December 14, 2015

Detroit jazz benefactor Gretchen Valade gifts $7.5 million to Wayne State University to create jazz performance center, endowed jazz chair and scholarship

Wayne State unveils plans for the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center

Wayne State unveils plans for the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center

DETROIT — Wayne State University received a $7.5 million commitment from noted philanthropist and chair of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation, Gretchen Valade, to transform the university’s programming, teaching and scholarship in jazz performance and education.

The primary portion of the commitment – $5 million – is to restore and update the Hilberry Theatre, the university’s performance venue at 4743 Cass Avenue. This will be the final phase of the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex, a nearly $50 million initiative that will strengthen Wayne State’s cultural presence in Midtown. The first phase of the project includes the building of a new theatre on the corner of Cass and Forest avenues that will serve as the new home for the Hilberry Company.

Upon completion of the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex, the former Hilberry Theatre will be renovated and renamed the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center, accommodating jazz and musical performances as well as other university events. The Gretchen Valade Jazz Center will host an array of high-profile concerts, while serving as an educational hub for Wayne State’s jazz students and faculty.

“My love of jazz music and of this great city have inspired and motivated me my entire life,” said Gretchen Valade. “I can’t imagine a more meaningful way to combine those passions than by supporting jazz education at Wayne State University, an institution that is so critical to Detroit and its future. Wayne State, in many ways, is the cultural epicenter of this city. So when an opportunity like this came up I was on board because at its core this is about sharing music with people while fostering its future for generations to come.”

Beyond the new jazz performance center, the Valade gift includes two endowed funds to support jazz education. The Gretchen Valade Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies, established with $1.5 million, will provide teaching and research support for a distinguished jazz musician and educator on the university’s faculty. And $1 million will create the Gretchen Valade Endowed Scholarship in Jazz Studies to provide scholarships for students working and performing in the Valade Center and pursuing degrees in jazz studies.

“This is a wonderful and impactful gift from Gretchen Valade, and I am grateful she has chosen Wayne State to advance jazz performance and education in Detroit,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “And as someone with a longtime passion for jazz, I am thrilled that the connection between our university and this great American music will be even stronger.”

“The Gretchen Valade Jazz Center will build on and celebrate the rich tradition of Detroit jazz,” said Wayne State University College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Dean Matthew Seeger. “This gift also includes a ten year affiliation agreement between the Detroit Jazz Festival and Wayne State University. This is a case of two great cultural institutions collaborating to ensure jazz performance and jazz education will be part of Detroit for decades to come.”

With Wayne State University as the official educational partner of the Detroit Jazz Festival (DJF), one of the top jazz festivals and the largest free jazz festival in the world, the 200-seat jazz performance center will serve a major role in DJF programming and have the flexibility to accommodate other concerts and performances. The larger Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex will create an intimate performance center for music, theatre and dance in the heart of Midtown Detroit. Construction of the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex includes a relocating of the historic Mackenzie House, currently next door to the Hilberry Theatre, to an alternate, nearby campus site.

“Gretchen Valade’s commitment to jazz artistry and education in the city of Detroit is simply astounding,” said Wayne State University Director of Jazz Studies and DJF Artistic Director Christopher Collins. “Together with Wayne State University, one of the oldest jazz studies programs in the country and an integral part of Detroit’s jazz history, Gretchen’s gifts will create a jazz center that celebrates both her legacy and an art form that is in the DNA of Detroit culture. Her support will create new opportunities for jazz students, professional jazz artists, jazz scholars and audiences to come together in Midtown to learn, play and swing.”

The Valade gift is part of Wayne State’s Pivotal Moments fundraising campaign, with a goal to raise $750 million by 2018, the 150th anniversary of the university’s founding.

About Gretchen Valade

Gretchen Valade is a Detroit philanthropist who has nurtured a lifelong passion for jazz music. She is chair of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation, which oversees the annual Labor Day weekend festival in Detroit. The foundation is an independent, non-profit organization she created that supports the festival. She also established the festival’s $10 million endowment. Valade is founder of Mack Avenue Records of Harper Woods, MI, and Los Angeles, CA, and is owner of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe. She also serves on the board of Carhartt Clothing, the company started by her grandfather, Hamilton Carhartt.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts serves 2,200 students majoring in 16 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs in music, theatre and dance, art and art history and communication. Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit’s Midtown Cultural Center, is a premier urban research institution offering more than 380 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 27,000 students.


Matt Lockwood
Phone: 313-577-9098