Sun Ra

Sun Ra, 1914-1993, African-American jazz composer, bandleader, and keyboard player, b. Birmingham, Al., as Herman Poole Blount. Sun Ra was a leading creator of avant-garde jazz from the ‘60s through the ‘90s. For decades he led his “Arkestra,” an ensemble with a group of core musicians who lived and worked together. The group was known for its highly theatrical performances and promotion of a “cosmic” philosophy steeped in Afrofuturism . Blount was a childhood prodigy as a pianist and arranger, and began performing while still in high school. After serving as a conscientious objector in World War II, he relocated to Chicago in 1945 where he formed his first bands. In 1961, he moved to New York City where his group became a major force in the burgeoning avant-garde jazz and performance scenes of the day. His musicians began appearing in elaborate costumes that drew on Egyptian and space age motifs, with a background of projected light patterns and videos created by what Sun Ra called the “Outer Space Visual Communicator.” The group relocated to a communal home in Philadelphia in 1968 and continued to tour and record, mostly on their own private label. Sun Ra drew on a wide variety of influences from big-band jazz to bebop and modal jazz to avant-garde and experimental music and, in later years, the music from the films of Walt Disney. He retired due to illness in 1992, but the band has continued under saxophonist Marshall Allen’s leadership, a long-time member of the group.

See his Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation (2005), The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (2005); biography by J. Szwed (1998).

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