The artist known as Sun Ra would have turned 100 years old today. In death, as in life, the man born Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914 is a forceful enigma, an influence on more than a generation of musicians, thinkers, and artists. Just this year in New York, two museum exhibitions have made reference to his work and legacy: The Shadows Took Shape, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module, at the New Museum. But Le Sony’r Ra, as he was legally named, was also a major influence on music, with his contributions to the field of experimental jazz recently surveyed by National Public Radio, which also aired an hour-long show devoted to his music last Sunday.
Much of Sun Ra’s output is now easily accessible, with his best-known film, Space is the Place (1974), available in full on YouTube (embedded below), and large portions of his extensive discography have been digitized: earlier this week, the Sun Ra Music Archive announced the release of 21 remastered albums on iTunes. Recordings of some of his lectures and recitations related to his writings are included in the 700-tape Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago.