Sun Ra
Name: Sun Ra
Occupation: Pianist
Gender: Male
Birth Day: May 22, 1914
Death Date: May 30, 1993 (age 79)
Age: Aged 79
Country: United States
Zodiac Sign: Gemini

Social Accounts

Sun Ra

Sun Ra was born on May 22, 1914 in United States (79 years old). Sun Ra is a Pianist, zodiac sign: Gemini. Nationality: United States. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.

Brief Info

Incorporated ancient Egyptian and sci-fi motifs into his Arkestra. Sun Ra was innovative with the addition of chants and eerie sounds.

Trivia

Sun Ra claimed to be an alien from another planet, and he dressed on stage in a sequined hat and a jacket embroidered with planets. Sun Ra improvised the tempo and key of his music.

Net Worth 2020

Undisclosed
Find out more about Sun Ra net worth here.

Does Sun Ra Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Sun Ra died on May 30, 1993 (age 79).

Physique

Height Weight Hair Colour Eye Colour Blood Type Tattoo(s)
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Before Fame

Sun Ra was composing original piano works by the age of 12. By his teenage years, Sun Ra could impress friends and relatives by transcribing the music of big bands entirely from memory after seeing them once.

Biography

Biography Timeline

1914

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. He 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.

1934

In 1934, Blount was offered his first full-time musical job by Ethel Harper, his biology teacher from the high school, who had 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 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.

1936

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. He dropped out after a year.

Sun Ra soon left college because, he claimed, he had a visionary experience as a college student that had a major, long-term influence on him. 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:

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 happened 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."

1942

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. The local draft board rejected his claim. In an appeal to the national draft board, Blount wrote that the lack of black men on the draft appeal board "smacks of Hitlerism." Sonny's refusal to join the military deeply embarrassed his family, and many relatives ostracized him. He was eventually approved for alternate service at Civilian Public Service camp in Pennsylvania, but he did not appear at the camp as required on December 8, 1942. Shortly after, he was arrested in Alabama.

1943

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."

In March 1943, the draft board reclassified Blount as 4-F because of his hernia, and he returned to Birmingham, embittered and angered. He formed a new band and soon 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.

1946

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 had declined (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 Henderson'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.

1948

In 1948, Blount performed briefly in a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith, both preeminent 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 in 1992 was a rare sideman appearance on violinist Billy Bang's Tribute to Stuff Smith.

1952

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 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".

1957

In the mid-1950s, Sun Ra and Abraham formed an independent record label that was generally known as El Saturn Records. (It had several name variations.) 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. 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.

1966

In March 1966, the Arkestra secured a regular Monday night gig at Slug's Saloon. This was 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 leading jazz musicians. Opinions of Sun Ra's music were divided (and hecklers were not uncommon).

Also in 1966, Sun Ra, with members of the Arkestra and Al Kooper's Blues Project, recorded the album Batman and Robin under the pseudonym, The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale. The album consisted primarily of instrumental variations on the Batman Theme and public domain classical music, with an uncredited female vocalist singing the "Robin Theme."

1968

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. Sun Ra moved into a house on Morton Street that became the Arkestra's base of operations until his 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 Ray 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 Rolling Stone 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.

NRBQ recorded "Rocket #9" in 1968 for their debut album on Columbia. Sun Ra had given NRBQ's Terry Adams a copy of the song on 45 and told him, "This is especially for you," which Adams reported inspired him to reform the band after a period of inactivity. The band still includes Sun Ra's compositions in their performances, and besides "Rocket #9" have released recordings of "We Travel the Spaceways" and "Love in Outer Space." Several members of the Arkestra have toured with NRBQ over the years, including Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen, Knoel Scott, Tyrone Hill and Danny Thompson. Adams has joined the Arkestra as their pianist on several tours, most recently during a February 2016 tour of cities in the US southeast.

1970

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 almost to the end of his life. The saxophonist Danny Ray Thompson became a de facto tour and business manager during this era, specializing in what he called "no bullshit C.O.D.," preferring to take cash before performing or delivering records.

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. According to the Bob Moog Foundation: "Sun Ra first met Robert Moog after Downbeat journalist and Sun Ra acquaintance Tam Fiofori arranged for a visit to Moog’s factory in Trumansburg in the Fall of 1969....it was during this visit that Moog loaned Sun Ra a prototype Minimoog (Model B), several months before the commercial instrument (Model D) was introduced in March 1970. Ra immediately added the instrument to his repertoire of keyboards, later acquired a second, and featured the Minimoog prominently on many of his recordings of the early 1970s."

According to Szwed, 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:

1971

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. Few students enrolled, but his classes were often full of curious people 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 were released as Live in Egypt, Nidhamu, Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab, Egypt Strut and Horizon.

1972

In 1972, San Francisco public TV station KQED producer John Coney, producer Jim Newman, and screenwriter 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. A 1975 show concert by the Arkestra in Cleveland featured an early lineup of Devo as the opening act. On May 20, 1978, Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared on the TV show Saturday Night Live.

1979

Sun Ra was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979.

1990

Sun Ra had a stroke in 1990, but kept composing, performing, and leading the Arkestra. Late in his career, he 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 in 1995, Allen took over leadership of the Arkestra.)

1992

In late 1992, Sun Ra returned to his birth city of Birmingham to live with his older sister, Mary Jenkins, who (along with various Blount cousins) became his caretaker. In January, he was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center, suffering from congestive heart failure, respiratory failure, strokes, circulatory problems, and other serious maladies. He died in the hospital on May 30, 1993, and was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery. The footstone reads "Herman Sonny Blount aka Le Sony'r Ra".

2005

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.

2006

The Spatial AKA Orchestra, formed in 2006 by Jerry Dammers (the main songwriter of British ska revival band The Specials), was originally created as a tribute to Sun Ra, borrowing many of the ideas, themes and tropes from Sun Ra's own performances.

2008

As of July 2019, the Arkestra continues to tour and perform. 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. In 2009, 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. In 2011, they ventured to Australia for the first time, for the 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival and MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania. In 2017, the Arkestra performed at the 31st Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell Massachusetts. In 2019, it was announced that the Arkestra would perform at Portland, Oregon's Hollywood Theater for three nights on July 14, 15, and 16.

The Sun Ra Repatriation Project was started in 2008 with the aim of using interplanetary communication with a view to facilitating Sun Ra's return to planet Earth.

2019

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Sun Ra among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, Sun Ra is 108 years, 4 months and 4 days old. Sun Ra will celebrate 109th birthday on a Monday 22nd of May 2023.

Find out about Sun Ra birthday activities in timeline view here.

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