Sun Ra

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Sun Ra in February 1992

Sun Ra (born May 22, 1914 in Birmingham , Alabama , † May 30, 1993 ibid; actually Herman "Sonny" Poole Blount ) was an experimental avant-garde American jazz composer and jazz musician ( piano , organ , keyboard ), poet and philosopher .

life and work

Sun Ra was already considered a myth during his lifetime and is still one of the most controversial jazz musicians today. With his very own style and innovative ideas, he polarized critics and audiences. If some saw him as a brilliant innovator, others saw him as a charlatan . Sun Ra's performance as one of the pioneers of free jazz is undisputed.

He achieved fame through his musical compositions and performances as well as through his bizarre astrological sermons and philosophies. In 1952 he gave up his maiden name, took the name Sun Ra ( Ra is the name of the ancient Egyptian sun god) and led a band with an ever-changing line-up that came to be known as Arkestra . The best-known members of the Arkestra were the saxophonists John Gilmore , whose work influenced that of John Coltrane , and Marshall Allen , who still directs the Arkestra to this day. Sun Ra understood the word Arkestra as a connection between Arché and orchestra .

The musical development of Sun Ras can be roughly divided into three periods. In 1950 years, his music evolved from the Big Band - Swing with which he began his career in the 1940s. At the time he was playing with Wynonie Harris . For his livelihood he also lived from assignments that Red Saunders initiated for him, for example as an arranger in the Chicago club DeLisa , whose resident band was directed by Saunders. In a kind of re-invention of himself, the typical cosmic jazz , determined by space themes , emerged with which he became famous. According to music critics and jazz historians, some of his best works were created during this period. Notable Sun Ra albums from the 1950s include Super Sonic Jazz , Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth , Interstellar Low Ways , Angels And Demons At Play , We Travel The Spaceways, and Jazz in Silhouette , among many others .

In addition, the eccentric began to wear strange costumes and headdresses in Egyptian style, also in the 1950s. He claimed that he did not come from the earth , but from the planet Saturn , and developed his self-portrayals as a fictional figure from “cosmic” philosophies and a lyrical poetry that preached above all awareness and peace. He distanced himself from the racism he suffered from when it came to tours and concerts by the Arkestra, without, however, expressing himself more often. In general, unlike many black musicians of his generation, he rarely spoke about controversial topics. Instead, he focused on the music. The ensemble of musicians who worked with him and went on tour changed almost daily.

During the 1960s, Sun Ra's music went through a chaotic, experimental period. When he was noticed by the beat generation and in the psychedelic rock scene, his popularity peaked. Sun Ra's albums from this period are often difficult to access for listeners who are new to his music. Well-known titles are The Magic City , When Sun Comes Out and Other Planes Of There .

Throughout the 1970s and later, the music of Sun Ra and the Arkestra moved in more conventional ways, but remained highly eclectic and energetic. By working with the singer June Tyson , he managed to captivate the audience. Jazz standards were also interpreted in the concerts . Sun Ra also took a liking to Walt Disney's films . He began to incorporate snippets from Disney's pieces of music into many of his musical performances. In the late 1980s, the Arkestra even gave a concert at Walt Disney World . The Arkestra's version of Pink Elephants On Parade is featured on the album Stay Awake , a compilation of Disney melodies interpreted by different artists.

Sun Ra in February 1992

Some of Sun Ra's concerts from the 1970s are available on CD, but are not widely used compared to his earlier works. The album Atlantis can be seen as a milestone that marks the beginning of his 1970s period.

Sun Ra was one of the most prolific musicians in jazz. In the course of his career he recorded hundreds of albums, many of which were released by tiny record companies and were therefore only distributed in small editions. He published his music for a time (unusual for the time) on his own label Saturn and sold it by mail order . Sun Ra's music remained unknown to the large audience, which could not see him at concerts. In the 1990s, many of his recordings were released for the first time posthumously on CDs with the record label Evidence . The early album Strange Strings (1966) was included in The Wire magazine's "100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening)" list in 1998.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra were the subject of the documentary A Joyful Noise and in 1972 the blaxploitation film Space Is the Place . The soundtrack for this film, also by Sun Ra, is available on CD.

Recordings (selection)

Sun Ra recorded over 100 albums from 1956 to 1993. Some were released on his own label El Saturn , among many others, under the name Sun Ra and his Arkestra and numerous variants ( Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra , Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra etc.).

Studio albums

  • Jazz by Sun Ra (Sun Song) (1956, El Saturn, Delmark Records)
  • Super-Sonic Jazz (1956, El Saturn, Impulse!)
  • Sound of Joy (1957, Delmark Records)
  • Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth (1958, El Saturn, Impulse!)
  • Jazz in Silhouette (1958, El Saturn, Evidence)
  • The Nubians of Plutonia (1959, El Saturn, Impulse!)
  • Holiday for Soul Dance (1960, El Saturn, Evidence)
  • Angels and Demons at Play (1960, El Saturn)
  • The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961, Savoy Records)
  • Fate in a Pleasant Mood (1961, El Saturn)
  • Bad and Beautiful (1961, Impulse!)
  • When Sun Comes Out (1963, El Saturn)
  • Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (1963, Poppydisk)
  • Other Planes of There (1964, Evidence)
  • The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (1965, ESP-Disk)
  • The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2 (1965, ESP-Disk)
  • Secrets of the Sun (1965, El Saturn)
  • Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (1965, El Saturn)
  • The Magic City (1965, Evidence)
  • Strange Strings (1966, El Saturn)
  • Monorails and Satellites (1966, Evidence)
  • The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale: Batman and Robin (1966, Universe)
  • A Black Mass (1968, Son Boy)
  • Atlantis (1969, Evidence)
  • Blue Delight (1989, A&M Records)
  • Sun Ra Singles (1952–91, ed. 2016, Strut)
  • Thunder of the Gods (2017, Modern Harmonic)

Live albums

  • Music from Tomorrow's World: Chicago 1960 (1960, Atavistic)
  • Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold (1964, ESP-Disk)
  • Nothing Is (1966, ESP disc)
  • Pictures of Infinity (1968, Black Lion)
  • Outer Spaceways Incorporated (1968, Black Lion)


  • John F. Szwed: Space Is The Place - The Lives and Times of Sun Ra , Pantheon Books, New York, 1997, ISBN 0-679-43589-1 (biography)
  • Hartmut Geerken , Bernhard Hefele: Omniverse Sun Ra , Waitawhile, D-82211 Wartaweil, 1994, private print (discography with color reproductions of the LP cover )
  • Robert Campbell, Chris Trent: The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra, 2nd edition , Cadence Jazz Books, Northwood, NY, 2000, ISBN 1-881993-35-3 (extensive discography)
  • Hartmut Geerken (Ed.): Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation , Books on Demand, Norderstedt, 2005, ISBN 3-8334-2659-4 (Sun Ra's Lyrik)
  • Sun Ra. Interviews & Essays , edited by John Sinclair. Headpress, London 2010, ISBN 978-1-900486-72-9

Web links

Commons : Sun Ra  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Dr. Jazz: Birmingham's jazz giant Sun Ra gets celebrated. JazzWeek, May 26, 2012, accessed January 28, 2020 .
  2. discography at