United Sound Systems Recording Studios is one of Detroit’s first independent recording studios. We organize and advocate for its legacy.
Protecting The Original Mothership
Updated 19 May 2022
United Sound Systems Recording Studios (United Sound) is one of Detroit’s first independent recording studios. We organize and advocate for its legacy. Since the 1930s, local, national, and international artists, arrangers, recording engineers, producers, songwriters, businesses, and ordinary people, have made their way to 5840 Second Avenue in Detroit to record popular, commercial, and personal recordings. You can read a partial list of these artists and recordings here. Since 2012, we have been the leading advocate for United Sound’s historical legacy. We spearheaded the process to create a historic district for the site and then helped raise the funds for a two-sided Michigan Historical Marker. Both of these efforts pressured the Michigan Department of Transportation to change its mind about having to demolish the property for the expansion of I-94. However, today, the struggle to protect and defend United Sound Systems continues! Please follow our efforts below and via our social media channels with the hashtag #UnitedSoundSystems If you have any questions or want get involved please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call direct at 313-757-5082.
Pandemic Impact 2020-Present
The United Sound System Legacy family has had significant losses during the pandemic. These have included:
Dave Usher, producer and record man
Don McCreedy, record industry veteran and son of United Sound co-founder Anthony Siracuse
Ed Wolfrum, recording engineer
Karen Hudson Samuels, advocate, historian, and Detroit Sound Conservancy Board Member
Alex Alexander, musician, photographer, and tour guide at United Sound Systems
Jim Vitti, recording engineer
Our Public Statement 2020
During the first year of the pandemic, and after a year of MDOT owning United Sound Systems, we kept the temperature of our activism to protect United up through our outreach around our public statement, “Is a service road more important than our City’s world-renowned musical legacy?” More than thirty musicians, scholars, engineers, songwriters, politicians, and community members co-signed our statement.
Michigan Department of Transportation Purchase 2019
On Friday, January 11, 2019, Michigan Department of Transportation announced the purchase of United Sound Systems and their intention to move, preserve, and eventually resell the building. Via Michigan Radio: “This is the first day that we know of when the Michigan Department of Transportation said out loud that it’s a bad idea to demo the building, and that they will preserve the building. And so we’re going to take that as a win,” (Executive Director of DSC) Carleton Gholz said. Gholz said he hopes there is a historic covenant or “some sort of understanding” with any future owner about preservation and operating the space as a public good, “and we are hoping to impact that process in any way that we can.” “This is not just a building. It’s not just a business. It really is the center of Detroit’s musical 20th century,” said Gholz. Read more here: http://www.michiganradio.org/post/detroits-historic-united-sound-systems-studio-spared-demolition
Read MDOT’s Press Release here:
For Sale 2018
In June 2018, United Sound Systems was put up for sale. You can read more here.
Historical Marker Installed Summer 2017
On Sunday, June 25th, an event was held at United Sound Systems from 4 – 6 pm to celebrate the installation of the Michigan Historical Marker.
Photo of Dave Usher who produced artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Jackie Wilson at United Sound Systems. He joined us at the unveiling of the marker.
Michigan Historical Marker Process
Summer 2015-Spring 2017
In August 2015, Detroit Sound Conservancy announced that they would help United begin the process of getting a Michigan Historical Marker for the studio.
A successful fundraiser was held on October 23rd which brought in over $3000 towards the Michigan Historical Marker.
From November 2015 to May 2015, DSC rented spaces for its first office, vault, and exhibit area in the lower level at United Sound.
Historic Designation Process
Winter 2014-June 2015
Detroit Sound Conservancy was asked in January 2014 by the owners of United Sound for help in efforts to preserve the historic United Sound Systems in Detroit.
In this effort, DSC asked historical preservationist Rebecca Binno Savage to begin the process to achieve historic designation in Detroit. DSC believed that the Detroit City Council should designate the United Sound Systems building as an historic district in Detroit.
The United Sound building meets the criteria for designation for the following reasons:
Housed in a converted residential structure, it has been leasing recording studios at this site since approximately 1940.
It deserves to be protected under the City of Detroit’s Ordinance in Chapter 25, Article 2 for Historic Districts.
For these reasons, on Thursday, January 30th, 2014, DSC submitted a request to the Detroit City Council via the Detroit City Clerk to designate United Sound an historic district in Detroit.
In May of 2014, Rebecca Binno-Savage gave an update on the historic designation process at our first Detroit music conference.
In fall 2014, the Historic Designation Advisory Board (HDAB) staff began writing up its final draft report for the approval of the HDAB.
On February 12, 2015, the HDAB voted unanimously to approve the final draft report and ordinance for making United Sound an historic district.
After a sixty day waiting period, the proposal and ordinance lead to the City Council for a vote.
The vote was delayed multiple times. One vote was scheduled for April 9th, another for April 23rd.
On May 7th a public hearing by the “Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee” of Detroit’ City Council was held on the proposed ordinance. Council Member Gabe Leland chaired the hearing. Council Member Mary Sheffield, a member of the committee, was in attendance. A presentation was made by Janese Chapman from HDAB (which included a short video). Afterwords a short presentation was made by owner Danielle Scott and manager Chynita Richards. They both took questions from the Committee. Our Executive Director Carleton Gholz spoke for the ordinance during the public comment period.
A vote by the City Council was scheduled for May 12th. Gholz spoke in favor of the ordinance.
The vote was unanimous with all nine City Council members voting for the ordinance.
On June 11, 2015, USS received a letter from HDAB saying that the ordinance had been passed on May 20th (effective April 20th).
“United Sound Systems is one of Detroit’s hidden historic properties that has had a significant impact on Detroit’s music status,” said Rebecca Binno Savage after hearing of the successful designation. “City of Detroit designation as a historic district brings United Sound Systems the recognition and protection it has earned.”
United Sound owner Danielle Scott said, “I’m excited to finally see things moving forward. This historic designation is confirmation that the hard work and dedication that everyone has provided these past years did not go unnoticed. I just wanna thank everyone that contributed to bringing this dream to fruition, especially the Detroit Sound Conservancy.”
“Is United Sound Systems doomed?”
June 2012-Fall 2013
In June of 2012, Detroit Sound Adviser Isaac Moore began using LocalWiki to document the contemporary history of United. United is currently threatened from a planned I-94 highway expansion that would, according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, 2004, tear down the studio. In 2012, the DSC Landmarks Committee, including Moore, has been working to bring this alarming situation to the attention of Detroit music lovers throughout the world.
There have been reports in the local press that MDOT would be willing to move United Sound. It should be noted though that the only guaranteed way to preserve USS is to either 1) Revise the E.I.S. to avoid the proposed USS historic district completely and / or 2) legally stop the I-94 expansion.
In the fall of 2013, the present owner of United Sound went public with their desire to reopen the studio and protect the building. They wanted to see this nationally significant property protected for future generations. According to owner Danielle Scott, “We must preserve United Sound to remind us of the kind of musical people we have been. We must preserve United Sound to remind us of what kind of musical people we can be in the future.”
United Sound Systems Recording Studios as we first saw it, June 2012, for our tour with Allied Media Conference. At this time the studio was closed, we did not yet know the owner, and could only speculate on its fate.