Stevie, Elton, Seger, Chicago, Iggy


Calihan Hall, known as the home of Detroit Mercy’s basketball teams, has a history that is not so athletic.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before Calihan was its name, the Memorial Building hosted concerts with famous or soon-to-be-more-famous entertainers.

Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, Dionne Warwick, Chicago, Simon and Garfunkel, Ike and Tina Turner, Leon Russell, Iron Butterfly, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Three Dog Night, Donovan, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Sergio Mendes, Laura Nyro and Gordon Lightfoot were among the acts that took the stage at University of Detroit.

Both students and the wider community would come to these concerts.

Memorial Building was then one of the major concert venues in the Detroit area, along with Cobo Arena and Olympia Stadium.

Artist named Dionne Warwick, a cousin to Whitney Houston, was a returning and popular presence, charting with numerous top ten hits.

According to The Tower, the university’s yearbook, in 1970 “students conscientiously avoided turning out in larger numbers for extracurriculars with a couple of exceptions like Dione Warwick … concerts.”

Even with the popularity of some musical acts, controversy surrounded some concerts at the Memorial Building.

By 1972 concerns over student safety, attendance and profitability were becoming issues.

Finally, in February 1973 the concert series scheduled for the semester was cancelled.

Attendance had become a challenge, making it difficult to schedule acts that could fill Memorial Building.

Pine Knob, known now as DTE Energy Music Theater, was becoming a huge competitor, drawing artists from Detroit.

Incidents of drug abuse heightened the problems.

A Varsity News story from that era included quotes from performing arts director Dr. James Rogers, who spoke of an incident that occurred during a concert.

“A girl was apparently high on some type of drug,” he said. “In between the acts she roamed outside into the parking lot and passed out.”

Soon after, University of Detroit discontinued major concerts on campus.

A yearbook caption described 1973 as “the year the music died.”

Even so, for several years the concerts provided an outlet for students to find entertainment within their university and enjoy prominent artists.

If concert performances one day found their way back to campus, it would “be a way for us to connect with the community,” noted professor Nicholas Rombes.


Neighborhood near campus has rich musical history

In the 1960s and 1970s, the university wasn’t the only popular music venue in the area.

The Chessmate folk club along Livernois, a site now occupied University Coin Laundry, hosted young acts like Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell.

The Lockeroom Lounge, farther north on Livernois, hosted Bettye LaVette and others.

A young Aretha Franklin performed at Club Stadium at Livernois and Puritan.

There was also a punk club along McNichols Road near Pontchartrain called Bookie’s.

English professor Nicholas Rombes is an author and expert on punk music.

Originally from Toledo, Rombes was not in Detroit at the time but he has done an abundance of research on the topic.

Rombes explained that Detroit had a very popular punk and pre-punk scene in the 1970s.

Among the many acts that performed at Bookie’s were the Police, the Romantics and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Detroit was the “center of so much stuff going on,” Rombes said.

The university campus was close to the musical action.