Allen was born in Pontiac but raised in Detroit. Her early musical training was enriched and developed in the years during which she studied and performed with Marcus Belgrave in his grassroots university-of-the-streets Jazz Development Workshop, which opened in 1975. Belgrave, originally from Pennsylvania, had traveled all over the globe with the Ray Charles band and had recorded with some of the best players in New York, but he settled in Detroit to work in the house band of Motown Records. His workshop, housed in a storefront on Gratiot Ave., trained many young jazz musicians; those performing at the Hill Auditorium celebration include the rhythm section trio of Allen, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Karriem Riggins, who will accompany the featured artists throughout the evening. Belgrave, who recently retired from teaching at Oberlin College, is one of the finest trumpet players in jazz, with a sound all his own and unbounded musical imagination.
The evening will be anchored by Allen, who after many musical and academic adventures has settled down as a professor in the U-M School of Music. She developed the skills she acquired in Detroit not only through university studies, but also through performing and recording in a wide range of musical settings--from the latter-day Mary Wilson and the Supremes to various more adventurous avant-garde settings--and by reaching back decades to the music of Mary Lou Williams. Her rich sense of jazz history will inform her tribute to the music of Detroit on this special evening.
[Originally published in January, 2013.]