"Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial," critic Scott Yanow said, because of 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 using "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. 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 Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Sun Ra denied any connection with his 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 by turns called "The Solar Myth Arkestra", "His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra", the "Blue Universe Arkestra", "The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra", as well as 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. His music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and 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 and space music. He also used free improvisation and was one of the first musicians, of any genre, to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.
For decades, very little was known about Sun Ra's early life, much of it being obscured by Sun Ra himself. He routinely gave evasive, contradictory or seemingly nonsensical answers to personal questions and even denied his birth name. His birthday for years remained unknown, his birth year being claimed as years ranging from 1910 to 1918. Only a few years before his death, the date of Sun Ra's birth remained a mystery. Jim Macnie's notes for Blue Delight (1989) could only state that Sun Ra was believed to be about 75 years old. However, Ra's biographer John F. Szwed was able to uncover a wealth of information about Ra's early life, including confirming a May 22, 1914 birth date. Named after the popular vaudeville stage magician Black Herman, who had deeply impressed his mother, Sun Ra would speculate, only half in jest, that he was distantly related to Elijah Poole, later famous as Elijah Muhammed, leader of the Nation of Islam. He was nicknamed "Sonny" from his childhood, had an older sister and half-brother, and was doted upon by his mother and grandmother.
Sun Ra was a skilled pianist as a child. By 11 or 12 years old he was writing original songs, and was able to sight read sheet music. Birmingham was an important stop for touring musicians, and he saw famous musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, along with less-famous performers who were often just as talented as their better-known peers, with Sun Ra once stating "the world let down a lot of good musicians". In his teenage years, Sun Ra demonstrated prodigious musical talent: many times, according to acquaintances, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the bands' songs from memory. By his mid-teens Sun Ra was performing semi-professionally as a solo pianist, or as a member of various ad hoc jazz and R&B groups. He attended Birmingham's Industrial High School (now known as Parker High School) where he studied under famed music teacher John T. "Fess" Whatley, a demanding disciplinarian who was widely respected and whose classes produced many professional musicians.
At ten years old Sun Ra joined the Knights of Pythias, and remained a member until he graduated from high school. His family was deeply religious but was not formally associated with any Christian church or sect. Ra had few or no close friends in high school but was remembered as kind-natured and quiet, an honor roll student, and a voracious reader. The Black Masonic Lodge was one of the few places in Birmingham where African-Americans had essentially unlimited access to books, and the Lodge's many books on Freemasonry and other esoteric concepts made a large impression on him.
Also by his teens, Sun Ra suffered from cryptorchidism, a chronic testicular hernia that left him with a nearly constant discomfort that sometimes flared into severe pain. Szwed suggests that the condition left Blount with a sense of shame and increased his sense of isolation.
In 1934 Blount was offered his first full-time musical job when Industrial High School Biology teacher Ethel Harper organized a band and decided to pursue a career as a singer. Blount joined a musicians' trade union and Harper's group toured through the US southeast and Midwest. 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), and Blount took over leadership of the group, renaming it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. They continued touring for several months before dissolving the unprofitable group. Though the first edition of the Sonny Blount Orchestra was not financially successful, they earned positive notice from fans and other musicians, and Blount afterwards found steady employment in Birmingham.
The clubs of Birmingham often featured exotic trappings such as vivid lighting and murals with tropical or oasis scenes that were believed to have influenced Sun Ra's later stage shows. The big bands also imparted a sense of pride and togetherness to black musicians: musicians were highly regarded in the black community, and were expected to be disciplined and presentable, and in the segregated south, black musicians arguably had the most acceptance in white society, often performing for white high society audiences (though they were typically forbidden from associating with the audiences).
In 1936 Whatley's intercession led to Blount being awarded a scholarship at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. He was a music education major, studying composition, orchestration, and music theory, but after a year, he dropped out.
Even putting Blount's strange vision aside, after leaving college, he became known as perhaps the most singularly devoted musician in Birmingham. He rarely slept, citing Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Napoleon as fellow highly productive cat-nappers. He transformed the first floor of his family's home into a conservatory-workshop where he wrote songs, transcribed recordings, rehearsed with the many musicians who were nearly constantly drifting in and out, and discussed Biblical and esoteric concepts with whomever was interested.
Blount became a regular at Birmingham's Forbes Piano Company, a white-owned company which—astoundingly for a business in the Deep South—simply ignored the strict Jim Crow laws of the racially segregated era. Blount visited the Forbes building almost daily to play music, swap ideas with staff and customers, or copy sheet music into his notebooks. He formed a new band, and, like his old teacher Whatley, insisted on rigorous daily rehearsals. The new Sonny Blount Orchestra earned a reputation as an impressive, disciplined band that could play in a wide variety of styles with equal skill.
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. His case was rejected by the local draft board, and in his appeal to the national draft board, Blount wrote that the lack of black men on the draft appeal board "smacks of Hitlerism". His family was deeply embarrassed by Sonny's refusal to join the military, and he was effectively ostracized by many of his relatives. Blount was eventually approved for alternate service at Civilian Public Service camp in Pennsylvania. However, Blount didn't appear at the camp as scheduled on December 8, 1942, and shortly thereafter, he was arrested in Alabama.
In court, Blount declared that even alternate service was unacceptable to him, and he debated the judge on points of law and Biblical interpretation. Though sympathetic to Blount, the judge also declared that he was clearly in violation of the law, and was risking forcible induction into the U.S. Military. Blount declared that if he were inducted, he would use his military weapons and training to kill the first high-ranking military officer he could. The judge sentenced Blount to jail (pending draft board and CPS rulings), and then declared "I've never seen a nigger like you before;" Blount replied, "No, and you never will again."
In January 1943 a desperate 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. His conscientious objector status was eventually reaffirmed in February 1943 and Blount was escorted to Pennsylvania where he conducted forestry work in 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 Blount was classified as 4-F because of his hernia. He returned to Birmingham embittered and angered by his experiences. He formed a new band and quickly 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 wave of southern African Americans who moved north during and after World War II.
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 were fading (his band was now made of up middling musicians rather than the stars of earlier years) in large part because of his instability. 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.
In 1948 Blount performed briefly in a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith, both preeminent swing-era musicians. There are no known recordings of this trio, but a home recording of a Blount-Smith duet from 1948 or 1949 appears on Sound Sun Pleasure, and one of Sun Ra's final recordings was a rare sideman appearance on violinist Billy Bang's Tribute to Stuff Smith.
In addition to professional advancement, Chicago also changed Blount's personal outlook. The city was a center of African American political activism and fringe movements, with Black Muslims, Black Hebrews, and others proselytizing, debating, and printing leaflets or books. Blount absorbed it all and was fascinated with the city's many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. He read books like George G.M. James's Stolen Legacy (which argued that classical Greek philosophy actually had its roots in ancient Egypt), which convinced Blount that the accomplishments and history of Africans had been systematically suppressed and denied by European cultures.
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, seeing it as a slave name of a family that he was not really a member of. One observer has argued that this change was similar to the way "Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali … [dropped] their slave names in the process of attaining a new self-awareness and self-esteem".
Patrick left the group to move to Florida with his new wife; not long after, Patrick's friend John Gilmore (tenor sax) joined the group, and Marshall Allen (alto sax) soon joined the fold. Patrick was in and out of the group until the end of his life, but Allen and Gilmore—who would both earn critical praise for their talents—were the two most devoted members of the Arkestra. Saxophonist James Spaulding and trombonist Julian Priester also recorded with Sun Ra in Chicago, and both went on to notable careers of their own. The Chicago tenorist Von Freeman also did a short stint with the band of the early 1950s.
In Chicago, Blount met Alton Abraham, a precociously intelligent teenager and something of a kindred spirit who became the Arkestra's biggest booster and one of Sun Ra's closest friends. The men both felt like outsiders and shared an interest in fringe esoterica. Abraham's strengths balanced Ra's shortcomings: though he was a disciplined bandleader, Sun Ra was somewhat introverted and lacked business sense (a trait that would haunt his entire career); Abraham was outgoing, well-connected, and practical. Though still a teenager, Abraham eventually became Sun Ra's de facto business manager: he booked performances, suggested musicians for the Arkestra, and introduced several popular songs into the group's repertoire. Ra, Abraham and others formed a sort of book club to trade ideas and discuss the offbeat topics that so intrigued them. This group printed a number of pamphlets and broadsides explaining their conclusions and ideas; some of these were collected by critic John Corbett and Anthony Elms as The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (2006).
Sun Ra and Abraham also formed an independent record label in the mid-1950s; it was generally known as El Saturn Records, though (as with the Arkestra) there were several variants of the name. Initially focused on 45 rpm singles by Sun Ra and artists related to him, Saturn Records did issue two full-length albums during the 1950s: Super-Sonic Jazz (1957) and Jazz In Silhouette (1959). Producer Tom Wilson was actually the first to release a Sun Ra album, through his independent label Transition Records in 1957, entitled Jazz by Sun Ra.
It was during the late 1950s that Sun Ra and his band began wearing the outlandish, Egyptian-styled or science fiction-themed costumes and headdresses for which they would become known. These costumes had multiple purposes: they evidenced Sun Ra's abiding fascination with ancient Egypt and the space age; they provided a sort of distinctive, memorable uniform for the Arkestra; they were a way to take on a new identity, at least while onstage; and they provided comic relief (Sun Ra thought avant garde musicians typically took themselves far too seriously).
Sun Ra and some of his core musicians (Allen, Gilmore, and Boykins) left Chicago in July 1961, staying in Montreal through the end of September before settling in New York City. They initially had trouble finding performance venues and began living communally because of New York's higher cost of living. This frustration helped to fuel the drastic changes in the Arkestra's sound as Sun Ra's music underwent a free jazz-influenced experimental period.
In March 1966 the Arkestra scored a regular Monday night gig at Slug's Saloon. This proved to be 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 notable jazz musicians. Opinions of Sun Ra's music were divided (and hecklers were not uncommon), but high praise came from two of the architects of bebop: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie offered encouragement, once stating, "Keep it up, Sonny, they tried to do the same shit to me", while pianist Thelonious Monk chided someone who said Sun Ra was "too far out" by responding, "Yeah, but it swings."
In 1971, Sun Ra traveled throughout Egypt and performed with Egyptian drummer Salah Ragab. He would travel again to Egypt in 1983, when he would record with Ragab once more (Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab).
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, where his Morton Street house remained the Arkestra's base of operations until Sun Ra's 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. Saxophonist Danny 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 and multireedist James Jacson fashioned the Cosmic Infinity Drum from the scorched tree trunk. They still 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 undertook their first tour of the US West Coast. Reactions were mixed; even hippies accustomed to long-form psychedelia like the Grateful Dead were often bewildered by the Arkestra, which 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 that led to Sun Ra being featured on the April 19, 1969 cover of the magazine and introducing Sun Ra's inscrutable gaze to millions. This first West Coast tour also led to vibraphonist Damon Choice, then an art student at San Jose, joining the Arkestra.
Starting with concerts in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 1970, the Arkestra began to find opportunities for working outside the US, playing to audiences who had hitherto known his music only through records. Sun Ra continued playing in Europe to nearly the end of his life. Given Sun Ra's unorthodox financial management, saxophonist Danny 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.
In early 1971 Sun Ra was artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley, teaching a course called "The Black Man In the Cosmos". Rather few students enrolled but the classes were often full of curious persons 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 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 fulfilled a long-standing desire by performing with the Arkestra at ancient Egyptian pyramids.
In 1972 San Francisco public TV station KQED producer John Coney, producer Jim Newman, and screen writer 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. On May 20, 1978 Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared on Saturday Night Live.
In the mid-1970s, the Arkestra would sometimes play free Saturday afternoon concerts in a Germantown park near their Philadelphia home. Sometimes at their mid 1970s shows in Philadelphia nightclubs, someone would stand at the back of the room, selling stacks of unmarked LPs in plain white sleeves, pressed from recordings of the band's live performances (including one Halloween show where the salesman was dressed as a golden alien, and the LPs included a cover arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow").
Back in New York City, in the fall of 1979, Sun Ra and the Arkestra were essentially the 'house band' at the notorious Squat Theater on 23rd St.-the performance home of the avant garde Hungarian theater troupe. Their young mastermind manager, Janos, transformed the theater into a riveting nightclub while the core of the troupe was away that season performing in Europe. Debbie Harry, 'The Velvet Underground's' John Cale and Nico (from Andy Warhol's factory days), John Lurie and 'The Lounge Lizards' and other pop and avant garde musicians were regulars. Sun Ra was a disciplined person who avoided drinking anything other than club soda at the gigs, but did not impose his strict code on his musicians, the majority of whom regarded his claim that he was a 'messenger' from Saturn with wry skepticism. Nevertheless it was clear they deeply respected his genius, discipline and authority. Soft spoken and charismatic, Sun Ra turned Squat Theater into a syncopated universe of big band 'space' jazz backed by a floor show of writhing, sexy, Jupiterettes—him directing and playing three synthesizers at the same time. In those days 'Space Is The Place' was the space at Squat.
The Arkestra continued their touring and recording through the 1980s and into the 1990s, and Sun Ra became a fixture in Philadelphia, appearing semi-regularly on WXPN radio, giving lectures to community groups, or haunting the city's libraries.
Even after a stroke in 1990, Sun Ra kept composing, performing, and leading the Arkestra. Late in his career, Sun Ra opened a few concerts for New York–based rock group Sonic Youth. Eventually, Sun Ra grew too ill to perform and tour, and he entrusted Gilmore with leading the Arkestra. (Gilmore himself was frail from emphysema, and when he died, Allen would take over leadership of the Arkestra.) Sun Ra went back to Birmingham and reconnected with his sister whom he had rarely seen for nearly 40 years. He contracted pneumonia, died in Birmingham on May 30, 1993, and was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery. According to the hospital, he had also been affected by circulatory system problems and numerous strokes shortly before his death. The small footstone read only "Sonny Blount (aka [sic] Le Son'y [sic] Ra)".
Following Sun Ra's death, the Arkestra was led by tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. Following Gilmore's death, the group has performed under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who celebrated his 80th birthday on stage during Arkestra performances at the Vox Populi gallery in Philadelphia and the Vision Festival in New York City. In the summer of 2004 the Arkestra became the first American jazz band to perform in Tuva, playing five sets at the Ustuu-Huree Festival. As of May 2008, the Arkestra continues to tour and perform, with captain Marshall Allen celebrating his 84th birthday on stage at New York City's Sullivan Hall. In September 2008 they played for 7 days in a row at the ZXZW festival, every day emphasizing different aspects of the musical legacy of Sun Ra. The Arkestra celebrated Allen's 85th birthday on May 24, 2009 to a packed house at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood. A month later, they performed at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art in conjunction with an exhibition that explored the intersection of the Arkestra's performative legacy and the practice of contemporary art. More recently they ventured to Australia for the first time for the 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, still under the control of the sprightly 87 year old Marshall Allen playing to very enthusiastic sold out crowds.
Herman Sonny Blount (Birmingham - Alabama, 22 de mayo de 1914 - 30 de mayo de 1993), Sun Ra, músico estadounidense de jazz. Figura destacada de la vanguardia jazzística (en sus vertientes experimental, de free jazz y de fusión), tocó el órgano, el piano y el teclado, además de liderar la Sun Ra Arkestra.
Sun Ra fue igualmente un prolífico escritor de poesías, que aparecían en las portadas de los discos o en fanzines editados por él mismo.
De formación autodidacta, aprendió a escribir música a los diez años. Tras algunas experiencias musicales en su ciudad natal, se trasladó a Chicago, donde muy pronto suscitó el interés de los círculos jazzísticos de la ciudad. Fue “fichado” por la Big Band de Fletcher Henderson como arreglista y pianista, y tocó con gran cantidad de músicos de renombre en aquellos años.
Su carrera solista la inició a finales de los años 1940 y principios de los 50 con la formación de pequeños grupos (tríos y cuartetos) con los que actuaba en los locales de entretenimiento de Calumet City, la ciudad de entretenimiento cercana a Chicago donde proliferaban los clubes y casinos.
Muy pronto cambió su nombre por el de Sony’r Ra y, poco después, por el de Sun Ra, que llegaría a figurar en su pasaporte. Y también enseguida, con un núcleo de músicos fieles, formaría la legendaria Sun Ra Arkestra, en activo desde los años 50 hasta la actualidad, aún después del fallecimiento de su fundador.
La Arkestra estuvo siempre influida por la filosofía de Sun Ra, con raíces en la ciencia ficción y los viajes espaciales, en el antiguo Egipto y en teorías filosóficas cabalísticas, siendo en realidad la única banda de jazz basada más en la filosofía que en la música propiamente dicha. Sus apariciones en el escenario constituían un espectáculo único debido a los vestuarios extravagantes, a la mezcla de las distintas ramas del jazz y a la incorporación de elementos audiovisuales, siendo pioneros en este campo.
Sun Ra fue el primer músico de jazz en utilizar todo tipo de instrumentos electrónicos aparte del piano acústico: el piano eléctrico aparece en discos de 1956, habiendo usado posteriormente instrumentos como el rocksichord, los primeros mini-moog, el clavioline, la celesta, los primeros sintetizadores polifónicos, etc. Sun Ra fue también el primer músico de jazz en crear su propio sello discográfico, Saturn Records, a fin de tener libertad para publicar la música que quisiera.
La Sun Ra Arkestra se formó a finales de los 50 en torno a Sun Ra, con el saxofonista tenor John Gilmore, el trombonista Julian Priester, el saxo barítono Pat Patrick y el saxo alto Marshall Allen, actualmente director de la banda. Durante los años en que la Arkestra tuvo su sede en Chicago su repertorio incluía estándares y composiciones propias en un estilo cercano al hard bop, pero donde ya se intuían elementos claves de su estilo, arreglos futuristas y la gran importancia concedida a la percusión.
A principios de los 60, la banda se traslada a Nueva York. Fieles a sus principios viven de forma comunal, dedicados por completo a ensayar y tocar en cualquier club donde se les admita. Sun Ra siempre trató de influir en las vidas privadas de sus músicos, apartándoles de las mujeres, las drogas y el alcohol como si se tratara de un grupo de discípulos alrededor de su gurú. En el aspecto musical, el traslado a Nueva York puso a la banda en el centro de la revolución del jazz de los primeros 60, el llamado free jazz, y en esta época se editaron –siempre en su sello Saturn- los discos más rompedores desde el punto de vista musical: improvisaciones colectivas de una banda de 12 o 14 músicos, solos de sintetizador y unos espectáculos donde había desde bailarinas a comefuegos.
A principios de los 70, la banda hace sus primeras giras por Europa y la primera de sus visitas a Egipto, donde se graban algunos de los discos más imprescindibles para sus seguidores. Es también en estos años donde el estilo de Sun Ra vuelve a sufrir un cambio, orientándose más a una música más eléctrica cercana al acid-jazz. Por esta misma época la banda traslada su residencia desde Nueva York a Filadelfia.
A finales de los 70 y principios de los 80, Sun Ra, quien siempre afirmó haber venido del planeta Saturno en un pasado remoto y permanecer en este planeta para el cumplimiento de la misión de salvar a la humanidad mediante la música, decide un nuevo cambio de estrategia, y empiezan a ser más frecuentes en su repertorio las versiones de clásicos como Ellington, F. Henderson y otros. Versiones impregnadas de su especial sentido filosófico y musical que definen un estilo mucho menos vanguardista. Es la época dorada de la banda, que tras décadas de existencia con ensayos intensivos por parte de los mismos músicos constituye una unidad sin fisuras donde cada uno tiene su papel perfectamente asignado. Las giras por todo el continente europeo se suceden sin interrupción –en Europa tienen más público que en su propio país- y por primera vez aparecen grabaciones de la banda en discográficas que pueden ofrecer mejor distribución que los Saturn, vendidos fundamentalmente tras los conciertos y que por tanto son inaccesibles a la mayor parte de los aficionados.
Durante los 80, Sun Ra perseveró en este estilo más accesible, llegando a ofrecer conciertos íntegramente con versiones de clásicos de Disney, y publicando gran cantidad de discos. En 1991 sufrió una embolia que le paralizó medio cuerpo, pero siguió con su ajetreada vida de músico en constante gira, tocando el piano o los teclados electrónicos con la mano derecha. En 1993 sufrió una segunda embolia, y falleció el 29 de mayo tras unas semanas de agonía.
La Sun Ra Arkestra se puso entonces bajo la batuta de John Gilmore, que también murió unos meses después, y posteriormente bajo la de Marshall Allen, quien a sus 80 años cumplidos en 2004 sigue extendiendo el legado de su mentor por todo el mundo.