Checkin' Out Mingering Mike: D.C.'s Imaginary Soul Superstar

June 7 - August 28, 2023

Presented in collaboration with Hemphill Artworks, Checkin' Out Mingering Mike: D.C.'s Imaginary Soul Superstar features hand-drawn album covers, drawings, and song lyrics by self-taught Washington, D.C. artist known only by his alter-ego, Mingering Mike. On view at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library are fine art prints of thirteen albums, all originally drawn between 1968 and 1975, as well as a selection of original albums and handmade cabaret posters.

Growing up in Washington the late 1960s and 1970s—the era of WOL, WOOK and WUST radio, of record stores like Waxie Maxie’s and Soul Shack—the dream of becoming a famous soul singer and songwriter took hold. With the made-up stage name Mingering Mike, the teenaged artist produced more than fifty albums, managed thirty-five record labels, and produced and starred in nine motion pictures —all fictional, products of an awe-inspiring imagination. 

Over time, the themes of love and heartbreak in Mike’s lyrics gave way to social themes surrounding the turbulent era of civil rights protests and political upheaval — brought even closer to home when Mike went underground dodging the Vietnam War. ­­­­­­­­­­Mike’s fascinating career was largely unknown until 2003, when Dori Hadar, a DJ and record collector, discovered a trove of his cardboard LPs, many with painstaking liner notes, in a crate at a flea market outside RFK Stadium.

Mingering Mike’s fantastical career became a reality as his artwork was published and exhibited worldwide. In 2013 the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired the Mingering Mike "record" collection, and Mike had his own show at the museum in 2015. From his early years to more recent “anniversary albums” and drawings, the reclusive artist remains an anonymous observer of everyday life in the District.

Click here to learn more about the exhibition.