On this day in 2009, country singer/songwriter John Rich releases a song about the plight of autoworkers titled “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.” The song, which featured such lyrics as “While they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town, here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down,” quickly became a hit in Michigan, where the U.S. auto industry began, as well as across America. Rich wrote the song after becoming frustrated by news reports of government bailouts for Wall Street companies whose CEOs received stratospheric paychecks while autoworkers struggled to keep their jobs amidst widespread layoffs. Rich, one-half of the country duo Big & Rich, whose hits include “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Comin’ to Your City,” recorded “Shuttin’ Down Detroit” for his 2009 solo album “Son of a Preacher Man.” In January 2009, Michigan-based mlive.com reported that Rich said “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” was about: “the working men and women of America, and how Washington and New York City are slinging billions of dollars over the tops of our heads, while hard working people are going down the drain.” The song became a working-class anthem and had some fans calling up radio stations in tears after they heard it played.
The economic health of Detroit has long been linked to the auto industry. Nicknamed the “Motor City,” Detroit was the world’s fastest-growing city between 1900 and 1930, according to an April 2009 report in the National Review Online, which noted that: “Detroit’s population currently stands at around 900,000 inhabitants–half of what it was in 1950. The U.S. Census reports that in 2000, Detroit became the first American city with a population formerly more than 1 million to dip below the million mark.”
In 2008, the American auto industry was hard hit by the global economic crisis and vehicle sales were slumping. Both General Motors and Chrysler were forced to ask the federal government for multi-billion-dollar bailout loans in order to remain in business. Despite these loans, Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 30, 2009, and announced it would enter into a partnership with Italian carmaker Fiat. A little over a month later, on June 1, GM also announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. GM, which from the early 1930s to 2008 was the world’s top-selling maker of cars and trucks, planned to shutter dealerships and plants and shed its Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn brands.