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Sun Ra (1914 - 1993)

Related: 1914 - 1993

Related: American music - black science fiction - kozmigroov - black music - jazz - free jazz


Sun Ra

Like Sun Ra and Lee "Scratch" Perry, George Clinton grew up in a community where black people inhabited an otherized zone. As early as 1969, George Clinton and his "Parliament-Funkadelic Thang" took on the identities of funky aliens from outer space. --Uncle Fester of Fast 'n Bulbous

Pharoah Sanders received his nickname "Pharoah" from Sun Ra. [Apr 2006]


Sun Ra (May 22, 1914 (?) - May 30, 1993) was an innovative and individual jazz composer, bandleader and piano and synthesizer player, who came to be known as much for preaching his bizarre "cosmic philosophy" as for his phenomenal musical compositions and performances.

Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, he was nicknamed Sonny from his youth. He later abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra. (Ra being the name of the ancient Egyptian god of the Sun) He led The Arkestra, an ensemble with ever-changing lineup, which also used a variety of names: "The Solar Myth Arkestra" the "Blue Universe Arkestra" and many other permutations.

Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but rather from Saturn, Ra developed a complicated persona of "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that preached "awareness" and peace above all. Some regarded him as a kook in this regard, but most recognized his immense musical talents.

He eschewed racism (having been a victim of it many times, in regards to the touring and booking schedule of the Arkestra) and insisted his musicians avoid drug abuse, though he rarely came out and directly spoke about any controversial subjects.

While some of Sun Ra's experiments may be seen as noble failures, many other innovations remain important: "Ra was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses, to employ the electric bass, to play electronic keyboards, to use extensive percussion and polyrhythms, to explore modal music and to pioneer solo and group freeform improvisations. In addition, he made his mark in the wider cultural context: he proclaimed the African origins of jazz, reaffirmed pride in black history and reasserted the spiritual and mystical dimensions of music (all important factors in the black cultural/political renaissance of the 60s)." (http://www.icebergradio.com/artist/18893/sun_ra.html)

George Clinton of P-funk fame based many of his early ideas ("Cosmic Slop") on Sun Ra. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Ra [Jan 2005]

The Chaos on this planet

"The Chaos on this planet is due to the music that the musicians are playing that they're supposed to play. By some who just think of money and don't realize that music is a spiritual language and it represents the people of earth. But musicians are compelled to play anything. It goes straight to the zoner or creator of the universe, and that is how he sees you, by your music because you see music is a universal language and what you call the musicians who are playing it. It's what goes to the creator, and your personal ambassador, and your personal nemesis." --Sun Ra via http://www.dpo.uab.edu/~moudry [Jan 2005]

A Profile

Sun Ra was born on the planet Saturn, ages ago, and spent some time on Earth using the power of music to demonstrate the virtues of discipline and harmony to members of this planet. Or, if you prefer a more straightforward approach to your musical biographies, Sun Ra was born Herman P. Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914. Whichever way you choose to look at matters, some things are not in doubt : Sun Ra arrived on this planet via Birmingham on May 22, 1914, left this planet on May 30, 1993, and spent the majority of his time here working with groups of musicians to leave behind an amazingly large, diverse, diffuse, and beautiful catalogue of recordings and live performances the likes of which has never been seen before. --Scott McFarland via http://www.furious.com/perfect/sunra.html [Jan 2005]

Space is the Place (1973) - Sun Ra

Space is the Place (1973) - Sun Ra [Amazon.com]

Space Is The Place (Blue Thumb LP 1973, Impulse CD 1998 - [not to be confused with the Evidence CD "Soundtrack to the film Space Is The Place" which is a completely different set of Sun Ra recordings]) Features the glorious 26 minute version of Ra's anthem "Space Is The Place" - maybe the most sumptuously recorded Sun Ra music ever, recorded by Ed Michel (inbetween recording Alice Coltrane's Impulse albums) - this long track is a hugely ambitious, hugely successful, layered MONSTER. Akin to Mtume's "Alkebu-Lan: Land Of The Blacks" and Alan Silva's 3xLP BYG/Actuel for sheer scale. --http://www.freeform.org/music/s/Sun_Ra.html [Jan 2005]

Kozmigroov [...]

It would be lazy and unhelpful to split Sun Ra's music into "straight jazz"/"funky"/"freak-out" and list all the "spacey funky" tracks below. To understand Ra it's necessary to hear the full story. So, I list below a handful of personal favourites from Sun Ra's output because it's all Kozmigroov. --http://www.freeform.org/music/s/Sun_Ra.html [Jan 2005]

Sun Ra - Cry of Jazz (1959) - Edward Bland

Sun Ra - Cry of Jazz (1959) - Edward Bland [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Filmed in Chicago & finished in 1959, The Cry of Jazz is filmmaker, composer and arranger Edward O. Bland's polemical essay on the politics of music and race - a forecast of what he called "the death of jazz." A landmark moment in black film, foreseeing the civil unrest of subsequent decades, it also features the only known footage of visionary pianist Sun Ra from his beloved Chicago period. Featured are ample images of tenor saxophonist John Gilmore and the rest of Ra's Arkestra in Windy City nightclubs, all shot in glorious black & white. Rarely seen in cinemas, this is the first commercial release of The Cry of Jazz. --via Amazon.com

see also: Sun Ra - jazz - 1959


  • Sun Ra, Space is the Place - [Amazon.com]
    Born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama in 1914, he reinvented himself in the 1950s as Sun Ra, the great surrealist of jazz whose free-form performances with his Arkestra amply justified the description "space music." His mystical beliefs were equally avant-garde; Yale professor John Szwed sympathetically explains some fairly far-out notions as "driven by a hunger for totality that only music could express." Szwed recovers the biographical facts Sun Ra was often at pains to obscure, without losing sight of the overriding role imagination played in this visionary life.

    Sun Ra - Space Is The Place (1974 film) - John Coney

  • Sun Ra - Space Is The Place (1974) - John Coney [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    This peculiar, rather warped feature is a product of the highly original mind of the late "musician-thinker" Sun Ra (the former Herman "Sonny" Blount, an accomplished jazz pianist and bandleader). The 82-minute, 1974 film melds effects that are straight out of '50s Japanese sci-fi, politics reflecting '60s racial radicalism, and the overall vibe of '70s blaxploitation films, with some African-Egyptian mythology thrown in for good measure. It isn't exactly a masterpiece of cinema; the production values are mediocre, the story is thin (Ra, who co-wrote, portrays an alien who offers oppressed African Americans the opportunity to seek their "alter-destiny" in outer space; complications ensue before his spaceship departs with true believers on board), the acting amateurish. But it's entertaining--Ra's array of costumes (especially his headgear) is impressive, and we do at least get a taste of his Intergalactic Solar Arkestra's heady brew of avant-garde jazz. --Sam Graham, amazon.com

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