Friday, May 23, 2014

Tribute To Sun Ra, 1914-1993: Iconic And Innovative Composer, Musician, Philosopher, Orchestra Leader, And Poet In Celebration Of His Centennial Year

(b. May 22, 1914--d. May 30, 1993) 

"It's after the end of the world. Don't you know that yet?"
--Sun Ra

"Space is the Place"
--Sun Ra





"Sun Ra's consistent statement, musically and spoken, is that this is a primitive world. Its practices, beliefs, religions, are uneducated, unenlightened, savage, destructive, already in the past...That's why Sun Ra returned only to say he left. Into the Future. Into Space."
--Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka discusses Charles Olson and Sun Ra at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass, October 19, 2013. By Ferrini Productions:



Few artists have left a more daunting sonic paper trail than Sun Ra. The late multimedia enigma—born (or as he liked to say, "arrived") in Birmingham, Alabama as Herman Poole Blount—explored the full spectrum of jazz, from classic big-band swing to the wooliest psychedelic improvisation imaginable. That exploration is documented on dozens of full-length albums, as well as innumerable compilations and live recordings.

The late Ra would've turned 100 this Thursday, May 22, so now's the perfect time to take a guided tour of his sprawling sound world, courtesy of two centennial celebrations. First, tune in to WKCR, Columbia's venerable noncommercial, student-run station—surely the finest jazz radio outlet in NYC, and probably the world—for a week of Sun Ra–centric programming. (Listen to 89.9 FM or online at The series starts with Intro to Ra, three afternoons of Ra essentials plus archived interviews with the man himself, running from noon to 3pm today through Wednesday. Then the broadcast enters marathon mode, running around the clock on Thursday and Friday, and concluding with several focused programs on Sunday. Go here for the complete schedule.

If you like what you hear, click on over to iTunes, where you'll find a series of 21 newly remastered Sun Ra reissues, helpfully arranged into categories ("Key Albums," "New York Years (1961–68)," etc.), as well as newly assembled samplers. Lots to choose from here—we'll see you up in space!


Sun Ra--A Joyful Noise. A Film directed by Robert Mugge in 1980:

Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra
by John F. Szwed 
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press;  1st Da Capo Press ed edition (August 22, 1998)

Sun Ra, a.k.a. Herman Poole "Sonny" Blount (1914–1993), has been hailed as "one of the great big-band leaders, pianists, and surrealists of jazz" (New York Times) and as "the missing link between Duke Ellington and Public Enemy" (Rolling Stone). Composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, poet, and self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn, Sun Ra led his "Intergalactic Arkestra" of thirty-plus musicians in a career that ranged from boogie-woogie and swing to be-bop, free jazz, fusion, and New Age music. This definitive biography reveals the life, philosophy, and musical growth of one of the twentieth century's greatest avant-garde musicians.

Editorial Reviews:

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 "'jspace 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. --

This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


... Szwed has produced a rare jazz biography--one that takes full account of the history that shaped the music and its central personalities. An anthropologist, historian and musicologist who teaches at Yale, Szwed brings an impressive array of skills to this job. He needs them all to track down a subject whose every word seems intended to protect him from scrutiny. -- The New York Times Book Review, Brent Staples

One of America's most prolific and daring musicians, Sun Ra located himself in outer space, beyond both the geographical limits of the United States and the ideological limits of Jim Crow and the Cold War. Such views, spliced with a homegrown Egyptology, earned Sun Ra a reputation as an Afro-eccentric charlatan-genius in the tradition of Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, and kept his"Arkestra" below the radar of concert halls and record companies. This biography charts Sun Ra's career, showing how he defied critics' periodization schemes, pioneering free jazz and electronic music in the 1940s and reviving big bands in the 1970s. Szwed presents Sun Ra's neoplatonic philosophizing as serious scholarship, however, rather than the charismatic myth-making and -unmaking that it clearly was. The book's treatment of his music--a joyful noise authorized by biblical prophecy, rooted in his native Birmingham's African-American fraternal, club, and society dance orchestras of the 1930s, and branching out into the heavenly spheres--suffers by comparison. Perhaps this late romantic jazz totalist, who shunned sex and drugs, rejected modern notions of race and nation, and took his merry band of"tone scientists" on shoestring-and-bootstrap world tours, will never be brought down to earth. 

Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved. -- From The Boston Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Always riveting, Space Is the Place is the definitive biography of "one of the great big-band leaders, pianists, and surrealists of jazz" (New York Times)--unparalleled for his purposeful outlandishness, a man who exerted a powerful influence over a vast array of artists.

Sun Ra--a/k/a Herman Poole "Sonny Blount--was born in Alabama on May 22, 1914. But like Father Divine and Elijah Muhammad, he made a lifelong effort to obscure many of the facts of his early life. After years as a rehearsal pianist for nightclub revues and in blues and swing bands, including Wynonie Harris's and Fletcher Henderson's, Sun Ra set out in the 1950s to find a way to impart his views about the galaxy, black people, and spiritual matters through the various incarnations of the Intergalactic Arkestra. His repertoire ranging from boogie-woogie, swing, and bebop to free form, fusion, and whatever, Sun Ra was above all a paragon of contradictions: profundity and vaudeville; technical pianistic virtuosity and irony; assiduous attention to arrangements and encouragement of collective improvisation; respect for tradition and celebration of the fresh.

Some might have been bemused by his Afro-Platonic neo-hermeticism; others might have laughed at his egregious excesses. But Sun Ra was at once one of the great avant-gardists of the latter half of the twentieth century and a black cultural nationalist who extended Afrocentrism from ancient Egypt to the heavens. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

John F. Szwed is Musser Professor of Anthropology, African-American Studies, Music, and American Studies at Yale University. He has written about music for The Village Voice, Vibe, the Boston Phoenix, and other publications. He lives in Connecticut.


The following interview with Sun Ra took place in Detroit in 1981 on its award winning PBS program Detroit Black Journal. The interviewer is Deborah Ray who was the host, writer, and producer of the program from 1977-1983...



Sun Ra
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information:

Birth name Herman Poole Blount
Also known as Sun Ra, Le Sony'r Ra
Born May 22, 1914
Origin Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Died May 30, 1993 (aged 79)
Genres Doo wop, hard bop, swing, avant-garde jazz, free jazz, jazz fusion, experimental
Occupations Bandleader, composer
Instruments Hammond organ, piano, organ, keyboards, Minimoog, celesta
Years active 1934–1993
Labels El Saturn Records, Impulse!, MPS Records, ESP-Disk, Black Saint, A&M, Leo
Associated acts Arkestra

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony'r Ra;[1] May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy," musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

"Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial," critic Scott Yanow said,[2] because of Sun Ra's eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle. Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee.[3] Sun Ra denied any connection with his birth name, saying "That's an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym."[4]

From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led "The Arkestra" (a deliberate re-spelling of "orchestra"), an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up, although certain core members remained with the group through its various incarnations (Marshal Allen, John Gilmore, June Tyson, and others). It was by turns called "The Solar Myth Arkestra", "His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra", the "Blue Universe Arkestra", "Myth Science Arkestra", "The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra", and many other variations. Sun Ra asserted that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music. His mainstream success was limited, but Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer. His music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz. He also used free improvisation and was one of the early musicians to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.[5]


1 Biography

1.1 Early life
1.2 Early professional career and college
1.3 "Trip to Saturn"
1.4 New devotion to music (late 1930s)
1.5 Draft and wartime experiences
1.6 Chicago years (1945–61)
1.7 New York years (1961–68)
1.8 Philadelphia years (1968–93)
2 The Arkestra
3 Music
3.1 Chicago phase
3.2 New York phase
3.3 Philadelphia phase
3.4 Musicians
4 Philosophy
4.1 Sun Ra and black culture
4.2 Influence and legacy
5 Filmography
6 Bibliography
7 Discography
8 Notes
9 References
10 External links


Early life

He was born Herman Blount on May 22, 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama, as discovered by his biographer, John F. Szwed, and published in his 1998 book. The boy was named after the popular vaudeville stage magician Black Herman, who had deeply impressed his mother. He was nicknamed "Sonny" from his childhood, had an older sister and half-brother, and was doted upon by his mother and grandmother.

For decades, very little was known about Sun Ra's early life, and he contributed to its obscurity. As a self-invented person, he routinely gave evasive, contradictory or seemingly nonsensical answers to personal questions, and denied his birth name. He speculated, only half in jest, that he was distantly related to Elijah Poole, later famous as Elijah Muhammed, leader of the Nation of Islam. His birthday for years remained unknown, as he claimed it for years ranging from 1910 to 1918. Only a few years before his death, the date of Sun Ra's birth was still a mystery. Jim Macnie's notes for Blue Delight (1989) said that Sun Ra was believed to be about 75 years old. But, Ra's biographer John F. Szwed was able to uncover a wealth of information about his early life and confirmed a birth date of May 22, 1914.

As a child, Herman was a skilled pianist. By the age of 11 or 12 years old, he was composing [6] and sight reading music. Birmingham was an important stop for touring musicians. He saw famous musicians such as Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller, along with others who were quite talented but never made the big time. Sun Ra once said, "[T]he world let down a lot of good musicians".[7]

In his teenage years, Blount demonstrated prodigious musical talent: many times, according to acquaintances, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the bands' songs from memory. By his mid-teens, Blount was performing semi-professionally as a solo pianist, or as a member of various ad hoc jazz and R&B groups. He attended Birmingham's segregated Industrial High School (now known as Parker High School), where he studied under famed music teacher John T. "Fess" Whatley, a demanding disciplinarian who was widely respected and whose classes produced many professional musicians.

Though deeply religious, his family was not formally associated with any Christian church or sect. Blount had few or no close friends in high school but was remembered as good natured and quiet, an honor roll student, and a voracious reader. He took advantage of the Black Masonic Lodge as one of the few places in Birmingham where African Americans had unlimited access to books. Its collection on Freemasonry and other esoteric concepts made a strong impression on him.

Early professional career and college

In 1934 Blount was offered his first full-time musical job by Ethel Harper, his biology teacher from the high school, who organized a band to pursue a career as a singer. Blount joined a musicians' trade union and toured with Harper's group through the US Southeast and Midwest. When Harper left the group mid-tour to move to New York (she later was a member of the modestly successful singing group the Ginger Snaps), Blount took over leadership of the group, renaming it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. They continued touring for several months before dissolving it as unprofitable. Though the first edition of the Sonny Blount Orchestra was not financially successful, they earned positive notice from fans and other musicians. Blount afterward found steady employment as a musician in Birmingham.

The clubs of Birmingham often featured exotic trappings, such as vivid lighting and murals with tropical or oasis scenes. These were believed to have influenced the elements Sun Ra incorporated in his later stage shows. Playing for the big bands gave black musicians a sense of pride and togetherness; they were highly regarded in the black community. They were expected to be disciplined and presentable, and in the segregated South, black musicians had wide acceptance in white society. They often played for elite white society audiences (though they were typically forbidden from associating with members of the audience.)

In 1936 Whatley's intercession led to Blount's being awarded a scholarship at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. He was a music education major, studying composition, orchestration, and music theory; and dropped out after a year.

"Trip to Saturn"

Finances and his increasing sense of isolation are believed to have been factors in Sun Ra's leaving college. Perhaps more importantly, he claimed a visionary experience as a college student; it had a major, long-term influence on the young pianist. In 1936 or 1937, in the midst of deep religious concentration, Sun Ra claimed that a bright light appeared around him, and, as he later said:

… my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn't in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me.[9]

Sun Ra said that this experience occurred in 1936 or 1937. According to Szwed, the musician's closest associates cannot date the story any earlier than 1952. (Sun Ra also said that the incident occurred when he was living in Chicago, where he did not settle until the late 1940s). Sun Ra discussed the vision, with no substantive variation, to the end of his life. His trip to Saturn allegedly occurred a full decade before flying saucers entered public consciousness with the 1947 encounter of Kenneth Arnold. It was earlier than other public accounts: about 15 years before George Adamski wrote about contact with benevolent beings; and almost 20 years before the 1961 case of Barney and Betty Hill, who recounted sinister UFO abductions. Szwed says that, "even if this story is revisionist autobiography … Sonny was pulling together several strains of his life. He was both prophesizing his future and explaining his past with a single act of personal mythology."[10]

New devotion to music (late 1930s)[edit]
After leaving college, Blount became known as the most singularly devoted musician in Birmingham. He rarely slept, citing Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Napoleon as fellow highly productive cat-nappers. He transformed the first floor of his family's home into a conservatory-workshop, where he wrote songs, transcribed recordings, rehearsed with the many musicians who were nearly constantly drifting in and out, and discussed Biblical and esoteric concepts with whomever was interested.[11]

Blount became a regular at Birmingham's Forbes Piano Company, a white-owned company. Blount visited the Forbes building almost daily to play music, swap ideas with staff and customers, or copy sheet music into his notebooks. He formed a new band, and like his old teacher Whatley, insisted on rigorous daily rehearsals. The new Sonny Blount Orchestra earned a reputation as an impressive, disciplined band that could play in a wide variety of styles with equal skill.

Draft and wartime experiences

In October 1942 Blount received a selective service notification that he had been drafted into the Military of the United States. He quickly declared himself a conscientious objector, citing religious objections to war and killing, his financial support of his great-aunt Ida, and his chronic hernia. His case was rejected by the local draft board, and in his appeal to the national draft board, Blount wrote that the lack of black men on the draft appeal board "smacks of Hitlerism".[12] His family was deeply embarrassed by Sonny's refusal to join the military; many relatives ostracized him. Although eventually approved for alternate service at Civilian Public Service camp in Pennsylvania, he did not appear at the camp as required on December 8, 1942. Shortly after, he was arrested in Alabama.

In court, Blount said that alternate service was unacceptable; he debated the judge on points of law and Biblical interpretation. Though sympathetic, the judge ruled that Blount was violating the law and was at risk for being drafted into the U.S. military. Blount responded that if inducted, he would use military weapons and training to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. The judge sentenced Blount to jail (pending draft board and CPS rulings), and then said, "I've never seen a nigger like you before;" Blount replied, "No, and you never will again."[13]

In January 1943 Blount wrote to the United States Marshals Service from the Walker County, Alabama jail in Jasper. He said he was facing a nervous breakdown from the stress of imprisonment, that he was suicidal, and that he was in constant fear of sexual assault. When his conscientious objector status was reaffirmed in February 1943, he was escorted to Pennsylvania. He did forestry work as assigned during the day and was allowed to play piano at night. Psychiatrists there described him as "a psychopathic personality [and] sexually perverted" but also as "a well-educated colored intellectual".[14]

In March 1943, Blount was classified as 4-F because of his hernia, and returned to Birmingham, embittered and angered. He formed a new band and quickly was playing professionally. After his beloved great-aunt Ida died in 1945, Blount felt no reason to stay in Birmingham. He dissolved the band, and moved to Chicago, part of the Second Great Migration, southern African Americans who moved north during and after World War II.

Chicago years (1945–61)[edit]
In Chicago Blount quickly found work, notably with blues singer Wynonie Harris, with whom he made his recording debut on two 1946 singles, "Dig This Boogie/Lightning Struck the Poorhouse" and "My Baby's Barrelhouse"/"Drinking By Myself". "Dig This Boogie" was also Blount's first recorded piano solo. He performed with the locally successful Lil Green band and played bump-and-grind music for months in Calumet City strip clubs.

In August 1946, Blount earned a lengthy engagement at the Club DeLisa under bandleader and composer Fletcher Henderson. Blount had long admired Henderson, but Henderson's fortunes were fading (his band was now made of up middling musicians rather than the stars of earlier years) in large part because of his instability, due to Fletcher's long term injuries from a car accident. Henderson hired Blount as pianist and arranger, replacing Marl Young. Ra's arrangements initially showed a degree of bebop influence, but the band members resisted the new music, despite Henderson's encouragement.

In 1948 Blount performed briefly in a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith, both preeminent swing-era musicians. There are no known recordings of this trio, but a home recording of a Blount-Smith duet from 1953 appears on Sound Sun Pleasure, and one of Sun Ra's final recordings was a rare sideman appearance on violinist Billy Bang's Tribute to Stuff Smith.

In addition to enabling professional advancement, what he encountered in Chicago changed Blount's personal outlook. The city was a center of African-American political activism and fringe movements, with Black Muslims, Black Hebrews, and others proselytizing, debating, and printing leaflets or books. Blount absorbed it all and was fascinated with the city's many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. He read books such as George G.M. James's Stolen Legacy (which argued that classical Greek philosophy had its roots in ancient Egypt). Blount concluded that the accomplishments and history of Africans had been systematically suppressed and denied by European cultures.

By 1952 Blount was leading the Space Trio with drummer Tommy "Bugs" Hunter and saxophonist Pat Patrick, two of the most accomplished musicians he had known. They performed regularly, and Sun Ra began writing more advanced songs.

On October 20, 1952, Blount legally changed his name to Le Sony'r Ra. Sun Ra claimed[15] to have always been uncomfortable with his birth name of Blount. He considered it a slave name, from a family that was not his. David Martinelli suggested that his change was similar to "Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali … [dropping] their slave names in the process of attaining a new self-awareness and self-esteem".[16]

Patrick left the group to move to Florida with his new wife. His friend John Gilmore (tenor sax) joined the group, and Marshall Allen (alto sax) soon followed. Patrick was in and out of the group until the end of his life, but Allen and Gilmore—who would both earn critical praise for their talents—were the two most devoted members of the Arkestra. Saxophonist James Spaulding and trombonist Julian Priester also recorded with Sun Ra in Chicago, and both went on to notable careers of their own. The Chicago tenor Von Freeman also did a short stint with the band of the early 1950s.[17]

In Chicago, Blount met Alton Abraham, a precociously intelligent teenager and something of a kindred spirit. He became the Arkestra's biggest booster and one of Sun Ra's closest friends. The men both felt like outsiders and shared an interest in fringe esoterica. Abraham's strengths balanced Ra's shortcomings: though he was a disciplined bandleader, Sun Ra was somewhat introverted and lacked business sense (a trait that would haunt his entire career); Abraham was outgoing, well-connected, and practical. Though still a teenager, Abraham eventually became Sun Ra's de facto business manager: he booked performances, suggested musicians for the Arkestra, and introduced several popular songs into the group's repertoire. Ra, Abraham and others formed a sort of book club to trade ideas and discuss the offbeat topics that so intrigued them. This group printed a number of pamphlets and broadsides explaining their conclusions and ideas; some of these were collected by critic John Corbett and Anthony Elms as The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (2006).

Sun Ra and Abraham also formed an independent record label in the mid-1950s; it was generally known as El Saturn Records. It had several variations of name. Initially focused on 45 rpm singles by Sun Ra and artists related to him, Saturn Records issued two full-length albums during the 1950s: Super-Sonic Jazz (1957) and Jazz In Silhouette (1959). Producer Tom Wilson was the first to release a Sun Ra album, through his independent label Transition Records in 1957, entitled Jazz by Sun Ra.[18] During this era, Sun Ra recorded the first of dozens of singles as a band-for-hire backing a range of doo wop and R&B singers; several dozen of these were reissued in a two-CD set, The Singles, by Evidence Records.

During the late 1950s, Sun Ra and his band began wearing the outlandish, Egyptian-styled or science fiction-themed costumes and headdresses for which they would become known. These costumes had multiple purposes: they expressed Sun Ra's fascination with ancient Egypt and the space age; they provided a distinctive uniform for the Arkestra; they provided a new identity for the band onstage, as well as comic relief. (Sun Ra thought avant garde musicians typically took themselves far too seriously).

New York years (1961–68)[edit]
Sun Ra and some of his core musicians (Allen, Gilmore, and Boykins) left Chicago in July 1961, staying in Montreal through the end of September before settling in New York City. They initially had trouble finding performance venues and began living communally because of New York's higher cost of living. This frustration helped to fuel the drastic changes in the Arkestra's sound as Sun Ra's music underwent a free jazz-influenced experimental period.

In March 1966 the Arkestra scored a regular Monday night gig at Slug's Saloon. This proved to be a breakthrough to new audiences and recognition. Sun Ra's popularity reached an early peak during this period, as the beat generation and early followers of psychedelia embraced him. Regularly for the next year and a half (and intermittently for another half-decade afterwards), Sun Ra and company performed at Slug's for audiences that eventually came to include music critics and notable jazz musicians. Opinions of Sun Ra's music were divided (and hecklers were not uncommon), but high praise came from two of the architects of bebop: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie offered encouragement, once stating, "Keep it up, Sonny, they tried to do the same shit to me",[19] while pianist Thelonious Monk chided someone who said Sun Ra was "too far out" by responding, "Yeah, but it swings."[20]

Philadelphia years (1968–93)

In 1968, when the New York building they were renting was put up for sale, Sun Ra and the Arkestra relocated to the Germantown section of Philadelphia. He got a house in Morton Street that became the Arkestra's base of operations until Sun Ra's death. Apart from occasional complaints about the noise of rehearsals, they were soon regarded as good neighbors because of their friendliness, drug-free living, and rapport with youngsters. The saxophonist Danny Thompson owned and operated the Pharaoh's Den, a convenience store in the neighborhood. When lightning struck a tree on their street, Sun Ra took it as a good omen. James Jacson fashioned the Cosmic Infinity Drum from the scorched tree trunk. They commuted via railroad to New York for the Monday night gig at Slug's and for other engagements.

In late 1968 Sun Ra and the Arkestra made their first tour of the US West Coast. Reactions were mixed; hippies accustomed to long-form psychedelia like the Grateful Dead were often bewildered by the Arkestra. By this time, the performance included 20–30 musicians, dancers, singers, fire-eaters, and elaborate lighting. John Burks of Rolling Stone wrote a positive review of a San Jose State College concert. Sun Ra was featured on the April 19, 1969 cover of the magazine, which introduced his inscrutable gaze to millions. During this tour, Damon Choice, then an art student at San Jose, joined the Arkestra and became its vibraphonist.

Starting with concerts in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 1970, the Arkestra began to tour internationally. They played to audiences who had known his music only through records. Sun Ra continued playing in Europe to nearly the end of his life. The saxophonist Danny Thompson became a de facto tour and business manager during this era, specializing in what he called "no bullshit C.O.D.",[21] preferring to take cash before performing or delivering records.

In early 1971, Sun Ra was appointed as artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley, teaching a course called "The Black Man In the Cosmos".[22] Few students enrolled, but his classes were often full of curious persons from the surrounding community. One half-hour of each class was devoted to a lecture (complete with handouts and homework assignments), the other half-hour to an Arkestra performance or Sun Ra keyboard solo. Reading lists included the works of Madame Blavatsky and Henry Dumas, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons, The Book of Oahspe and assorted volumes concerning Egyptian hieroglyphs, African American folklore, and other topics.

In 1971, Sun Ra traveled throughout Egypt with the Arkestra at the invitation of the drummer Salah Ragab. He returned to Egypt in 1983 and 1984, when he recorded with Ragab . Recordings made in Egypt have been released as Live in Egypt, Nidhamu, Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab, Egypt Strut and Horizon.[23][24][25]

In 1972, San Francisco public TV station KQED producer John Coney, producer Jim Newman, and screen writer Joshua Smith worked with Sun Ra to produce an 85-minute feature film, entitled Space Is the Place, with Sun Ra's Arkestra and an ensemble of actors assembled by the production team. It was filmed in Oakland and San Francisco. On May 20, 1978, Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared on the TV show, Saturday Night Live.

In the mid-1970s, the Arkestra sometimes played free Saturday afternoon concerts in a Germantown park near their home. At their mid-1970s shows in Philadelphia nightclubs, someone would stand at the back of the room, selling stacks of unmarked LPs in plain white sleeves, pressed from recordings of the band's live performances (including one Halloween show where the salesman was dressed as a golden alien, and the LPs included an arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow").

In New York City in the fall of 1979, Sun Ra and the Arkestra played at the "house band" at the Squat Theatre on 23rd Street, which was notorious as the performance venue of the avant-garde Hungarian theater troupe. Janos, their manager, transformed the theater into a nightclub while most of the troupe was away that season performing in Europe. Debbie Harry, "The Velvet Underground"'s John Cale and Nico (from Andy Warhol's Factory days), John Lurie and 'The Lounge Lizards,' and other pop and avant-garde musicians were regulars.

Sun Ra was disciplined and drank only club soda at the gigs, but did not impose his strict code on his musicians. They deeply respected his genius, discipline and authority. Soft spoken and charismatic, Sun Ra turned Squat Theater into a universe of big band "space" jazz backed by a floor show of sexy Jupiterettes. He directed while playing three synthesizers at the same time. In those days, "Space Is The Place" was the space at Squat.

The Arkestra continued their touring and recording through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Sun Ra became a fixture in Philadelphia, appearing semi-regularly on WXPN radio, giving lectures to community groups, or haunting the city's libraries.

He had a stroke in 1990, but kept composing, performing, and leading the Arkestra. Late in his career, Sun Ra opened a few concerts for the New York–based rock group Sonic Youth. When too ill to perform and tour, Sun Ra appointed Gilmore to lead the Arkestra. (Gilmore was frail from emphysema; after his death, Allen took over leadership of the Arkestra.)

Sun Ra returned to Birmingham to see his sister, whom he had rarely seen in nearly 40 years. He contracted pneumonia and died in Birmingham on May 30, 1993. He was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery. According to the hospital, he had also been affected by circulatory system problems and numerous strokes shortly before his death.[3] The small footstone read "Herman Sonny Blount aka Le Sony'r Ra".[26][27]

The Arkestra

Following Sun Ra's death, the Arkestra was led by tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. Following Gilmore's death in 1995, the group has performed under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who celebrated his 80th birthday on stage during Arkestra performances at the Vox Populi gallery in Philadelphia and the Vision Festival in New York City. A 1999 album led by Allen, Song for the Sun, features Jimmy Hopps and Dick Griffin. In the summer of 2004 the Arkestra became the first American jazz band to perform in Tuva, in southern Siberia, where they played five sets at the Ustuu-Huree Festival.[28]

As of May 2008, the Arkestra continues to tour and perform, with Marshall Allen celebrating his 84th birthday on stage at New York City's Sullivan Hall. In September 2008 they played for 7 days in a row at the ZXZW festival, each day emphasizing different aspects of the musical legacy of Sun Ra. The Arkestra celebrated Allen's 85th birthday on May 24, 2009, to a packed house at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood. A month later, they performed at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art in conjunction with an exhibition that explored the intersection of the Arkestra's performing legacy and the practice of contemporary art.[29] More recently they ventured to Australia for the first time, for the 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Under the direction of the sprightly 87-year-old Allen, they played to enthusiastic sold-out crowds.

Sun Ra's piano technique touched on many styles: his youthful fascination with boogie woogie, stride piano and blues, a sometimes refined touch reminiscent of Count Basie or Ahmad Jamal, and angular phrases in the style of Thelonious Monk or brutal, percussive attacks like Cecil Taylor. Often overlooked is the range of influences from classical music—Sun Ra cited Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg and Shostakovich as his favorite composers for the piano.[30]

As a synthesizer and electric keyboard player, Sun Ra ranks among one of the earliest and most radical pioneers. By the mid-1950s, he used a variety of electric keyboards, and almost immediately, he exploited their potential perhaps more than anyone, sometimes modifying them himself to produce sounds rarely if ever heard before. His live albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s feature some of the noisiest, most bizarre keyboard work ever recorded.

Sun Ra's music can be roughly divided into three phases, but his records and performances were full of surprises and the following categories should be regarded only as approximations.

Chicago phase[edit]
The first period occurred in the 1950s when Sun Ra's music evolved from big band swing into the outer-space-themed "cosmic jazz" for which he was best known. Music critics and jazz historians say some of his best work was recorded during this period and it is also some of his most accessible music. Sun Ra's music in this era was often tightly arranged and sometimes reminiscent of Duke Ellington's, Count Basie's, or other important swing music ensembles. However, there was a strong influence from post-swing styles like bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz, and touches of the exotic and hints of the experimentalism that would dominate his later music. Notable Sun Ra albums from the 1950s include Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth, Interstellar Low Ways, Super-Sonic Jazz, We Travel the Space Ways, The Nubians of Plutonia and Jazz In Silhouette.

Ronnie Boykins, Sun Ra's bassist, has been described as "the pivot around which much of Sun Ra's music revolved for eight years". This is especially pronounced on the key recordings from 1965 (The Magic City, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One, and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two) where the intertwining lines of Boykins' bass and Ra's electronic keyboards provide cohesion.

New York phase

After the move to New York, Sun Ra and company plunged headlong into the experimentalism that they had only hinted at in Chicago. The music was often extremely loud and the Arkestra grew to include multiple drummers and percussionists. Recordings of this era began to utilize new technological possibilities such as extensive use of tape delay systems to assemble spatial sound pieces which are far removed from earlier compositions such as "Saturn". Recordings and live performances often featured passages for unusual instrumental combinations and passages of collective playing which point towards free improvisation—in fact, it is often difficult to tell where the compositions end and the improvisations begin.

In this era Sun Ra began conducting using hand and body gestures. This system would inspire cornetist Butch Morris, who would later develop his own more highly refined way to conduct improvisers.

Though often associated with avant-garde jazz, Sun Ra did not believe his work could be classified as "free music": "I have to make sure that every note, every nuance, is correct. … If you want to call it that, spell it p-h-r-e, because ph is a definite article and re is the name of the sun. So I play phre music—music of the sun."[31]

Seeking to broaden his compositional possibilities, Sun Ra insisted all band members double on various percussion instruments—predating world music by drawing on various ethnic musical forms—and most saxophonists became multireedists, adding instruments such as flutes, oboes, or clarinets to their arsenals. In this era, Sun Ra was among the first of any musicians to make extensive and pioneering use of synthesizers and other various electronic keyboards; he was given a prototype Minimoog by its inventor, Robert Moog.

Notable titles from this period include The Magic City, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy, When Sun Comes Out, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One, Atlantis, Secrets of the Sun and Other Planes of There.

Philadelphia phase[edit]
During their third period, beginning in the 1970s and onward, Sun Ra and the Arkestra settled down into a relatively conventional sound, often incorporating swing standards, though their records and concerts were still highly eclectic and energetic, and typically included at least one lengthy, semi-improvised percussion jam. Sun Ra was explicitly asserting a continuity with the ignored jazz tradition: "They tried to fool you, now I got to school you, about jazz, all about jazz" he rapped, framing the inclusion of pieces by Fletcher Henderson and Jelly Roll Morton.

In the 1970s Sun Ra took a liking to the films of Walt Disney. He incorporated smatterings of Disney musical numbers into many of his performances from then on. In the late 1980s the Arkestra performed a concert at Walt Disney World. The Arkestra's version of "Pink Elephants on Parade" is available on Stay Awake, a tribute album of Disney tunes played by various artists and produced by Hal Willner. A number of Sun Ra's 1970s concerts are available on CD, but none have received a wide release in comparison to his earlier music. The album Atlantis can be considered the landmark that led into his 1970s era. In 1978–1980 performances, Sun Ra added a large electronic creation, the Outerspace Visual Communicator, which produced images rather than sounds; this was performed at a keyboard by its inventor, Bill Sebastian. During concerts, the OVC usually was positioned at center stage behind the Arkestra while Sebastian sat on stage with the musicians.


Certainly dozens of musicians—perhaps hundreds—passed through Sun Ra's bands over the years. Some stayed with him for decades, while others made only a few recordings or performances.

Sun Ra was personally responsible for the vast majority of the constant changes in the Arkestra's lineup. According to contrabassist Jiunie Booth, himself a member of the Arkestra, Sun Ra would not confront any musician whose performance he was unsatisfied with. Instead, Sun Ra would simply gather the entire Arkestra minus the offending musician, and skip town, leaving the fired musician stranded. After repeated instances of US jazz musicians becoming stranded in foreign countries, Sun Ra's unique method of dismissal became a diplomatic liability for the United States. The U.S. State Department was compelled to tell Sun Ra to bring any fired musicians stateside rather than leaving them stranded.[citation needed]

The following is a partial list of musical collaborators and the eras in which they played with Sun Ra and/or the Arkestra:

Yahya Abdul-Majid, tenor saxophone (1980–present)
Luqman Ali, drums
Marshall Allen, alto saxophone, flute, oboe (1957–present)
Ronnie Boykins, double bass (1957–1974)
Arthur "Jiunie" Booth, double bass
Darryl Brown, drums (1970–1972)
Owen "Fiidla" Brown, violin, dance, vocals (1987–1990s and later appearances)
Tony Bunn, electric bass (1976)
Francisco Mora Catlett, drums (1973–1980)
Don Cherry, pocket trumpet (1983–1990)
Damon Choice, vibraphone (late 1960s–1990s)
Phil Cohran, trumpet (1959–1961)
India Cooke, violin (1990s)
Danny Davis, alto saxophone, flute (1962–1977, 1985)
Joey DeStefano, alto saxophone (1968–1969)
Arthur Doyle, saxophone
Bruce Edwards guitar (1983–1993,)
Eddie Gale, trumpet (1960s)
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet (1954–1964, 1965–1995)
Tommy "Bugs" Hunter, drums, sound engineer
James Jacson, bassoon, oboe, flute, Ancient Egyptian infinity drum
Clifford Jarvis, drums, (1961–76, 1983)
Donald Jones, drums (1973–1974)
Wayne Kramer, guitar (2006)[32]
Bob Northern, french horn
Eloe Omoe, bass clarinet, oboe
John Ore, double bass
Taylor Richardson, guitar (1979–1983)
Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, flute (1950–1959, 1961–1977, 1985–1988)
Julian Priester, trombone (1955–1956, 1980s–1990s)
Rollo Radford, bass
Buster Smith, drums
Marvin Bugalu Smith, drums
Michael Ray, trumpet (1978–present)
Pharoah Sanders, saxophone (1964–1965)
Bill Sebastian, outerspace visual communicator (1978–1980)
Talvin Singh, tablas[33]
Alan Silva, double bass, cello, violin (early 1970s)
Tani Tabbal, drums
June Tyson, singer, violin


Sun Ra's world view was often described as a philosophy, but he rejected this term, describing his own manner as an "equation"—he claimed that while philosophy was based on theories and abstract reasoning, his method was based on logic and pragmatism. Many of the Arkestra cite Sun Ra's teachings as pivotal and for inspiring such long-term devotion to the music that they knew would never make them much money. His equation was rarely (if ever) explained as a whole; instead, it was related in bits and pieces over many years, leading some to think his world view was naïve or composed of nonsensical new-age platitudes. However, Martinelli argues that, when considered as a whole, one can discern a unified world view that draws upon many sources, but is also unique to Sun Ra, writing:

Sun Ra presents a unified conception, incorporating music, myth, and performance into his multi-leveled equations. Every aspect of the Sun Ra experience, from business practices like Saturn Records to published collections of poetry to his 35-year career in music, is a manifestation of his equations. Sun Ra seeks to elevate humanity beyond their current earthbound state, tied to outmoded conceptions of life and death when the potential future of immortality awaits them. As Hall has put it, 'In this era of 'practical' things men ridicule even the existence of God. They scoff at goodness while they ponder with befuddled minds the phantasmagoria of materiality. They have forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars.'[16]

He drew on sources as diverse as the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, channeling, numerology, Freemasonry, Ancient Egyptian Mysticism, and black nationalism. Sun Ra's system had distinct Gnostic leanings[34] arguing that the god of most monotheistic religions was not the creator god, not the ultimate god, but a lesser, evil being. Sun Ra was wary of the Bible, knowing that it had been used to justify slavery. He would often re-arrange and re-word Biblical passages (along with re-working many other words, names or phrases) in an attempt to uncover "hidden" meanings. The most obvious evidence of this system was Ra's practice of renaming many of the musicians who played with him.

Bassoonist/multireedist James Jacson had studied Zen Buddhism before joining Sun Ra and identified strong similarities between Zen teachings and practices (particularly Zen koans) and Ra's use of non sequiturs and seemingly absurd replies to questions.[35] Drummer Art Jenkins admitted that Sun Ra's "nonsense" sometimes troubled his thoughts for days until inspiring a sort of paradigm shift, or profound change in outlook.[36] Drummer Andrew Cyrille said Sun Ra's comments were "very interesting stuff … whether you believed it or not. And a lot of times it was humorous, and a lot of times it was ridiculous, and a lot of times it was right on the money."[37]

Some of Sun Ra's songs with words featured lyrics that although simple, were inspirational and philosophical. The most famous example was "Space is the Place!". Another example was the song that went, "You made a mistake. You did something wrong. Make another mistake, and do something right!". Sometimes (typically at the end of a set) the entire Arkestra would snake out through the audience, playing and chanting something like this. Sun Ra even came up once, behind a frightened young audience member, grabbed him in a bear hug, and whispered this in his ear, while the whole band chanted and played along, in a circle around his table, with the rest of the audience watching on in amusement. (1978, in a performance in a small short-lived nightclub on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia)[citation needed]

Sun Ra and black culture[edit]
According to Szwed,[38] Sun Ra's view of his relationship to black people and black cultures "changed drastically" over time. Initially, Sun Ra identified closely with broader struggles for black power, black political influence, and black identity, and saw his own music as a key element in educating and liberating blacks. But by the heyday of Black Power radicalism in the 1960s, Sun Ra was expressing disillusionment with these aims. He denied feeling closely connected to any race. In 1970 he said:

I couldn't approach black people with the truth because they like lies. They live lies … At one time I felt that white people were to blame for everything, but then I found out that they were just puppets and pawns of some greater force, which has been using them … Some force is having a good time [manipulating black and white people] and looking, enjoying itself up in a reserved seat, wondering, "I wonder when they're going to wake up."[39]

Sun Ra was very involved with the Afrofuturist movement through his music and other works.

Influence and legacy

Many of Sun Ra's innovations remain important and groundbreaking. 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 1960s.

George Clinton of P-funk fame drew inspiration from Sun Ra; see P-Funk mythology. He once declared in an interview, "Yeah, Sun Ra's out to lunch... same place I eat at!"[40]

Detroit's MC5 played a handful of shows with Sun Ra and were influenced by his works immensely. One of their songs from their premiere album Kick Out the Jams featured a track called "Starship", which was based on a poem by Ra.

He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979. His interment was located in Elmwood Cemetery.

Filmmaker and visual artist Cauleen Smith has heavily researched the life and legacy of Sun Ra. Her 2013 exhibition "17" "arises out of [her] research into the legacy of Sun Ra, who was himself a student of numerology and achieved a kind of cultural immortality the number 17 might be said to refer to." [41] Her project, "The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band," includes several components related to Sun Ra. "One component (2010) of the project is the production of five flash mob street performances involving a marching band inspired by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. The second component of the project (to premiere in Chicago in the Fall of 2011) is a full-length video that chronicles the urban legends of Sun Ra’s time in Chicago as well as the contemporary artists who live and work in this city."[42]


Sun Ra and his Arkestra were the subject of a few documentary films, notably Robert Mugge's Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise (1980). It interspersed passages of performances and rehearsals with Sun Ra's commentary on various subjects ranging from today's youth to his own place in the cosmos. Space Is the Place (1974) is a feature-length film that stars Sun Ra and his band as themselves. The soundtrack, also by Sun Ra, is available on CD. The film follows Sun Ra after he returns to Chicago from many years of space travel with his Arkestra. In a meeting with "the Overseer" - a devil-like figure stationed in the desert - Sun Ra agrees to play a game of cards in order to "win" the black community. Sun Ra's goal is to transport the American black community to a new planet he discovered while on his journey, and that he hopes to use as a home for an entirely black population. The artist's mission is to "teleport the whole planet through music," but his attempts are often misunderstood by his supposed converts.

In 1995 his influence was a significant factor in the foundation of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

More recently Don Letts' Sun Ra—Brother from Another Planet (2005) incorporates some of Mugge's material, and includes some additional interviews.

Points On A Space Age (2009) is a documentary by Ephrahaim Asili.[43][44] "It's a 60-minute doc along the lines of the talking-head-intercut-with performance clips style. It works because of the interesting and passionate nature of the images of the band as well as of the audio, as the band attempts to articulate what Ra meant to them, and why they are keeping the flame alive. He “left the earth” for his next mission in 1993. The remnants of the band include Marshall Allen, Ra’s greatest disciple and current bandleader and keeper of the flame. Now 86, Allen also serves as recruiter for new members, and potential converts of Sun Ra’s philosophy, once based on space travel and music as a tool for evolution into a new consciousness and tuning into holy vibrations."[43]


Sun Ra wrote an enormous number of songs and material regarding his spiritual beliefs and music. A magazine titled Sun Ra Research was published irregularly for many years, providing extensive documentation of Sun Ra's perspectives on many issues. Sun Ra's collected poetry and prose is available as a book, published May 2005, entitled Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation. Another book of over 260 of Sun Ra's poems, Sun Ra: Collected Works Vol. 1: Immeasurable Equation was published by Phaelos Books in November 2005. The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets, was published in book form in 2005, by WhiteWalls. A collection of Sun Ra's poetry, This Planet Is Doomed, was published by Kicks Books in 2011.


Main article: Sun Ra discography
^ Szwed, p. 83.
^ Yanow, Scott. "Sun Ra - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ a b Watrous, Peter (1993-05-31). "Sun Ra, 79, Versatile Jazz Artist; A Pioneer With a Surrealist Bent". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-06-01.
^ Wilson, Nancy; et al. "Sun Ra: 'Cosmic Swing'" (radio). NPR Jazz Profiles. National Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
^ Szwed (1999): according to author Norman Mailer writing in 1956, quoted on page 154: "a friend took me to hear a jazz musician named Sun Ra who played 'space music.' " According to Sun Ra himself, also in 1956, quoted on page 384: "When I say space music, I'm dealing with the void, because that is of space too... So I leave the word space open, like space is supposed to be." On page 247, in an interview, Sun Ra stated "sometimes when I'm playing for a band, playing space music... I'm using ordinary instruments, but actually I'm using them in a manner... transforming certain ideas over into a language which the world can understand."

^ Szwed (1998), p. 12.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 17.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 10.
^ Szwed (1998), pp. 28–29.
^ Szwed (1998), pp. 30–31.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 33.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 43.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 44,
^ Szwed (1998), p. 46.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 4.

^ a b Martinelli, David A. (1991). "The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra". UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology. Archived from the original on 2008-02-22. Retrieved 2008-05-30.

^ Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz after 1958. Da Capo, p. 141. ISBN 0-306-80377-1

^ Campbell, Robert L., & Trent, Christopher. The Earthly Recordings of Run Ra (2nd edition). Redwood, NY: Cadence Jazz Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-881993-35-3

^ Szwed (1998), p. 219.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 219; emphasis in original.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 273.
^ "Professor Sun Ra - Berkeley Lecture, 1971". Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ Westergaard, Sean. "Live in Egypt, Vol. 1 - Sun Ra : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ Loewy, Steve. "Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt - Sun Ra : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ Planer, Lindsay (1971-12-17). "Horizon - Sun Ra : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 382.
^ "". Retrieved 2014-03-03.
^ Schuman, Nicole (2004-10-14). "Scott balances careers as academic, musician". University at Buffalo Reporter (University at Buffalo, The State University of New York). Retrieved 2008-05-31.
^ "Pathways to Unknown Worlds".
^ Szwed (1998), p. 28.
^ Doerschuk, Bob (January 1987). "Sun Ra". Keyboard 13 (1): 65.
^ Kramer, Wayne (2006-10-23). "My Night as a Tone Scientist". The Kramer Report. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
^ Hodgkinson, Will (8 June 2001). "Home entertainment: Talvin Singh". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 297.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 385.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 387.
^ Szwed (1998), pp. 386–87.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 311.
^ Szwed (1998), p. 313.
^ Heron, W. Kim (2007-06-06). "Space is still the place". Metro Times. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
^ "Cauleen Smith: 17 - Exhibitions - Hyde Park Art Center". 2013-03-10. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ "The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band is one component of a project being produced by Cauleen Smith as part of an artist-in-residence at threewalls Gallery, Chicago. | The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band". 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
^ a b DVD Review: Points on a Space Age (MVD video) | Side Shots Film Blog, Identity Theory blog, May 2009
^ Points on a Space Age at the Internet Movie Database
Szwed, John F. (August 21, 1998). Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80855-5.
Ra, Sun; Wolf, James L.; Geerken, Hartmut (September 1, 2006). Sun Ra: The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose. Waitawhile. ISBN 978-3-8334-2659-9.
Ra, Sun (August 1, 2006). Elms, Anthony; Corbett, John, ed. The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets. Chicago, Illinois: WhiteWalls. ISBN 978-0-945323-07-5.

External links

The Sun Ra Arkestra, Official site, under the direction of Marshall Allen
Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen perform at the Philadelphia ICA (July, 2009)
Space is the Place film, Outer Spaceways
1988 interview with Sun Ra

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Tribute To Malcolm X On His 89th Birthday

(b. May 19, 1925--d. February 21, 1965)


(Originally posted on May 19, 2010):

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tribute to Malcolm X on His 85th Birthday


Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on this day in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 and was assassinated at the age of 39 on February 21, 1965 in New York's Harlem. In between those two events Malcolm lived one of the most complex, profound, dynamic, and iconic lives of the 20th century and had--as he continues to have--a tremendous impact and influence on millions of people throughout not only the United States but the entire globe. How he managed to accomplish this massive feat despite the severe and pervasive racist oppression and exploitation inflicted upon all African Americans of his generation-- and the decided lack of official social, economic, and cultural status especially accorded those like Malcolm who fiercely organized masses of people to oppose and resist such treatment--is one of the major accomplishments of modern African American history and marks Malcolm's revolutionary contributions to global political, spiritual, and cultural thought and activism as one of the most important and powerful legacies of any individual in the world during the 20th century. In my view Malcolm remains the most intellectually and socially significant, advanced, and innovative African American political leader since W.E.B. DuBois because he represented and embodied not only a deep, analytical understanding and insight into the myriad dialectical complexities and contradictions of African American life and culture, but he also understood and expressed in a particularly nuanced and organic manner just how the specific ideological and cultural dynamics of race and class in the United States affected the tone and identity of national liberation struggles both here and abroad. In addition Malcolm's deeply rooted disaporic connections to international Third World and Pan African movements in the colonial and postcolonial contexts of European and American hegemony over Africa, Latin America, and Asia--and the pervasive revolutionary anticolonial struggles against such domination and control in these societies--played a major role in also making Malcolm one of the leading global activists on behalf of anti- imperialist movements.

In 2002 I published a historical and political biography on Malcolm entitled 'The Life and Work of Malcolm X.' What follows below is the introduction to that text. Further information and texts by and about Malcolm as well as videos of him speaking will also be featured. It is in the spirit of great love and solidarity that we make these gestures in celebration of Malcolm's 85th birthday. May his extraordinary work and stellar personal example continue to lead and inspire us all.


by Kofi Natambu

“I know that societies have often killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America--then, all the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."
--The Autobiography of Malcolm X
(as told to Alex Haley), 1965

“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”
--Malcolm X
Barnard College, February 18, 1965

We live in an age of profound dishonesty, fear, hatred and timid equivocation. A dangerously facile cynicism, coupled with a soul-numbing infantilism has infected our society, rendering us seemingly powerless to productively affect or direct our lives. Too often ignorance and a smug reliance on easy orthodoxies of all kinds lend an illusory quality to our collective despair, lost as we often are on the beaches of loneliness and indecision. What’s worse is that so many of our so-called “leaders” lack any genuine intellectual, political, or moral energy to propose directions, methods, and ideas that require much more than adolescent posturing or punitive edicts. Opportunism and careerism rule the day, informed as they are by the insipid “pay me” principle, which ensures that ‘incidental’ things like integrity, discipline, compassion, generosity, and intelligence--the kind that gives one the opportunity to think, reflect, and act instead of foreclosing those possibilities—won’t inform and provide ballast for our insights and desires.

Which brings me to Malcolm X, also known as Malcolm Little, ‘Detroit Red’, ‘Satan’ and finally, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The black man with many names, green eyes and red hair who didn’t live to see the age of forty but who lived a multitude of lives anyway. The black man from Omaha, Lansing, Detroit, Boston, and New York who lived to befriend, work with, inspire, confound, educate, learn from, and transform people and cultures and political and economic and cultural and religious systems and values on three continents, and who lived to tell his/their/our stories. The black man who spoke a bewildering number of languages from African American swing, bebop, and blues tonalities, in all of their ultra hip vernacular modes and dimensions to the mellifluously flowing nuances & inflections of Arabic, Creole, Yoruba, and Chinese stews fermenting with the ancient elixirs of their myriad linguistic, spiritual, and cultural traditions.

You see, Malcolm sought at all times and under every conceivable circumstance to know, and so knowledge returned the favor. Knowledge, whose handmaiden is faith, is something Malcolm “knew” well because experience was valuable to him, and he never took what it could reveal to him for granted. Even in the ugly basement of his own temporary confusions and stupidities, frustrations and disappointments, Malcolm always sought to know, to “truly understand and examine” that which he had been told was (or was not) “real.” He wasn’t content to find an easy niche and lie there, swatting flies and muttering everyday homilies. He understood, which is to say, appreciated the effort, time, and commitment that it took to “know” and “understand” anything, anyone, anywhere. He wanted always, to know more, and think more, and express more, and give more, and create more and expect more, and feel more, and experience more. It wasn’t enough for him to merely embrace an idea, action, or stance. He “knew” better. He had been taught by everyone and everything he had ever encountered to always critically question what he was “being told.” Not in order to checkmate some hapless opponent ‘Homer Simpson’ style, but to ask, endlessly and creatively, and forcefully, and quietly and loudly and gently and brusquely ASK not merely who, what, when, where, and how, but the “heavy duty” WHY(?)

Malcolm realized it would always take more than he was able or willing to give but he freely gave anyway, knowing that his ego or his pain or his ignorance or his fear would be inadequate. But because he gave, and believed in giving, and knew the limitations of fame, money, “suckcess,” and “identity” he was able, always, to supplant his former achievements and establish, build, work for, and embody still higher and different accomplishments. Malcolm wasn’t ‘hemmed in’ by politics or religion or ideology. He understood that in order to “live what you teach” and aspire to learning more required that one become a student of life. What made Malcolm so important is that he never lost faith in his ability to change, and be changed by, the world. But not merely the world we inherit but the world(s) we make and change and know and then (re)make again and again. Malcolm represented what Amilcar Cabral, the West African revolutionary meant when he said “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.” He also knew why Frantz Fanon added “Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.” And oh yeah, this one: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Malcolm also knew that what is “true” is not necessarily “real” or vice versa. No “virtual realities” for him. No ‘Survivor’-induced lies from the jungles of corporate gangsters & advertising executive suites for him. Only the “true” and the “real” in an exquisitely dialectical and yes yall, dialogical dance would ever suffice for Malcolm X, the known, but unknown one. As Miles Davis once said “Hate is like Love--they both build momentum.” The ‘X’ in Malcolm’s life was the algebra of possibilities to know and then gradually, inevitably “not know” so that knowledge and activity could find some new and fresh ways to connect and reconnect, combine and recombine in finally more useful and interesting ways. The ‘X’ is the African American in the diaspora finding his/her way “back home” to the selves that were always already “black” and will be again and again no matter what ‘colors’ we’re compelled to be. That, for Malcolm and his ‘X’ is what made it possible for him to insist on the eternally real and true core of the matter, which was and is and always will be our ‘Human Rights’, our Human Being Hood. He didn’t mean this in any pollyanna, namby-pamby, let’s-all hold-hands-and pretend-we’re-all-the-same-suckers-singing-songs-together manner either. No. His aim was simultaneously much higher and deeper than that. ‘Freedom is for the Free’. Which is to say, for those willing to pay the price. The price is always our very lives as in “You know the stakes is high.” Malcolm told us over and over again. And no man or woman can possibly give or take that freedom--unless we “allow” them to.

That is the TRUE genius of Malcolm X. He realized the sheer simplicity, which is to say, bone-crushing difficulty of what it means to be a “genius” and share that great capacity for love, thought, and action with the world/whirl. Malcolm looked & saw that genius is not something we are but something we do. That is his profound legacy to “his people” which is finally anyone who “really & truly” wants to be free & is more than willing to “pay the price.” The last words of his Autobiography quoted at the start of this soliloquy remind us so eloquently of his actual legacy to those of us who are not afraid to make a contribution to not merely the ‘concept’ of liberation, but the living, breathing necessity of it. That’s real & Malcolm himself. This book is an attempt to recognize and express that fact.

Kofi Natambu
May 23, 2001
Oakland, California


Malcolm X: Complete audio recording of Oxford University Debate December 3, 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964 on Video

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X at Oxford Union
Racial Politics in a Global Era
by Saladin Ambar
Oxford University Press, 2014


Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won't let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.

I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.

I don't even call it violence when it's in self defense; I call it intelligence.

I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against.

If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.

If you have no critics you'll likely have no success.

If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary.

In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.

My Alma mater was books, a good library... I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it.

Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate. Being here in America doesn't make you an American. Being born here in America doesn't make you an American.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965


Carson, Clayborne (1991). Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-88184-758-5.
Clarke, John Henrik, ed. (1990) [1969]. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press. ISBN 0-86543-201-5.
Clegg III, Claude Andrew (1997). An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-18153-1.
Cone, James H. (1991). Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-721-5.
DeCaro, Jr., Louis A. (1996). On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-1864-7.
Dyson, Michael Eric (1995). Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509235-X.
Evanzz, Karl (1992). The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-049-6.
Helfer, Andrew; Randy DuBurke (2006). Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-9504-1.
Karim, Benjamin (1992). Remembering Malcolm. with Peter Skutches and David Gallen. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-88184-881-6.
Kondo, Zak A. (1993). Conspiracys: Unravelling the Assassination of Malcolm X. Washington, D.C.: Nubia Press. ISBN 0-9618815-1-13.
Lincoln, C. Eric (1961). The Black Muslims in America. Boston: Beacon Press. OCLC 422580.
Lomax, Louis E. (1987) [1968]. To Kill a Black Man. Los Angeles: Holloway House. ISBN 0-87067-731-4.
Lomax, Louis E. (1963). When the Word Is Given. Cleveland: World Publishing. OCLC 1071204.
Malcolm X (1992) [1965]. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. with the assistance of Alex Haley. New York: One World. ISBN 0-345-37671-4.
Malcolm X (1989) [1970]. By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X. George Breitman, ed. New York: Pathfinder Press. ISBN 0-87348-150-X.
Malcolm X (1989) [1971]. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. Benjamin Karim, ed. New York: Arcade. ISBN 1-55970-006-8.
Malcolm X (1990) [1965]. Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements. George Breitman, ed. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. ISBN 0-8021-3213-8.
Malcolm X (1991) [1968]. The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard. Archie Epps, ed. New York: Paragon House. ISBN 1-55778-479-5.
Marable, Manning (2009). "Rediscovering Malcolm's Life: A Historian's Adventures in Living History". in Marable, Manning; Aidi, Hishaam D. Black Routes to Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-8400-X.
Natambu, Kofi (2002). The Life and Work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. ISBN 0-02-864218-X.
Perry, Bruce (1991). Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill. ISBN 0-88268-103-6.
Rickford, Russell J. (2003). Betty Shabazz: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Faith Before and After Malcolm X. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks. ISBN 1-4022-0171-0.
Sales, William W. (1994). From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-480-9.
Terrill, Robert (2004). Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgment. Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 0-87013-730-1.
Further reading

Alkalimat, Abdul. Malcolm X for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1990.
Asante, Molefi K. Malcolm X as Cultural Hero: and Other Afrocentric Essays. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1993.
Baldwin, James. One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based On Alex Haley's "The Autobiography Of Malcolm X". New York: Dell, 1992.
Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1967.
Breitman, George, and Herman Porter. The Assassination of Malcolm X. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1976.
Carew, Jan. Ghosts In Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1994.
Cleage, Albert B., and George Breitman. Myths About Malcolm X: Two Views. New York: Merit, 1968.
Collins, Rodney P. The Seventh Child. New York: Dafina; London: Turnaround, 2002.
Davis, Thulani. Malcolm X: The Great Photographs. New York: Stewart, Tabon and Chang, 1992.
DeCaro, Louis A. Malcolm and the Cross: The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, and Christianity. New York: New York University, 1998.
Doctor, Bernard Aquina. Malcolm X for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1992.
Friedly, Michael. The Assassination of Malcolm X. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Gallen, David, ed. Malcolm A to Z: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Gallen, David, ed. Malcolm X: As They Knew Him. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.
Jamal, Hakim A. From The Dead Level: Malcolm X and Me. New York: Random House, 1972.
Jenkins, Robert L. The Malcolm X Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Kly, Yussuf Naim, ed. The Black Book: The True Political Philosophy of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz). Atlanta: Clarity Press, 1986.
Leader, Edward Roland. Understanding Malcolm X: The Controversial Changes in His Political Philosophy. New York: Vantage Press, 1993.
Lee, Spike, with Ralph Wiley. By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of The Making Of Malcolm X. New York: Hyperion, 1992.
Maglangbayan, Shawna. Garvey, Lumumba, and Malcolm: National-Separatists. Chicago, Third World Press 1972.
Marable, Manning. On Malcolm X: His Message & Meaning. Westfield, N.J.: Open Media, 1992.
Shabazz, Ilyasah. Growing Up X. New York: One World, 2002.
Strickland, William et al.. Malcolm X: Make It Plain. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
Terrill, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
T'Shaka, Oba. The Political Legacy of Malcolm X. Richmond, Calif.: Pan Afrikan Publications, 1983.
Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association Books, 1989.
Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

External links

The Official Web Site of Malcolm X Malcolm X: Make It Plain
Malcolm X: A Profile The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University Malcolm X Reference Archive Malcolm X: A Research Site
Interview with Louis Lomax, from When the Word Is Given (1963) Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, Spring 1963
Video interview with Herman Blake,
October 1963 Interview with A.B. Spellman, May 1964
CBC television interview, January 1965
"By Any Means Necessary", June 1964 (Video) Other links Malcolm X's FBI file


Malcolm X - Complete audio recording of Oxford University Debate December 3, 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964 on Video

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X Oxford Debate 1964

Malcolm X at Oxford Union
Racial Politics in a Global Era
by Saladin Ambar
Oxford University Press, 2014

Malcolm X: Speeches and Interviews (1960-65)  
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Jul 10, 2011 - 130 min - Uploaded by ConspiracyScope
A compilation of Malcolm X interviews and speeches 1960-1965. http:// conspiracyscope ...
MALCOLM X banned speech - YouTube

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Malcolm X "Lost" Speech. - YouTube

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Speeches of Malcolm X about Self Defense - YouTube

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This video is about racism, police brutality and other discriminations towards Black people and ...
Malcolm X - Ballot or Bullet - YouTube

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Nov 23, 2006 - 54 min - Uploaded by TheJaredWilcurt
"The Ballot or The Bullet" was a speech by Malcolm X mostly about black nationalism ...

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Apr 11, 2011 - 10 min - Uploaded by Mekki4ever
Changes start with ourselves....some people are able to Change the world.... others are part of ...
Malcolm X - The Last Speech - February 14, 1965 - YouTube

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Dec 6, 2012 - 85 min - Uploaded by Donnie Mossberg
The Murder of Malcolm X - What Really Happened? by The Final Call 247,460 views ...
Malcolm X Speech: 'Stop Singing, Start Swinging!' - YouTube

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Nov 16, 2009 - 8 min - Uploaded by kruger97
Malcolm X clarifies his political and religious stances - and urges the need for meaningful activism.
Malcolm X Speech in Los Angeles (May 5, 1962) - YouTube

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Dec 4, 2012 - 40 min - Uploaded by Donnie Mossberg
Malcolm X Speech in Los Angeles (May 5, 1962) - YouTube. Subscribe 5,873. All comments ...

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Apr 15, 2011 - 8 min - Uploaded by The Wisdom of Malcolm X
For a complete collection of Malcolm X speeches, please click here: ... Malcolm X's Famous ...

Malcolm X , speech - YouTube

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Feb 25, 2011 - 8 min - Uploaded by 6toyenvid
Quelques brides de discours sous titrés de Malcolm X .
Malcolm X Speeches - YouTube

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Dec 11, 2012 - 5 min - Uploaded by The Wisdom of Malcolm X "If the federal government does not find it within its power and ...
Malcolm X:Field Negro speech - YouTube

► 5:47
Aug 19, 2009 - 6 min - Uploaded by BarackObama62
Malcolm X tells the difference between the house negro and the field negro.

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Sep 5, 2006 - 10 min - Uploaded by Malcolm X Speeches Rare color footage of Malcolm X appearing ... Orkut, Picasa ...
Malcolm X Video - Malcolm X -

Malcolm X speaks to reporters about the Black Nationalist Movement and the need to establish Black Rifle Clubs. ... Youtube ...

Top 5 Malcolm X Speeches | News One
May 19, 2011 ... Top 5 Malcolm X Speeches The latest news and opinions from a Black perspective.

Looking Back at Malcolm X's Message to the Grassroots Speech ... speech-delivered-50-years-ago-today/

Nov 10, 2013 ... One of Malcolm X's Most Important speeches, message to the grassroots was delivered 50 ... ...
Malcolm X Educational Videos | WatchKnowLearn
From YouTube ... In this video Malcolm X is giving a speech explaining the difference that he sees between the "house negro" and the "field negro". Malcolm X is ...

Malcolm X on Pinterest
Explore J H's hand-picked collection of Pins about Malcolm X on Pinterest. ... Malcolm X's Famous Speech After Returning From Mecca. Youtube by t6658.