Friday, Nov. 27, rock & roll aficionados across the country commemorated the 73rd anniversary of the physical birth of cultural icon Jimi Hendrix with numerous festivities. Locally, the annual tribute at B.B. Kings in Times Square featured a few of his band members performing renditions of his classic material.
Most of the U.S. embraces Hendrix as one of its own, from the hippie, flower-lovechild generation, but little mention is made of his grassroots affiliations while in Black Mecca during the rebellious Black Power era of the 1960s.
“He lived in Harlem with Faye, then moved to 96th Street and Central Park West,” reflected TaharQa Aleem, who along with his twin brother, Tunde Ra, were members of one of Hendrix’s bands, The Ghetto Fighters. “… All of his New York musical career, before he became famous, was in Harlem.”
Aleem continued down memory lane as he recalled a young, undiscovered raw talent from Seattle, Wash., playing at Harlem’s popular nightspots of that time, namely Palm’s Café on 125th Street, and Small’s Paradise at 135th Street and 7th Avenue, as well as in local parks and subway stations.
“His first record deal was done by a Black man in Harlem, Juggy Murray,” Aleem added.
By this time, Hendrix was becoming more socially aware and had established his all-Black group The Suns of the Rainbow, which encompassed both The Band of Gypsies and The Ghetto Fighters.
David White, founding member of the original Black Panthers out of Harlem, a.k.a. The Fair Play Committee, recalled Hendrix performing a benefit concert at the Manhattan Center the evening Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, April 4, 1968.
“At the end of the program he said ‘I’m leaving this band [The Experience]. I’m going out on my own’… at that particular time, I didn’t know what he was talking about,” White recounted. “He probably wanted some support … I think he was trying to tell us that he needed some help because he wanted to move on by himself.”
During the summer of 1968, Jimi recorded “Dorellia Du Fontaine” at his studio, Electric Ladyland, in Greenwich Village, with Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, from the revolutionary Last Poets, who utilized his nom de plume, Lightnin’ Rod.
“He revered anything dealing with Black consciousness, considering the climate at that time, it had an effect on him, and it shows in a lot of his songs,” Aleem contends. “He used music to step into other dimensions … he was a scientist and a musician … When people heard his amplified blues, they couldn’t understand it.”
White reveals, “It was well circulating … Jimi was getting too Black. He told us he was leaving the group.”
Hendrix returned to the essence Sept. 18, 1970, in London under suspicious circumstances.
Aleem explained, “One of the reasons Jimi is so revered today in the music world is because of the sounds he was creating, it forced him to move into another realm of technology … because of Hendrix, they developed the whole science of synthesizers … because he was able to create sounds that could not be duplicated, so they had to try and emulate sounds with synthesizers. Once the Black man recognizes he is God, it doesn’t matter who don’t recognize it!”
For more information on Jimi Hendrix in Harlem, visit http://www.eyeneer.com/video/rock/jimi-hendrix/harlem-interview.