Sun Ra, whose human name was Herman Poole Blount, was a trailblazing afro-futurist who explored the entire history of jazz throughout his many compositions. One single caveat: It was a history of jazz from another planet (in the future).
He was born 99 years and 364 days ago in Birmingham, Ala. Thursday marks 100 years from the late Sun Ra’s birth, a centennial worth reflection for a man still influential and controversial in music and art. Not only did he challenge the codified identity boundaries of blacks in the pre- and post-Jim Crow era -- Sun Ra challenged the idea of identity itself.
Controversial because he wasn't only breaking societal rules as early as the 1930s, he also adopted computing technology, like synthesizers for his music. He was intensely spiritual and adamantly eclectic, known for a complex and contradictory personal narrative of visitations and cosmic connectedness.
He played here in Miami on several occasions, one of which was at the Cameo Theater on South Beach in 1989. Backstage after that show, Ra told Kevin Arrow — a local artist and 2014 Knight Arts Challenge finalist — that Arrow must "play his music for as many people possible, and to spread the word about the music of the spheres and alter-destiny."
Arrow, a longtime collector and connoisseur of images and cultural stuff generally, will be hosting a multimedia event at Gramps in Wynwood to honor the music, poetry, and cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra.
Sun Ra's hybrid aesthetic reflects a marshy, deep Southern sensibility, enmeshed in a variety of politics of the 20th Century and prophesizing those of the 21st. To mark the occasion of his terrestrial birth, Arrow will be showing stills, spinning records, and screening several films, including "Space is the Place," a 1972 science-fiction film starring Sun Ra, and "A Joyful Noise," a 1980 jazz film documenting performances by Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
Sun Ra 100th Birthday Celebration
7 p.m. Thursday, May 22
176 NW 24th St., Miami