Sun Ra

American jazz composer and bandleader (1914–1993) / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Le Sony'r Ra[3] (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993), better known as Sun Ra, was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music, "cosmic" philosophy, prolific output, and theatrical performances. For much of his career, Ra led "The Arkestra", an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up.

Quick facts: Sun Ra, Background information, Birth name, A...
Sun Ra
Sun Ra, c. 1973
Sun Ra, c. 1973
Background information
Birth nameHerman Poole Blount
Also known asLe Sony'r Ra (legal name)
Born(1914-05-22)May 22, 1914
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 1993(1993-05-30) (aged 79)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
  • Bandleader
  • composer
  • arranger
  • artist
  • poet
Instrument(s)Keyboards, vocals
Years active1934–1993
LabelsEl Saturn, Thoth Intergalactic, Impulse!, MPS, ESP-Disk, Black Saint, A&M, Leo, Rounder

Born and raised in Alabama, Blount became involved in the Chicago jazz scene during the late 1940s. He soon abandoned his birth name, taking the name Le Sony'r Ra, shortened to Sun Ra (after Ra, the Egyptian god of the Sun). Claiming to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace, he developed a mythical persona and an idiosyncratic credo that made him a pioneer of Afrofuturism.[4] Throughout his life he denied ties to his prior identity saying, "Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym."[5] His widely eclectic and avant-garde music echoed the entire history of jazz, from ragtime and early New Orleans hot jazz, to swing music, bebop, free jazz and fusion. His compositions ranged from keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians, along with electronic excursions, songs, chants, percussion pieces, and anthems.

From the mid-1950s until his death, Ra led the musical collective The Arkestra (which featured artists such as Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and June Tyson throughout its various iterations). Its performances often included dancers and musicians dressed in elaborate, futuristic costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire and the Space Age. Following Ra's illness-forced retirement in 1992, the band remained active as The Sun Ra Arkestra, and, as of 2022, continues performing under the leadership of veteran Ra sideman Marshall Allen.[6]

Though his mainstream success was limited, Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer, and remained influential throughout his life for his music and persona.[7] He is now widely considered an innovator; among his distinctions are his pioneering work in free improvisation and modal jazz and his early use of electronic keyboards and synthesizers.[7][8] Over the course of his career, he recorded dozens of singles and over one hundred full-length albums, comprising well over 1,000 songs, making him one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century.[9]