Sun Ra, an influential pianist and orchestra leader who experimented with jazz and many other forms of music, dies at the age of seventy-nine.
1993 (May 30)
Sun Ra, an influential pianist and orchestra leader who experimented with jazz and many other forms of music, died at the age of seventy-nine. He had been ill since January 1993, after suffering a series of strokes. Ra was born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914, but he later liked to claim he was born on the planet Saturn about five thousand years ago. As Sonny Blount, he played in Fletcher Henderson's jazz orchestra during the mid-1940s and also was active in experimental music circles in Chicago, Illinois. Blount was already a well-known musician when he changed his name to Sun Ra during the 1950s. Along with the name change, he created a whole new identity for himself by drawing from the Bible, Black spiritualism, science fiction, and Egyptian mythology. (Ra, in fact was the name of the ancient Egyptian sun god.) Beginning in 1956, Sun Ra traveled with a multimedia group known as Arkestra that included musicians as well as exotically-costumed dancers. Ra's career spanned over sixty years. During that time, he recorded more than two hundred albums, including Saturn, Magic City, Savoy, and It's After the End of the World They encompassed a wide range of sounds and styles, including bop, gospel, blues, and electronic synthesizers. Ra considered himself to be a bridge between different generations, and in February 1993, Rolling Stone magazine seemed to confirm that judgment when it called him "the missing link between Duke Ellington and Public Enemy." Yet he was not especially well known in his native country (he spent most of his later years in Europe) and never had the recognition and success that many bigger stars Act enjoyed.