Carhartt heiress and prominent Detroit bussinesswoman, philanthropist Gretchen Valade dies

Granddaughter of Carharrt founder dead at 97

Gretchen Valade, shown in Harper Woods, Mich., March 31, 2005, started her own record label with a fairly modest goal: to record some of her own songs. Today, Mack Avenue Records is well on its way to becoming a jazz institution. In just seven years, the small, independent label based in suburban Detroit has managed to sign some big names and to help launch some budding careers. Now it has earned itself some new fans by stepping up to save this year's Detroit International Jazz Festival, the largestfree jazz festival in North America, held on Labor Day weekend. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza) (JERRY S. MENDOZA, Jerry S. Mendoza/AP)

DETROIT – Gretchen Valade, granddaughter of the founder of Carharrt Inc., has died at the age of 97, Wayne State University announced on Thursday.

Valade, a prominent figure in the Detroit community, was the heiress of the popular Metro Detroit-based apparel company. She reportedly died in her home in Grosse Pointe Farms on Jan. 3.

Prior to her death, Valade maintained a chairman emeritus status at Carharrt. Her late husband, Robert Valade, previously served as CEO of the workwear company.

Headquartered in Dearborn, Carharrt was founded in Detroit in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt. Mark Valade, the great grandson of Hamilton Carharrt, is the current CEO of family-run business.

Outside of her roles at Carhartt, Gretchen Valade was also a well-known businesswoman, having owned and operated a number of establishments in Southeast Michigan and beyond, including the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Gretchen Valade, who grew up in Grosse Pointe in the 1920s, had a special place in her heart for jazz music. Lovingly referred to as the Angel of Jazz by the music community, Gretchen Valade was described as “jazz’s fiercest guardian and advocate in Detroit” by Wayne State University -- where she invested millions into jazz education.

The university said Gretchen Valade gifted a total of $9.5 million to support its jazz studies and performances. The funds were used to establish the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center, which contains a “main hall designed specifically for jazz performance and a club-style venue.”

Learn more about the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center here.

The university also said the Angel of Jazz helped establish an “educational partnership” between WSU and the Detroit Jazz Festival -- an event she was heavily involved in. In 2005, Gretchen Valade formed the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board of Directions, of which she served as chair.

The businesswoman also founded Detroit jazz label Mack Avenue Records in 1998 alongside Tom Robinson.

Gretchen Valade’s granddaughter, who’s also named Gretchen Valade, has also been making a name for herself in the Detroit community, opening in 2020 a sustainable boutique aimed at slowing down the fast fashion trend.

Read more: Slow fashion: Boutique in Detroit’s Midtown puts focus on sustainability and quality

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.