Sultans of Jazz

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FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-They were the Sultans of Jazz who propelled that uniquely American music to legendary heights, and garnering fans across the globe.

“So she lived that, day after day night after night and took the photographs of everybody,” says Fort Wayne Museum of Art director Charles Shepard…

One of the great photographers of America’s jazz greats was a refugee from East Germany named Leni Sinclair and she is being honored at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art with an exhibition of her best work. Sinclair escaped East Berlin just before the wall went up and made her way to America, camera in hand, to Detroit, Michigan in the early ’60’s, then a hotbed of jazz and rock and roll and protest against the Vietnam war. Sinclair photographed all of it; jazz greats Thelonius Monk at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, B. B. King, jazz organist Lyman Wood at the Grande Ballroom, and rockers Iggy Pop and the great Jimi Hendrix. And some stars who surpass legendary status.

“The fact that John Lennon would stop by for tea and chat with them. He’s gonna play tonight!” says Shepard. “John Lennon, wow! She did many of the political pictures of the time, the formation of the White Panthers party, and she captured more than just the ballroom of rock stars.

Leni Sinclair was self taught but her artistic eye was flawless, her subjects lost in the emotion of the music they were making while out on the streets America was tearing herself apart over a war nine thousand miles away. Sinclair’s work captures a time of historic change in the Motor City, still the car capital of the world, not yet in decline and able to attract the world’s greatest musicians and political activists most of whom are unknown to the younger generation but seen now in images left us by an artist who witnessed that history in the making, and felt it should be remembered. Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.

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