Born in 1914, Herman Poole Blount (later known as Sun Ra) grew up in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, the urban South’s fastest-growing black community, amid an extraordinarily vibrant and heterogeneous musical culture. This chapter uses an urban-spatial approach to examine his early life in the Magic City, focusing on the importance of the black downtown as a center of African American culture and an incubator of African American utopian ideals. Led by its businessmen, fraternal officers and music entrepreneurs, early twentieth-century black Birmingham developed a semi-independent commercial culture exemplified by the architectural icons, masonic lodges and formal and informal musical activities surrounding Eighteenth Street. Growing up in this urban milieu, young Herman Blount absorbed (and sometimes wrestled with) the racial-uplift aspirations of the community as well as the musical style-mixing and showmanship that would later become an Arkestra hallmark.
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