Two weeks after closing Woodstock with his reinvention of “The Star Spangled Banner,” Jimi Hendrix decided to offer a free concert for a group he called “my people.”
He held a concert for an African-American audience in Harlem, a place he once called home. Hendrix’s homecoming, though, was almost ruined as soon as he stepped onstage. Someone threw a bottle at him that shattered against a speaker; eggs splattered on the stage. Hendrix gamely played on while much of the crowd melted away.
“They didn’t like him,” says Charles R. Cross, who recounts the episode in his biography of Hendrix, “Room Full of Mirrors.” “He was jeered. People heckled him.”
A new film focusing on a more triumphant period in Hendrix’s life is rekindling interest in the guitar icon. “Jimi: All Is by My Side” shows how Hendrix left New York for London to become a star. Yet no film has explored another twist in Hendrix’s journey: How black and white audiences misunderstood the importance of Hendrix’s race, both to the man and to his music.
Hendrix traveled to Harlem because he was trying to connect with blacks who had dismissed him as a musical Uncle Tom: a black man playing white man’s music. Music critics and biographers say Hendrix also was frustrated by legions of white fans who only saw him as a racial stereotype — a hypersexual black man who was high all the time — instead of a serious musician.
There are signs today that more fans are starting to appreciate how Hendrix’s race shaped his life and sound. Yet he’s still seen by many as a musical genius who just happened to be black instead of a man whose genius was inseparable from his race, says Jeremy Wells, author of “Blackness Scuzed: Jimi Hendrix’s Invisible Legacy in Heavy Metal.”
Wells first noticed this pattern when he examined how white heavy metal musicians and fans described Hendrix. They rarely mentioned his race, or even said that his music transcended race. Wells said he found that odd given Hendrix’s sound was steeped in the blues tradition of black guitarists such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters.
“Nobody would say that race doesn’t matter for Muddy Waters,” says Wells, an English professor at Indiana University Southeast. “But there’s a whole industry devoted to saying it doesn’t matter for Hendrix.”
Race mattered more to Hendrix than most people realize, critics and biographers say: He was hurt by black radio’s refusal to play his music; he experienced stinging racism during his time as an R&B sideman and star; and some of his most famous songs were profoundly shaped by his experiences as a black man in America. [Read More]
Back in the late 60s/early 70s, white people were told that it was rude to make a big deal or even mention a black person’s race. They were told to treat black people like anyone else. The fact that nobody mentioned that Jimi was black was a sign of respect from white people back in those days. Where do you think “colorblindness” came from? It was a 60s/70s concept and how white people were taught was the non-racist way to behave.,
Even when white people do what they’re told to do y’all find a way to put them in the wrong. No wonder they despise us.
but of course
also is hendrix really considered heavy metal? hard rock maybe (which i suppose was heavy for his time)
I always heard his genre referred to as “acid rock” along with Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Heavy metal is another animal entirely—-influenced, maybe, but not the same as acid rock.
He played acid rock for sure, which is bluesier than heavy metal. That’s beside the point though.
True. the point was supposed to be that people didn’t recognize or make a big deal about Jimi’s blackness.and that was supposedly some form of erasure. My point is that this is how black people said they wanted to be treated (just like anyone else) during the Civil Rights movement and shortly thereafter and rather than being some sort of racist act, not bringing up Hendrix’s race was white people showing him respect and doing what they were asked to do. “Stop treating us different from white people” was what white people were told to do, and that’s what a lot of them did. Revisionist history is now trying to put them in the wrong for that.
As many times as people have explained it on tumblr, people still equate deliberately ignoring a person’s race with progression and acceptance, no matter how big a role it played in their identity. What is so hard about that. And how do people take chants of and similar to “I’m Black and I’m proud” and interpret that as Black people wanting their race to be ignored as opposed to accepted? Talking about revisionist history.