Ancestry and childhood
Hendrix's paternal grandparents, Ross and Nora Hendrix, pre-1912
Jimi Hendrix had a diverse heritage. His paternal grandmother, Zenora "Nora" Rose Moore, was African American and one-quarter Cherokee.[nb 1] Hendrix's paternal grandfather, Bertran Philander Ross Hendrix (born 1866), was born out of an extramarital affair between a woman named Fanny, and a grain merchant from Urbana, Ohio, or Illinois, one of the wealthiest men in the area at that time.[nb 2] After Hendrix and Moore relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, they had a son they named James Allen Hendrix on June 10, 1919; the family called him "Al".
In 1941, after moving to Seattle, Al met Lucille Jeter (1925–1958) at a dance; they married on March 31, 1942. Lucille's father (Jimi's maternal grandfather) was Preston Jeter (born 1875), whose mother was born in similar circumstances as Bertran Philander Ross Hendrix. Lucille's mother, née Clarice Lawson, had African American and Cherokee ancestors. Al, who had been drafted by the US Army to serve in World War II, left to begin his basic training three days after the wedding. Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle; he was the first of Lucille's five children. In 1946, Johnny's parents changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix, in honor of Al and his late brother Leon Marshall.[nb 3]
Stationed in Alabama at the time of Hendrix's birth, Al was denied the standard military furlough afforded servicemen for childbirth; his commanding officer placed him in the stockade to prevent him from going AWOL to see his infant son in Seattle. He spent two months locked up without trial, and while in the stockade received a telegram announcing his son's birth.[nb 4] During Al's three-year absence, Lucille struggled to raise their son. When Al was away, Hendrix was mostly cared for by family members and friends, especially Lucille's sister Delores Hall and her friend Dorothy Harding. Al received an honorable discharge from the US Army on September 1, 1945. Two months later, unable to find Lucille, Al went to the Berkeley, California, home of a family friend named Mrs. Champ, who had taken care of and had attempted to adopt Hendrix; this is where Al saw his son for the first time.
After returning from service, Al reunited with Lucille, but his inability to find steady work left the family impoverished. They both struggled with alcohol, and often fought when intoxicated. The violence sometimes drove Hendrix to withdraw and hide in a closet in their home. His 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, Hendrix had three younger siblings: Joseph, born in 1949, Kathy in 1950, and Pamela, 1951, all of whom Al and Lucille gave up to foster care and adoption. The family frequently moved, staying in cheap hotels and apartments around Seattle. On occasion, family members would take Hendrix to Vancouver to stay at his grandmother's. A shy and sensitive boy, he was deeply affected by his life 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 him and Leon.
At Horace Mann Elementary School in Seattle during the mid-1950s, Hendrix's habit of carrying a broom with him to emulate a guitar gained the attention of the school's social worker. After more than a year of his clinging to a broom like a security blanket, she wrote a letter requesting school funding intended for underprivileged children, insisting that leaving him without a guitar might result in psychological damage. Her efforts failed, and Al refused to buy him a guitar.[nb 5]
In 1957, while helping his father with a side-job, Hendrix found a ukulele amongst the garbage they were removing from an older woman's home. She told him that he could keep the instrument, which had only one string. Learning by ear, he played single notes, following along to Elvis Presley songs, particularly "Hound Dog".[nb 6] By the age of 33, Hendrix's mother Lucille had developed cirrhosis of the liver, and on February 2, 1958, she died when her spleen ruptured. Al refused to take James and Leon to attend their mother's funeral; he instead gave them shots of whiskey and instructed them that was how men should deal with loss.[nb 7] In 1958, Hendrix completed his studies at Washington Junior High School and began attending, but did not graduate from, Garfield High School.[nb 8]
In mid-1958, at age 15, Hendrix acquired his first acoustic guitar, for $5 (equivalent to $43.40 in 2018). He played for hours daily, watching others and learning from more experienced guitarists, and listening to blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. The first tune Hendrix learned to play was the television theme "Peter Gunn". Around that time, Hendrix jammed with boyhood friend Sammy Drain and his keyboard-playing brother. In 1959, attending a concert by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters in Seattle, Hendrix met the group's guitarist Billy Davis. Davis showed him some guitar licks and got him a short gig with the Midnighters. The two remained friends until Hendrix's death in 1970.
Soon after he acquired the acoustic guitar, Hendrix formed his first band, the Velvetones. Without an electric guitar, he could barely be heard over the sound of the group. After about three months, he realized that he needed an electric guitar. In mid-1959, his father relented and bought him a white Supro Ozark. Hendrix's first gig was with an unnamed band in the Jaffe Room of Seattle's Temple De Hirsch Sinai, but they fired him between sets for showing off. He joined the Rocking Kings, which played professionally at venues such as the Birdland club. When his guitar was stolen after he left it backstage overnight, Al bought him a red Silvertone Danelectro.