Sun Ra was a brilliant pianist/keyboardist, composer, bandleader, philosopher, and poet. He was a visionary who was light years ahead of his time.
He claimed to be 5,000 years old and a member of an “Angel Race” from Saturn. Sun Ra landed on Earth in Bessemer, in 1914, and was named Herman Poole Blount. He changed his legal name to Le Sony’r Ra, which is inscribed on his tombstone at Elmwood Cemetery. He departed the planet in 1993.
During his prolific career of over 60 years, Sun Ra produced some of the most controversial jazz (and philosophy) of the 20th century. His assertion that there is much more to existence than meets the eye predated modern physics and quantum mechanics, and led to his vision of an “omniverse,” which includes uncounted universes co-existing with our own.
As a keyboardist, Sun Ra was one of the first musicians to experiment with synthesizers and electronic sound.
Sun Ra’s performances often ended with the chant, “Space is the Place.” His exotically clad band would recite this as they left the stage and weaved through the crowd to the exit.
While his performances seemed improvised and unstructured, Sun Ra was meticulous about his music and his band members, who were always attuned to his most subtle directions. Sun Ra was extremely disciplined. He abstained completely from alcohol and drugs, and required his band members to do the same.
Sun Ra’s career began in Chicago, but he and his band settled in a music commune in Philadelphia, where 3 a.m. impromptu rehearsals were the norm. Sun Ra rarely slept, and when he did, he took short naps.
Sun Ra was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979.
While his legacy is still being assessed by critics, it continues to grow in esteem as the years pass.