Obituary: Sun Ra
Thursday 01 July 1993
Long stays in New York in the 1970s enabled me to witness his influence. Dozens of young men passed through his Arkestra, few failing to acknowledge his inspiration. His pioneering electronic keyboard work inspired a generation of jazz and rock artists, notably Miles Davis.
The Arkestra's African drums and non-Western instruments prefigured the universality of percussion-packed ensembles. His flamboyant dress, echoing the 'Moorish' style of Shriners, came from traditions of personal adornment retained by African peoples in the New World. His recurrent Egyptian motif was copied by the leading 1970s Soul band, Earth, Wind and Fire.
Ra, a child prodigy, majored in music education in Alabama and was already a skilled arranger when he arrived in Chicago. The Arkestra's ensembles, 'ragged' to some, were instrumental extensions of the black church's vocal harmonies. By maintaining a nucleus of musicians for almost four decades, he kept alive the ideals of the great black Swing music pioneers whom he idealised. He issued a total of 115 records, most on his own label, Saturn, setting important standards for productivity and self-reliance.
Combining social endeavour with studying the occult was not unusual among black thinkers of Ra's generation. If people are told they 'have no history', the search for an origin becomes paramount. When he began a perusal of antiquarian literature in the 1940s, the belief in North Africa as the source of certain intellectual traditions was already a century old.
He wrote and distributed proselytising literature designed at consciousness-raising in his immediate community, but also provided guidance and care for countless young men. Among those he counselled and helped conquer addictions were many musicians, including the saxophonists Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.
Ra was gay himself, but the precise nature of his relationship to his associates has never been known outside that circle. What was clear to me, from our first meeting in 1966, was how he was regarded as a figure embodying the qualities of both mother and father. Helping others to develop self-respect was his mission and he inspired enormous loyalty as a result.
- 1 Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world 'solved': Scientists offer explanation
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 Sean Hannity reacts to Russell Brand's Israel-Gaza criticism: 'You're a dumb actor known for your failed marriage to Katy Perry'
Lost portraits of the Somme: 100 images of Tommies posing before they went over the top. Now can you help to identify them?
Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world 'solved': Scientists offer explanation
Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Ashley Cole tweets unsettling meme of him stalking ex-wife Cheryl Cole and new husband Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >
£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...
£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...
Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...
£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...