Don Was

The annual Concert of Colors features World music, Detroit milestones, Don Was’ All-Star Revue and new theme “Freedom of Expression.”

Featured photo courtesy of Gabi Porter

Don Was — famed rock musician, talent producer and jazz record company president — grew up in Oak Park and has returned during 12 summers to appear at the Concert of Colors, the annual free world music festival in Detroit.

This year, he moves into the festival theme of “Freedom of Expression: The Power of Owning Our Voices” and will be part of the celebration of milestone anniversaries.

As performers appear on stages in Midtown and beyond for events now through July 18, festival participants will mark 100 years for Orchestra Hall, 70 years for WDET public radio, 60 years for Motown music and 50 years since the moon landing.

Collaborating on organizing the Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue, set for July 13 at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Was will focus on the Motown triumphs. He also will return to the DIA July 15 to introduce the film Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, in which he explains his role as company president.

“I love the whole Concert of Colors experience,” says Was, growing up with the family name Fagenson and having his bar mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park. “That includes being in Detroit, seeing my old friends, eating at all the good restaurants and playing the music. The musicians in the show are all good friends, and we go back 40 years of playing together.”

Was, a teenager in the ’60s when Motown Records launched, remembers how the hits were a source of great pride for Detroit.

“When the Motown artists received international acclaim, it was something akin to the Tigers winning the World Series,” he says. “I think the great thing about Motown is that Berry Gordy understood there’s a commonality of human emotional experiences that transcends any kind of cultural or racial boundaries, and he made music that reflected the emotional life of every human being.”

Was worked on the revue with Ann Delisi from WDET and Ismael Ahmed, festival founder. Revue stars include Sweet Pea Atkinson, Donald Ray Mitchell and Randy Jacobs. Other festival programs, along with music stars, spotlight a mobile electric guitar processional, a commissioned performance piece titled “Moonwalk” and community yoga.

Was heard jazz first in 1966, learning from disc jockey Ed Love, then on station WCHD and now working on WDET at age 92.

“I realized all these jazz songs were coming from this little label out of New York City called Blue Note Records,” recalls Was, appointed president in 2012. “I’ve been a fan since then. I think Sophie Huber, the director of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, did a brilliant job in laying out the continuum of Blue Note ethos.”

As Was prepares to take the DIA stage, he remembers watching jazz shows at the venue.
“It’s a real thrill to be back there playing live,” he says. “I’m so knocked out by the changes in Detroit. I walk around, and it’s just jumping.”

Don Was appears with the Detroit All-Star Revue at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Detroit Film Theatre, and returns at 7 p.m. Monday, July 15, to introduce Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes. For the Concert of Colors schedule, go to


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