Carhartt heiress Gretchen Valade leaves lasting legacy with Detroit Jazz Festival philanthropy

Gretchen Carhartt Valade passed away on December 30th at 97, and leaves a lasting legacy.

"You have to remember, to keep the Jazz Festival entirely free you’re talking about a heavy lift every single year," said Chris Collins, president Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. "And when it started to fail, it was a fear in the community that the Detroit Jazz Festival was going to go away.

But Valade stepped in.

"Gretchen Valade, we called her the 'Angel of Jazz' and I've been saying, our Angel of Jazz finally got her wings," Collins said.

Her family started the popular clothing brand Carhartt, which specializes in rugged work gear, but Valade built her reputation based on a love for jazz.

"There’s a very give-and-take, a very special sharing between the culture of Detroit and jazz, and she recognized that," Collins said. "She created the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation which would be the entity that does year-round activity and presents, sponsors, and creates the Detroit Jazz Festival each year."

But her support did not stop there.

"She put some money in an endowment, then she put some more money in an endowment and sponsors begin to come on little by little. Donors began to understand the importance of it, and now we’re at a point where we are really building on her generosity," he said.

And putting on the Jazz Festival is not a small feat.

"About $4.5 million to $5 million every single year to do what we do," he added.

Valade saw that it took place every year, and organizers say it’s because of her commitment, it can continue.

"This is her vision and I’m committed to it. I can tell you the whole team is committed to it," Collins said.

As an artist himself, Collins initially met Valade at the Jazz Fest when he was performing.

Valade owned the Dirty Dog Jazz Cade.

"Once I got to know her, I asked Gretchen 'Can I buy you a gift? Can I take you to dinner? What can I do,'" he said. "She said you can do this for me Keep the Detroit Jazz festival free And keep it jazz."

Collins says Valade’s influence will also be felt on the campus of Wayne State University.

"At the end of 2023, opening at the Wayne State campus, will be the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center, which he gave $9.5. million to Wayne State, which does have one of the oldest jazz programs

A legacy which runs far beyond just Carhartt.

Gretchen Carhartt Valade

Gretchen Carhartt Valade