The story of jazz saxophonist-composer-scholar-activist Salim Washington paints a harlequin voyage in search of one’s roots. His parents were born and raised in the sharecropper plantations of Mississippi, met in Caperville, Tennessee, got married and moved to Detroit with hopes of a better life. His mother sewed at the Levi’s Jeans factory, and his father worked in construction and labor jobs. Although his mother prematurely passed away when he was twenty-one, Salim has careful memories of a selfless, courageous spirit who was fearless for her family. The gracious resilience of his father, who persevered to complete his education while working and raising a family, gave Salim the inspiration that he would later follow.
As the first generation in his family to be born outside of the plantations, Salim was born in the housing projects in Memphis, Tennesee. The narrative of Salim’s exposure to music is a remarkable one. When his family moved to Detroit, they lived in the notorious “Black Bottom” area during the 1960-70’s Detroit riots. As a young boy in what he calls “one of the most violent neighborhoods in Detroit”, he was drafted into the neighborhood gang at the age of 9. The leader of the gang played the trumpet and, having a soft spot for this young boy, goaded him into learning to play. Salim became very proficient, even surpassing the leader. Noticing the boy’s potential, the leader excused him from the gang. Salim credits this gang leader to introducing him to the trumpet, his first musical instrument.