by Elizabeth Turnbull
On Friday, exactly 50 years after Jimi Hendrix’s death, a group of roughly 100 people withstood smokey skies and rain to celebrate Hendrix’s life by listening to live music and watching as his image emerged from the paint strokes of roughly 20 local artists.
“Fifty years ago, under mysterious circumstances, Jimi passed on to the wireless world,” Leon Hendrix, Jimi’s brother said.”We’ll just call it that, that’s where music lives.”
In the spirit of the renowned guitarist, the event began at noon with a Peace and Love march for Equity, where participants marched from Garfield High School — which Hendrix attended — toward Jimi Hendrix Park where Black-owned businesses set up tents and sold food, clothing, and other merchandise.
Organizers and sponsors of the march included Tina and Leon Hendrix, the niece and brother of Jimi, and King County Equity Now, all of whom are demanding that the city undo its co-option of Hendrix’s Black legacy, rename the West Seattle Bridge the “Jimi Hendrix Memorial Bridge” and move his statue from Capitol Hill to the Central District.
In addition, they are demanding that Seattle Public Schools officially transfer ownership of the Horace Mann Building to the Black community so that it can be used as a location for community schooling and as a place for Black education programming, musical training, and other youth empowerment services.
At the event on Friday, organizers invited roughly 20 local artists (dozens more worked remotely) to individually paint the former Seattle-born musician as a tribute to his creativity and a celebration of the continued legacy of Seattle artists.
For artist Carol Rashawnna Williams, Hendrix’s past genuineness continues to motivate her to express herself freely through painting and art.
“He was just such an inspiration to me as an artist, to be able to look back and see that there are artists of color, specifically African American, that were able to exist in the world as themselves,” Williams said. “He really was able to be himself and do the things he did.”
Jimi Hendrix, or James Marshall Hendrix, was born in Seattle in 1942. By the late 1960s his unique and revolutionary skill for the electric guitar made him an international music star, and he continues to be one of the most influential electric guitarists to shape popular music to this day.
Throughout his career Jimi experienced much racial discrimination and personal difficulties and was well-known for emphasizing the concepts of peace and love until his premature death at the age of 27 on Sept. 18, 1970 — an incident that still stirs debate.
In addition to a fashion show, a candlelight vigil and live rock music performed by former students of the Hendrix Music Academy, Tina Hendrix and a few others danced in the rain — embracing the authenticity of the day and the man they celebrated.
While the event was not designed to explicitly protest police brutality — unlike many marches held over the summer — Tina spoke about the current lack of freedom for Black Americans and the need for the young and old to fight for the freedom she believes can be achieved.
“We’re supposed to be the freest people in the world but that’s not true, we are not the freest people in the world. But we can be, we can be, if we work together,” Tina said. “We’re gonna get over this COVID-19, we’re gonna get over these wildfires, we’re gonna get over the hate and injustice together — with peace and love.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist
Featured image Greer Smith paints a portrait of Jimi Hendrix as part of the Sept 18 celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the famed guitarist’s death. (Photo: Susan Fried)