DSO leader Anne Parsons gets her own street in Detroit

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Trying to woo Anne Parsons to Detroit to lead the Detroit Symphony Orchestra years ago, former DSO board chairman Jim Nicholson told her they'd even named the street in front of Orchestra Hall, Parsons Street, for their new prospective leader.

Parsons was stunned.

"I totally believed him for a second," she said.

Nicholson was joking, but 17 years years after Parsons became the DSO's president and chief executive officer, leading it through one challenge after another, the street just south of Orchestra Hall between Woodward and Cass now actually does bear her name. A brief ceremony unveiling the new secondary street name, Anne Parsons Way, approved by Detroit city officials was held in between rain storms Wednesday.

"We're so grateful to have discovered this extraordinary place," said Parsons. "I will always think of this not as Anne Parsons Way but our way."

Anne Parsons, President and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, left, and her daughter Cara Dietz pose for photos during a ceremony to unveil secondary street signs in recognition of Parsons, at the intersection of Woodward and Parsons, in Detroit, June 30, 2021.

Nearly 100 people gathered to see the new street name and honor Parsons, who earlier this year announced she plans to step down from the DSO in 2022. The sun broke through the clouds just as Parsons, who is currently on medical leave as she fights cancer, stepped to the podium to talk about the honor, which she admits took a bit to get used to.

Cara Dietz, Parsons' daughter who attended the ceremony with her dad and Parsons' husband, Donald Dietz, said it was very fitting that the street was now called Anne Parsons Way. 

"There is an Anne Parsons Way of life, of leadership," said Dietz. "I'm sure everyone here could exhibit a tenet of the Anne Parsons' way -- resilience, compassion, leadership and standing by your beliefs, but also knowing when to give and when to listen to what other people are telling you."

A new secondary street sign in recognition of Anne Parsons, President and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, at the intersection of Woodward and Parsons, in Detroit, June 30, 2021.

Parsons joined the DSO in 2004 and has ushered it through a series of crises over the last 17 years, including Detroit's bankruptcy, the Great Recession, a bitter musicians' strike and last year's pandemic. 

"None of that could stand up to our Anne," said Rochelle Riley, Detroit's director of arts and culture. "She helped stabilize the orchestra's finances and now we have surpluses and have had them since 2013."

Parsons Street was originally named after 19th century landowner, Philo Parsons, no relation to Anne, in 1867. Changing the street's name to Anne Parsons Way took about two years.

Anne Parsons, President and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra hugs Kurtis Wilder, secretary of the board of directors of the DSO, during a ceremony to unveil secondary street signs in recognition of Parsons, at the intersection of Woodward and Parsons, in Detroit, June 30, 2021.

Hayden McKay, a longtime cellist with the DSO who said he hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with Parsons, said the orchestra has navigated many ups and downs over the years. McKay said he's changed over the years as has Parsons and the orchestra itself.

"At so many points in its history, the DSO could not have done what it managed to achieve during this past difficult year, the pandemic year," he said. "That newfound strength and resilience is due to so many people who are here right now, but especially Anne Parsons."

For Parsons, she plans to work on building DSO's endowment until she retires next year. 

"I really am just filled with gratitude," said Parsons. "My family and I have made Detroit our home -- 100%. We are of you, for you...Thanks to Jim (Nicholson), we did come. And I'm so very appreciative we made that choice. It's the best decision we ever made."

mfeighan@detroitnews.com