The Revitalization of Historic Idlewild, MI with the Summer Oasis Music Festival

The Historic Community Idlewild was marketed as an all-black resort town in Lake County, Michigan. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a leading Black surgeon, became the 1st famous property owner in 1915. Other upper and middle-class Black people including Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Joe Louis, and Madam C.J. Walker, also owned Idlewild property.

It was known as the “Black Eden” a place where African Americans could vacation, purchase property, party, and relax when they were excluded from other resorts because of the color of their skin. Vacationers would come to camp, swim, boat, fish, hunt, and more. During the ’50s and 60s, more than 25,000 African Americans would travel from Midwestern cities each summer to visit. It was a thriving area that boasted more than 300 Black-owned businesses. There was a post office, a fire department, a roller rink, and a public clubhouse. Idlewild was a thriving community. It grew into one of the most successful resorts, black or white, in the Midwest. Island Park, the island surrounded by Idlewild Lake, was the epicenter of entertainment. It featured the Idlewild Clubhouse, the Oakmere Hotel, and the Purple Palace Supper Club. It was known as the “Summer Apollo of Michigan”. Arthur Braggs, a Saginaw businessperson, hosted entertainers such as Della Reese, Jackie Wilson, The Four Tops, the Rhythm Kings, Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Billy Eckstein and more.

“Idlewild’s place on the summer entertainment circuit came about because even stages were still largely segregated then. Top black performers could play for white audiences here and there, but it was still worth their while to make the trip up from Chicago or another large city. Idlewild, Wilson said, was part of the so-called “chitlin circuit” that served Black audiences.”- Ben Wilson, emeritus professor of Africana studies at Western Michigan University

As the nation integrated, Idlewild became less popular as Black people began to go to resorts, they previously couldn’t visit. Over the last twenty years, Idlewild has made small steps toward revitalizing itself, including identifying historic structures along with recognizing the homes of Joe Louis and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. The National Idlewilders Club continues to organize annual events, including the Idlewild Jazz Festival. Attendance at the annual summer festivals has steadily increased since 2000.

The Summer Oasis Music festival is part of the revitalization efforts in rebuilding Idlewild. Founder, Cedric McDougle, knew he wanted to take his concept to a historical place and create a professional music festival weekend.

“While giving support and having an amazing weekend experience, we are bringing much-needed attention to a historical place that needs our support. It’s a win-win for all involved. The glampers will have the time of their lives on a private lake and the people and businesses will have an opportunity to showcase the gifts and richness of Idlewild’-Cedric McDougle-Founder/Summer Oasis Festival

We spoke with Summer Oasis Founder about the historic Idlewild Community and why his festival is more than a weekend-long party but a celebration with a purpose.

The Summer Oasis Music Festival combines music and glamping for a fun-filled, upscale music festival experience unlike any other. Attendees come from all over setting up the most elaborate, fabulous, and comfortable living spaces for 3 days bringing the worlds of music and camping together. For more information on Summer Oasis check out their website at www.glampishlife.com.

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