Our state has long been a hotbed for cultivating artistic talent. In 2019, the fruits of much labor were sweet for these ten artists, whose careers were nurtured locally.
To start out the year, poet, activist and educator Dr. Gloria House became the 11th Detroit artist to receive the annual Kresge Eminent Artist award. A Detroiter since 1967, Gloria once taught at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. Then she became a professor at Wayne State University. In addition to shaping and influencing young minds, she has published four poetry collections, Blood River (1983), Rainrituals (1989), Shrines (2003) and Medicine (2017) under her chosen African name, Aneb Kgositsile.
Greta Van Fleet
The whole year was pretty darn good to the four talented lads from Frankenmuth known collectively as Greta Van Fleet. On January 19, the band took to the famous stage at Studio 8H on Saturday Night Live. There, these Michigan artists served as musical guest for the first episode of the season. Just six weeks later, they earned their first Grammy Award. The statue was for Best Rock Album of the Year, which they earned for the album From the Fires. They spent the rest of the year traveling on the March of the Peaceful Army World Tour.
Jaime Ray Newman
February brought the Academy Awards and a huge win for actor and Farmington Hills native, Jaime Ray Newman. She and her husband, Israeli director Guy Nattiv, won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. They received the Oscar for Skin, a 20-minute elegy about racism in America. Jaime honed both her acting and producing skills during summer camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts and as a student at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills. She even booked a local theatre and began producing her first plays at the tender age of sixteen.
A few nights later, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Amy, Northville’s Lauren Yakima captured America’s attention appearing on NBC’s World of Dance. Her stunning debut got a standing ovation from the judges, prompting Jennifer Lopez to exclaim, “This is the level that World of Dance expects.” Both Lauren and Amy (who made her mark as the female winner of the tenth season of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance) developed their skills at the Noretta Dunworth School of Dance in Dearborn.
More big honors were on the horizon with the Tony Awards in June. June-Celia Keenan-Bolger to home the award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her work as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She acted alongside Chelsea’s favorite son, Jeff Daniels, who was also nominated for his performance as Atticus Finch. In her acceptance speech, June gave a shout-out to her hometown where she trained as a youth at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit and the Detroit School of Arts. She, too, attended Interlochen Center for the Arts, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan‘s musical theatre performance program.
The end of summer brought about a big “Up North” honor for legendary Detroit artist, Charles McGee. Michigan Legacy Art Park in Thompsonville presented the 94-year old painter with its Legacy Award in recognition of a lifetime of achievements and influences as an artist, teacher, advocate and global citizen. With a distinguished career spanning eight decades, Charles is recognized internationally as a cultural icon of Detroit. His work is cherished in many contemporary art collections around the world, as well as the permanent collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. He was the first person who ever received a Kresge Eminent Artist award. As a young man he trained at what is now known as the College for Creative Studies.
Detroit Youth Choir
Fall brought the arrival of a new television season and a wild ride that many Michiganders, and certainly about forty-five kids in Detroit, will never forget. The Detroit Youth Choir took Flint native and show host, Terry Crews, by storm with its debut performance on America’s Got Talent. This positive, energetic, talented choir, and its director landed in the show’s finals as America’s second favorite act. They followed up their stellar run by headlining America’s Thanksgiving Parade down Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
Huntington Woods native, Kristen Bell had an incredible year. She capped it off with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in November. Frozen 2 topped $350 million at the global box office during its November opening weekend too. Earlier in the year, she joined Monroe-based furniture manufacturer, La-Z-Boy, as a brand ambassador. She completed shooting for the final season of her critically-acclaimed NBC series, The Good Place. The show also starred Fraser-native Maribeth Monroe as Mindy St. Claire and Detroit Creativity Project founder, Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn.
Paul Walter Hauser
Actor and Michigan native, Paul Walter Hauser saw his hard work pay off this year with the title role in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell. The film hits theaters in December. It depicts an American security guard who saved thousands of lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics. Jewell was vilified by journalists and the press. They falsely reported that he was a terrorist. Paul was born in Grand Rapids and raised in Saginaw. He stars opposite Kathy Bates, who earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film.
Granted, Lizzo didn’t get as much artistic development in Michigan as many of the other artists on our list. She moved away as at just ten, but in a year that made her a household name, it’s hard not to put Detroit-born Lizzo on the list. She racked up more Grammy nominations than any other artist. Plus, Time Magazine named her its Entertainer of the Year.
We look forward to seeing which other artists will make a big splash in the year, and decade, to come.