Mysterious murder is not 'Forgotten'

By Vivian DeGain

Special to the Daily Tribune

Royal Oak Daily Tribune

Photos 1 and 2 by Rosh Sillars


September 9, 2005

Sometimes a mystery gets easier to solve with time, when fears can settle down and distance allows clear judgment.


Actor and Huntington Woods resident Davis Gloff offers the example of the 1962 murder of civil rights advocate Medgar Evers and how it was 1994 before a jury convicted a prime suspect.


When it comes to race, class and the bitter struggles of the pre-union automotive factory workers, perhaps a death at the River Rouge plant in 1936 could be such a mystery, that of the minister, labor organizer and radio broadcaster the Rev. Lewis Bradford.


His death was called an accident at the time --but now, piecing together old testimonial evidence and a coroner's report-- it seems more  like a murder, especially to musician Steve Jones, who has a personal interest in Bradford's story.

Jones, a distant relative of Bradford who studies labor history took years to gather stories from his own family treasure chests, as well as to trace historical information about Bradford's death through newspaper clippings and other period documents. Now, "in the only way I could," Jones relates the story in 25 songs woven together in a powerful and dynamic production that he describes as a "jazz opera."


His work, the musical drama "Forgotten: The Murder at the Ford Rouge Plant," is based on his investigation about the death of his great-uncle.


The composer said he developed "Forgotten" with the help of director Elise Bryant, his brother Peter  (who wrote the first Lewis Bradford song), and cousins and aunts who retold family stories and recovered Bradford's long-forgotten dusty diary in an attic.


The result is a knockout. The lyrics, harmonies and a top-rate cast bring the story alive with a brilliant performance.


Jones and Bryant share many common interests.  He earned his BA in Labor Studies from the University of Maryland, where he lives today. His colleague, Bryant, is a teacher at the National Labor College-George Meany Center, and had directed labor theater for almost 20 years.


Jones had the blood connection to Bradford. Bryant grew up in Detroit and her father worked at the Rouge Plant for 40 years.


"I could have started writing this story in a more general way to focus on the issues. But it is the specifics that make a story better and richer," Jones said. "For instance, Elise told me that in Detroit, automotive workers identify themselves by the name of their particular plant, more than with the company name."

The personal and individual become the universal.  Just ask "Forgotten" cast member Gloff, who portrays former Shrine of the Little Flower pastor Father Charles Coughlln, a controversial right-wing priest and influential radio broadcaster with a record of radical and anti-Semitic viewpoints.


Gloff said his own father, Leroy Gloff, only survived the Depression because of the help and generosity of The Salvation Army and National Guard. Like so many of that generation, the parents of Davis Gloff and his wife either were born in Detroit or came to Detroit to get a better life through the factory jobs that Henry Ford offered "for $5 a day".


In "Forgotten," Gloff's real family are honored as their photos are projected on a screen behind the set, along with photos of many other cast family members.

"The final piece, 'We Remember You,' is a tribute to all those who have gone before," Gloff said. "We mention the names in the show of (workers) who have been killed in the labor movement in Detroit, but we also celebrate the lives of the people who went before us individually. At the outset of the show we were asked to bring in pictures of our family members for that. I brought in pictures of my parents and (his wife) Donna's too.  "The collage at the end is the collection of those pictures. They are color and black and white, old and not so old, from many generations, but all people we have loved who are no longer with us. The (collage) runs as we sing "We remember you. What you've been, what you've done will not be forgotten."


"I'm personally glad that I don't actually sing in that number, because just hearing that song and seeing those pictures makes me cry and I've never sung very well while I was crying. I really don't know how the others do it. I respect them very much for being able to hold it together as they do that number."


He does belt out the tunes as Coughlin though. Gloff's baritone fills the stage in a song titled after the "Hour of Power" radio show, and again in a point-counterpoint trio called, "Radio, Guns and Money".


The radio angle is another that Gloff really relates to personally. He was an on-alr personality at WQRS 105.1 for eight years before its demise, and currently he is an announcer on Web broadcast


Gloff, A graduate of Wayne State University, has performed opera and oratorio in concert and recital for over 35 years with groups such as Michigan Opera Theatre, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and others throughout the United States. He describes himself as a lyric Baritone, a performer, announcer, lecturer, teacher, pianist, clinician, composer and commentator.


He grew up in Detroit. He and Donna have resided in Pleasant Ridge for 25 years.

The cast of "Forgotten" includes 30 actors and singers under the musical direction of Bill Meyer. All are performers from the metro Detroit area.


The Rev. Lewis Bradford is played by Henry Nelson, Henry Ford by Larry Schrock, and Ford's right-hand enforcer, Harry Bennett, by Mike Carluccio. Other leads include the reverend's wife, Ella Bradford, played by Christine Chila; unemployed worker Rosie Johnson, played by Lynn Marie Smith; and Mrs. Clara Ford, played by Jan Sage. Executive producer Lisa Canada and soprano chorus member Suzie Gouine are also local talent -- they are both from Ferndale.


"Forgotten" will be performed this weekend at the Millennium Centre theater in Southfield as a benefit fundraiser for the Michigan Labor History Society for labor-education programs, and exhibits at the Labor Legacy Landmark in Hart Plaza.


A brand new recording of this Detroit cast is just issued this week in a CD with Jones' musical score of "Forgotten." The CD will be for sale at the event.


For more information about the show or the CD featuring the Detroit cast, visit the Web site at


Contact Daily Tribune copy editor Vivian DeGain at