Open Access Senior Honors Thesis
Department or School
African American Studies
Dr. Clovis E. Semmes
Dr. Victor A. Okafor
The period of history immediately following World War Two was a time of intense social change. The end of colonialism, the internal struggles of newly emerging independent nations in Africa, social and political changes across Europe, armed conflict in Southeast Asia, and the civil rights movement in America were just a few. Although many of the above conflicts have been in the making for quite some time, they seemed to unite to form a socio-political cultural revolution known as the 60s, the effects of which continues to this day.
The 1960s was a particularly intense time for race relations in the United States. Long before it officially became a republic, in matters of race, white America collectively had trouble reconciling what it practiced versus what it preached. Nowhere is this racial contradiction more apparent than in the case of Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix is emblematic of the racial ideal and the racial contradictions of the 1960s. Generally, black artists, such as those in jazz and R&B developed styles of playing that emphasized the distinctive timbre of the guitar set against the other instruments. White artists went further by perfecting the grandiose art of guitar soloing, and rock music was seen as their domain. Hendrix represents the virtually unheard of situation where a black man is virtually worshipped by young whites in general, and white males in particular, because of his mastery of what was previously their domain-the grandiose art of rock guitar soloing. (Heller)
What may come as a surprise to many of his black detractors was that Jimi Hendrix not only knew that he was black, but what that blackness meant in the context of American history. What Jimi refused to do was allow the notion of blackness as defined by others to determine his music. Jimi was neither an activist nor a black separatist, and his central focus, as always, was music, which he saw as being without color. (Cross 98)
Responding to a question during an interview about the difference in music and race in England versus America in U Jimi Hendrix-The Uncut Story," Jimi answers by stating, "l could play louder over there [England]. could really get myself together over there. There wasn't as many hang-ups as there was in America. You know mental hang-ups."
Jimi Hendrix played the blues. From his days learning to play the guitar while growing up in Seattle, Washington, to playing a sideman on the chitlin' circuit, before James Marshall Hendrix actually became the man known as Jimi Hendrix, he always played the blues.
By refusing to be stereotyped for playing his music, Jimi Hendrix symbolizes the contradictions on race and ethnicity that continues to remain a burden to both blacks and whites alike.
This paper examine why Jimi Hendrix became worshipped as a musical genius by the rock community, which by default was white, while balancing the social contradictions of the black community, particularly in regards to music, and which group got to claim him.
Adams, Marcus K., "The racialization of Jimi Hendrix" (2007). Senior Honors Theses and Projects. 23.