April 30, 2010

Article | Jimi Hendrix's Patchwork Coat

Jimi Hendrix's patchwork coat heads to the Museum of the American Indian
By The Reliable Source April 29, 2010; 1:04 AM ET

[Janie Hendrix delivers her late brother's coat and two guitar replicas to Tim Johnson, an associate director at the National Museum of the American Indian. (Katherine Fogden/Smithsonian)]

Say the name Jimi Hendrix and you think: Rock star. Woodstock. Crazy costumes. Greatest electric guitar player ever.

But his sister Janie and the National Museum of the American Indian want you to know that part of his great style came from his Native American ancestry. Now 49 and head of Jimi Hendrix's Seattle-based estate, she brought one of the musician's custom-made coats and two replica guitars to the museum Wednesday for an upcoming exhibit, "Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture," which opens in July.

"Having Native American culture is really important to our family," said Janie, Jimi's little sister from his father's second marriage. She's the keeper of Jimi's flame, the one who tries preserve the history and family story behind the images.

Jimi, she told us, got his fashion sense from their paternal grandmother, who was part Cherokee, played vaudeville and had a flamboyant collection of feather hats and flashy costumes. "He loved suede, velvets and lots of color," Janie said. The full-length patchwork coat -- green, rust, blue, camel, pink and black suede with a fuchsia lining -- was one of a small number of personal items recovered by the family after his death in 1970.

"When Jimi passed away, my dad went to his New York apartment," she said. "What came back was just a sliver of what Jimi had." Friends and fans had basically stripped the apartment of Jimi's clothing and instruments: "We learned later there was just a feeding frenzy. He had over 100 guitars and only a few of them came back home. His clothes were just in a big pile and people were just taking stuff."

[Hendrix, befringed, plays Woodstock, 1969. (Henry Diltz/Corbis)]

Unlike so many of the "artifacts" that show up in museums, the coat deserves the attention: It's a rare, one-of-a-kind piece (obviously well-worn) from a rock icon, it's reflective of the era, and has never been displayed before.

"We've been saving this piece for some special exhibit," she said. "When this request came, it just felt natural."