Jimi Hendrix – The Black Panther

When Jimi Hendrix returned to his native USA as a star, the country he knew had changed.

This afternoon, Tom Robinson presents a radio program to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the guitarist’s death, exploring the pressure Jimi was under to make an explicit political declaration.

Tom explores Hendrix’s 14 months in the Screaming Eagles 101 Airborne Division that saw him parachute a total of 26 times before he was invalided out with a broken ankle. Brother Leon Hendrix discusses his elder bother’s time in the military, along with comments from author Charles Sharr Murray.

Singer and friend Eric Burdon explains how, after the riots in Grovesnor Square, Jimi trotted out the American government’s party line on Vietnam – the so-called “Domino Theory”.

The Soft Machine supported Hendrix as they traveled across America and drummer Robert Wyatt recalls how Jimi responded to media questions about the war, and the emergence of the Black Power movement. Hendrix was receptive to the Black Panther Party and found the Seattle Chapter of the organization run by two former high school friends. Both Panthers, Aaron and Elmer Dixon talk about how receptive Hendrix was to the cause.

The programme culminates with Jimi’s Woodstock Festival performance of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, an eloquent (and wordless) statement against the Vietnam war. In retrospect, it can also be read as a swan song for the era of peace and love and for Hendrix himself, who died in his sleep the following year. Jimi Hendrix is more than a blues guitarist who got lucky in the 60s. He did the best he could to be his own man without openly taking sides, and we are still trying to get to know him 40 years after his death.

Transmission time: Today 13h30 London time

Tune in here via BBC Radio 4

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