Sun Ra's ChicagoAfrofuturism and the City

Sun Ra's ChicagoAfrofuturism and the City

William Sites

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226732077

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The emergence of Sun Ra and his Arkestra in 1950s Chicago is seen today as a foundational moment for Afrofuturist modes of cultural expression. Sun Ra's Chicago investigates how the bandleader's musical cosmology first developed and, in particular, why it came to flourish in Chicago. Focusing on his early years in Birmingham, Alabama and his time in post-World War II Chicago, the book argues that the relationship between Sun Ra and his cities offers new insight into his music and philosophy as well as the role of everyday black urban experience in the development of Afrofuturism as a cultural ideal. The book employs a historical and spatial lens to situate Ra's evolving sensibility within the material and imagined spaces of his cities. From Birmingham's black downtown and swing-band "territory" to Chicago's South Side music outposts and Washington Park religious forums, these spaces illuminate the unruly mix of African American commercial self-help, Ethiopianist religious thought, show-club theatricality and jazz-based musical experimentation that came to define the Arkestra as a performance ensemble as well as the broader cultural project pursued by Ra and his key associate, Alton Abraham. In the process, this historical account also examines Sun Ra's own early re-imaginings of the city as a vehicle for the musical exploration of utopian worlds where mythologies of Africa and outer-space futures collide. By investigating the creative interplay between the bandleader and his cities, this book uncovers a different, often-veiled postwar Chicago where the historical pathways of black futurist culture converged and flourished.