Hendrix: The Gigs That Changed History – #9 The Harlem
New York, September 5, 1969
By 1969 Jimi Hendrix was a stranger in a strange land. His dilemma was that he had shot to fame with the white rock audience, playing with white musicians. At a time when in the US the Black Power movement was demanding action, and soul and jazz were making their presence felt in the mainstream, he felt utterly disconnected from what was going on in the black community, which never heard his records on their radio stations – unless they happened to be in Vietnam.
His first high-profile act of rebellion was to put together the expanded Gypsy Sun And Rainbows band to play Woodstock – an all-black outfit apart from drummer Mitch Mitchell. The band were too loose to undertake a September tour of Southern states, which Hendrix cancelled. He did, however, play a legendary set at a street fair held at 138th Street and Lenox Avenue in his old New York stomping ground of Harlem on September 5, 1969 in aid of the United Block Association, set up by his old friends, twin brothers Arthur and Albert Allen, aka activists the Ghetto Fighters.
The Allen twins persuaded him that a concert in the heart of Harlem would be a good move. The event was announced at a press conference at Frank’s Restaurant on 125th Street. “Sometimes when I come up here, people say: ‘He plays white rock for white people. What’s he doing here?’” Jimi told the New York Times. “Well, I want to show them that music is universal, that there is no white rock or black rock.”