Jimi Hendrix, Harlem’s adopted son: 50 years gone, but still No. 1
Corey Washington | 8/27/2020, midnight
It is hard to believe that Sept. 18, 2020 will mark 50 years that Jimi Hendrix’s physical essence was extinguished from this planet. It is hard to believe because his presence continued to outlive his physical form. We have had movies, posthumous musical releases, tributes and covers by various artists, and so many other avenues in which to keep him before the public’s eye.
Although he died in London and was born in Seattle, Jimi Hendrix considered New York City his American home and base of operations. He owned many properties in the city, including the world-renowned Electric Lady Studios. We also know of the story of how he was discovered in the Greenwich Village before his explosion in Europe. But, to get to the heart of Jimi’s love for New York City, we have to start from the beginning, Harlem.
Harlem in the 1960s was still a powerful epicenter for Black artists long after the Harlem Renaissance. Many musicians would hover around hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite groups at the Apollo or see them at many of the afterhours spots like Small’s Paradise. No matter how big or how small you were on the R&B scene, you had to come through Harlem to make your bones.
Jimi was no different. He had just left the Nashville area with hopes and dreams of making it big in the Big Apple. He quickly attached himself to lifelong friends that would shape his life before and after his fame. Fayne Pridgeon and the Allen (Aleem) Twins were considered early Harlem friends and confidants. Many of Jimi’s Harlem friends are still around today and continue to enlighten us with nuggets of truth concerning his time there. For example, King George Clemons, currently living in Sweden, used to live next to Jimi in Harlem. He was able to share one of the many poignant conversations he had with Jimi: “When Jimi stayed at my apartment in Harlem, we would always talk about music. I remember one time he said to me, ‘If I had your voice, I wouldn’t need a guitar,’ and I said to him, ‘With your guitar playing skills, I wouldn’t need a voice.’”
It is important that we listen closely to those friends who knew Jimi well in Harlem , because a sinister narrative has been woven which depicts Harlem as a source of frustration and a place of ridicule for Jimi. Selective incidents have been magnified to stereotype Harlem as non-progressive, as far as Jimi’s eclectic tastes in music go. When Jimi’s Harlem friends told these stories, it was not to down Harlem, but rather to explain how Jimi’s creativity and curiosity had no boundaries.
Truth be told, Jimi has always had love for Harlem and Harlem has always had love for Jimi. Although it was not publicized, Jimi would always hang out with his friends in Harlem and even pop in unannounced and play small clubs in Harlem. Even Jimi’s biggest event in Harlem, his September 5, 1969 free concert for the United Block Association, is often marginalized and downplayed as a failure, where people threw objects at the band (Gypsy, Sun, and Rainbows). One of Jimi’s friends and organizers of that Harlem concert was able to fill me in on his motivations for wanting to do a free concert on 139th St/Lenox Ave: “Jimi decided to conduct this concert in Harlem after performing in front of a worldwide audience at the historic Woodstock Musical Festival in upstate New York the previous month. He did so in order to give back to the African American community he made his home for several years. Jimi said to Tunde Ra and me; ‘Let’s do this show for free, I wanna make sure some young boy or girl out there gets the music.’ So, we made it happen.”