Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Sinclair, John

John Sinclair was a poet, performer, author, and activist who influenced the counterculture movement in Detroit and the United States in the 1960s.  

Sinclair was born in Flint, Michigan on October 2, 1941. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint in 1964, and then spent some time at Wayne State University. It was then that he became involved with the Detroit underground paper Fifth Estate. Sinclair was also a jazz critic, being a longtime fan of the genre. This also informed his poetic work, composing most of his pieces in the jazz poetry style. An advocate for his art form and the surrounding culture, Sinclair co-founded the arts collective Detroit Artists Workshop in 1964. 

Serving as the manager of the Detroit proto-punk band MC5 from 1966-1969, Sinclair influenced the group’s leftist political leanings and activism. During this time, he co-founded the White Panther Party, a counterpart to the Black Panther Party dedicated to revolutionary anti-racism.  

In 1969, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison for offering marijuana to an undercover agent. This arrest and the severity of the punishment incited a great deal of support for his release. This included several high-profile protests that drew the support of many in Sinclair’s community and big names including Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon, who recorded a song called “John Sinclair,” lamenting the situation. Sinclair was released after serving a little over two years, following the state legislature’s revision of drug laws.  

Beginning later in his life, Sinclair recorded many albums of his poetry, backed by musical accompaniment by an expansive list of musicians. In 2004, the John Sinclair Foundation was established in Amsterdam, the Dutch city where he eventually relocated. The foundation is dedicated to the preservation of Sinclair’s material. Sinclair passed away on April 2, 2024, at the age of 82. 



Work magazine issue 4

Woodstock in the D flyer, 2019 

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