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When you consider the deep and rich musical history of Detroit, it’s amazing to think what the next generation of Detroit musicians might contribute to the world.

However, with school music and arts programs on the chopping block across the state many young people may never have the chance to pick up an instrument, or realize the value of harnessing the art form as a means of self-expression, or even a career path.

One local organization is on a mission to make sure that young women in the Detroit area don’t miss their chance to shine. Girls Rock Detroit (GRD) is a summer camp for females and female-identifying youth, ages 8-15, that empowers campers by showing them what one can accomplish through music. Last summer, they hosted their first week long camp, and are ramping up for a bigger and better year two.

We spoke with Girls Rock volunteer Allison Hanna, about the GDR mission, keeping the music alive, and their big event this Saturday.

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Pictured Allison Hanna with two campers. Photo by Carmel Liburdi.

Hanna, a musician originally from Los Angeles, spent most of her life in Michigan and currently lives in Ferndale.

She was first introduced to Girls Rock by friend and fellow musician, Tony Paris. Though living out of state at the time she was intrigued by the idea, and when she returned to Michigan she decided to get involved.

According to Hanna, the program was inspired by Detroiters Ros Hartigan, Willa Rae Adamo, and Melissa Coppola, who started Girls Rock Detroit after working with other Girls Rock Camp Alliance summer camps. They saw a lack of similar programs in the area, and consequently, an oppertunity to start their own.

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Girls Rock Co-Founders, Coppola and Hartigan (blue shirts). Photo by Sheri Fucinari.

The first year of the program was a huge success.

“Everything went very well,” says Hanna, “We didn’t even need any band-aids. Every camper made progress during camp. Many of the girls made new friends, and all had a great time with their bands.”

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Photo by Erick Buchholz.

The beauty of GRD is the powerful combination of music, teamwork, and positive renforcement to encourage an inclusive environment that inspires everyone to get out of their shell and contribute to the group.

“Many campers excelled at their new instruments, but a handful of very quiet, very shy girls really came alive during camp. With the support of their fellow campers, they participated fully, helping to name their bands, write songs, and even performed at the showcase. The credit for that goes to the amazing campers  who were so supported each other throughout the week.”

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Photo by Carmel Liburdi.
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Photo by Erick Buchholz.

So what can campers expect during their time at GDR?

“They can expect a welcoming environment and to get moving right away,” said Hanna. “During the application process, the camper decides on an instrument to learn, and Monday morning we put it in their hands and they get their first lesson.”

“Camp week also includes workshops, like songwriting, rock history with an emphasis on women in rock, zine writing, screen-printing, gardening, gender roles and expectations, self-esteem/confidence, and stage presence.”

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Photo by Katya Stewart.
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Photo by Katya Stewart.

“Then there’s our end-of-camp showcase event where campers perform a song they wrote during the week. Our DJ campers threw down a dance party to kick things off, then all the campers and counselors got on stage for a huge finale performance of the camp theme song, written by the counselors.”

She continues, “Therein lies the effect of Girls Rock Detroit camp. We provide resources and support to come in knowing nothing and walk out having been introduced to an instrument, starting a band with fellow campers, and performing a song, written by their band, in front of a huge audience.”

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Photo Credit Carmel Liburdi.

“Staff at the venue assumed I was someone’s girlfriend and not a member of the band, I thought it was normal … The next generation deserves better.”

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In addition to teaching the hard skills of learning an instrument, GRD also teaches campers the importance of feeling empowered to do whatever they want to do in life. Inspired by her own challenges of being a female musician, Hanna focuses on teaching these young women that they have the power to create amazing things, through the lens of music and history.

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Photo Credit Carmel Liburdi.
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Photo by by Sheri Fucinar.

“I’ve been playing guitar and writing music for  25 years, and until recently I’d say that only about 5% of the shows I played had another band on the bill with female members,” said Hanna. “Staff at the venue assumed I was someone’s girlfriend and not a member of the band, I thought it was normal … The next generation deserves better.”

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Photo by Erick Buchholz

And while GRD inspires campers to pursue their biggest musical goals, you don’t have to be a die hard music lover with eyes set on the big stage to benefit from the program.

“Some campers continue on with music and some don’t, but all are given the opportunity to see how music can create or unite a community, provide an artistic outlet, and build their confidence.”

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Photo by Peter Smith

As we head into winter, most of us are focused on tucking under a blanket and binge watching every minute of content available on Netflix. Not these ladies, though. They’re ramping up for the second year of the program, and are kicking it off with a fall fundraiser that will feature some fine local musicians.

“Four local artists will be playing on November 21st at our Girls Rock Detroit Fall Fundraiser,” Hanna tells us. “MPV will headline, supported by Kate PetersonThe Gator, and The Vulnerable. Doors are at 8pm, music will start around 9pm. Cover is $10, which is your donation to Girls Rock Detroit, and the age restriction is 21+. There will also be a raffle and merch available to support GRD.”

If you’re interested in going to the event, check out the Facebook page, or click here to buy tickets. They also have shirts available online, the proceeds of which will go to support the organization.

If you want to keep up with Girls Rock as they head into next year, you can also sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Facebook.