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Bert Dearing & Harold T. Bowles

By Adrianne Reynolds

Driving west on Gratiot Avenue, towards downtown Detroit, tucked away is a non-descript section in the Historical Eastern Market District is Bert’s Entertainment Complex. It encompasses Bert’s (Jazz) Marketplace, Bert’s Food Court, Bert’s Motown Room, Bert’s Warehouse Theatre and located less than ½ mile away is Bert’s on Broadway.

Mr. Bertram (Bert) Dearing, a native Detroiter, has earned himself a position among the best of the best. Having opened up a magnificent entertainment complex and hosting Kronk boxing matches, theatrical plays, and entertainment mega stars while consistently living up to and making himself accessible to all people, at all times. Not only has this patient, wise, and peaceful man thrived from positive replies to most needs when asked, he also regularly feeds the homeless.

Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Bert and Harold about their relationship, over the years, and how it all began.

Bert, you have been a successful leader amongst your peers. How do you manage to remain humble and grounded?

Bert: I love what, I do.

Can you provide me with a brief history about your family to know exactly how you got started in this business? Maybe start with your grandfather on your mother’s side.

Bert: In the late 1800’s, I can trace my family tree on my grandfather’s side all the way back to his grandfather being a merchant marine and traveling around the world. And his father ended up owning Jasper County on one side. Because white folks was on one side and the blacks folks was on another side. When the trains would come in, my grandfather started out carrying luggage in a wheelbarrow to the hotels or wherever they had to take their stuff. From that point, my family began to create a grocery store and a hotel for blacks. My grandmother had a covered wagon and would go from county to county town-to-town selling pots and pans and was a merchant in that way. In the late 1930’s, my grandfather had grocery stores and supermarkets with other guys like Allen Muck. I was the oldest of two, my sister was not exposed to the business, but I was raised in my grandfather’s grocery store on Riopelle and one prior to that on Brewster. So you pick up all the skills and stuff, being around there.  My grandfather was a GarverLight or an unpaid preacher. If you owned a grocery store, you were looked up to, because you gave credit to the people in your neighborhood or you took care of people in your community. Back then, people did not have money, so they would keep a book or whatever, you know, your husband would get paid or go out and hustle or something, or whatever, and would come back and pay towards their bill. It was like a barter type thing, in a way. So, I learned a lot at a very young age. And, I must admit that it must be in my blood, because I am still doing it today.  When you think about it, integration was a way to bring opportunities for different cultures to intermingle. But, what actually happened is integration along with urban development, opened doors and windows for blacks to leave black communities and taking their money outside of the black communities. This played a role in the breakdown of unity and power in the black community and it still exist today.

Have you ever played an instrument?

Bert: Yes, the Jewish Piano. Do you know what a Jewish Piano is?


Bert: A cash register.

What is it that you would like to be remembered for?

Bert: Just, as a good person, that’s all. A person that has helped people. A great husband, father and grandfather. The bar and all that other stuff is secondary.

Your family is very important to you?

Bert: Oh Yea, yea.

You know family goes back to what we were talking about so much today, which is morals. Where do you see this complex in five (5) years?

Bert: A multiple complex and museum, a place to come when you have people from out of town to share an educational experience. We’re going to have stuff for kids, because you have to educate them through vision and music because today, a lot of kids don’t read books. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, there were show bars located in the neighborhoods. This complex is like what used to be. I have had business available so that people could bring family from out of town and they would bring them to my place. Because they knew that they would be comfortable and services would be available.

They use to have the “20 Grand” (once located on 14th Street), years ago, and when people came from out of town that would be our show place. Originally, the “20 Grand” was a show place where we take the people in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prior to that, each neighborhood had its own area show bar like the Flaming Show Bar. Back in the 40’s and 50’s each neighborhood had its show bar. You would get dressed up with the one white shirt that you had and go out on Friday or Saturday and you would walk because it was in your neighborhood. And, we do not have that any more.


Harold: What would you say is Bert’s legacy or what Bert should be remembered for?

Harold: “I got my first gig from Bert in 1971. Bert’s has been in the bar business for over 40
years and is the only business that I know. You talk about “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge” as being the oldest jazz, but Bert’s has been the one most consistent Black Business which, I can think of that has never closed but has changed locations, it’s always been or …you can expect Bert’s.”

Harold: How would you describe Bert’s humanitarian efforts?

Harold: He’s a Saint! Bert is very real. I would say Bert doesn’t say a lot, but you can see Bert through what he does. He has always made himself and his businesses accessible to everybody. Not just the artists, but the seniors, the homeless, the hustlers too, everybody.

How would you categorize Bert’s legacy?

Harold: One of a kind. Absolutely, one of a kind. There is no other Bert. There is nobody like him that I know that has achieved as much as he has that will still wash the dishes, sweep the floor and clean up the place, order the food, whatever it takes. Bert will do it. Let’s talk about the success of Bert’s. The success of Bert’s is not about money, it’s about the spirit of music, the proprietor and the dream, he had. Bert has provided more opportunities for artists to perform and is a stout, jazz lover and is known for jazz. But opportunities for artists to perform like DMAMEA, the way they are coming to the rescue of entertainers who are unable to be buried or don’t have enough money for certain things is outstanding. Yet, whenever an artist gets in trouble or needs something, they come to Bert’s. Bert has hosted more events, testimonials, fundraisers and benefits, in the name of artists, than anybody. There has to be a relationship with people. Without a relationship, you have nothing. It’s not just about money. Everybody bases everything on money, on income, on gross revenues and of course, that is important. It’s just like DMAMEA, there is a synergistic relationship that exists within DMAMEA, which is a growing and living thing. There is nothing but artists that run DMAMEA and there is a level of mutual respect. The Board of Directors and the Operating Board of DMAMEA is a group of leaders. They’re able to support each other through respect. The people who created DMAMEA have these things inherit in their activities, which is why they are successful in what they’re doing. That is what will make the members that join DMAMEA strong. Certain levels of protocol must be developed. DMAMEA should develop Professional Rules of Conduct that are success driven and success oriented for this business. Be on time for your gigs.

Drill into those who do not have exposure to people like Dr. Bowles, Marcus Belgrave or Ted Harris the importance of business ethics.

Bert: (Interject) This city has the greatest entertainment in the world. If you want to be somewhere in five (5) years, you have to project a vision for yourself, write it down and do it in phases, but you gotta be business. If you go back to what worked in the 30’s and 40’s, everybody was dressed up. Everybody was about business. And, we did not know business, but we went and got somebody that was about business. And the one that was not about business, the white folks recognized their values and they became their business person.

That reminds me of Scripture - Habakkuk 2:2 that reads: Write the vision and make it clear so the herald may run with it, thou it may tarry, it shall not be late. OK.

Harold, let’s talk about your father, Dr. Beans Bowles, Sr. It is my understanding that your father, Beans Bowels was known as the “God Father of Motown, correct”?

Harold: “They called him Dr. Beans Bowls”.

Was your father’s doctrine, honorary?

Harold: “He got his degree from Sidewalk University”.

Dr. Beans Bowls felt show business was something that should be shared and within show business, you must pass on information. Most times, Dr. Bowles would be in a position to understand artists better than they would understand themselves. And in turn, he would pull their coattail in order to facilitate that need to share or inform the artists about certain things or situations and was extremely helpful in that way.

Harold: He was everybody’s uncle, counselor and friend. He was always one to help, not only in show business but also, pretty much in life period. Beans was a very special guy. He helped everybody, he was the guy known for always smiling, no matter what the problem or the situation, he was always there for you.

Bert: (Interject) In the entertainment business, Beans was the chief and the witch doctor.

Can you explain that?

Bert: He took care of whatever problems, he was a teacher, he offered leadership and watched Dianna Ross and other kids that he helped come up, he was truly a leader.

Harold: “He was encouraging”.

Bert: He was a mentor, a dad, an uncle, whatever part needed to be played at that time, Beans could fill that”.

Whether, personal or professional Dr. Bowles would be there in times of need?

Harold: “I had people come to me over, over and over again, like they were my brothers, saying, “You know, Beans was like my daddy”. Beans helped me so much, I say to you.. go into the music business and ask people…“Do you know Beans Bowles?” I mean, everyone can give you a story about how Beans helped them out.”
I have read a lot. As a matter of fact, your brother, Dennis Bowles, Saxophonist was gracious enough to have offered me a copy of his book about your personal lives in the industry. The book is entitled: “The Untold Story” by Dennis Bowles. So, would you consider yourself as having extended family?

Harold: Yep. It made me jealous. Why would you say that?

Harold: Because, he had more time for everybody else, than I felt he had time for me when I was a young.


Harold: He could always talk to anybody, he never turned anybody away, and he never turned anybody down. He always had time to help someone else. And, when I was young, it was like… Wait…Whatz up, I mean, show me something! Although, I know it has to be a point where you get sleep, but I learned so much by osmosis, by being around him in his company, he had a need to share, as you said in the beginning, not just information but, to be that ear for people. A lot of times he did not have to talk, he just listened. Because, they wanted to say whatever they wanted to say or express themselves and he was a very good listener.

Then, for them it was a form of therapy, not for your father, but that person that spoke.

Harold: I think it was good for him too.

You think so?

Harold: Yep.

OK so, do you think that the moral standards that your father raised you with were passed on to you?

Harold: Oh yea.

What are your strengths and weakness in regards to your moral values and where you stand today?

Harold: That’s a weird question.

I know it is, it’s actually a twofold question. What are your strengths; do you have any particular strength?

Harold: I don’t know, it’s better for people to tell me what my strengths are, rather for me to tell you. I may have strength but maybe uh, uh I may think I have strength and it may not be. You know?

Well, tell me, I want to know what you think?

Harold: Well for many years, I use to think that he was not serving himself by not getting paid to be a consultant, not getting paid for the knowledge and the information that he shared with everybody. I fought him, on that, for many, many years and today, I find myself doing that exact same thing. Sharing information, trying to help young artists, old artists and be involved. When Dr. Bowles got involved in something, he got all the way involved in it. He didn’t half do things and I believe that I have that too.”

Do you like to work alone or with people?

Harold: That’s very different. My brother is very much a lone worker. I have always been a people person. I am a team oriented individual. I end up in leadership roles because my dad groomed me for that. It is all about a team. You cannot do anything by yourself. You have to be part of a team and you have to be able to contribute to the team. A band is a team and I have been oriented to be a part of a team by performing music. And it is not so much as the money, although it is about the money; it’s about getting the job done. It’s about seeing a dream come to fruition or actually watching it come to life.

What does commitment mean to you?

Harold: Well, I teach a class in recording/audio arts and I always ask this question, actually I ve asked this question to a lot of people about a lot of different things, particularly in this business and that question is: How far are you willing to go for what you say you believe in or what you say you do? And, if the answer is anything other than, “All the way”, that’s an incorrect answer too me. To reply – “whatever is necessary, or whatever it takes”, is not sufficient. It must be “all the way”.

How do you define success?

I believe that I have already reached success. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve had more money than whole families could have in a lifetime. Success is being able to have lived a life that is worth remembering through someone else’s eyes. And that is what I am trying to achieve now.
You had the pleasure of growing up with Little Steve Wonder. How was he as a child?
Harold: Steve is one of the greatest human being that I know. Steve’s Birthday and my father’s birthday is five days apart. Dr. Bowels was born on May 7 and Steve on May 13. He was a happy kid, joyful, fun and mischievous and dedicated to playing instruments. I would run bath water and he would go and jump in it tub and splash water everywhere. He would do whatever normal kids would do.

In closing, a prior edition of DETROIT ENTERTAINERS & MUSICIANS NEWS, asked the question: Where is Detroit’s Entertainment District? I was informed that it exist near the Harmony Park area. What do you think about that?

Harold: I do not care about who designate whatever area as such. It’s going to be where the people come. It doesn’t matter, if they designate this or that as a historic area or entertainment district. We have four clubs in one block here at Bert’s, a restaurant, a special event/concert venue and two (2) nightclubs. What will make the entertainment district are the people. Those who support entertainment, the artists and the customers, they are going to make the different. What and where is the entertainment district? “It is the people who frequent the area or bring life to the area that will decide by their existence within a particular area where it truly exist”.


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