Don Was
Don Was. (Courtesy of Marx Layne)

The many performance and discussion sessions of the 29th annual free Concert of Colors run Aug. 2-9 with live, broadcast, streamed and hybrid presentations at various venues to celebrate diversity.

Don Was, famed music performer and producer, brings two noteworthy twists to this year’s Concert of Colors as he once again presents his Detroit All-Star Revue.

Preparing for a salute to R&B Superstar George Clinton, Was can recall his introduction to the legendary composer-performer. In the ninth grade at Oak Park’s Clinton — that’s right, Clinton — Junior High, Was became a fan by watching George Clinton in a special school performance hosted by a local DJ to promote a Clinton recording.

Putting together an eight-member band for his upcoming show to be broadcast at 9 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, on WTVS, Was invited percussionist Larry Fratangelo, who played on Clinton records and toured with Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic. Fratangelo also played on the records of the popular Was group Was (Not Was).

The many performance and discussion sessions of the 29th annual free Concert of Colors run Aug. 2-9 with live, broadcast, streamed and hybrid presentations at various venues to celebrate diversity.

“George Clinton made some of the most significant R&B records ever right in Detroit using a lot of musicians from this area,” Was explained about his choice for this year’s theme. “Everything that he recorded made his influence pervasive across the board. He changed the face of music a couple of times. 

“When I started working on these songs, I had a moment of panic because I realized how complex the arrangements are, how many layers of music are contained and how sophisticated these things are. They’re not only playful and fun, but it’s serious music.

Was’ Testimonial

“George was born in Detroit and did a great body of work here. I consider him to be among the greatest contributions to Detroit music. My very favorite Clinton song to perform is ‘I Just Want to Testify.’”

That song was introduced to Was at that junior high program. It was lip-synched and featured dance steps performed in ways similar to the Temptations but in hippie dress instead of tuxedos. 

“No one had ever seen that in R&B before,” Was said. “I think George even preceded Jimi Hendrix. There was a blending of psychedelic culture and rhythm and blues. It blew my mind [combined with] uplifting lyrics.”

Was, based in California, has been spending more time in Michigan since April, when he began a weekly WDET radio program, The Don Was Motor City Playlist, co-hosted with Ann Delisi, WDET music host. It runs on Detroit’s NPR station, 101.9 WDET-FM, and streams worldwide. 

The show, with broadcasts starting at 10 p.m. Fridays, builds on Was’ experiences as a multi-Grammy winner who has been recognized as a bassist, producer and president of Blue Note Records. 

“The radio program is my favorite thing to do on earth,” Was said. “It’s been at the top of my bucket list. In the late ’60s, when I was in high school, I used to listen to a show on WDET called Jazz Today hosted by Bud Spangler, a local drummer who played with the coolest bands. It was always my dream to have that show. 

“I mentioned that to Ann, the queen of Detroit radio, and she arranged for us to do that together. We have so much fun. I love picking the songs and preparing something to say about each one of them. 

“It’s kind of like if someone came over to my house when Ann was visiting while we’re spinning records. It’s informal, and we occasionally do interviews and take a few phone calls.”

Many Projects

As Was presents the radio show, he is often appearing remotely because of other commitments. Maintaining an interest in his Jewish heritage, Was (family name Fagenson) produced a religious recording.

The album was for a progressive rabbi out of Los Angeles, Naomi Levy, who has a congregation called Neshuva. Attended by Was family members appreciating the music orientation, the programming was communicated to Was, who oversaw the studio progress.

Over the pandemic lockdown, Was produced a John Meyer album, Sob Rock. In November and December, he will be touring with Bob Weir, founder of the band Grateful Dead.

This will be the 14th year Was has been slotted into the Concert of Colors. During his first year, he appreciated the diverse music representations but noted Detroit music was missing and wanted to add that element in future years.

“The beautiful thing about the Detroit that I grew up in during the ’50s and ’60s was that the people came from all over the country and all over the world to work in the factories here and brought their cultures with them,” he said.

“I think [that makes] Detroit a great place to celebrate all those different cultures, and I think Concert of Colors is a beautiful festival that’s being held in exactly the right spot.” 

Details 

Don Was can be seen at 9 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, on WTVS, Channel 56. For a lineup of Concert of Colors programming, Aug. 2-9, go to concertofcolors.com.

Previous articleTop Kosher Eateries to Check Out in Metro Detroit This Summer
Next articleBistro Le Bliss Serves Eastern European Fare with a French Twist
Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.