Thursday, March 10, 2011

Muse: Marsha Hunt.

Nude 1968 pose for Queen magazine cover.

Marsha Hunt (b. 1946) was not only one of the first pioneering black models of the 60s, she was also a talented singer and actress; and in recent years she's added novelist to her resume.  But of all her talents, she still best known as the muse of "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones and one time lover of Mick Jagger, mother to his eldest daughter, Karis Jagger.  

Marsha Hunt circa 1968

Originally from Philly, Marsha was raised the daughter of America's first black psychiatrist, who sadly, committed suicide when she was just a child. Marsha was brought up by the women in her family, with little money, to be strong and independent. As a young woman, she relocated to California for college and met Jerry Rubin along the way, joining anti-Vietnam war protests, experimenting with drugs, and living a bohemian existance in San Francisco.

By the mid 60s, Hunt had moved to London where she believed "anything was possible" in the 60s. She met Mike Ratledge of the psychedelic band Soft Machines in 1966, and they soon married in order to grant her residence in England, as her visa was due to expire soon.  They married simply out of friendship and claimed it was in no way romantic.  She says that they have remained close friends through the years and still call each other from time to time to joke about getting remarried.

Hunt achieved her highest career peak with the role of Dionne in Hair, a smash hit on the London stage. Around this time she worked with various bands putting on shows and cutting tracks, even performing at the Isle of Wight music festival in 1969. One of her greatest rock romances at this time was with Marc Bolan. When Bolan and Hunt met, "You could see the shafts of light pouring out of their eyes into each other.... We finished the session unusually early, and Marc and Marsha walked out into the night hand in hand" said a mutual friend. Although they were passionately in love, Bolan couldn't get over Hunt's personal success. According to him, good music never achieves mainstream success, and Hunt simply had too much mainstream appeal for him.

By the late 60s Marsha was making a transition from modelling to singing. She later, looking back, admits she wasn't the best singer around (see bottom clips), but she had fun and had a style/point of view rarely seen. Her main fan base was in England and abroad, where she was honestly, treated like a bit of a beautiful novelty. As a black woman in music and acting in the 60s, Marsha faced numerous obstacles. Hunt opened the door for women of color on several fronts. She was the first black woman on the cover of Queen magazine, and posed nude (top photo). She also dated several white musicians while interracial marriage, in America at least, had barely become legal (1967). However, the door wasn't easily opened for Marsha Hunt. By several British papers she was labelled "a pretty golliwog" (a prejudice term in England for blackfaced, slavery-era dolls). In 1973, she was asked to speak on a panel for British magazine Melody Maker to discuss women in music and options open to black women where she [from Wikipedia:] "suggested that black women needed to make use of the "side-door" in the industry, entering as "the statuary representative" before they could make music under their own terms."

In the late 60s Hunt turned down an opportunity to pose for the "Honky Tonk Woman" promos which called for a woman to be battered and bruised in a photo. Hunt refused to pose for the shoot and appear like a woman used and abused by the Stones. Despite the rejection, Mick Jagger gave her a call, asked her out, and the two began their 9 or 10 month romance. Jagger was said to be very shy with her and they largely conducted their relationship in private, rather than public scenes to keep it quiet. In London, November 1970, Hunt gave birth to Jagger's first and her only child, Karis, which according to Hunt was planned for despite the fact the couple never considered living together or planned a romantic future as a couple. Hunt felt that she and Mick weren't a good match as day-to-day living companions and Mick just wasn't into being tied down to one gal.

Marsha Hunt with daughter Karis Jagger circa 1972

Mother and daughter in the mid 70s

Mother and daughter circa 2000

Hunt wanted full custody of their daughter and brought legal action to ensure that she could limit Jagger's presence in Karis' life. However, by 1980, she decided that Karis should have a relationship with her father, and Mick and Karis became quit close in her pre-teen years. While I couldn't find any photos of Marsha with Mick during their relationship, there are public photos of Karis Jagger's wedding with Mom Marsha and Dad Mick, smiling, posing for photos with their newly-wed daughter and various other Jagger and non-Jagger family members. It seems Karis and Mick are still very close, as she is with her many other Jagger half-siblings.

In the 90s, Hunt was diagnosed with Breast cancer. She had her breast removed and is in remission. She posed once again with the same photographer for that classic Queen magazine cover shoot post-op. She says she lives in France, healthy, and spends most of her time gardening to this day. In recent years she has written autobiographies, novels, and is planning a book now on Jimi Hendrix.

Recreating classic Queen magazine cover photo in 2000s.


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