The November opening of the current exhibit at the Northwest African America Museum was a vibrating affair replete with music, energy, stacked heel boots, jaunty hats and sequins. Young and old, black and white, gathered for a journey back to the 60s to pay homage to a local who became an icon of rock ’n roll.
The star of the show is James “Jimi” Marshall Hendrix’s (1942–1970). The exhibit illustrates his short life with a focus on his Seattle roots beginning with photographs of his vaudeville-performing grandparents alongside a collection of his grandmother’s colorful stylish hats which point to a possible sartorial influence reflected later in Hendrix’s signature velvet pants and silk kimonos.
Among the unexpected treasures is a photo of a young Hendrix in Leschi Park, and hanging nearby you can see him as a young teen in a dirt-stained football uniform next to his coach—Booth Gardener—who would later become a two-term governor of Washington state. This surprising intersection of two lives destined to become public figures in contrasting realms was a touching reminder of the vanishing “it’s-a-small-world” Seattle. There is also a photo of the crammed aisle of the legendary First Avenue music store where Hendrix’s father bought Hendrix his first guitar.
And there is the couch he napped on when he made his last visit to his father’s house on Yesler a few months before he died in London at age 27. Pages from Hendrix’s notebooks show a fluid, stylish penmanship and a searching mind.
Per the program notes: “The Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) is delighted to partner with Experience Hendrix LLC and Authentic Hendrix LLC on this profoundly important exhibition that explores the life and musical genius of Jimi Hendrix from the perspective of his Seattle roots,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, Executive Director at NAAM. “His brilliance and legacy inspire us because he’s one of us. This is a unique opportunity to see Seattle through his eyes and what he cherished. Young or old, there is something for everyone to learn and discover in this exhibition.”
The show doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive and I had to come home and satisfy my curiosity with further research in order to begin filling in gaps in the Hendrix experience. But being inspired to find out more about this captivating artist and his times is the mark of a successful show.
The exhibit runs through May 5.
Northwest African American Museum
Hours: Wed–Sun, 11am–5pm, open Thurs until 7pm, and free on first Thursdays
Admission: child (ages 4–12) $5; adult (13–61) $7;
student (w/student ID) and seniors (62+): $5
2300 S. Massachusetts St, Seattle 98144