Cosmic Ark

November 30, 2009

Jazz legend Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, but told audiences and critics that he came from outer space. He was an avant-garde musician who—together with his big band—fused traditional styles like ragtime and swing with electronic synthesizer sounds, and pushed the boundaries of experimental jazz. And though Ra died in 1993, his band lives on.

On Homecoming weekend in late September, his "Arkestra," a deliberate misspelling of "orchestra," shared the bill in Page Auditorium with the Mingus Big Band. The show was an exclamation point of sorts for a series of activities and events at Duke and in Durham celebrating Sun Ra's legacy.

Marshall Allen, leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra, accompanied by band mate Art Jenkins, participated in a panel discussion the afternoon of the concert with Frederick Moten, associate professor of English. The event was held at the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary & International Studies.

The Franklin Humanities Institute cosponsored an exhibition with the Durham Art Guild featuring a range of materials from Sun Ra's early years, when he began developing his particular cosmology. "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn, and Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68" was on display in downtown Durham through mid-October.