Eminem Performs Surprise ‘Sing For the Moment’ With Jelly Roll, Debuts ‘Houdini’ Live at All-Star Michigan Central Station Re-Opening

From Motown to mobility, the “Live From Detroit: The Concert at Michigan Central” show Thursday night (June 6) covered many bases of the Motor City’s fabled music heritage — as it re-opened a historic landmark making a comeback from desolation. 

The event brought out the hometown hero likes of Eminem (who co-executive produced the concert with his manager, Paul Rosenberg), and who made the crowd go nuts when he hopped on stage for a surprise four-song mini-set that included the live debut of his new single, “Houdini” and a collaboration with Jelly Roll.

Diana Ross, Jack White, Big Sean, Slum Village and gospel greats the Clark Sisters and Kierra Sheard were also on hand to celebrate the refurbished Michigan Central. The former railroad station in the city’s southwest side had been shuttered since 1988 and became what Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called “a symbol of our decline” as it fell into disrepair. The Ford Motor Co. purchased the building in 2018, spending a reported $940 million to turn it into a center for advanced technological development in transportation and other fields.

That meant a lot to White, who grew up in the same neighborhood. Before the show, he told reporters he’d ride his bicycle over to the site during the 80s and watched it deteriorate as he began his music career. “If you’d have asked me then if this place was ever coming back… there’s no way. It’s just too massive a job,” White said, calling the renovation, “just incredible.”

It was also personal for Patti Smith, who attended to accept a special pre-show Michigan Central Honor — along with White, Slum Village and the late J Dilla — for contributions as global ambassadors for Detroit. Smith, who shared her honor with her late husband and MC5 veteran Fred “Sonic” Smith (daughter Jesse Paris accompanied her), told Billboard that, “Fred loved the train station, and he would fantasize about it being restored and opened to the people. He really talked about it quite a bit, so I know that this would have made him very happy. It means something to me that there honoring him, as he should be, and I’m happy to be included with him.”

During the Honors ceremony Smith also represented Eminem by reading a 2009 love letter he wrote to Detroit professing his love for the city. 

The show itself — which was streamed on Peacock and will be edited into a one-hour NBC special at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday (June 9) — was a nearly two-hour party celebrating the city and its musical heritage, but with a global perspective. “We’ve been invested in trying to rebrand the image of the city and how people see it for a long time,” Rosenberg, who worked in conjunction with Jesse Collins Entertainment, explained to Billboard prior to the show. “The challenge was, ‘What kind of picture can we paint here that’s going to be interesting not just locally but nationally?’ We wanted to make a compelling program that’s going to interest people across the country, not just people who are familiar with Detroit. 

Rosenberg added that he and Eminem used the adage “as goes Detroit, so goes the nation” — from a 1942 Arthur Pond essay in The Atlantic — “as a framework… all these ideas about how the city is viewed not just locally but nationally to help frame the program.”

Starting with a Motown legend didn’t hurt, of course. Ross, clad in a mass of tangerine tulle, began the night with singalong version of her solo hits “I’m Coming Up” and “Upside Down,” plus the title track from her 2021 album Thank You before finishing with a soaring take of the Supremes’ anthem “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” “It’s so good to be home,” Ross said before leaving the stage. “I love you so much.”

Big Sean shared the love as well, saluting Michigan Central as “a diamond that came out of the rough” while delivering a three-song set that included the new “On Up” — a new album is coming this summer, he told the crowd — as well as hits “Blessings” and “Bounce Back,” accompanied by Adam Blackstone & the BBE All Star Band. A Detroit legend who wasn’t there, Bob Seger, was nevertheless saluted by a trio of Melissa Etheridge (“Mainstreet”), Fantasia (“Shakedown”) and Jelly Roll (“Turn the Page,” sporting a Detroit Tigers baseball cap) before the three united to close the tribute with a truncated but exuberant take on “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

“I’ll be Forever Soul, but there’s a little rock in me,” Fantasia told Billboard, invoking the name of her new company. “I wanted that challenge.” 

Common was an out-of-towner in the house — though, being from Chicago, he told the Detroit crowd “we’re cousins” — as he recited “Didn’t One Know,” his tone poem about J Dilla. Slum Village also gave props to the late Baatin and Amp Fiddler as the duo performed Fail in Love” and “Get Dis Money,” the latter with Dilla’s younger brother Illa J and both with the Blackstone band. “We’re always gonna represent the legacy,” the group’s T3 said before  the concert. Common joined Slum Village to close the segment with a poignant rendition of “The Light.”

The Clark Sisters, in glittery gold dresses and joined by the Greater Emmanuel Choir, then took the estimated 20,000 fans to church with “Livin’” and “Blessed & Highly Favored” before backing Sheard — daughter of Karen Clark-Sheard — on a powerhouse version of her “Miracles.” Sheard stayed on stage for the Clarks’ signature hit “You Brought the Sunshine,” a stunner even if the sky was turning dark. 

A pair of DJs, Theo Parrish and Sky Jetta, represented Detroit’s famed techno heritage, while White brought the rock and the White Stripes with “some songs that were written a couple blocks from here” — debuting a new two-keyboard band lineup on “Hotel Yorba” and a “Seven Nation Army” that was literally on fire as (planned) pyrotechnics and flames erupted to accent the anthem.

And while Eminem — who filmed parts of the video for his 2009 single “Beautiful” in the then-abandoned Michigan Central — was not billed as a performer when the show was announced, it surprised few that he closed the evening. Joined by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra the hoodied rapper presented the live debut of “Houdini,” the just-released first single from his upcoming The Death of Slim Shady (Coup de Grace) album (July 5), then “Sing For the Moment” with Jelly Roll, “Welcome 2 Detroit” with Trick Trick and a bombastic “Not Afraid,” which was followed by a short show-ending fireworks display. 

“Timing worked out for us fortunately great because we just dropped a single — that wasn’t always the case when we agreed to jump on board,” Rosenberg noted. “We weren’t sure we were going to have new music out. It happened to work out great, and it became an opportunity to perform a new song.”

Dionne Harmon, president of Jesse Collins Entertainment — which also produces Super Bowl halftime shows and a variety of awards shows, among other events — told Billboard that the universal appeal of the artists ultimately opened the door for “Live From Detroit” to be a streaming and network special. “Everybody knew this wasn’t just a Detroit story or an American story, but a global story,” she said. “So we started looking for a partner who could help us tell this story. We’ve done a lot of work with NBC in the past; when we took this to them they fell in love with the story and the city, the same way we did.”

The performers, meanwhile, bought into the idea of telling that story together. “These things, you never know how they’re gonna turn out, who’s gonna show up and who’s gonna be invited,” said White, who attended the same high school as Ross and Big Sean. “When they were first talking about Eminem and Dian Ross and Slum Village I thought, ‘Wow, if that really happens..’”

“It’s one of the biggest events Detroit’s ever seen,” Slum Village’s T3 gushed. “Even the other artists I just met today, like Jelly Roll, which was super cool… We’re having a good time out here, and it’s just a beautiful event.”

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