Wed November 18, 2020

Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

at Online (6pm)
William Sites in conversation with John Corbett

exploring the new book

Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

published by University of Chicago Press

Sun Ra (1914-93) was one of the most wildly prolific and unfailingly eccentric figures in the history of music. Renowned for extravagant performances in which his Arkestra appeared in neo-Egyptian garb, the keyboardist and bandleader also espoused an interstellar cosmology that claimed the planet Saturn as his true home. In Sun Ra's Chicago, William Sites brings this visionary musician back to earth--specifically to the city's South Side, where from 1946 to 1961 he lived and relaunched his career. The postwar South Side was a hotbed of unorthodox religious and cultural activism: Afrocentric philosophies flourished, storefront prophets sold "dream-book bibles," and Elijah Muhammad was building the Nation of Islam. It was also an unruly musical crossroads where the man then known as Sonny Blount drew from an array of intellectual and musical sources--from radical nationalism, revisionist Christianity, and science fiction to jazz, blues, Latin dance music, and pop exotica--to construct a philosophy and performance style that imagined a new identity and future for African Americans. Sun Ra's Chicago shows that late twentieth-century Afrofuturism emerged from a deep, utopian engagement with the city--and that by excavating the postwar black experience of Sun Ra's South Side milieu, we can come to see the possibilities of urban life in new ways.


William Sites is associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.

John Corbett is the co-owner of the Chicago art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as a founder of the Sun Ra Archives.

What has been said about Sun Ra's Chicago:

"Sun Ra's Chicago is a masterful account of the musician's formative years. Sites deftly applies a wider lens to his biography, analyzing the urban spaces and networks that shaped Sonny Blount's transformation from an itinerant musician into the otherworldly philosophical leader of the Arkestra. This book is essential reading not only for Sun Ra listeners but for readers interested in the crosscurrents of Black intellectual thought and the utopian possibilities, past and present, of America's cities." Erik S. Gellman, author of Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

"Like its subject, Sun-Ra's Chicago is a category buster--social history, musicology, urban studies, hermeneutics, cultural reclamation--and as such, a revelation. Sites tells a story of countercultural ferment in 1950s south side Chicago that is detailed and provocative. Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, and the members and friends of the Arkestra were truly a 'creative class' long before that term, as we know it, was coined." Larry Bennett, author of The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism
William Sites in conversation with John Corbett

exploring the new book

Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

published by University of Chicago Press

Sun Ra (1914-93) was one of the most wildly prolific and unfailingly eccentric figures in the history of music. Renowned for extravagant performances in which his Arkestra appeared in neo-Egyptian garb, the keyboardist and bandleader also espoused an interstellar cosmology that claimed the planet Saturn as his true home. In Sun Ra's Chicago, William Sites brings this visionary musician back to earth--specifically to the city's South Side, where from 1946 to 1961 he lived and relaunched his career. The postwar South Side was a hotbed of unorthodox religious and cultural activism: Afrocentric philosophies flourished, storefront prophets sold "dream-book bibles," and Elijah Muhammad was building the Nation of Islam. It was also an unruly musical crossroads where the man then known as Sonny Blount drew from an array of intellectual and musical sources--from radical nationalism, revisionist Christianity, and science fiction to jazz, blues, Latin dance music, and pop exotica--to construct a philosophy and performance style that imagined a new identity and future for African Americans. Sun Ra's Chicago shows that late twentieth-century Afrofuturism emerged from a deep, utopian engagement with the city--and that by excavating the postwar black experience of Sun Ra's South Side milieu, we can come to see the possibilities of urban life in new ways.


William Sites is associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.

John Corbett is the co-owner of the Chicago art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as a founder of the Sun Ra Archives.

What has been said about Sun Ra's Chicago:

"Sun Ra's Chicago is a masterful account of the musician's formative years. Sites deftly applies a wider lens to his biography, analyzing the urban spaces and networks that shaped Sonny Blount's transformation from an itinerant musician into the otherworldly philosophical leader of the Arkestra. This book is essential reading not only for Sun Ra listeners but for readers interested in the crosscurrents of Black intellectual thought and the utopian possibilities, past and present, of America's cities." Erik S. Gellman, author of Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

"Like its subject, Sun-Ra's Chicago is a category buster--social history, musicology, urban studies, hermeneutics, cultural reclamation--and as such, a revelation. Sites tells a story of countercultural ferment in 1950s south side Chicago that is detailed and provocative. Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, and the members and friends of the Arkestra were truly a 'creative class' long before that term, as we know it, was coined." Larry Bennett, author of The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism
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