A celebration of any artist that leads with the alarmist title “The Planet is Doomed” may seem incongruous, but it’s a perfectly apocalyptic fit when the artist in question is Sun Ra. The cosmic bandleader is being feted this Thursday, July 10th at a free event. The Galleries at Moore and Ars Nova Workshop, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, present This Planet is Doomed: A Sun Ra Celebration. It’s an evening of poetry, futuristic sounds, archival films and an Afro-Futurist dance party being held at the Penn Museum.
Depending on whether you believe his biographers or his own claims, Sun Ra was either born 100 years ago as Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, or he arrived on Earth at that time from Saturn. In either case, with the Sun Ra Arkestra he eventually combined jazz with a science fiction-refracted look at social issues – it’s no accident that an African-American born in 1920s Birmingham would look to relocate his home as far away as humanly (or otherwise) possible.
After making his home in Chicago and New York, Ra finally brought his colorfully clad caravan to Philadelphia, taking up residency in the Germantown row home that remains the headquarters of the Arkestra, now led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen (who marked his own 90th arrival day this year). The Penn Museum is an apt home given Ra’s penchant for Egyptian iconography, and one of the films to be screened includes footage shot in the museum’s Egyptian gallery. The evening will feature readings of Ra’s science fiction poetry, a relatively unexplored aspect of his work, by Pew Fellow CA Conrad, writer Ras Mashramani, and biographer John Szwed, accompanied by music from Charles Cohen playing his appropriately otherworldly Buchla Music Easel. Artists Anthony Campuzano and Jack Sloss will spin music for the dance party afterwards. Go here for more information about the event.
Below, watch Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, a documentary by Robert Mugge.
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