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Latest in Jimi Hendrix family legal feud entangles Renton music school run by his niece

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 22, 2021

Janie L. Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix’s sister, drives the Experience Hendrix vehicle to celebrate the opening of the newly-renovated Jimi Hendrix Park in Seattle, on June 17, 2017. A Hendrix family legal battle now includes a Renton, Wash., music school.  (Alan Berner/Seattle Times)
Janie L. Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix’s sister, drives the Experience Hendrix vehicle to celebrate the opening of the newly-renovated Jimi Hendrix Park in Seattle, on June 17, 2017. A Hendrix family legal battle now includes a Renton, Wash., music school. (Alan Berner/Seattle Times)
By Michael Rietmulder Seattle Times Seattle Times

A decadeslong legal battle between members of Jimi Hendrix’s family leaves the future of a Renton music school unclear.

A U.S. District Court judge in New York ruled last week that the Hendrix Music Academy is in violation of a court order stemming from an ongoing trademark battle between Jimi Hendrix’s estate and the music icon’s brother, Leon Hendrix. The not-for-profit youth program run by Leon’s daughter, Tina Hendrix, was pulled into the bitter legal dispute following a Seattle memorial event held last fall in Jimi Hendrix Park to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the guitar hero, who was born and raised in Seattle. While the Hendrix Music Academy is not registered as a 501(c)(3) with the IRS, Tina Hendricks told the courts it works with a fiscal sponsor that is.

The judge ruled the event, which also serves as a fundraiser for the tuition-free music school, violated an injunction against Leon Hendrix, and any of his associates, issued after the court found last year that he had committed numerous trademark and copyright infractions by selling an array of Jimi Hendrix-branded products. Leon Hendrix is listed as an academy governor, though Tina said he has no involvement with its operations.

The latest ruling – which Tina Hendrix plans to appeal – orders the Hendrix Music Academy to change its name and website to indicate that it’s unaffiliated with Jimi Hendrix or his estate, as well as remove any “Jimi Hendrix indicia” from its website.

Severing its visible ties to the Seattle music legend could prove financially crippling, said Tina Hendrix, who founded the organization in 2009 to honor her famous uncle’s legacy. Much of its $25,000 annual operating budget comes from fan donations, she said.

“Jimi’s the reason why I’m here (and) I’m able to do this,” Tina said. “If you take Jimi out of it, it’s pretty much going to be done. After 11 years, I’m supposed to … up and change our name? That would hurt any business.”

One of the violations cited in court documents was the sale of T-shirts with an image of Jimi Hendrix’s face that Leon drew. Most of the shirts were given away to volunteers at the event, which typically raises around $1,500 for the academy – enough for about 10 guitars, said Tina Hendrix.

Several months prior to the Jimi Hendrix 50th Anniversary Memorial event, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered Leon Hendrix to pay more than $400,000 in damages to Experience Hendrix, LLC and Authentic Hendrix, LLC – the estate controlled by Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s adopted sister. In the ruling, the judge wrote that Leon and his business partner Andrew Pitsicalis had created “the illusion of an empire of ‘authentic’ Jimi Hendrix goods” selling various Hendrix-branded products including lines of hot sauce, wine and cannabis products. A similar injunction was issued against Pitsicalis in 2015 and a settlement was reached months later.

While Tina Hendrix said she doesn’t condone some of her father’s business dealings, she feels the Hendrix Music Academy was wrongfully dragged into the lawsuit. She believes a 1988 letter from James “Al” Hendrix, Jimi and Leon’s father, granted her family the ability to use her uncle’s name for charitable purposes. In 2004, a King County Superior Court judge awarded sole control of Jimi Hendrix’s estate – then valued around $80 million – to Janie Hendrix, in accordance with Al Hendrix’s will. The Washington state Supreme Court upheld that verdict three years later.

An attorney representing Experience Hendrix declined to comment for this story.

For the past decade-plus, Tina Hendrix – a violinist and producer – has operated the music-based youth development program in the basement of her Renton home. The Hendrix Music Academy offers free music lessons to at-risk youth ages 5 to 18, providing instruments for students who can’t afford them. The academy’s mission is more about mentorship than developing the next Jimi Hendrix, she said, though music recording and production programs seem geared for older, more serious students.

Before the pandemic, the academy run by Tina Hendrix, her partner and four volunteers could accommodate up to 20 students at a time. Since in-person programming was halted, the school has conducted online lessons and continued distributing instruments to kids.

“I want to run the Jimi Hendrix charity forever and I want my kids to run it after me,” Tina Hendrix said. “We have to do something good in Jimi’s name.”

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