Are you ready to get your groove on? The 9th annual Detroit Bass Day, created by legendary Detroit bassist Kern Brantley, returned this year, but not just to celebrate Detroit’s catalog of great bass players. This year the annual celebration also honored the 50th recording anniversary of the Grammy-Award winning song “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” made famous by The Temptations, with fifty bass players coming together in front of the Motown Museum to play its iconic bass line. 

Detroit Bass Day

Several Southeast Michigan bass players and music enthusiasts gathered at the Motown Museum in Detroit for the 9th annual Detroit Bass Day celebrating the 50th recording anniversary of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” made famous by The Temptations. | Photo by One Detroit

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Detroit Bass Day also used the celebration of The Temptations’ song as a way to talk about some of the deeper themes in the song itself about family life and fatherhood. The University of Michigan partnered with the annual celebration to create the “Papa Was Project,” which brought spoken word artists to the annual festival this year to perform alongside the music. 

Producer Daijah Moss visits Detroit Bass Day and talks with Samuel Donald, president and founder of Detroit Musix, and Emily Rogers, a local producer and bass player, to learn more about the annual gathering of bass players. Plus, she talks to University of Michigan School of Social Work Professor Richard Tolman, the leader of the  “Papa Was Project” to understand how the project is helping fathers talk about their challenges and support other fathers in the community. 

Full Transcript:

Martha Reeves, SInger: Detroit made Motown famous. And I live in Detroit, and I’m obnoxious, I am proud, I am outspoken.

Daijah Moss, Producer, One Detroit: It’s a special day for the city of Detroit. Motown. It’s Detroit’s Annual Base Day, as in that musical instrument.

Samuel Donald, President & Founder, Detroit Musix: Today we have going on, a wonderful, you hear it in the background, we have Detroit Bass Day. You hear the horns, you hear the celebration, this is all Detroit, this is what we do. The music, the mayhem and the message. So, we’re here today celebrating the 50th recording anniversary of “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” The Temptations version. That Grammy Award-winning song deserved to be honored.

Daijah Moss: World-renowned bassist and Detroit native Kern Brantley started Detroit Bass Day, inspired by the many legendary basses that have come from Detroit, who’ve influenced music around the world.

Kern Brantley, Detroit Bass Player/Founder, Detroit Bass Day: Ralph Armstrong, that works with Mahavishnu Orchestra in Santana as a bass player is from Detroit. Nate Watts, who’s the bassist of Stevie Wonder, is from Detroit. Alex Al, bassist for Michael Jackson, is from Detroit. Elton John’s bass player, Matt is from Michigan. Byron Miller, who played with Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross, is from Detroit. Lawrence Washington with Charlie Wilson is from Detroit. So, Detroit has a lot of fairly prominent bass players. So, we decided to come together here at Motown and give honor to James Jamerson, who was the Motown bass player who played on over 3000 hit records.

We’re also doing a tribute to the late Mr. Michael Henderson, a Detroit bass player that just passed away. As well as, bass players Reggie Canty and Volly Craig. So, we’re going, we’ve got 50 bass players that’s going to gather here today and we’re all going to perform “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”, giving tribute to a song that came out 50 years ago this month, recorded right here at Hitsville USA in Detroit, with the temptations.

Emily Rogers, Producer/Bass Player/Musician/Arranger: The richness and the legacy of what Detroit specifically contributes to bass guitar worldwide is my explanation of Detroit Bass Day. This is our 9th annual year, next year we’re going to do something crazy for the 10th, but we figured no one’s ever had 50 bass players playing at the same time.

Daijah Moss: But today isn’t just about celebrating the popularity of the Motown hit. It’s also about exploring deeper themes than the song itself, family responsibility and Fatherhood. This is Richard Tolman with the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He’s leading the Papa Was project.

Richard M. Tolman, Professor, University Of Michigan School of Social Work: So, when we heard that there was going to be a 50-bassist tribute to the song “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” we thought this would be a great opportunity to tell stories about fathers and have 50 father stories to match the 50 bassists that are going to play today about the song. We’ve got the spoken word artists who are going to do poems about their fathers and about fatherhood and about fathering, to bring that into it and to enrich the legacy of this amazing song that so many people resonate with.

Brittini Ward, Poet: [Poem] Thirty years with me, three weeks at the hospital, forehead I kissed it, his hand I held it, thinking I’m still too young for these growing pains. His breath was the last to remain. It left his body and filled my own, life now reflects his impact on mine. Thinking back, I was just a little kid, snotty nose, putting on his work boots, something fun to do, running endless errands just to spend more and more time with you. Sitting at the kitchen table as you paid the bills, I can only imagine the ticket for 3 kids. Waking up on a school night when I heard you come home from Chrysler, I knew you were tired, but still, we secretly ate fries and spoke laughter. Good nights, you gave me kisses on my forehead. That’s the love I knew from my father.

Kristen Holinski, Member, Parent Think Tank: You know, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about fatherhood, from not only society but fathers themselves. So, we just want to provide, like, an open space, a brave space for these men to come together. So, not only are they supporting one another, but also supporting the development and the relationships of their family.

Richard M. Tolman: And we know there’s so many stories of dads in Detroit and everywhere that are showing up for their kids, that are doing amazing things, meeting the challenges of being dads. And we wanted to tell all those stories. A lot of the guys, you know, that experience, maybe father absence themselves, they dedicate themselves to being the kind of father maybe that they didn’t have, that they wish that they had. And then, they go show up and make that happen.

Samuel Donald: Just like the base anchors the band, we’re here to anchor and support Kern Brantley. So, One Band Global, Kern Brantley, these 50 bass players, bass players everywhere, Motown Museum, and the message behind the music. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” was a song that, while that groove and beat caught you, the message was one that made you think. And we’re here today to celebrate both the beat and the groove, as well as the message.

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