Genealogy, Childhood, and Military Service
Jimi Hendrix was of a mixed genealogy that included African American, Irish, and Cherokee ancestors. His paternal great-grandmother Zenora was a full-blooded Cherokee from Georgia who married an Irishman named Moore. They had a son Robert, who married a black girl named Fanny. In 1883, Robert and Fanny had a daughter whom they named Zenora "Nora" Rose Moore, Hendrix's paternal grandmother. The illegitimate son of a black slave woman, also called Fanny, and her white overseer, Jimi's paternal grandfather, Bertran Philander Ross Hendrix (born 1866), was named after his biological father, a grain merchant from Urbana, Ohio, and one of the wealthiest white men in the area at the time. On June 10, 1919, Hendrix and Moore had a son they named James Allen Ross Hendrix (died 2002); people called him Al.
In 1941, Al met Lucille Jeter (1925–1958) at a dance in Seattle; they married on March 31, 1942. Drafted into the United States Army to serve in World War II, Al went to war three days after their wedding. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, the first of five children born to Lucille. In 1946, having been unable to consult his father at the time of his birth, they changed Johnny's name to James Marshall Hendrix, in honor of Al, and Al's late brother Leon Marshall.
Stationed in Alabama at the time of Johnny's birth, and having been denied the standard military furlough afforded servicemen for childbirth, the commanding officer placed Al in the stockade as a preventative measure against his going AWOL to see his new son in Seattle. He spent two months locked-up without trial, and while in the stockade, he received a telegram announcing his son's birth. During Al's three-year absence, Lucille struggled to raise her infant son, often neglecting him in favor of nightlife. Family members and friends mostly cared for Hendrix during this period, especially Lucille's sister, Delores Hall, and her friend Dorothy Harding. Al received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army on September 1, 1945. Two months later, unable to find Lucille, he went to the Berkeley home of a family friend named Mrs. Champ, who had taken care of and attempted to adopt Jimi, where Al met his son for the first time.
After his return from service, Al reunited with Lucille, but his difficulty finding steady work left the family impoverished. Both he and Lucille struggled with alcohol abuse, and they often fought while intoxicated. His parents' violence sometimes made Hendrix withdraw and hide in a closet in their home. Jimi's relationship with his brother Leon (born 1948) was close but precarious; with Leon in and out of foster care, they lived with an almost constant threat of fraternal separation. In addition to Leon, Jimi had three other younger siblings: Joseph, born in 1949, Kathy in 1950, and Pamela, 1951, all of whom Al and Lucille surrendered into foster care and adoption.
The family frequently moved, staying in cheap hotels and apartments around Seattle. On occasion, family would take Hendrix to Vancouver to stay at his grandmother's. A shy and sensitive boy, Hendrix was deeply affected by these experiences. In later years, he confided to a girlfriend that he had been the victim of sexual abuse by a man in uniform.
On December 17, 1951, when Hendrix was nine years old, his parents divorced; the court granted Al custody of Jimi and Leon. At thirty-three, Lucille had developed cirrhosis of the liver; she died on February 2, 1958 when her spleen ruptured. Instead of taking Jimi and Leon to attend their mother's funeral, Al gave them shots of whiskey and told them that was how men are supposed to deal with loss.
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