John Sinclair (poet)
October 2, 1941 |
Flint, Michigan, U.S.
|Occupation||Poet, writer, political activist|
John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941) is an American poet from Detroit, one-time manager of the band MC5, and leader of the White Panther Party — a militantly anti-racist countercultural group of white socialists seeking to assist the Black Panthers in the Civil Rights movement — from November 1968 to July 1969. Sinclair was a member of the Class of 1960 at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, but he dropped out after his freshman year. Sinclair attended the Flint College of the University of Michigan, now the University of Michigan-Flint. During his time at UM-Flint John served on the university's Publications Board, school newspaper "the word", and was the president of the Cinema Guild. He graduated in 1964.
1960s activism 
Born in Flint, Michigan, Sinclair was involved in the reorganization of the Detroit underground newspaper, Fifth Estate, during the paper's growth in the late 1960s. Fifth Estate continues to publish to this day, making it one of the longest continuously published alternative periodicals in the United States. Sinclair also contributed to the formation of Detroit Artists Workshop Press, which published five issues of Work Magazine. Sinclair worked as a jazz writer for Down Beat from 1964 to 1965, being an outspoken advocate for the newly emerging Free Jazz Avant Garde movement. Sinclair was one of the "New Poets" who read at the seminal Berkeley Poetry Conference in July 1965.
Involvement with the MC5 
Sinclair managed the proto-punk-band MC5 from 1966 though 1969. Under his guidance the band embraced the counter-culture revolutionary politics of the White Panther Party, founded in answer to the Black Panthers' call for white people to support their movement. During this period, Sinclair booked "The Five" as the regular house band at Detroit's famed Grande Ballroom in what came to be known as the "Kick out the Jams" shows. He was managing the MC5 at the time of their free concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The band was the only group to perform before baton-wielding police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally, calling it a riot. Eventually, the MC5 came to find Sinclair's politics too heavy-handed. He and the band went their separate ways in 1969  but they are still friends and he has spoken at their recent reunion concerts, including Massive Attack's 2008 Meltdown at London's South Bank. In 2006, Sinclair rejoined MC5 bassist Michael Davis to help launch the Music Is Revolution Foundation, serving as a general board member.
Arrest and imprisonment 
After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints to an undercover narcotics officer. This sentence inspired Abbie Hoffman to jump on the stage during The Who's performance at Woodstock to protest. It also sparked the landmark "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The event brought together luminaries including rock musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New York City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2013[update], and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter (see Cannabis laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan).
In 1972, Leonard Weinglass took on the defense of Sinclair in Detroit, Michigan after he was charged with conspiracy to destroy government property along with Larry 'Pun' Plamondon and John Forrest. The case became United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972), on appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The Court rendered a landmark decision prohibiting the US government's use of domestic electronic survelliance without a warrant.
Performances, writing and poetry 
Since the mid-1990s Sinclair has performed and recorded his spoken word pieces with his band The Blues Scholars, which has included such musicians as Wayne Kramer, Brock Avery, Charles Moore, Doug Lunn, and Paul Ill, among many others. He also performed as a distinctive disc jockey for New Orleans' WWOZ Radio, the public jazz and heritage station.
On March 22, 2006, Sinclair joined The Black Crowes on stage at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, and read his poem "Monk In Orbit" during the instrumental break in the song "Nonfiction". Two days later, he went back onstage at the Black Crowes show in the Paradiso, reading his poem "Fat Boy" during the long instrumental jam following the Black Crowes' song, "How Much For Your Wings?".
On 20 January 2009, to mark Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, Sinclair performed a series of his poems accompanied by a live band, featuring Elliott Levin, Tony Bianco and Jair-Rohm Parker Wells at Cafe OTO in Dalston, East London.
John Sinclair has recorded several of his poems and essays. On these albums blues and jazz musicians provide psychedelic soundscapes to accompany his delivery:
- John Sinclair & Ed Moss with his Society Jazz Orchestra - If I Could Be With You (1994)
- John Sinclair & Monster Island - Full Moon Night (1994)
- John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars - Full Circle (1996)
- John Sinclair - V.1 Thelonious: A Book Of Monk (1996)
- John Sinclair & His Boston Blues Scholars - Steady Rollin' Man: Live (2001)
- John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars - Fattening Frogs For Snakes - Volume One: The Delta Sound (2002)
- John Sinclair & Monster Island - PeyoteMind (2002)
- John Sinclair - Fattening Frogs For Snakes - Volume Two: Country Blues (2005)
- John Sinclair & His Motor City Blues Scholars - Detroit Life (2008)
- John Sinclair & Planet D Nonet - Viper Madness (2010)
- John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars- SONG OF PRAISE Homage to John Coltrane (2011)
- John Sinclair & His International Blues Scholars - Let's Go Get 'Em Let's Go Get 'Em (2011)
- John Sinclair & Hollow Bones - Honoring The Local Gods (2011)
- John Sinclair - Viperism (2012)
- Albion College Yearbook 1960; Albion College Yearbook 1961
- University of Michigan-Flint Yearbook 1964
- Burgess, Kaya (2009-01-21). "Obama's inauguration hailed by White Panther founder John Sinclair". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-01-21.
- "MC5 Timeline". Makemyday.free.fr. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- "Meet the Board". Music Is Revolution Foundation. Retrieved 2011-02-10.
- Cadogan, Patrick (2008). The Revolutionary Artist: John Lennon's Radical Years. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4357-1863-0.
- Blind Melon recorded the song for their 1996 album Nico. "John Sinclair".
- Agis Salpukas, "15,000 Attend Michigan U. Rally to Protest Jailing of Radical Poet," New York Times, 12 December 1971, p. 76.
- "Twenty to Life: The Life and Times of John Sinclair". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-14
- Meyer, Stephen. "The John and Leni Sinclair Papers, 1957-1999 at the Bentley Historical Library". Bentley Historical Library. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
- Official website
- John Sinclair at the Internet Movie Database
- John Sinclair (poet)'s channel on YouTube
- John Sinclair (poet) on Facebook
- John Sinclair (poet) on Twitter
- John Sinclair (poet) on Myspace
- John Sinclair's Radio Free Amsterdam
- John Sinclair's Detroit Life Radio
- John Sinclair's cannabis seed company
- "Marijuana Revolution" by John Sinclair
- John Sinclair on Arborwiki
- John Sinclair on Headpress
- John Sinclair Interview
- Interview with John Sinclair by Jarrod Dicker