Young Jimi Hendrix. Image copyright © Authentic Hendrix, LLC. All rights reserved.
As a transplant to Seattle, one of the first things I learned upon arriving is that music icon Jimi Hendrix was a local native. And there’s no shortage of opportunities to learn about Jimi around town.
The city established a memorial park in his name in 2006 and there are more than a few statues erected in his honor or likeness around the city. Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPop, was originally called "The Experience Music Project," in a nod to a Jimi lyric. MoPop has on permanent display over 6,000 Hendrix-related artifacts.
When I heard about the Northwest African American Museum’s new exhibit, "Bold As Love: Jimi Hendrix at Home," I wondered what would be different about it, compared with, say, MoPop’s Hendrix display and other local tributes.
A lot, it turns out.
The Northwest African American Museum exhibit explores a much more intimate side of Jimi's life and history, rightfully rooting his life and experiences in his heritage as a black man. NAAM explores elements of Jimi’s family background, as well as local black history in general. These explorations add dimension to Jimi’s influences and direction, beyond what other Hendrix tributes delve into.
Jimi proudly described himself as a "West Coast Seattle boy," and his family had longtime roots here. His grandparents, entertainers themselves, relocated to Seattle specifically for its vibrant local arts scene, which was already well established when they arrived in the 1900s.
Jimi grew up frequenting black jazz, blues and soul clubs throughout Seattle, and these experiences were a huge part of his later influences.
While Jimi’s signature style of dress is often attributed to his time serving in the U.S. military, NAAM reminds visitors that his style was also largely inspired by his grandmother’s sense of fashion. The exhibit displays several items of her clothing alongside his memorable stage attire; most notably a bright magenta, feathered hat that looks very similar to any number of outfits from Jimi's stage wardrobe.
"Bold As Love" also asserts that much of Jimi's music (and other art) was strongly encouraged and supported by his father, Al Hendrix, his biggest fan. In one old photograph, Al holds a saxophone as Jimi shows off a new guitar. Both were learning new instruments. Al would later have to return the saxophone, as it was too costly, but Jimi got to keep the guitar. Jimi and Al also frequented music clubs together, a legacy from Al's own childhood, the child of local Seattle musicians. These elements, along with others throughout the exhibit, tell the story of the legacy of a black family and the power of greater black influence on Seattle’s art scene. An influence that has had a lasting impact even today.
The bottom line
If you're a rock aficionado or a Jimi Hendrix fan, this highly educational exhibit is worth a visit. I’d recommend taking older, more experienced (ha!) museum-goers. The exhibit is quite small, with few interactive elements, and many of the learning opportunities in the museum require a heavy amount of reading.
Still, when I asked my daughter, age 12, what she thought of the exhibit, she said she was impressed with its visual and audio elements. In addition to placards for adults, more simplified descriptions of each display are placed at a child's eye level, with discussion questions and reflections for children throughout. Audio descriptions accompany some portions of the exhibit and a small theater plays an educational film about Jimi’s career on a large screen at the far end of the exhibit.
Also fascinating (particularly for kids) were displays featuring Jimi’s early artwork and writings. Several drawings and paintings from Jimi’s childhood offer a window into his creative world and remind us — parents and kids alike — that you never know how encouraging someone to follow their creative pursuits will inspire and inform their future.
Don’t miss the "Legacy" exhibit in the hallway leading into the Jimi Hendrix exhibit. "Legacy" explores elements of the history of African Americans and other black settlers in the Pacific Northwest. It also offers some context around the vibrant black art and music scene in Seattle dating back to the early 1900s. It only takes a few minutes to peruse and it’s well worth it.
If you go...
Where: The Northwest African American Museum is housed in the historic Colman School building (built in 1909) at 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle.
The building overlooks a beautiful sprawling green park, named after rock legend Jimi Hendrix, in the heart of Seattle’s Central District.
When: "Bold As Love" is exhibiting through May 5, 2019. Museum hours are Wednesday and Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. The museum stays open late Thursdays; Thursday hours are 11 a.m.–7 p.m. It's closed Monday and Tuesday, and holiday closures are listed here.
Admission: Adults ages 13 and over are $7; children ages 4–12 and students with ID, $5; tots ages 3 and under are free. Watch for free and reduced-entry days, including Free First Thursday, admission-by-donation days and other special offers. Seattle Public Library card-holders can also reserve a museum pass.
Getting there: Free parking is available in the museum lot; it's also well-served by transit and adjacent to the I-90 bike trail.
Getting the wiggles out: If you bring younger kids to NAAM, burn off some energy before or after your visit at the revamped and magical Children's PlayGarden, just across the street, or the amazing new Yesler Terrace Park playground, about 1.5 miles away.