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Sun Ra: Future Folk

The influence of Sun Ra thrives a century after his birth

Sun Ra
Sun Ra (photo: Hyou Vielz)
Sun Ra, 1980 (Photo courtesy of Mug-Shot Productions)
Sun Ra and the Arkestra, Philadelphia 1980, filming Robert Mugge's documentary on the band (courtesy of Mug-Shot Productions)
Marshall Allen directing the Sun Ra Arkestra, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014

Sun Ra wouldn’t have called anything a no-brainer. He spoke in certain terms, as if all he knew was dogma, but nothing felt legitimate to him without an understanding of its opposite. “I’m going to establish my omniversity,” Ra told an interviewer during his later years. “‘Universe’ just means ‘one thing,’ [so at universities] they have to deal with the oneness of things. … The oneness of things deals with the past.” Ra preferred the multiplex, and he preferred the future.

2014 marked the 100th birth year of the late keyboardist, composer, bandleader, poet and mythological scholar. The celebrations of his life and music that took place across the country drew devotees out of jazz’s woodwork, and demonstrated how strong a following he retains-particularly in Chicago, the city that launched his career. But a glance across the landscape of experimental music, especially electronic, proves that his influence has spread well beyond jazz. It may be more powerful today than ever.

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Originally Published