Gretchen Valade, ex-Carhartt leader and Detroit arts philanthropist, dies at 97

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Posted at 2:21 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 14:21:21-05

Gretchen Carhartt Valade, the chairman emeritus of Carhartt and a huge supporter of the arts community in metro Detroit, passed away on Dec. 30. She was 97 years old.

Carhartt made the announcement in a press release on Tuesday, saying she was surrounded by family at her Grosse Pointe Farms home.

She was born Aug. 27, 1925 and was the granddaughter of Hamilton Carhartt, the founder of the iconic Dearborn-based brand. She married Robert C. Valade in 1948 and raised three children together, and served as chairman of the Carhartt board. Now, her son, Mark, serves as CEO and chairman.

"She was an innovator, philanthropist, pioneer and visionary. 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," the company said in a statement.

Valade also was a major supporter of the arts, culture and business landscape in metro Detroit, and was known as the "Angel of Jazz." She was the founder of Mack Avenue Records in 1999, which has since earned over 50 Grammy nominations and 11 Grammy wins.

She worked to establish a foundation for the Detroit Jazz Festival after it lost its sponsor in 2006 to make sure the festival remained free.

"It's important that the Detroit Jazz Festival remain accessible to all that want to enjoy listening and celebrating Detroit's rich history of jazz. People may reference that it's my festival, but it's not. This festival belongs to the people and city of Detroit," she said of the festival

Valade also funded the Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center at Wayne State University and owned several businesses in Grosse Pointe Farms.