<July 2019>

Paradise Theater - Detroit's Apollo Theatre

After the Detroit Symphony Orchestra left Orchestra Hall in 1939, the stage was empty for two years, until Christmas Eve 1941, when new owners Ben and Lou Cohen reopened Orchestra Hall as the Paradise Theatre. The very place that Detroit audiences once went to hear Prokofiev, Gershwin and Horowitz began featuring contemporary talent such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne and Pearl Bailey.

The theater’s name was taken from Paradise Valley, the area just east of Woodward Avenue, home to a large percentage of Detroit’s African-American community and to the principal black entertainment district at St. Antoine and Adams streets. The Paradise became a celebrated club, offering the best in jazz, bebop and blues. The theatre was as important to Detroit as the Apollo Theatre was to Harlem.

This golden era came to a close in 1951 when The Paradise closed, another casualty of the waning big band era.  Today, the memory of the Paradise Theatre lives on through the Paradise Jazz Series and other jazz programs, which continue Orchestra Hall’s distinguished tradition of featuring the best jazz musicians from around the world.  The Paradize Jazz Series is currently led by Terence Blanchard, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair.  

A Temporary Home, A Growing Reputation

Following Gabrilowitsch's death in 1936, the DSO entered into a troubled time in which financial difficulties forced the orchestra to disband twice and move from Orchestra Hall to a succession of three different Detroit venues.  In 1951 Detroit’s leading corporations each pledged $10,000, paving the way for the DSO to resume operations in celebration of the city’s 250th anniversary. Five years later, the DSO moved into its new riverfront home at Ford Auditorium.  By this time, Paul Paray was Music Director and the orchestra was enjoying a golden era in which they had become one of the country's most recorded orchestras, making 70 records over 11 years, many award-winning, for the Mercury label. Beyond the concert hall, the DSO’s signature sound could be heard in the backgrounds of dozens of Motown hits. Paray stepped down as Music Director in 1963 and was followed by a number of internationally renowned directors including Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato, Antal Dorati and Günther Herbig.