Sun Ra

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Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914 in Birmingham Alabama and was regarded as a skilled pianist and composer by his early teenage years. Although Blount based his musical activities in Birmingham until 1945, his big band toured extensively, playing Chicago in 1934 where he registered with the local musicians union under the name Sonny Blount. Blount read extensively, researching mystical and occult practices, ancient culture, biblical history, and contemporary developments in science and space exploration. During 1942-1943 he was imprisoned for draft resistance prior to being released with a 4-F classification.

In the winter of 1946 Blount migrated to Chicago, settling near Washington Park. Although regarded as eccentric by some, Blount was a respected and studied musician and was regularly employed as a pianist, composer, and arranger in the vibrant south side music scene. During the early 1950s he began rehearsing his own groups, ultimately leading to the 1955 creation of the Arkestra, the large ensemble he directed until his death in 1993. In October 1952 Blount legally changed his name to "Le Sony’r Ra" at the Circuit Court of Cook County, with "Sun Ra" serving thereafter as an abbreviated version of his new name.

Alton Abraham was born in Chicago on May 5, 1927. He served in the U.S Military in Okinawa from 1945-1947, and upon returning to Chicago in 1947 graduated from Du Sable High School, followed by Wilson Junior College in 1950. In 1952 he was certified as an x-ray technician at Provident Hospital. Blount and Abraham became acquainted in 1951, sharing interests in mysticism, the occult, science, numerology, and ancient history.

Along with Abraham’s brother Artis, the men founded El Saturn Research in 1957, which would record and distribute albums by the Arkestra as well as the vocal and R&B groups rehearsed by Sun Ra during the late 1950s.

Additionally, Ra and Abraham organized Thmei Research, an organization dedicated to "subjects cosmic, spiritual, philosophical, religious, historical, scientific, economical, etc." Thmei also provided financing for El Saturn’s earliest releases and issued a newsletter and book catalog. The earliest El Saturn recordings are singles dating from 1955 and 1956, including the Cosmic Rays "Dreaming" b/w "Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie." Some of the Arkestra’s earliest studio recordings were released as Jazz By Sun Ra (1956) on Transition Records, and Super Sonic Jazz (1957) on Saturn Records.

In 1961 Sun Ra left Chicago for Montreal with members of the Arkestra including Marshall Allen and John Gilmore. Lacking sustained employment in Montreal, the group relocated to New York City where further difficulty finding work encouraged communal living arrangements. While Sun Ra would never again reside in Chicago, Abraham continued to manage some of the Arkestra’s business engagements and the Saturn Record label in Chicago. By the late 1960s Sun Ra began giving performances on college campuses and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. During these years, recordings on ESP Records such as The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Vols. 1 and 2 (1965, 1966), added to the growing catalog of Sun Ra recordings available through Saturn Records such as The Magic City (1966) and Atlantis (1969). In 1967 Abraham, along with Sun Ra, James Bryant, and Almeter Hayden, incorporated Ihnfinity, Inc. in the State of Illinois with the intention of it serving as an umbrella organization for Sun Ra’s activities. The following year Sun Ra and members of the Arkestra would move into a large home in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, commuting regularly to New York City for performances. In 1972 Ra and Abraham published two volumes of Sun Ra’s poetry, The Immeasurable Equation, and Extensions Out: The Immeasurable Equation Vol. 2, some of which had previously appeared on the back cover of Saturn Records.

Opportunities for international performance expanded significantly during the 1970’s and Arkestra recordings became more widely available following a 1972 agreement with Impulse Records, who reissued The Magic City and Atlantis in 1973. While Sun Ra would continue sending recordings to Abraham in Chicago through the late 1970s, such as The Soul Vibrations of Man (1977) and Taking a Chance on Chances (1977), he also began independently pressing Saturn records in Philadelphia, relying on the assistance of Arkestra members. Similarly, as performance opportunities expanded throughout the 1970s Arkestra trumpeter Danny Thompson increasingly took on the responsibilities of de facto business and tour manager.

Following Sun Ra’s death in Birmingham 1993, Abraham became involved with the reissue and rerelease of out-of-print Sun Ra recordings. In addition to his activities with Sun Ra, Abraham was employed as an x-ray technician, and independently pursued his interests in spirituality, history, science, and technology. Alton Abraham died June 6, 1999 in Chicago.

From the guide to the Abraham, Alton. Collection of Sun Ra, 1822-2008, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Moon in the seventh high. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Outer spaceways incorporated [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Song if the sparer. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. The Izard of was. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Somewhere. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Moon in the seventh high [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Spontaneous simplicity [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Song if the sparer [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. The Izard of was [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Abraham, Alton. Collection of Sun Ra, 1822-2008 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Saturn. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Outer spaceways incorporated. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf Sun Ra, 1914-1993. Spontaneous simplicity. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
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associatedWith Abraham, Alton person
associatedWith El Saturn Records corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Chicago Jazz Archive corporateBody
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Birth 1914-05

Death 1993-05-30

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