New Documentary to Air on History of Armenian Music in Detroit


DETROIT  — Motown is often associated with the likes of Diana Ross and the Stevie Wonder. In reality, Detroit’s nickname encompasses a rich tapestry of music and musicians that includes many ethnicities — including Armenians.

On Monday, Detroit Public Television will air the premiere of Guardians of Music, a new documentary by Kresge Fellow, Ara Topouzian, as part of a special Armenian Night event. The film features visits to local metro Detroit locations where Armenian music was once prominent, as well as rare interviews with some of the musicians and nightclub patrons of that era.

Produced and narrated by Topouzian thanks to a $12,000 challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the one-hour film to air at 9:30 p.m., showcases photographs, film archives, and newspaper clippings used to promote Armenian music in the clubs and dance halls thus demonstrating the diversity and vibrancy of the Detroit multicultural music scene during that time period.

“As this is the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I wanted to pay homage to the first generations of Detroit Armenian musicians that helped preserve our folk music and say thank you for passing it on to my generation,” Topouzian says. “But, I also wanted to showcase Detroit’s rich and diverse music history.”

Topouzian is an Armenian-American musician whose proficiency at the kanun (Middle Eastern harp) has made him a nationally-recognized artist. He has performed at concerts, music festivals and many celebrated venues across the United States and the world. In 2012, Topouzian became a Kresge Artist Fellow, and in 2013 he won a Knight Arts Challenge from Knight Foundation.

“Film is an important lens for examining the stories that shape our communities,” says Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for Knight Foundation. “We hope that Detroiters will watch this film to celebrate Armenian culture and learn more about their shared histories.”

In addition to Topouzian’s film, DPTV’s Armenian night will also feature The Armenian Genocide, a film by Emmy Award-winner Andrew Goldberg about the story of the more than one million Armenians who died at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in World War I.

The program is narrated by Julianna Margulies, Ed Harris, Natalie Portman, Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom and others.  It includes interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, as well as never-before-seen historical footage. This film will air at 8 p.m.