Sun Ra

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About Sun Ra

One of the most eccentric yet consistently radical and original figures in American music history, free-jazz deity Sun Ra was often seen primarily as an oddball throughout his lengthy career. He claimed that he was from Saturn; his groups dressed in otherworldly, sequin-encrusted outfits; and he pioneered the use of synthesizers and the ideas of Afrofuturism as he nonchalantly toggled between traditional and wildly post-modern sounds. Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914, he was an avid reader and musician growing up, ingesting music, history, and theory as an outsider pianist in his hometown. His world opened up after he moved to Chicago in 1946, where he played in strip joints before being hired by the influential bandleader Fletcher Henderson as an arranger. He changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra and began developing music with his Arkestra in the early 1950s. Ra inspired devotion from his musicians, some of whom spent their entire careers with him. The Arkestra relocated to New York in 1961, where its reputation grew slowly but steadily, and the music expanded from its big band roots into raucous excursions into free jazz with wild electronic textures, percussive breakdowns, and indelible chants. In 1968 the group moved to a house in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where the organization has been based ever since. The group recorded prolifically, releasing much of its output on Ra’s own El Saturn imprint, where it routinely experimented with electronics and freewheeling improvisation. He starred in the 1972 narrative film Space Is the Place and toured worldwide year after year, even after suffering a stroke in 1990. Sun Ra died in 1993, but the group’s alto saxophonist Marshall Allen later took over the band, keeping it together well into the 21st century.

Birmingham, AL, United States
May 22, 1914
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