Carleton S. Gholz
Postdoctoral Teaching Associate, Northeastern University
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Carleton S. Gholz is a critical media scholar currently teaching in Communication Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. He is presently adapting his dissertation on Detroit’s post-Motown music culture into a book. His article, “Maintaining Synk in Detroit” was published by the journal Dancecult in 2011.
"Remembering Rita: Sound, Sexuality, and Memory"
On a cool night this spring at Detroit’s Rainbow Room on East 8 Mile, about 100 people came together in “fellowship” to celebrate the birthday and recent passing of local bartender and confidant Dennis Ashby. He would have been 63. Ashby, or “Rita Porter” as he was known to his friends and customers, had been a fixture in Detroit’s gay club scene for over four decades. Ashby came of age in a time of tremendous transition in Detroit’s gay community. However, he also lived through a tremendous transition in its soundscape. This intertwining of sexuality and sound was explicitly recognized by the performances that night from a group of local drag performers led by Nickki Stevens. Stevens, a dear friend of Ashby, had asked her fellow performers to not pick contemporary songs but instead to explore music across Ashby’s life. The results were an over three-hour, thirty song, exploration of music and memory that spanned rhythm and blues, country, show tunes, torch ballads, disco, new wave, and dance pop. Peppered amongst these performances were reminisces about Ashby and the honest reflections of Stevens. Detroit’s gay and queer-identified community continues to memorialize and reflect on their social and sonic worlds, worlds that are political and aesthetic, complicated and deeply pleasurable. In my paper, I will reflect on this tribute in order to think through what is exactly at stake when researchers evoke the themes of sexuality and sound in contemporary Detroit.