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Carhartt heiress and Detroit arts patron Gretchen Valade dies at 97

Gretchen Valade
Wayne State University
Gretchen Valade

Detroit business heiress and arts patron Gretchen Valade, known locally as the “Angel of Jazz,” has died.

Valade was the granddaughter of Hamilton Carhartt, the founder of the Metro Detroit-based Carhartt workwear company. She used that fortune to champion and promote the arts--particularly her first love, jazz.

Valade launched a foundation to keep Detroit’s yearly jazz festival running, and free to the public. She started a record label, Mack Avenue Records, which has won several Grammys, and donated $9.5 million to support jazz studies and performance at Wayne State University.

Valade remained active in the Carhartt company, and also owned several small businesses, including the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe.

"Known by many as the 'Angel of Jazz,' she was a staple in metro Detroit's business landscape, the jazz community and, of course, at Carhartt," the company said in a statement. "Gretchen will be remembered for positively impacting countless people by establishing a foundation for the arts to keep Detroit's annual jazz festival the largest free festival of its kind in North America. Her legacy will continue to live on through Carhartt, the Detroit Jazz Festival, and her many philanthropic endeavors."

According to the statement, Valade died at her Grosse Pointe Farms on December 30. She was 97.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.