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February 20: Jimi Hendrix in Shul

February 20, 2012
Jimi Hendrix, a 16-year-old high school student, played his first public gig with an unnamed band in the basement of Temple De Hirsch, a Reform synagogue in Seattle, Washington, on this date in 1959. Hendrix was actually auditioning for the band, and his wild playing and show-off style (dropping to his knees, sticking out his tongue, flailing his arms) got him fired before the second set. Jimi Hendrix would be also fired early in his career by Little Richard and by Ike and Tina Turner for similar hijinks. (“He was a real good guitar player, but he liked gimmicks,” complained Ike Turner.) The musical director of Temple De Hirsch from 1930 to 1963 was Samuel E. Goldfarb, co-writer of the famous Dreidel Song (“I have a little dreydl . . .”), which Hendrix, unfortunately for Jewish civilization, never covered. Today, the synagogue has campuses in Seattle and Bellevue and is the largest synagogue in the Pacific Northwest. “Hendrix trudged home devastated, but was still buzzing about what he’d unleashed in himself. From the start, Hendrix was provoking, unsettling and thrilling people.” —Rebel Streets