Joe Von Battle
Joe Von Battle, was an important mid-century recorder and producer of blues and gospel music in Detroit, from 1945 until 1967. He has been called the “Chess of Detroit”, referring to the iconic Chicago Record company, and is regarded by many as a cornerstone in the building of the “Detroit Sound.”
He is believed to be the first African-American post WWII era, independent record producer in the U.S., and owned the legendary Joe’s Record Shop, at 3530 Hastings Street. Regular customers at the store included Berry Gordy, Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, and many of the musicians who later worked for Motown.
He also was a producer of Gospel, Blues, early R&B, and what came to be known as Rock ‘N Roll.
On Hastings Street was New Bethel Baptist Church, and Joe Von Battle began hearing about the extraordinary preaching of the Reverend C.L. Franklin (father of Aretha). Reverend Franklin’s church services were played live on radio and heard far and wide in the Detroit area and beyond; and was already regarded a preaching machine. Joe heard about Franklin’s gifts as preacher and singer, and he began visiting the church to hear the man with the million dollar voice.
In 1953 Joe began recording Rev. Franklin’s Sunday night sermons and songs, mostly on the Battle and Von labels. Joe Von Battle was the sole producer/recorder of the sermons of Rev. Franklin, and this was a relationship and friendship was to last through 75+ albums and records, for many years.
Joe Von Battle was the first to record the voice of Aretha, Rev. Franklin’s daughter, as she sang in the New Bethel Baptist church choir. He produced her first record, the gospel song, “Never Grow Old” when she was 14. He produced many of her gospel songs before she moved to the larger record labels to sing secular music.
In 1960, Hastings Street and its properties were demolished to make way for the Chrysler Freeway, and Battle relocated his store to 12th Street on the West Side of Detroit, where he continued to record and produce blues and gospel musicians through to about 1967.