Economic and racial issues notwithstanding, there are those who believe one of the things Detroit needs most is a double shot — make that a triple — of self-esteem, which in turn would open the door to an amazing number of possibilities.
A large part of the problem is that Detroit has allowed itself to let certain negative situations get nearly out of hand, and allowed itself to be defined by others who do not have our best interests at heart, to put it mildly.
Back in the 1970s, a man who had just moved to Detroit for job reasons was living in the same apartment building as yours truly. One day he said, “Detroit has got to show me something,” and he didn’t sound like he thought it possibly could. Like so many others, he had listened to what the mind poisoners had to say.
I responded, “In Detroit, you have to find what you’re looking for. Unlike New York, Chicago and certain other big cities, it doesn’t generally come to you.”
A few months later his fears had subsided, he had been out “looking,” and he was glad to be here.
One plus factor about Detroit is the fact that so many high-achieving famous people were born here. Others have been here so long that it is generally believed they are originally from Detroit. For example, Aretha Franklin, who was born in Memphis.
The focus of this story is celebrities who were actually born in the Motor City, and we are not for the most part focusing on those whose Detroit roots have been cited so often in the past, including all of the Motown notables, such as Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and Mary Wellsi.
GREG MATHIS, retired Michigan 36th District Court judge, is one of the reasons court TV is so popular. His show, “Judge Mathis,” is now in its 12th season. (Recommended reading: his autobiography, “Inner City Miracle.”)
DAVID ALAN GRIER had been active as a comedian and actor for a considerable amount of time before “In Living Color,” but it was that groundbreaking show that propelled him to major stardom.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA ranks among the most prolific director/producers in the history of cinema. Among his most successful projects were “Apocalypse Now” and the much-celebrated “Godfather” trilogy.
DENISE NICHOLAS is fondly remembered for her role as Liz McIntyre on the TV series “Room 222” that ran from 1969 to 1974, followed by “In the Heat of the Night” (1989-1995). That is in addition to several movies.
WAYNE DYER, acclaimed self-help advocate, author and lecturer, has helped untold thousands through the years. Dr. Dyer is a PBS pledge drive mainstay.
HANK BALLARD with his group, the Midnighters, made a huge impact in the 1954 world of R&B with a raunchy song he wrote titled “Work With Me Annie.” A few years later he wrote and recorded the original version of “The Twist.”
COURTNEY B. VANCE is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, having appeared in such films as “The Hunt For Red October” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” He is familiar to television viewers for his performances on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” among others. In addition, Vance, husband of Angela Bassett, received two Tony nominations for his stage work.
ED McMAHON was, no doubt, the most famous “right hand man” in television history. One cannot think of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” without also thinking of Ed McMahon. Thirty years! He also hosted “Star Search.”
FREDA PAYNE says her heart was in jazz in the early part of her career. It didn’t get any better than singing backed by a jazz orchestra. But she gave R&B consideration when she heard the Motown hits in the mid-1960s, especially Martha & the Vandellas. She subsequently scored with R&B/pop hits such as “Band of Gold” and “Bring the Boys Home.” Today she sings jazz and pop, along with her hits.
TOM SELLECK became a hot attraction and a major, enduring celebrity in the 1980s as star of the long-running series “Magnum, P.I.” He won an Emmy in 1984 as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
BYRON ALLEN, TV host, comedian and producer, emerged in 1979 on the series “Real People.” When that ended in 1984, he returned to stand-up comedy, but soon was hosting/producing shows such as “The Byron Allen Show,” “Comics Unleashed” and “Entertainers With Byron Allen.”
LILY TOMLIN is one of the funniest and most inventive people of all time. The comedienne has always specialized in characters, many of which she introduced on “Laugh In” in the late 1960s, including Earnestine, the snide telephone operator, and Edith Ann, the precocious little girl. She also mastered stage and screen.
VONDIE CURTIS-HALL, actor/director, got his first big break in the early 1980s as part of the original cast of “Dreamgirls,” playing Marty, the manager of soul singer James “Thunder” Early. (Danny Glover played the part in the movie version.) Curtis-Hall has appeared on such TV shows as “The Sopranos” and the “Soul Food” miniseries, and in films like “Eve’s Bayou” and “Sugar Hill.”
There are many others, including the legendary Jackie Wilson (“Mr. Excitement”), boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, radio personality Casey Kasem (“American Top 40”), famed actor Robert Wagner, history-making aviator Charles Lindbergh, comedienne Gilda Radner (“Saturday Night Live”), singer/songwriter Sonny Bono (of Sonny and Cher), former Supreme Scherrie Payne, rock star Alice Cooper and TV actor Grant Show (“Melrose Place”).
Detroit was, and is, a city of stars. — Jason Donovan contributed to this story.