AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH.
When Barry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959, he galvanized a musical and cultural revolution. During those golden years, Motown artists did more than just top the charts — they transcended the barriers of class and color that defined a deeply divided nation and, for a brief shining moment, had all of America dancing in the streets… Together.
Today, Motown’s influence still resonates in popular music, and in the hearts of Detroiters like Ann Delisi — an iconic radio personality and Detroit Lover who built her life around the sounds of the Motor City.
“Music was always a part of my life. I started playing the piano when I was eight years old and earned a B.A. in music from Wayne State University. I always joke that mediocre musicians become disc jockeys, but I was truly lucky to land in a field where I could live out my passion for music.
It wasn’t just music that captured her heart though — it was Detroit music. So, even as her radio career blossomed, she stayed true to the city and songs she loved.
“Usually people in radio go to other cities to work, but I've been able to stay in Detroit the entire time. I consider myself incredibly lucky and am very grateful for that. I've had countless offers to leave Detroit for work, but as complicated and challenging as it can be, I just love this place. This is where my roots are.”
Born and raised on the city’s east side, those roots run deep for Delisi.
“I loved living in Detroit as a kid. Growing up, you have such a different outlook on the world. You're not really aware of the politics and history of where you live. So, I lived happily in Detroit until I graduated high school.
She spent the next several years living in other Metro Detroit communities before returning to the city proper in 1999, at which point she began taking a hands-on-role in its progress.
“Working in the media, I’ve always felt it was important for me to lead by example whenever I can. I still live on the east side in an area called Cornerstone Village. In 2011, my husband and I bought the house we’d been renting from my sister, as well as an empty lot next door that we farm now. We’ve worked hard to make our property beautiful in hopes it will uplift our neighborhood and show people what's possible. I’ve also been out with our community organizers cleaning up lots and boarding up houses. There's just no lack of need in Detroit.”
She’s also the marketing chair for the Greening of Detroit: A longstanding non-profit whose mission is planting trees and repurposing land to create beautiful and functional community green spaces.
“It's exciting when people join forces to make a difference in our communities. If nobody else is going to do it, we're going to board up that house or care for that lawn. We're making progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do. If Detroit is going to continue to improve, everybody has to help with the heavy lifting.”
Professionally, Delisi has focused that passion and commitment on bolstering Detroit’s music community.
“Music has always been a driving force in this town. We really have everything here. Motown, of course, is an international brand people are still excited about to this day… We've got great rock music — they don't call it “Rock City” for nothing… There's this incredible acoustic music scene… Then there’s the Underground Resistance — Mike Banks, Cornelia Harrison, Jeff Mills — the foundation they laid is still felt around the world. They started a movement and their impact cannot be overstated.”
Her popular WDET show, Ann Delisi’s Essential Music, is one way she trumpets Detroit musicians.
“I think it’s important for local artists to have access to the airwaves to tell their story and perform their music. It's almost hard for me to believe that the WDET is one of the only places where they can do that in Detroit. The station has been waving the flag for Motor City artists for decades and I’m committed to doing that too.”
That commitment extends beyond the studio though — her reputation in the music community has made her a go-to resource for many budding Detroit artists.
“I'm at a point in my career where I can use my experiences to help other people. One artist, Blair Elise, contacted me for some advice when she was sixteen years old. She was this young, talented, ambitious, kind musician. Now she’s studying music at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU. That's my goal: To help Detroit artists get their music out and get better at what they do. I always joke that I'll be working for Blair one day.”
Nurturing young talent is a true passion point, and music, she says, should be a part of every kid’s life.
“I believe music can change the trajectory of a life and it breaks my heart that kids in public schools don't have access to instruments. I want us to create a safe, beautiful community where children have access to a well-rounded education so they have a shot at living their best possible life, and I think music is an important part of that.”
She also has high hopes for the future of Detroit music and believes development can play a key role in that future.
“Sometimes I wish — like in Nashville, Austin, New York or Chicago — we had more concentrated areas of live music. In Detroit, every club is a destination. In those towns, people can go to three different venues and hear three different bands. In my opinion, that's what allows people to experience more local music. One of the keys to Detroit's success is density. Detroit Future City talks about creating hubs where you have density, and I would love to see that when it comes to music — more clubs clustered together so people can go experience a bunch of Detroit artists all at once. Then hopefully, after they find some success here, the world starts to know who they are.”
Motown Records was the first, but far from the last, musical sensation to come out of Detroit… But that’s not really the point. What Motown — and the countless other Detroit musical movements that followed — did was forge a common ground for us to stand together and take pride in something greater than ourselves.
That message still rings true today as we strive to mend the cracks between Detroit communities. It also makes the impact of Ann’s work — both on and off the air — that much more meaningful. After all, at its core, music is a means of communication. Communication that fosters connections that can make Detroit a stronger and more united city.
Indeed, in a word, music is not just important to our future — it’s essential.