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Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony’r Ra; May 22, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama – May 30, 1993 in Birmingham, Alabama) was a jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy”, musical compositions and performances.
“Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial,” critic Scott Yanow said, due to 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 of “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism as 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 ancient Egyptian god of the sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Blount denied any connection with birth name, saying “That’s an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym.”
From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led “The Arkestra” (a deliberate re-spelling of “orchestra”), an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and name (it was also called “The Solar Myth Arkestra”, “His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra”, the “Blue Universe Arkestra”, “The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra”, and many other permutations; 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, Sun Ra’s music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians; his music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz; he was also a pioneer of electronic music, space music, and free improvisation, and was one of the first musicians, regardless of genre, to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.