Hugh Parker Grannum, III
A jazzy gentleman, who once wanted to be a jazz musician, he found a way to make music with photographs that sang, danced and touched the hearts and souls of people.
He loved his family and took pride in his cultural heritage which was rooted in Barbados and flourished in New York.
Grannum, affectionately known as Sonny to his family, was born Feb. 18, 1940 in Brooklyn and flourished in New York. He spent many of his early years at the family farm in Rock Tavern, in upstate New York, where he enjoyed summers and hunted rabbits with his “Grandpapa” and namesake, Hugh Parker Grannum. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, Grannum attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He returned home to take classes at Brooklyn College and took a liking to photography while hanging out at jazz clubs around the city.
His career as a serious photographer began under the tutelage of Mike Questa in New York. A photographer friend, Ken Hamlin, the first African American photographer at the Detroit Free Press, recommended in 1970 that he apply for a job at the Detroit Free Press. Grannum applied, but turned down the job offer from Free Press Chief Photographer Tony Spina. Grannum didn’t want to leave his native New York. But Spina learned that he and Grannum’s mother were both devoted Catholics. So Spina called up and convinced her to send Grannum to Detroit.
Thus began a 37-plus year career at the Detroit Free Press where he became known as a photographer with a creative eye and a caring heart. He cared about the people he photographed, whether they were well-known or little-known, extending to each the same degree of courtesy and respect. His images illuminated the heart and spirit of Detroit and its people.
A love of the arts — dance, music and theater — that began in New York moved with him to Detroit. He captured images that brought art to life. His artistic photos grace the walls of homes throughout America and have appeared in exhibits locally and internationally.
During his years at the Free Press, he also became a much-adored mentor and motivator of countless other photographers and reporters. One former colleague, Pauline Lubens, remarked how she first doubted Grannum’s sincerity when they worked together.
“Hugh was so nice to me that I assumed he was a phony,” said Lubens. “But I soon found out that his kindness was genuine. He was a true humanitarian and he had a big heart and a beautiful smile.”
In Detroit, he met the love of his life, Carolyn Hardy Grannum. She was attending a dance concert at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. He took her photo. At the next dance concert, the photo he’d taken of her became his calling card. So began a courtship that resulted in a 32-year marriage.
Grannum delighted in watching their daughter, Blake Elizabeth, grow into an accomplished woman, whose artistry, creativity and flair is demonstrated in everything she pursues. He was proud and pleased that she shared his loved of the arts.
Grannum taught at Wayne County Community College, the College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University and Oakland Community College.
His work has been exhibited internationally. Among the places his photography has been displayed are The Studio Museum of Harlem, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, the National Conference of Artists, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Black Fine Arts Festival in New York and art studios in Toyota, Japan; Senegal, West Africa; and Toronto. An exhibit of his work is part of the permanent collection on exhibit now at the Detroit Room on the Troy campus of Michigan State University.
Hugh’s many honors include an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Science, the Alain Locke Award from the Friends of African American Art, and the recognition from the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and the Detroit Police Crime Prevention program.
In addition to the Detroit Free Press, his photos have appeared in Ebony, Essence, Forbes and Black Enterprise as well as other publications.
He also edited a number of short films and completed two documentaries, one entitled, “The Queen and Her Ministry,” about the work of the late Martha Jean the Queen Steinberg, and “the Detroit Head Start Program.”
On Jan. 11, 2013 God called Grannum to take a ride home because his work on earth was completed. He was promoted to come up higher to do his work in eternity.