In the mid-1950s Sun Ra and his colleague Alton Abraham sought to invent a musical and cultural enterprise that could lead the world toward a different future. This chapter examines the range of activities that gave rise to the Arkestra, Ra’s pioneering musical ensemble, and to El Saturn Research, their broader cultural project. Focusing on Abraham’s own particular New South origins as well as his extensive South Side ties, the chapter explores how this community-based utopian project was anchored both in the city as it was and the city as it might be. In compositions and song titles, Sun Ra seized upon a range of urban sights and sounds—especially the train—as everyday means of speculative transport, offering city dwellers new access to other ways of being without leaving this one behind. A community-centered reconstruction of the early years of Ra and Abraham’s efforts reveals, in turn, a different post–World War II Chicago: a city of magical conveyances; a city in outer space; a utopian city of never-ending employment, entertainment, and enlightenment.
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