alice McLeod Coltrane*, piano

Kenn Cox*, piano

Oral History Interview

Austin Cromer*, voice

Cleophus Curtis*, trumpet

Devon Cunningham, percussion

Edwin “Youngblood” Davis

Will Davis*, piano

Lefty Edwards*, saxophone

Ernie Farrow*, bass

Otis “Candy” Finch*, drums

Tommy Flanagan*, piano

Eli Fontaine*, saxophone

Frank Foster*, saxophone

Curtis Fuller*, trombone

“Curtis Fuller & Tommy Flanagan at Kleins Show Bar.” via Virtual Motor City (click on image for more info)

Frank Gant*, drums

Gerald Gates*

Joe Gordon*, trumpet

Said pianist Harold McKinney, who sat in but never played regularly with the band: “We used to have some really wild jam sessions and cutting contests (where musicians would take turns soloing, trying to best one another). Notably among them was a sort of horn duo between Joe Gordon and Thad Jones; those horn duos really created a lot of excitement.” (Quoted in Heron 1980)

Al Grey*, trombone

Wardell Gray*, saxophone

Willie Green*, bass

Charles Greenlee*, trombone

Johnny Griffin*, saxophone

Kenneth “Pancho” Hagood*, vocalist

Lamonte Hamilton*, saxophone

Oral History Interview

James Hankins*, bass

Sir Roland Hanna*, piano

Wilbur Harden*, trumpet

John Hare*, trombone

Billy Hardy*, drums

Barry Harris*, piano

Joe Harris*, drums

Teddy Harris, Jr.* (1934-2005), saxophone and piano

Wendell Harrison*, saxophone / clarinet

Monograph on Wendell Harrison via The Kresge Foundation (2018)

Marion Hayden, bass

Profile via Kresge Arts in Detroit (2016)

Louis Hayes* (b. 1937), drums

Joe Henderson*, saxophone

Warren Hickey*, saxophone

Roderick Hicks*, bass

Phil Hill*, piano

“I lived on the next street over from the Bluebird [sic] and down three blocks. When they started having music there, it was mostly friends of mine, like Beans Richardson, Phil Hill; we all went to school together. They started doing music there before I turned 21, actually, in 1941, right before the war.” (Porter Crutcher, quoted in Dulzo 1998)

Lonnie Hillyer*, trumpet

Major “Mule” Holley*, bass

Tate Houston*, saxophone

Charles Humboldt*

Ali Muhammad Jackson*, bass

Alvin Jackson*, bass

Lawrence “Jacktown” Jackson*, drums

Milt Jackson (1923-1999), vibraphone*

Oliver “Bops Junior” Jackson*, drums

James Jamerson*, bass

Eddie Jamison*, saxophone

Dave Jones*

Elvin Jones, drums*

Felton Jones*, trumpet

Hank Jones*, piano

Thad Jones (1923-1986)*, trumpet

Archives at Living Jazz Archives, NJ

Sheila Jordan*, voice

Ralph Kirk*

Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner*, saxophone

Tribute Page to Sonny Red

Hugh Lawson*, piano

Yusef Lateef* (1920-2013), multi-instrumentalist

Ella “Black Beauty” Lee (1915-1976), vocals

Kirk Lightsey*, piano

Clifford Mack*, drums

Art Madigan*, drums

Al Martin*, bass

Malvin McCray*, saxophone

Harold McKinney* (1929-2001), piano

Ray McKinney*, bass

Earl “Shams” McKinney*

Charles McPherson*, saxophone

Freddie “Fru” Metcalf*

Willie Metcalf*, piano

Billy Mitchell* (1927-2001), saxphone

“It was the main jazz place of the era,” Mitchell once said. “It was the place where everybody who was anybody when they came to Detroit, that was where they played. For example, if Dizzy [Gillespie] was coming through town or Miles [Davis]. It was the musical center of Detroit.” — Heron, W. Kim, Detroit Free Press, Mitchell’s musical road leads home,” 1981

Sherman Mitchell*, trombone

Wild Bill Moore*, saxophone

Frank Morelli*, saxophone

“Moon” Mullins*

Bert Myrick*, drums

Stoney Nightengale*

Buford Oliver*, drums

Noel Paige*

Terry Pollard*, piano

Norman Potgrantz*

Sonny Red, saxophone

Tribute page to Sonny Red

Della Reese* (1931-2017), voice

Leon “Grits” Rice*, drums

James “Beans” Richardson*, bass

Eddie Robinson*

Claire Rocquemore*, trumpet

Frank Rosolino*, trombone

Ted Sheely*, piano

Clarence Sherrill*, bass

Alma Foster Smith*, voice and piano

Alma Smith oral history interview (1989)

Ted Sheely*, piano

Singing Sam Smith*

John Sofinney*

Ulysses “Skeeter” Spike*

Sonny Stitt*, saxophone

Gene Taylor*, bass

Lucky Thompson*, saxophone

Teri Thornton*

Joe Thurmond*

Donald Towns*

Rudy Tucich*, drums

Otis “Boo Boo” Turner*

Donald Walden*, saxphone

Doug Watkins*, bass

Julius Watkins*, French horn

Willie Wells*

Art Williams*

Earl Williams*

Lawrence Williams*, drums

Leon Williams*

One of the first advertisements for the “Blue Bird Inn” in the Detroit Tribune. “Blue Bird Inn / 5021 Tireman / Cocktail hour every Sunday 5 P.M. Until… Jam session every Thursday nite [sic].” (The Detroit Tribune., April 30, 1938, Page PAGE TEN, Image 10)

Sunny Boy Williams

Kenneth “Koki” Winfrey*, saxophone

Bill “Vishnu” Wood*

Woody Woodhouse*

Ade Woodley*, vibraphone

Rodney Whitaker, bass

Herman Wright*, bass

Wayne Wright*, guitar

Kiane Zawadi (Bernard McKinney)*, trombone

Photos of the McKinney Family performing together, including Kiane Zawadi, by Mark Ladenson

Detroit Free Press, November 3, 1996 . Exterior and interior photo credits: David P. Gilkey (1966-2016). Courtesy of Detroit Free Press.

Blue Bird National Alumni

Junior Cook, saxophone

John Coltrane, saxophone

Miles Davis*, trumpet

“One night Miles played a number so sweet in here you couldn’t even hear nothing else,” [Clarence] Eddins says. “It put you in a solitude thing. The place was packed and it sounded like nobody was in here. Sweet, deep, mellow tone — nobody was opening his mouth until after he was finished.” (Jim Dulzo, “Remembering the bebop at the Blue Bird,” Detroit News 26 September 1992)

Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet

Dexter Gordon, saxophone

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), piano

Source: Devon Cunningham (Phone Interview, 16 December 2019)

Charlie Parker, saxophone

October 1, 1949: Charlie Parker sits in at The Bird. Plays “Now’s The Time.” (Charlie Parker Chronology)

Flip Phillips

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Horace Silver, piano

Jimmy Smith, organ

Sarah Vaughan, voice

Source: Barry Harris, American Black Journal (1981)

Nancy Wilson, voice

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Sources

* Programs, The Societie of the Culturally Concerned (founded by Barbara Cox in 1980) presents:

— “Detroit Salutes Clarence Eddins and his legendary Blue Bird Inn,” October 6, 1991. The original list was two lists, the first entitled “Bluebird [sic] Music Alumni” (“Still Swingin'”) and “Bluebird Emeritus” (“Over The Rainbow”). Miles Davis (1926-1991) was listed as “Honorary Emeritus.”

— “The Blue Bird Reunion 4 Honoring Barry Harris and Charles McPherson,” September 25, 1994.

— The list has been copy edited, annotated, alphabetized, and hyperlinked to Wikipedia wherever possible.

Works Cited

Gary Blonston. “The All-Detroit Jazz All-Stars,” Detroit Free Press Magazine, 17 September 1967.

Herb Boyd and Leni Sinclair. Detroit Jazz Who’s Who. Jazz Research Institute, 1984.

C. Lorin Brace VI. “‘Nothing Phone About it in Any Way’: Archaeological Analysis of the Blue Bird Inn Jazz Club in Post-War Detroit,” Masters Thesis, Wayne State University, May 2016.

Jim Dulzo. “Great Moments in Detroit Jazz,” Hour, September 1998.

The Westsiders, Remembering Detroit’s Old Westside: 1920-1950, 1997.

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