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Prof Probes Hendrix Experience

Gilroy discusses rock icon’s cultural significance in DuBois Institute forum

By Lee ann W. Custer, Crimson Staff Writer

A renowned scholar on the African diaspora attributed the timelessness of Jimi Hendrix’s music to his ability to resonate with multi-generational audiences in a lecture held in the Barker Center yesterday.

As “an endless improvisor of tradition,” Hendrix was “prepared to lose his identity to find it,” Giddens Professor in Social Theory at the London School of Economics Paul Gilroy said of the cultural icon and his creativity. Hendrix’s innovation is largely responsible for the timelessness of his music, Gilroy said.

Following the popularity of the electric guitar—an instrument that Hendrix notably mastered—Hendrix grew in stature “to speak to new generations,” Gilroy added.

Gilroy played Hendrix’s song, “Hendrix Banner,” to demonstrate the playing style of the influential electric musician.

Hendrix once served in the U.S. Armed Forces, eventually leaving, according to Gilroy, who added that this “unpatriotism” made Hendrix’s journey to peace even more convincing. “We must always remember that Hendrix was a soldier,” he said.

At the half-hour question-and-answer session held after the lecture, Gilroy responded to a question about the role of feeling in music.

“One good thing about music,” Gilroy said, “is that when it hits you, you feel no pain.” When asked about how he saw contemporary pop culture after the lecture, Gilroy described popular music as an “exhortation of ignorance.” Musicians today “are not bound to utopianism,” he said. But Gilroy added that artists like Hendrix have emerged from a different historical context.

Describing Gilroy’s book, “The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness” as “one of the most influential books of the last 15 years,” fifth-year graduate student in English Jared Hickman said that Gilroy’s academic work drew him to the lecture.

Gilroy is known for his theories on race, racism, and culture. His interests span a number of disciplines, ranging from literature to cultural history.

Gilroy addressed an audience of around 60. “Bold as Love?” was the culminating lecture in a three-part series that recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to African American life and culture.

The event was co-sponsored by the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, the Department of African and African American Studies, and Harvard University Press.

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