Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City 9780226732244

Sun Ra (1914–93) was one of the most wildly prolific and unfailingly eccentric figures in the history of music. Renowned

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Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

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sun ra’s chicago

historical studies o f u r b a n a m e r i c a Edited by Lilia Fernández, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Becky M. Nicolaides, and Amanda I. Seligman James R. Grossman, Editor Emeritus

recent titl es in th e s e r i e s Steven T. Moga, Urban Lowlands: Environment and Poverty in Urban History Andrew S. Baer, Beyond the Usual Beating: The Jon Burge Police Torture Scandal and Social Movements for Police Accountability in Chicago Ann Durkin Keating, The World of Juliette Kinzie: Chicago before the Fire Jeffrey S. Adler, Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing David A. Gamson, The Importance of Being Urban: Designing the Progressive School District, 1890–1940 Kara Schlichting, New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore Mark Wild, Renewal: Liberal Protestants and the American City after World War II Meredith Oda, The Gateway to the Pacific: Japanese Americans and the Remaking of San Francisco Sean Dinces, Bulls Markets: Chicago’s Basketball Business and the New Inequality Julia Guarneri, Newsprint Metropolis: City Papers and the Making of Modern Americans Kyle B. Roberts, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783–1860 Timothy Neary, Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914–1954 Julia Rabig, The Fixers: Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960–1990 Amanda I. Seligman, Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City Aaron Shkuda, The Lofts of SoHo: Gentrification, Art, and Industry in New York, 1950–1980 Mark Krasovic, The Newark Frontier: Community Action in the Great Society Ansley T. Erickson, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, eds., Confederate Cities: The Urban South during the Civil War Era Evan Friss, The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s Ocean Howell, Making the Mission: Planning and Ethnicity in San Francisco Benjamin Looker, A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America Nancy H. Kwak, A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid Andrew R. Highsmith, Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis Lila Corwin Berman, Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit A complete list of series titles is available on the University of Chicago Press website.

sun ra’s

Chicago Afrofuturism & the City

w il l ia m si t e s

The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2020 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2020 Printed in the United States of America 29















ISBN-13: 978-0-226-73207-7 (cloth) ISBN-13: 978-0-226-73210-7 (paper) ISBN-13: 978-0-226-73224-4 (e-book) DOI: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sites, William, author. Title: Sun Ra’s Chicago : Afrofuturism and the city / William Sites. Other titles: Historical studies of urban America. Description: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2020. | Series: Historical studies of urban America | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020007541 | ISBN 9780226732077 (cloth) | ISBN 9780226732107 (paperback) | ISBN 9780226732244 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Sun Ra. | African American musicians—Biography. | Afrofuturism. | Jazz—Illinois—Chicago—History and criticism. | South Side (Chicago, Ill.)—History—20th century. Classification: LCC ML410.S978 S58 2020 | DDC 781.65092—dc23 LC record available at This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).


Author’s Note


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways


part i: birmin g h a m 11

1—Downtown Sounds


2—Industrial School to Territory Band 3—Leadership Dreams



part ii: chica g o 51

4—South Side Music Scene


5—“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead” 6—Utopian Chicago 7—African Space


8—Wonder Inn, 1960 Lineages/Legacies

Acknowledgments Notes









Author’s Note

Sun Ra and his colleagues in 1950s Chicago employed a great many terms to describe people who trace their ancestry to Africa: black, Black, BLACK, Black-Brown; Negroes, negroes, “Negroes,” so-called Negroes; Ethiopians, Ethiops, THE ETHIOPIAN RACES; and more. This proliferation of terms was intended to challenge conventional dismissals of the world’s “mosthated” people—a collective who, if it could “wake up” to its true nobility, might free itself and even the world. Playing with group names, and with capitalization and other typographic markers, became for Sun Ra an important way of multiplying the imagined capacities of his people. Contemporary editorial preferences increasingly support capitalizing Black when referring to a person’s race or ethnicity. I welcome the discussions that have led to this shift and, were the book not already in press, would have adopted that practice. Beyond uppercasing or lowercasing the term, however, what remains significant is recognizing that racial and ethnic categories are social constructions with real meaning, and that exploring the collective history and identity of people of African descent is an ongoing project of enormous consequence. In the chapters that follow I have tried to respect Sun Ra’s own complex approach to language, including capitalization, which sought to subvert the racial terms of his era in order to give greater scope to creative conceptions of Black identity.

Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

Over the second half of the 1950s an African American musician formerly known as Sonny Blount made a local name for himself on Chicago’s South Side as the leader of a jazz ensemble called the Arkestra. Appearing in clubs such as Budland, Queen’s Mansion, and the Wonder Inn, the bandleader and his group, decked out in exotic hats and homemade space costumes, performed a mix of jazz standards and experimental music with Africansounding percussion and ensemble chants about traveling to other planets. Although few cultural commentators took notice at the time, the emergence of Sun Ra and the Arkestra in late-1950s Chicago is seen today as a foundational moment for Afrofuturism—an influential mode of utopian expression that draws on mythical African pasts in order to envision new blackcentered worlds of the future. How did Sun Ra’s own music and cosmology emerge? And why did they flourish in Chicago? This book addresses these questions. Sun Ra sold relatively few records over the course of his career. Casual observers often dismissed him as a cult curiosity. A contradictory figure, he was both patient and stubborn, possessing a lively sense of humor yet firmly convinced of his own otherworldly powers. He could be possessive and dictatorial with his musicians. But he was also capable of great loyalty and generous, if idiosyncratic, support. A soft-spoken conversationalist, he challenged conventional wisdom even on seemingly settled issues: gravity, the crucifixion, the need for sleep, the certainty of death. He was an explorer of alternate realities in an era of substance experimentation, yet he counseled strongly against the use of drugs—along with alcohol, tobacco, sex, meat, and certain colors of the spectrum. An inveterate contrarian, he was never shy about contradicting anyone, including other contrarians. One of his favorite song titles was “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” but he was also fond of noting, “It ain’t necessarily so that it ain’t necessarily so.” His music exudes a similarly eccentric sensibility. Its uncommon mix


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

of qualities—experimental and accessible, earnest and jokey, sometimes fiercely challenging yet strangely entertaining—makes his Chicago musical output especially hard to pigeonhole. It was in Chicago that the Arkestra’s on-stage performance style first combined black folk traditions, music hall theatricality, midcentury jazz conventions, and avant-garde gestures and sounds into a kind of space-age musical travelogue. Like his persona, this music seemed to ride on paradox, fusing disparate elements into an unstable amalgam that sometimes passed for conventional but could simultaneously surprise, elate, puzzle, and amuse. Sun Ra’s marginal status in the jazz world persisted throughout this period, and not simply because established gatekeepers struggled to understand his music, when they paid it any attention at all. “I’d like to hear them in a blowing date without the need to nod at Hegel,” sniffed one New York– based reviewer of a pioneering Arkestra album—an early sign that Ra’s cosmological pronouncements would make the jazz establishment fear it was being taken, musically speaking, for a ride. Among fellow musicians, there was talk about whether he was crazy; drummer Jack DeJohnette, who recalls learning a lot from Ra while sitting in with him as a teenager in Chicago, decided he was probably “half and half.” South Side musicians were often intrigued by the bandleader’s outer-space interests, and even his more skeptical colleagues could take pleasure in them. Saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, who played with Sun Ra in the pre-Arkestra days, later recalled a brief reunion at which the bandleader explained why Ellis hadn’t been invited along on the group’s interplanetary expeditions: “You lost your ticket.”1 Sun Ra’s life and vision have become much better known in recent decades. Acknowledged in jazz historiography as a major contributor to the big-band tradition as well as to the post-1950s avant-garde, he is perhaps best recognized today as a cultural figure who professed the planet Saturn as his true home. Such claims, once read as signs of mental pathology—his application for conscientious objector status during World War II led to a diagnosis of “psychopathic personality”—are now more likely to inspire appreciation of his rich capacity for self-reinvention and utopian mythmaking. A recent spate of writings, art exhibits, and musical celebrations all attest to his revised reputation as a cultural innovator and Afrofuturist progenitor.2 Growing recognition of Sun Ra’s eccentric genius may, however, encourage commentators to project understandings derived from late-career interviews and performances onto the young musician and writer. And his self-presentation as a traveler from a different world can overshadow his creative and often deeply critical engagement with this one. Perceptive

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book-length studies by John Szwed, Paul Youngquist, and other writers provide a great deal of insight into Sun Ra’s ideas and musical practices.3 Yet the influence of cities on his creative imagination remains underexplored, as do the implications of twentieth-century African American urban life for utopian expression more broadly. A renewed focus on the bandleader’s early life and career—first in Birmingham, Alabama (1914–1946), and then in Chicago (1946–1961)—provides fresh insights not only into his music and philosophy but also into the relation between everyday urban experience and the development of Afrofuturism as a cultural ideal.4 This book reconstructs Sun Ra’s passages through his earliest cities— his urban routes—in order to illuminate often-obscured corners of city life as spaces of black intellectual revisionism and countercultural inspiration. Focusing on downtown Birmingham streets, South Side music clubs, Washington Park lyceums, and other settings, Sun Ra’s Chicago explores how urban sites of cultural and religious expression offered sonic resources and mythologies of nationhood that inspired his creative reinvention of African American musical traditions and freedom dreams. This exploration opens up, in turn, a more expansive view of twentieth-century black urban life than is encountered in conventional histories. Taking the utopian imagination seriously, an urban historical account centered on Sun Ra is also forced to engage directly with the notion of the city—and of the city within the city—as an African American ideal. Sun Ra’s Chicago looks most extensively at black utopianism of the early post–World War II era. Recent studies of the New Negro Renaissance (no longer circumscribed to Harlem) examine early twentieth-century urban culture, including music, as newly assertive forms of black consciousness rooted in the diasporic imagination. However, African American utopian culture in US cities of the 1940s and 1950s has yet to attract sustained attention, despite extensive work on the Black Chicago Renaissance, as well as Adam Green’s pioneering study of postwar Chicago culture, Selling the Race. Part of the problem may be that scholarship on mid-twentieth-century US history is constrained by notions of “civil rights liberalism”—narratives that see in the period a rising trajectory toward the political and legal achievements of the 1960s.5 Yet the early postwar era in Chicago was also a moment in which African American political and cultural identities were in flux, giving rise to utopian ideals that often departed from liberal civil rights thinking about racial progress and integration. Green’s study demonstrates with great insight how the development of a new cultural infrastructure made Chicago’s South Side of the 1940s and early 1950s a pivotal site in the search for black nationhood.


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

His account focuses, however, mostly on such figures as Claude Barnett, the founder of the American Negro Press, and John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet—cultural leaders operating in established institutional settings, rather than activists in community spaces where ideas and practices running counter to the new liberal orthodoxies emerged and often flourished. Here, in parks, storefront churches, music clubs, and neighborhood bookstores, dissident visions of black national and religious identity took shape in early 1950s black Chicago. Sun Ra’s Chicago locates Sun Ra in the middle of this urban milieu. The following chapters reconstruct the making of a “critical utopian” sensibility— one that not only rejects the world as it is but envisions a transformed future.6 Placing a seemingly marginal figure at the center of this account may seem almost as eccentric as the historicizing practices sometimes employed by the bandleader himself. Understanding his critical utopianism and the circumstances that gave rise to it, however, generates insight into urban settings of the 1940s and 1950s that became important for the development of Afrofuturist currents in subsequent decades.7 African American utopianism has a long and multilayered history, of course, and its intended pathways have not always been urban ones. Booker T. Washington’s influential vision of racial self-help, for instance, promised an independent black future in the rural South. Yet black businessmen in southern cities became his ideal’s most receptive audience; many of them, catering to nascent African American markets in urban areas, were already building enterprises with substantial economic potential by the dawn of the twentieth century. It was there, in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, where Jim Crow first fostered the intracommunal sense of autonomy that held great promise—as W. E. B. Du Bois argued at the time—for the future aspirations of the race.8 Over the coming decades, as racial segregation intensified in US cities, the notion that a black zone of settlement might operate as a vibrant, independent, and even emancipative realm acquired growing appeal in the urban North. In 1925 James Weldon Johnson famously employed the phrase “city within a city” to describe Harlem not merely as a segregated community but as a “self-supporting” urban world and metropole for “all Negro peoples.” Two decades later, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s sociological study Black Metropolis, while nonutopian in spirit, nevertheless recognized the vitality, autonomy, and appeal of Bronzeville, Chicago’s city within the city—possessing its own commercial center—that several generations of black residents had built for themselves: “It is something,” the authors declared emphatically, “‘of our own.’” Over the first half of the twentieth

Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways


century, therefore, even as a broader civil rights movement focused increasingly on the fight against segregation, certain African American urban ideals remained entangled with the desire for an autonomous city.9 Post–World War II America saw the gradual disintegration of this dream as a practical project. An explosion in exclusionary suburban development worsened urban conditions for many African Americans, and the utopian possibilities embodied in black urbanism seemed to fade. Civil rights activists assailed the destructive impacts of 1950s slum-clearance schemes, and the African American city of the writerly imagination was becoming increasingly dystopic, a space of invisibility, marginality, and betrayal. Yet certain circles in Chicago’s South Side still nurtured utopian sensibilities— not a re-embrace of city-within-the-city notions, exactly, but the carving out of new counterspaces for the pursuit of black self-determination through cultural, spiritual, and musical innovation.10 These projects reimagined African American identity and community autonomy on the basis of reconstructed traditions and new mythologies. Reinvention efforts ranged across a broad spectrum, from religious faiths such as the Black Israelites and the Nation of Islam to musical outposts experienced by young musicians as revelatory sites of possibility. And then there was Sun Ra—a migrant from the South who, as Sonny Blount, arrived in Chicago just after the end of World War II. Once settled in the city, he engaged in activities across this continuum, working in tandem with friend and business partner Alton Abraham and other collaborators to bring together the musical and theological imagination through unorthodox kinds of writing—the Thmei broadsheets—as well as through creative music making, most prominently with a group he called the Arkestra. In doing so, he not only relied on his own unique intellectual gifts but also, I will suggest, absorbed much from his colleagues, his community, and his broader urban surroundings. Scholars, discographers, and other writers have done much to advance an understanding of Sun Ra’s life and music making during his Chicago years. Yet exploring his relation to the city also suggests broader insights into black ideals of the postwar period. The fields of history and urban studies increasingly recognize the role of the urban imagination in shaping human experience—what Andreas Huyssen has called “the way city dwellers imagine their city as the place of everyday life.”11 However, efforts by urban residents to reimagine their city, as something radically different, too often escape the historian’s retrospective gaze. The utopian imagination is particularly elusive when it is not materialized in literary works, manifestos, urban planning documents, and other artifacts of “blueprint utopianism”


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

but instead expressed through seemingly mundane practices such as walking the streets, congregating in parks, or rehearsing for gigs—cultural activities that do not leave easily recovered traces. Nonetheless, a surprising array of archival materials sheds light on the activities of Sun Ra and his associates in Chicago. Combined with other sources, these materials help to position Sun Ra’s particular “everyday utopianism”—modern urban life routinely perceived through not only what is but what might be—within the countercultural urban imagination of the early postwar South Side. By way of this process, historians can better understand how overlooked urban settings gave rise by the end of the 1950s to ambitious forms of cultural production, such as envisioning an alternative future in which ancient Africa and outer space might intermingle.12 Studies of the urban imagination can hardly ignore the material circumstances in which creative thought takes place. This book situates Sun Ra’s Chicago within the spatial conditions shaping African American urban experience, borrowing from human geography a multidimensional view of city spaces. For geographers, the spaces of the city are material and symbolic, constituted by social structures, daily interactions, perceptions, and ideas—while also influencing how urban actors understand themselves. What scholars call urban imaginaries, therefore, are not mere figments but part of a city’s reality. Geographers investigate the metropolis with a differentiated set of concepts—space, place, territory, mobility, scale. Inspired in part by these concepts, this study attempts to understand how a very particular set of cultural activists experienced twentieth-century urban spatial conditions, as well as how they reimagined them. Material circumstances play a profound role in shaping the urban cultural practices of a given moment in time, and my account pays heed to the South Side’s dramatic economic and spatial transformation during the decade and a half Sun Ra spent there. By the same token, imaginative geographies—symbolic representations that remake places according to the desires of their creators—can open up, as Huyssen suggests, “an unknown world beyond the familiar, beyond scarcity, and full of possibilities.” It is this uncharted world of the imagination, enfolded within everyday experience in postwar Chicago, that much of this book explores.13 Beyond a spatial lens, the investigation of Sun Ra’s Chicago entails recognizing a resurgent history of religious and cultural expression intertwined with twentieth-century black utopianism. Ra and Abraham’s strange early1950s texts, full of biblical commentary and racial polemic, emerged most directly from heterodox religious debates centered in the South Side’s

Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways


Washington Park. These broadsheets also conversed, though, with multicentury traditions of Ethiopianist thought, with New Thought philosophies, and with powerful nationalist legacies embodied in figures such as Marcus Garvey. Inspired by recent research in African American and religious studies, my account situates the broadsheets within a rich history and postwar renewal of theologically inspired critique of white supremacy. Revisionist religious narratives, creative geographies, willful reinterpretations of American popular songs—these various reimaginings all set the stage for Ra and Abraham’s millenarian calls to “wake up” the black community to its hidden role as collective savior. Written in a postwar American decade often defined as secular and quiescent, the Thmei broadsheets, with their religious iconoclasm and racial stridency, attest to the intensely searching and confrontational spirit of an unfamiliar yet vital urban milieu.14 Sun Ra’s Chicago also grapples with how musical expression might interact with the city and with other possible worlds. In recent decades a rich vein of historical scholarship focusing on musicians—as artists, commercial producers, community builders, and activists—has developed new insights into cultural conflict, aesthetic experimentation, and communal selfassertion in postwar American cities.15 During his time in Chicago, Sun Ra was a pianist, composer, and bandleader; a significant arranger of music for other ensembles; and a session instrumentalist for local rhythm and blues labels. His own compositions ran the gamut from simple ballads and hardbop jazz to abstract instrumentals, local booster songs, percussion-driven improvisation, and ensemble space chants. He organized and coached a variety of pop and doo-wop–style vocal groups, accompanied strip-club dancers, and even played and recorded with a street performer who called himself Yochanan, the Space Age Vocalist. Making sense of this varied musical work requires paying attention to the urban conditions that shaped it—and what this music might say, in turn, about life and livelihood in postwar Chicago. Ethnomusicologists have developed various approaches to understanding the formation of music traditions, scenes, and communities as well as how musicians use expressive tools to communicate about music and the world. From song titles and elements such as form, harmony, and rhythm to instrumental combination and performance repertoire, the choices made by musicians invariably become laden with meanings about history, society, and community. In certain cases, as with Sun Ra, these choices may comprise elaborate commentaries about music and its worlds, both real and imagined. Yet music making is also a historically embedded process; its meanings are influenced


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

by race, class, gender, and other social distinctions as they are experienced within particular settings. Even a utopian music, therefore, can illuminate the social and urban conditions from which it emerges.16 Urban history only recently has begun to draw on these insights, and Sun Ra in Chicago offers an especially promising case through which to further develop them.17 Ra’s music of the early postwar period drew on an enormous array of styles, from early jazz, swing, bebop, and rhythm and blues to Tin Pan Alley songs, Africanist percussion, Latin dance rhythms, Hollywood soundtracks, and pop exotica. Guided by utopian ideas from various critical mythologies, the composer and bandleader mixed these styles into an increasingly outer-space-oriented music of the future. Situating these musical practices within overlapping social spaces provides an opportunity to understand the music’s relation to different South Side scenes as well as Sun Ra’s own effort to reimagine the city itself as a springboard to another world. In the process, my study aims to explore a type of musical utopianism as it evolved in concert with the early postwar city. This task requires beginning the story not in Chicago, however, but in the urban South. Early twentieth-century Birmingham, home to Sonny Blount for his first thirty-two years, was also a key site in the evolution of African American urban ideals, as the first part of this book explores. Settings that proved formative to his development, such as the black commercial downtown and its regional music market, provide insight into how Birmingham’s religious and commercial values—its strange alchemy of modernity and mythology, white supremacy and black autonomy—helped create the cultural sensibility Blount carried north with him. His departure from the Magic City in 1946, as part of the renewed mass exodus called the Second Great Migration, underscores in turn the urban origins of many migrants of the period, complicating conventional understandings of what African Americans brought with them and contributed to community culture in postwar Chicago.18 Blount’s early activities in the varied commercial music scene of postwar black Chicago introduced him, in turn, to new spaces of cultural possibility. Its nightlife districts, in their different ways, enabled key musical characteristics of the South Side scene, while also relying on and reinforcing particular cultural values—local communal ties, the appeal of racial autonomy, the opportunity for black cultural leadership even in zones of interracial encounter—that musicians themselves might embody. This early postwar moment of South Side commercial possibility soon evaporated, but its cultural ideals lingered on. By the early 1950s, when Sonny Blount and Alton Abraham formed a study circle called Thmei Research, their collective was

Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways


one of a number of Washington Park–based groups articulating new religious and racial connections to Africa or the Orient in order to make sense of a people and a world in crisis. Fashioning their own philosophical blend of Ethiopianism and theosophy, the Thmei broadsheet writings repositioned African Americans as transhistorical moral protagonists, responsible for catastrophic evil but ripe for collective redemption. At a historical moment when racial distinctions were shifting throughout postwar Chicago, Sun Ra and the other broadsheet authors were playing with new ethnic identities created by heterodox religionists—not so much to authenticate one particular black identity as to alert members of the community to their hidden, transformative potential.19 The initial chapters of this book, then, trace the early development of Sun Ra’s utopian sensibility by exploring his urban experience in a variety of cultural settings: the overlapping spiritual and commercial aspirations of black Birmingham; the mix of traditional and experimental styles in Chicago’s South Side music scene; and the complex collage of ethnic identities proposed by Washington Park religious and cultural activists. Alton Abraham’s own, somewhat parallel urban route looms larger in subsequent chapters. Raised in a New South city, Abraham also moved to Chicago in the 1940s, and his aspirations, like Sun Ra’s, came to focus on creating a racial and spiritual transformation through cultural research and musical expression. Together, the two men formed El Saturn, a registered business corporation that supported various projects, from producing records and designing objects to finding local gigs for Ra and the Arkestra. El Saturn’s hybrid nature—equal parts music collective, small business, community organization, and cultural laboratory—gave the company a barely sustainable pathway to survival, enabling Ra to attract a corps of local musicians and Abraham to find opportunities within the surviving networks of the South Side’s increasingly overstretched economy. An important theme within El Saturn’s cultural project involved cities as vehicles for the musical exploration of idealized worlds. In mid-1950s travelogue songs, Sun Ra began to experiment with how urban spatial mobility, imagined through musical expression, might transport listeners beyond the segregated confines of the known city. Several years later, Ra’s spatial imagination was pressing beyond the utopian city to musically explore distant lands and times. Themes evoking ancient Africa came to the fore, as his compositions incorporated elements of Latin dance music and pop exotica into various jazz styles to create what might be called musical experiments in Ethiopianist travel. The Arkestra’s final years in Chicago redirected these hybrid styles to define anew the musical experience of outer space.


Urban Routes, Utopian Pathways

Inspired by centuries-long traditions of black theology as well as a rising pan-Africanist turn in late-1950s South Side nightlife culture, Sun Ra’s music now projected a utopian future in space that took many different forms, from experimental sounds to reassuringly inclusive musical landmarks— the better to access new worlds and to recognize from a distance the cruel absurdity of everyday life in the postwar city. Histories of twentieth-century Chicago rarely discover a utopian metropolis. The image of “broad shoulders” has long given the impression of an industrial city too brash, or a postindustrial city too defeated, to dream. Chicago’s musical identity as the postwar crucible of urban blues—a style associated with raw pain and earthly pleasures—also implies a rough-andtumble city with little patience for imagining how life could be otherwise.20 Yet Sun Ra’s encounter with Chicago somehow created the opportunity to imagine worlds beyond it—and to share those worlds with other South Siders. Within the confines of the segregated city, places and pathways emerged where certain African Americans could understand themselves on terms very different from those imposed by the reigning conventions of urban existence. Drawing on enlarged conceptions of social space and intellectual history, Sun Ra’s Chicago explores everyday sites within South Side community culture where black consciousness expanded well beyond the postwar moment. In these urban spaces, where multiple temporalities—from the ancient past to the distant future—existed simultaneously, and where new collective identities could become present, there might mingle with here.

par t i


Time, like much else in Sonny Blount’s Birmingham, was marked as white. In April 1917, African American newspaper publisher Oscar Adams predicted, in a public speech suffused with patriotic fervor, that with the coming end of the war his country would be ready to move beyond “race hatred, race prejudice, political supremacy, and political extravagance” to the “full triumph of the brotherhood of man.” An editorial response by the Birmingham News quickly snuffed out any promise of imminent brotherhood. Drawing on the race science of the period, the white-owned paper asserted bluntly, “There are superior and inferior races. In the processes of the suns some tribes got a million or so years the start of other tribes. No race of people, not the African people nor any other, can create an artificial stimulus that will overleap the barriers of time.”1 African Americans, in this view, were permanently trapped in an earlier stage of human development—forever stuck in time. Blount, a young child in Birmingham when this exchange took place, would teach himself to avoid questions about time. He later refused, for example, to acknowledge his date of birth, and interviewers seeking to pin down the chronology of his life were met with evasive wordplay and paradox: “I don’t know the years. I wasn’t in a time zone.” Time, in any conventional sense, was a trap. Birth, he claimed, was in fact the beginning of death, a “berth” was a place for sleeping, and to “be-earthed” was to be buried. “A true birthday,” he would conclude, “is the day of your death.”2 For Sonny Blount, time was a prison, especially for black Americans. But space, he discovered early on, might provide the key. Urban spaces promised to open up the present moment, whether in interwar Birmingham or postwar Chicago, into multiple times, from the ancient past to the distant yet somehow imminent future. If the “annihilation of space by time,” as Marx put it, has defined modern life—then perhaps space reimagined could expand temporality, even reverse or multiply it.3


Part I

The first half of the twentieth century, for all its brutal, relentless forward motion, offered strange new opportunities for using space to multiply time. And for African Americans in this period, the search for a hidden exit from the prison of race and history could take on a life of its own. In Blount’s Birmingham, it was making music that often furnished new spaces for time.


Downtown Sounds

Still another night and The Street is tuneless except for the rattle of the electric piano in the entrance of the Dreamland Theater. —Nathan Ben Young, “Eighteenth Street (Birmingham)”1

Sonny Blount grew up in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, the urban South’s fastest-growing black community, amid an extraordinarily vibrant and heterogeneous musical culture. His birth date, says biographer John Szwed, was May 22, 1914. His mother named him Herman Poole Blount, but it was mostly his maternal grandmother, Margaret Jones, and his great-aunt, Ida Howard, who raised him. His grandmother’s “rickety, raggedy” two-story house at 2508 Fourth Avenue North was one block from the newly built Terminal Station—the architectural wonder of the downtown. Ida and her husband, Jim, a brakeman on the railroad, lived across the street. Herman’s father, Cary Blount, did not remain in Birmingham, and memories of his mother, also named Ida, would be few. But Aunt Ida worked at a restaurant in the terminal, and he often walked over to take his own meals there in the kitchen. Watching trains pull into and out of the exotic, Byzantine-domed station, accompanied by the engineer’s whistle and the fireman’s bell, was a favorite pastime for Herman and for many Birmingham residents. By the end of World War I, the terminal’s Colored Waiting Room often teemed with noisy crowds of black laborers. Dressed in “store-bought suits and yellow-tan brogans,” or in new overalls and caps with red bandanas tied around their necks, these travelers were heading for a new life up north. For young Herman Blount, the train, a vehicle to another world, offered a daily spectacle as well as an everyday part of the urban soundscape.2 Margaret Jones’s house sat on a mixed commercial and residential block, surrounded by railway hotels and immigrant-run businesses. At one time


Chapter One

several of the businesses catering to rail travelers were black-owned— shoeblacks and soda-stand operators—but by Blount’s childhood most of these enterprises were being displaced, pushed farther west. Across the street from his grandmother’s house was the Home Baking Company, a large wholesale bakery owned by a Greek American who changed his name to Tom Stevens. On the corner was an Italian grocery, Digesu Brothers, whose proprietors lived upstairs. Farther down Fourth Avenue were Jewishowned clothing shops, along with jewelry stores and the Bohemian kosher bakery.3 Around the corner from Jones’s house was an enormous illuminated sign—“Birmingham, The Magic City”—set up by city authorities to welcome visitors as they exited the magnificent train station. From Blount’s perspective, though, and that of most downtown residents, the sign read backward (figure 1.1). Many years later, Sun Ra and the Arkestra performed an extended piece of music he called “The Magic City,” an apparently free-form exercise in collective improvisation. In actuality, the piece was

1.1 Reversed Magic: welcome sign and Terminal Station, Birmingham, Alabama. Oscar V. Hunt Collection, AR1075, OVH085, Birmingham Public Library Archives and Manuscripts.

Downtown Sounds


elaborately composed; its title, in the words of collaborator Alton Abraham, invoked “a city without evil, a city of possibilities and beauty.” It was one of the many ways in which a reimagined Birmingham—an inverted city, a righteous City on the Hill—impressed itself upon the composer who grew up there.4 Like a number of other southern cities, Birmingham in the earliest decades of the twentieth century was a center not only for ragtime, jazz, spirituals, and the blues but for work songs, jug bands, church music, yodeling, vaudeville popular song, and society dance bands. Along the railroad tracks south of downtown, the most successful tent revival shows drew energetic crowds partly on the strength of their music, generating compelling rhythmic patterns with handclaps, voices, a bass, and a drum. Farther out, in the industrial district’s mill communities and mining camps, dozens of gospel quartets thrived, mentored by a guildlike system of traveling musical trainers and featured regularly in open-air “community sings” held at the local black high school. Many of these quartets became nationally famous in the 1920s, and vocal groups such as Silas Steele’s Famous Blue Jays of Birmingham were relocating, as Sonny Blount would later on, to Chicago. Distinctive elements of these disparate types of music would find their way into Sun Ra’s compositional and arranging styles. Yet it was likely their sheer diversity and routine intermingling—from black yodeler Charles Anderson performing the blues as a costumed Mammy to a revivalist named Reverend Becton sermonizing with a ten-piece band—that influenced the young musician most strongly. The style-mixing and showmanship that would become an Arkestra hallmark originated in part in the musical culture of Birmingham.5 Blount grew up in the racially mixed, multiuse blocks on the eastern edge of the central business district, and by all accounts, spent much of his time, from his early years onward, walking these downtown streets. On his regular walk to school, his route, west along Fourth Avenue North, took him past many of the city’s white-run civic institutions: the Birmingham News building, the county courthouse, the jail, and the city hall. Then, in a several block area beginning with Eighteenth Street, was the black downtown (figure 1.2). This commercial center, a block north of the city’s white business district, drew African American customers—by streetcar or by foot—from neighborhoods, mining camps, company towns, and satellite industrial settlements throughout Jefferson County.6 An urban-spatial understanding of Blount’s early years complicates, in a useful way, conventional understandings of his city. Histories of black urban experience in the United States often emphasize how spatial isolation has


Chapter One

1.2 Black Downtown: Fourth Avenue North at Eighteenth Street, looking west, Birmingham, Alabama. Oscar V. Hunt Collection, AR1075, OVH1136, Birmingham Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts.

restricted the lives of African Americans. Early twentieth-century Birmingham, with its thick volume of ordinances mandating the “separation of races” in restaurants, parks, theaters, and even cemeteries, was no stranger to segregation. Yet in most of the Jim Crow South, political disenfranchisement and proliferating legal restrictions on its large black populations—

Downtown Sounds


combined with the ever-present terror of lynchings—reduced the need for whites to rely on systematic spatial boundaries to enforce racial regulation. Nineteenth-century “salt-and-pepper” and “patchwork quilt” patterns of settlement persisted in southern cities. Even after Birmingham developed a color-coded racial zoning map in the mid-1920s, most black residents lived in micro-segregated areas, either south of downtown or in the residential areas that surrounded the mines and mills scattered throughout the larger industrial metropolis. Meanwhile, northern cities, with smaller percentages of black residents, had come to rely on the large-scale, spatialized segregation typified by Chicago’s emerging South Side ghetto.7 The systemic character of southern Jim Crow institutionalized a subordinate position for African Americans in the industrial workplace. At the same time, rigid economic separation created openings for black-led commercial development catering to the internal community. Selective economic opportunities gave rise early in the twentieth century to a successful and highly visible black business elite. Bankers, insurance brokers, property owners, and publishers—these entrepreneurs owed their positions in large measure to black consumer spending in a captive market.8 The spatial organization of emerging black commercial activities in the urban South was much less uniform than in northern cities. Black Atlanta, for example, developed two distinct commercial areas; Nashville, with two major African American residential neighborhoods, saw an important business district emerge around one of them. Early twentieth-century Birmingham, for its part, developed a centralized black business district that was not situated near any large African American residential area at all. Already by 1910, this district boasted the offices of physicians, dentists, and lawyers, along with drugstores, printing firms, undertakers, insurance companies, newspapers, and a bank. These establishments were soon joined by several theaters, eateries, and a large number of billiard halls. In the Magic City, racialized space operated not simply as a constraint on African Americans— its centrality also became an economic and cultural resource.9 This spatial pattern accentuated the influence of the black business elite over the organizational life of the community. In addition to businesses, middle-class African Americans in early twentieth-century Birmingham created fraternal associations, women’s organizations, schools, and churches to sustain a rich and supportive communal existence, along with an uplift ideology that shored up their aspirations and ideals. Impressive downtown buildings, such as the Colored Masonic Temple, a seven-story structure with Corinthian columns and pediment, embodied the notion of a racially autonomous leadership. Designed by African American architects such as


Chapter One

Robert Robinson Taylor and Wallace Rayfield, these buildings displayed sober, dignified, and cautiously modern exteriors—“just right,” as historian Michael Fazio has observed, “for tightly wound Birmingham,” where jazzage gestures or symbols might have been seen as racially provocative. For the businessmen of black Birmingham, architectural style exemplified their own vision of urban civilization: the building of sound character was key to the development of black manhood, status, and full participation in the life of the community.10 The interior of a decorous building such as the Masonic Temple, however, could be much less constrained. An independent fraternal order dating back to the founding of the American republic, black freemasonry—the Prince Hall Masons, as they called themselves—for the most part embodied, in early twentieth-century Birmingham as elsewhere, a conventional set of middle-class American values: equality of association, sound business practices, and charitable support for the less fortunate. Yet the order’s myth and ritual, invoking hidden ties to the ancient and mysterious East, harbored its own particular history. In a speech given in 1925, a fraternal officer possessing the title of Grand Lecturer of the Western Division of the Alabama Prince Hall Masons delivered the following lesson: Now, history tells us of the many dark-skinned kings and rulers as being among the first and foremost ancient Masons like the couchant sphinx whose lips are sealed. They left us in doubt as to the unsolved mystery of the whiteman’s claims as to his lawful right to our inheritance [i.e., freemasonry].

If the earliest masons, thousands of years ago, were black men, then white masons were late-arriving imitators, even thieves of an exalted African fraternal legacy. An air of ancient black nobility thus imbued the secret practices that took place within the Colored Masonic Temple. Reinforced by the interior’s Renaissance Revival columns and wall decorations, this antique aura lingered over the dances, concerts, and other musical events held there in the auditorium and grand ballroom.11 The temple’s musical activities attracted Herman Blount from a young age, but so did its books. From 1923 on, the Booker T. Washington Branch of the local public library occupied a growing share of the temple’s office space. Despite a small fraction of the budget enjoyed by the white library, in the city hall, the Washington Branch eventually built a circulating collection of some twenty thousand volumes, focused particularly on religion. Behind a frosted-glass door marked Masonic Library and Supplies lay the

Downtown Sounds


more restricted collection of the fraternal order itself—the secret manuals and histories. Blount spent many hours at the library, devouring novels, poetry, world history, and religious tracts. Among other subjects, his early reading introduced him to the revisionist histories of eighteenth-century Prince Hall Freemasonry, in which the ancient cities of Ethiopian peoples assume a central role in early civilization and black masons are present at the founding of the American republic.12 Close by the temple stood the grand hall of the Knights of Pythias and their female auxiliary, the Order of Calanthe. Dedicated to the cultivation of masculine civic virtue, the Pythians—formally, the Alabama Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia—were a black fraternal order and benevolent society recognized for their elaborate funeral rituals, with music and speeches in different languages; members, adorned in breastplates and plumed helmets, would dramatically unsheathe their swords to salute the departed (figure 1.3). The Pythian Hall also hosted the meetings of other local groups. From the age of ten, Herman Blount went there every Saturday morning to attend gatherings of the American Woodmen, Junior Division. Committed to the forest as an alternative to the corruption and inequities of fallen cities, this group

1.3 Knights of Pythias on Eighteenth Street, Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingfind Collection, AR 829, file 829.1.32, Birmingham Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts.


Chapter One

developed its own secret rituals, including elaborate handshakes and initiation rites. As Sun Ra recalled much later: “They showed me discipline . . . all about secret orders . . . and how to be a leader.” This appreciation for discipline and for the rituals of Birmingham’s esoteric societies would mark his later musical collectives.13 The commercial music scene in the city’s black downtown was among the liveliest in the country. Following World War I, theaters such as the Queen, the Champion, and the Gay (later renamed the Frolic) made Fourth Avenue North a major center of vaudeville and musical performance, providing blues, ragtime, and jazz performers with new commercial venues. Even as Birmingham city officials attempted to impose new restrictions on the public performance of black music during the war years, white investors throughout the country recognized the economic opportunities in delivering vaudeville to black audiences in the South. As Oscar Adams slyly phrased it when the Champion opened in 1917: “Our white friends are becoming more and more interested in our welfare.”14 From early on, Herman Blount’s aunt took him to the local theaters. Singers such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey appeared there in vaudeville stage shows that also included dancers, comedians, theatrical sketches, minstrel singers, trapeze artists, and other performers. Meanwhile, his visits with his grandmother to the recently constructed Tabernacle Baptist Church, farther up Twenty-Fifth Street from their house, introduced him to church music—though, characteristically, he remained wary of the implications of traditional Christian hymns. He refused, for instance, to sing the line, “I will help Jesus bear the cross,” because “it asked you to make a declaration, and you never knew who might be recording it.”15 But it was the civic buildings, the Masonic and Pythian halls, that were the African American community’s privileged settings for musical performance. Aunt Ida took young Sonny to these downtown venues to see visiting bandleaders Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, and even when money was tight there was plenty to enjoy on the street. Strolling between the two halls, straining for glimpses of musical luminaries, Herman Blount, like the rest of black Birmingham, gathered regularly in the downtown district, where an otherwise dispersed community came together—to mingle, to be seen, and to make music. In fact, Blount probably wrote his first known composition in homage to Fourth Avenue North. Composed near the end of the 1920s, when he was about fifteen years old, the song was called “Chocolate Avenue.” Like a number of Duke Ellington’s pieces from this period (such as “A Night in Harlem” and “East St. Louis Toodle-O”), the title situates the song, and the

Downtown Sounds


listener, within the emerging black metropolis, the “city within a city”—a phrase used for Harlem by James Weldon Johnson in 1925 but quickly applied to other black urban meccas. Blount’s composition, with its stately tempo and the steady, stepwise climb of the melody in its bridge, suggested the pride he took in Birmingham’s black commercial center, as well as, perhaps, his early faith in the incremental uplift strategy embraced by its notables. This sensibility echoed the belief, articulated by many southern African American leaders of the day, that Jim Crow Birmingham paradoxically offered America’s best glimpse of the great black metropolis to come. Even W. E. B. Du Bois argued early on that extreme segregation was producing new interdependencies between black urban professionals and “the great mass” of black laborers, porters, and servants upon whom they relied economically as consumers. Blount was also proud of his composition, and mailed off “Chocolate Avenue” to producer Clarence Williams in New York City—at that time the most important black commercial-music entrepreneur in the country.16 Birmingham’s own early black entrepreneurs, it is useful to recall, were personal associates of Booker T. Washington. His Tuskegee Institute, located just a hundred miles to the southeast, remained a frequent stopover for these businessmen, and their approach to race relations tended to mirror Washington’s accommodationist style. They received strong praise from John Hornady, city commissioner and local booster, for the quiescent style of their leadership: “There has never been a race riot in this city, despite the presence of more than seventy thousand negroes, and there is not the slightest evidence of race antagonism. The Birmingham negro, guided by wise leaders, has found his groove and quietly moves within it.” Those leaders included minister and businessman William Pettiford, whose public statements often pointed to the moral and cultural habits of black people, rather than racism, as the reason many of them lacked capital. His Alabama Penny Savings and Loan Company steered black common-folk away from the degradation of wasteful spending in order to save the community from its own destructive members. “Over and beyond the howling mob and the criminal element of our own race,” he proclaimed in 1910, “we are making great and substantial progress, and this fact should engender new faith and hope in our future.”17 Over the following decades, prominent black businessmen enjoyed positions of leadership in Birmingham that went largely unchallenged by other members of the community. Black leaders in Chicago, New York, and Cleveland, by contrast, came to include politicians, sports celebrities, and “policy kings” (numbers bosses) as well as preachers and reformers. In


Chapter One

Milwaukee, as the historian Joe William Trotter has observed, the workingclass goals of African American labor leaders—including those of the segregated musicians’ union—found expression through the “race-conscious agenda of the Afro-American bourgeoisie.” In black Birmingham, however, community leadership remained concentrated in the hands of businessmen, ministers, and fraternal-order officers—who were often one and the same. African American uplift ideals in the city remained wedded to the antiunion entrepreneurial creed and class condescension of its commercial notables.18 Washington’s original vision of racial self-help emphasized a black future in the rural South. Yet the Tuskegee leader’s message resonated most strongly in southern cities, where a small number of African Americans amassed sufficient capital to create businesses with genuine economic promise. For champions of enterprise, Alabama Penny exemplified the fulfillment of Washington’s philosophical marriage of economic self-help and moral virtue, both encouraging and embodying the capacity of African Americans for thrift, discipline, and independence. In reality, after flourishing prior to World War I, Alabama Penny and many other black firms in southern cities failed—casualties of insufficient capital, market discrimination, and regulatory practices deeply marked by Jim Crow. Meanwhile, jockeying over leadership roles undermined repeated efforts to form a cooperative business association in Birmingham. “They were so selfish,” recalled black newspaperman H. D. Coke, “they couldn’t even agree on anybody to act as temporary chairman.” Nevertheless, the “dream of a black metropolis”—a city within the city where African Americans might govern themselves—was strongly nurtured in downtowns such as Birmingham, before migrating to Chicago, New York, and other northern cities.19 White Birmingham, meanwhile, regarded its own commercial downtown as a source of pride, if rather defensively. Faced with accusations of southern backwardness, white leaders emphasized their city’s modern character, embodied not only in its heavy industry—which rescued the South from its post–Civil War dependence on a “prostrate” King Cotton— but in the dense cluster of skyscrapers at First Avenue North and Twentieth Street, the so-called Heaviest Corner on Earth. Yet the nearby presence of a black business district with its own impressive buildings and distinctive street life—not off limits to whites but oriented toward blacks—unsettled many Birmingham whites and seemed to threaten their own downtown.20 Growing numbers of black saloons, pedestrians, and workers at leisure in the central city led to a full-scale racial panic during the years leading up to World War I. Enacting a flurry of laws, the city suppressed African Ameri-

Downtown Sounds


can drinking establishments and restricted the performance of vaudeville and other black-identified styles of music in the downtown. City commissioners approved a statute, for example, that banned the making of music—whether by “the human voice” or by “any musical instrument or mechanical contrivance”—in billiard halls, many of them African American establishments located on Fourth Avenue North.21 By the early 1920s, a cross-class coalition of industrialists and white nativists, undergirded by one of the nation’s most powerful Ku Klux Klan chapters, further tightened the hold of racial rule in Birmingham. Klan rallies in this period would begin with hundreds of cars driving under the Terminal Station and entering the downtown through the Magic City sign; these caravans brought the city to a standstill before heading out to the fairgrounds for evening ceremonies held by the light of fiery crosses and the headlamps of cars. Klan marches made a point of occupying the corner of Fourth Avenue North and Eighteenth Street to assert white control over the city, even its African American commercial district.22 Over the course of the 1920s, however, the district became a growing source of fascination and cultural entertainment, not just for African Americans, but for a generation of white residents and readers as well. A local white writer named Octavus Roy Cohen achieved a national literary reputation for a comedic series of fictional stories set in Birmingham’s black business center, which he envisioned as an entirely separate urban realm of bumbling commercial schemers. Among the racist caricatures that populate these stories, Birmingham bandleader ’Fess Whatley—who would become Blount’s mentor—appears as Professor Aleck Champagne, the pretentious leader of a musically incompetent ensemble. Other stock characters include a local hustler who attempts, ludicrously, to impersonate an African prince. Cohen’s stories wrest humor from the presumed absurdity of blacks having any claims to nobility or musical artistry—a portrayal of the downtown and its denizens that could not have been further from the young Blount’s own perception.23 The African American writer Nathan Ben Young Jr. depicted the same area quite differently in an unusual text published in the mid-1920s that described a lively musical scene on the streets of the black commercial district. “Eighteenth Street (Birmingham): An Anthology in Color” draws on journalistic reportage and fictional portraiture but also incorporates an urban anthropological sensibility—critical, imaginative, and subtly diasporic. The result is a musical construction of the black downtown of Blount’s childhood that departs significantly not only from those presented


Chapter One

in Cohen’s stories but from the images promoted by Birmingham’s African American elites. Young’s understanding of the hidden sounds of the Magic City also anticipates certain aspects of Sun Ra’s mature musical agenda.24 In an opening section called “Strolling Musicians,” for example, Young’s unnamed narrator declares that Eighteenth Street “hath music of its own”— and that this music travels both backward and forward in time: “Some of it harks back to the faraway Continental Africa, some of it is the new American music.” The strolling musicians of the title are “rag-tag fellows” who “appear on the Street from nowhere” and depart as they come. One night it is the Kitchen Mechanics Quartet in the Bon Ton Drug Store in an impromptu program of bearded medleys and ballads in which the first tenor switches to baritone and the basso to lead ad. lib. But even in their rendition of “Sweet Ando-line” there is a quaint touch of something three hundred years or more old.25

The Kitchen Mechanics Quartet, so called because its members cook, wait table, and chauffer for “rich ‘white folks,’” infuses the street with music redolent of both past and future. These amateurs are accomplished and even up-to-date musicians, as evidenced by their lead switching, a stylistic innovation of the recently emerging Birmingham vocal quartet. To the narrator’s ears these pathbreaking performers nonetheless remain torchbearers of musical traditions predating the formation of America itself. The musicians in “Eighteenth Street,” unlike those in Cohen’s stories, exemplify the ever-surprising diversity and complexity of black urban life. Confronting stereotypes with depictions of African American folk culture as skillful and artistic, Young describes their performances as raising contentious questions about political and community identity. This point emerges vividly in his description of a street boy who plays the latest popular tunes on a simple, homemade instrument. Still another night and The Street is tuneless except for the rattle of the electric piano in the entrance of the Dreamland Theater. Along this thoroughfare of rustling mixtures for once music is absent. Then you walk into a crowd; in the center is a solitary black boy of wild eyes. In his hand is an ordinary piece of fishing pole bamboo about two feet long. . . . “Play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’” someone requests; and without emotion the bamboo is raised to his lips and a tune flows like golden honey. It is crude, here and there a flattened note or lack of accidental, but that only makes it more seducing.26

Downtown Sounds


On his rustic flute the boy plays other popular songs of the early 1920s—songs that, thanks to performances by Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Mamie Smith, have taken black audiences by storm. But when a member of the crowd asks that the boy play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the request provokes a trenchant political critique from another man. “What for?” challenges the man already talking to the flute player. “Ain’t we all standing already— and furthermore, I done heard too much of that tune in camps and over in France. An’ what good we get from fighting in the war?”27

This veteran then softens, suggesting, in a spirit of racial compromise, an alternative: “Play ‘Sweet Mama,’” he says—a composition made famous by Marion Harris, one of the first widely known white singers to record jazz and blues songs.28 Nathan Ben Young’s account of mid-1920s Eighteenth Street, rendered in brief vignettes, presents a remarkably rich, subtle, and complex evocation of the everyday—or everynight—musical soundscape and social milieu of the black Birmingham downtown. In sharp contrast to conventional representations, white or black, Young describes this urban crossroads as a contested, improvisational, and revelatory site where the “rustling mixtures” of blues and jazz, string band and gospel quartet, electric piano and other musical sounds, strike the discerning participant as the unfinished invention of a different kind of African American identity. We do not know exactly what young Herman Blount heard, musically speaking, as he walked the streets of downtown Birmingham in the 1920s. Nor can we know precisely what he made of what he heard, any more than we can know for sure that the title of his “Chocolate Avenue” referred to this part of the city. Yet Young’s account speaks suggestively of the informal musical practices of the street during this period—and in ways that connect to ideas Blount would discuss and experiment with, first in Birmingham and later in post–World War II Chicago: a hidden link between the African continent and the most modern music of America; an imagined connection between the melding of disparate musical styles and the discovery of new black identities; and a deep-seated conviction that musical choices have profound moral and social implications, for good or for ill. What we do know for certain is that several years later, in 1933, Clarence Williams actually recorded Blount’s “Chocolate Avenue” in New York City and released it on record. The performance included Williams himself on piano, Ed Allen on cornet, Cecil Scott on clarinet, and Floyd Casey on


Chapter One

washboard—an old-fashioned-sounding ensemble that was probably not the composer’s original instrumentation. Released as the A side of a single for Vocalion Records, Blount’s composition was backed with a tune called “Dispossessin’ Me”—an unintentional irony, given that the composer of “Chocolate Avenue” received no credit or compensation.29 Decades later, Blount remained bitter about this experience, which encouraged him to record and produce his music for himself. It also dented his respect for black commercial elites; later writings in Chicago expressed a barbed skepticism toward conventional African American leaders. In the meantime, though, Blount’s early career benefited from a local musical entrepreneur and “race man”—a community leader who not only espoused the uplift vision of black Birmingham but demonstrated its generous possibilities.


Industrial School to Territory Band

Walking west along Fourth Avenue North—past Eighteenth Street and the black downtown—took young Herman Blount to Smithfield, an early residential area for Birmingham’s African American middle class that was home to Industrial High School. Blount entered Industrial, the largest allblack secondary school in the country, in 1929, and soon earned a reputation as a top student (figure 2.1). As a pianist who already sight-read music (he claimed to have taught himself to play at age ten), he joined the school orchestra, which played classical and salon favorites for assemblies and other gatherings. He also moved in for a time with his older sister Mary and her husband, Thomas Jenkins, who were doing well enough to own a house in Enon Ridge, a middle-class black enclave north of Smithfield.1 For Blount, high school training would not only launch a professional career but also shape his understanding of African American cultural history and sense of community leadership. Historians of early jazz, for the most part, emphasize familial and street-level networks as pathways for transmitting musicianship and musical tradition. Even in New Orleans, however, where public education for African Americans was highly restricted and where social clubs, dance halls, storefront churches, and parades figured as key “incubation points” in the development of jazz styles, schools were invaluable training sites for several of the new music’s innovators. But in early twentieth-century Birmingham, as much as in any city in the country, principals and teachers refashioned a poorly financed set of segregated black schools—and Industrial High School most visibly—into a rigorous and highly successful system of musical training and apprenticeship.2 Industrial had become an institutional center of Birmingham’s musical culture well before Herman Blount’s entry. Founded in 1901, the school patterned itself in many respects on Tuskegee. Industrial’s longtime principal, A. H. Parker, had been personal secretary to William Pettiford, founder of Alabama Penny Savings and Loan, and in addition to basic academic sub-


Chapter Two

2.1 Industrial High School, class of 1932 (H. P. Blount, bottom full row, fourth from left). Birmingfind Collection, AR 829, file 829.1.12, Birmingham Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts.

jects the curriculum at the high school emphasized the acquisition of practical skills such as cooking, sewing, barbering, and the domestic arts. Music, though an extracurricular activity, figured prominently as both a career path and a community-building activity. Industrial’s printing instructor, John T. Whatley (the nickname ’Fess was short for Professor), headed the instrumental music programs; his stature came not simply from his pedagogical role but from his success as a working bandleader and entrepreneur. Beginning with his first band, called the Jazz Demons, his performing ensembles became early professional outlets for his best students.3 Musical performance offered one of the few areas within the segregated economy where black producers, for a time, enjoyed significant access to the white market. Whatley’s Sax-o-Society Orchestra, in particular, became a fixture at white society events. As local musician Frank Adams later noted, “’Fess would always play at the Elks Club and the Masonic Temple,” both black venues, but also at the Gold Room of the Tutwiler Hotel, “a fabulous hotel for whites.” Drummer Wilson Driver, who performed with the Sax-o-Society Orchestra, recalled that the appearance of Whatley’s firstrank ensemble was central to its cross-racial appeal: “We had tuxedos for uniforms, and we looked and sounded like Guy Lombardo or one of them

Industrial School to Territory Band


other straight white bands.” Whatley drilled all his students in note reading, but playing professionally at white society functions also meant mastering waltzes, mazurkas, and other formal dance styles of the day. In addition, Whatley prohibited his musicians from socializing with women between sets. As Driver put it, “We’d play some functions other black bands couldn’t get to, like the University of Alabama, just because people knew ’Fess Whatley would keep things under control.” Whatley’s buttoned-down reputation did not, however, prevent white patrons from demanding music—“jungle music,” they called it—that might loosen their self-restraint on the dance floor. One number called “Congo Rock,” featuring Driver on the tom-toms, inspired such wild abandon among female dancers that Whatley instructed his men to play with their eyes closed to ward off concerns about racial improprieties.4 Mostly, though, Birmingham’s black musicians played for African American audiences. By the early 1920s, the city’s black churches, fraternal organizations, social clubs, and society balls provided a broad range of performance opportunities. Despite the name of his pioneering group, Whatley was not really a jazz musician in the fullest sense of the term. His students learned little from him, for example, about improvisation. Yet his band members went on to play for Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, and many other prestigious jazz orchestra leaders, in no small measure because of Whatley’s tireless emphasis on discipline and the precise reading of music. These skills were increasingly in demand, as the growing size of jazz bands required musicians capable of note reading and playing complex arrangements and sectional parts with great precision. As early jazz transitioned toward large-ensemble swing, the technical requirements of music ensembles—particularly the specialized roles defined for instrumentalists—opened up unprecedented economic opportunities for young musicians schooled at Industrial.5 Whatley’s training institutions, linking up for a time with a larger black music market, seemed to embody a long-emerging aspiration: a racially autonomous pathway out of the dead-end labor conditions of the urban South. Trumpeter Erskine Hawkins, who grew up attending Birmingham’s Tuggle Institute (a charitable school and orphanage supported by the women’s auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias) and went on to have a national hit song with “Tuxedo Junction,” was probably the most celebrated local traveler of this path. Hawkins’s band members, largely former Whatley students from Birmingham, had barnstormed with him for years as a college ensemble, the ’Bama State Collegians, before landing a regular engagement at New York’s Savoy Ballroom. Nicknamed the Twentieth-Century


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Gabriel, Hawkins put his hometown’s west-side entertainment district on the map with his signature song and epitomized the bandleader as herald of deliverance.6 Whatley may have offered young men a professional alternative to the harsh existence of a black mill or mineworker, but his musical-training regimen was seen as “industrial” in its own right. As Frank Adams later noted, Industrial High School “was a school where the industrial arts were taught, like sewing, cooking, and woodworking, and then band—which was not an industrial discipline, but it was taken and taught in that manner.” Band at Industrial High School was a “manual-arts discipline,” with students working on their instruments up to three and a half hours a day. Sun Ra later reproduced in his own bands this unstinting emphasis on practice and rehearsal, and a series of mature compositions entitled “Discipline” paid homage, in his own way, to a core principle first drilled into him in high school.7 Industry, of course, was inseparable from the historical identity of Birmingham. The “magic” in the city’s nickname initially alluded to the area’s mineral wealth, and founders called the new community Birmingham after England’s nineteenth-century manufacturing colossus. These men envisioned utopia as a forge for the manufacture of wealth but also for the production of a new kind of urban southerner: the industrialist. By the turn of the century, the business leaders of Birmingham had commissioned a fifty-foot-tall cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge, later installed on an even taller pedestal overlooking the city.8 Over the first decades of the twentieth century, the city’s mining and heavy industry attracted massive waves of white and black workers from surrounding rural areas, as well as, in smaller numbers, immigrant workers from Europe. Like many black migrants, Herman Blount’s family moved to Birmingham from the Black Belt cotton area of Alabama. His parents were not plantation workers or sharecroppers but townsfolk from Demopolis, a century-old trading center founded by French utopians in the western part of the state.9 They arrived in Birmingham shortly after 1910, and Herman’s birth coincided with a moment of dramatic urban growth. Propelled by wartime economic stimulus, the Magic City over the following years became the leading industrial metropolis of the American South. Birmingham’s black population was nearly 40 percent of its total—the highest in the nation among large cities by 1930. Yet restrictions on the labor rights of African American industrial workers meant that black “proletarianization” would not lead, as it did in several northern cities, to substantial working-class reshaping of the urban ideals of African American middle-class notables.10

Industrial School to Territory Band


For someone who, like Herman Blount, would not become a factory worker, the industrial character of Birmingham was nevertheless inescapable. Several blocks to the southeast of his home was Sloss Works, one of Birmingham’s oldest pig-iron foundries. From a viaduct above the foundry, recalled African American resident Ellen Tarry, one could gaze down upon the company’s mostly black laborers—“half-naked” and “goggled”—as they poured unrefined molten iron from an open furnace. Tourists from out of town flocked to see this display of “industrial magic,” and local writer James Saxon Childers detected a hypnotic, intensely musical rhythm in the hammering of the furnace crews. Residents who did not take in the spectacle nonetheless endured the smell of the iron and steel mills—except, that is, those wealthy enough to live up on Highland Avenue or over Red Mountain, in newly built suburban areas restricted to “white persons of the Caucasian Race.” On bad days, for anyone who moved about the city itself, a “dark cloud of oily smoke” covered most streets, creating a fog so thick that motorists needed to drive with their headlights on, even at midday.11 Early twentieth-century Birmingham, in this sense, was what historians have called a “shock city.” Inspiring both horror and amazement, the city’s industrial spectacle seemed to emerge from no known past and herald the arrival of an awe-inspiring future. Local boosters were hardly immune to this sensation. Hornady’s Book of Birmingham, for example, resorted to a kind of mythic vernacular to describe the vision of the city fathers: “They planned a vast metropolis. . . . In the valley where stood a single blacksmith shop, they laid out a colossus: a city whose dream streets echoed to the traffic of a vast metropolis and whose fanciful squares were filled with towering structures where vibrated the restless pulse of giants in action.” In historical reality, the necessary engine of industrial Birmingham, as its founders had recognized from the beginning, was a coercible black labor force. As early as the 1850s, well before the town came into existence, John T. Milner was championing the use of black slave labor in industrial settings as the South’s best advantage over northern capitalists. Losing the Civil War, in this regard, meant that new mechanisms of racial subjugation would be required to maintain a tractable labor force, not only in Birmingham but in cities throughout what booster Henry W. Grady famously called, in 1886, “the New South.”12 Birmingham thus became an urban proving ground for a far-reaching and perverse social experiment to reforge modern racial identity. For the city’s manufacturers, the so-called Big Mules, the project involved making iron and steel function as cotton had in the agricultural South: as special commodities that not only conferred enormous wealth but naturalized racial


Chapter Two

and class hierarchies. Historian Andrew Zimmerman has shown how post– Civil War agrarian elites constructed a rural economy upon a low-grade, hand-picked cotton that could be profitable only if harvested by highly exploited laborers with few rights—black workers.13 Similarly, southern industrialists sought to retain the region’s labor advantage over the North by producing a narrow range of standardized, low-skill commodities dependent on the labor of poorly paid, highly coerced African Americans (along with only somewhat better paid whites). Like their planter counterparts, the Big Mules defined the racial identity of “the Negro” in contradictory terms, as servile, hardworking, and inexpensive but also rebellious, lazy, and deeply burdensome.14 This distinct form of industrialization relied heavily on extra-economic coercion and extreme racial subordination. Alabama’s state convict-labor system routinely furnished black prisoners as workers to Magic City coal and iron companies and to public chain-gang labor crews, all to sustain an economy with high profits for monopoly producers. Black men were also relegated to jobs as porters, deliverymen, messengers, and waiters, while most black women worked as servants and laundresses. The extreme political disenfranchisement and violence of early twentieth-century Birmingham, along with a profusion of segregation laws governing city life from public accommodations to music making, were presented as integral to the modern historical development of a longstanding racial ideal. It is scarcely surprising, then, that when Childers’s foreign travels during the 1930s took him to Johannesburg, South Africa, the city struck him as the exact twin of his hometown.15 This particular New South model of low-skill labor exploitation and black subjection—what geographer Bobby Wilson has called the Birmingham regime—imposed severe limits on the future development of the city and of the broader region. However, this “great workshop town,” as one 1920s observer termed the city, did produce enormous numbers of welltrained workers in one unexpected category: black musicians. These skilled professionals, often based in Birmingham, became key contributors to a higher-road labor market, mostly internal to the African American community, that flourished in the interwar years across the southeastern United States.16 Seen in this light, the Industrial High School music program represented an alternative, black-led institution preparing students for a regional African American musical economy. The school’s training regimen imparted valuable professional skills to young black men who, beyond the limited commercial music opportunities available locally, found work in the traveling

Industrial School to Territory Band


music ensembles called territory bands. In the process, many Birminghamtrained instrumentalists forged early careers in a field where the predominance of African American leaders and community tastes could be taken for granted. Young Herman Blount would make his first professional mark by participating in, and then leading, bands of this sort, many of them sponsored by Whatley himself. Several years after the young man finished high school, a brief item in the Pittsburgh Courier drew attention to an upcoming musical event in Ashville, Alabama: “’Fess’ Whatley of Birmingham, and rated as one of the South’s oldest maestros, is presenting Sonny Blount and his orchestra to the dance lovers of this section.” Serving notice that a nickname recently acquired from fellow musicians was now becoming his stage name, this announcement also confirmed that Sonny Blount, like many other Whatley students before him, was being launched into the territory circuit. As Sun Ra recalled later, ’Fess “bought the bus and everything.”17 Territory bands worked a regional music economy that for the most part operated separately from the commercial markets of the white South. Linking African American urban settlements scattered across states like Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi, this larger musical territory carried forward, well after the decline of many other black commercial endeavors, the ideal of an independent African American path within the rigid constraints of the southern Jim Crow system. Although the territory band also emerged in other parts of the country, the urban geography of the Southeast was especially suited to support this kind of cultural production. Beyond the largest cities, the economy of the early twentieth-century South, with its enduring dependence on cotton cultivation, entailed a particularly heavy reliance on towns and small cities as processing centers and hubs for rural consumers. Even as late as the 1930s, settlements of fewer than ten thousand residents typified much of the region’s urban growth, a development pattern that historian David Goldfield has referred to as “urbanization without cities”—and one that proved highly conducive to the elaboration of a territory-band circuit.18 Rural African Americans migrated not only northward but also in substantial numbers to southern cities, large and small, over the first three decades of the twentieth century. As of 1930, roughly one-quarter to onethird of the residents in many smaller southern cities were black; their numbers in cities like Asheville, North Carolina, and Columbus, Georgia—over fourteen thousand in each—provided a major consumer base for traveling swing bands. Even in Alabama, black populations in smaller cities such as Anniston, Decatur, Dothan, Gadsden, and Tuscaloosa promised sizable audiences. Southern black consumers, as record companies had excit-


Chapter Two

edly discovered in the 1920s, purchased phonographs in large numbers, establishing a substantial market for the emerging “race records” genre. Radio ownership among black households in the urban Southeast became similarly widespread, spurred in part by racial constraints on access to live music. Sonny Blount, for example, though barred from entering the Alabama Theatre a few blocks from his house, nevertheless could hear Stanleigh Malotte play his florid renditions of “Stars Fell on Alabama” on the theater’s Wurlitzer organ courtesy of the local radio station WAPI.19 Radio also extended the geographical reach and influence of Birmingham swing ensembles. Local stations—often through live broadcasts from the Masonic Temple, Bob’s Savoy, the Night Owls Night Club, and other venues—made groups headed by Sonny Blount, Paul Bascomb, and other bandleaders popular with listeners throughout the region. Not surprisingly, many smaller urban areas with significant black populations but shortages of skilled musicians—“starved for dancing,” as one territory band member noted—became important destinations for Birmingham-based bands. With few large commercial venues available for black entertainers in such towns, these bands performed in community halls and churches but also warehouses, armories, firehouses, and tobacco barns.20 Territory musicians in the Southeast performed roles that, beyond their music making, were important to building and sustaining a regional community. In the course of their travels throughout the Southeast, band members relayed news, delivered presents, reconnected families, spread ideas, and introduced communities to new consumer products and styles. Much like Pullman porters, itinerant preachers, Masonic lodge officers, and other spatially mobile African Americans of the interwar period, traveling musicians knitted together scattered black communities in a regional identity distinct from white-defined notions of “the South.” In the process, these musicians became socialized into a fast-paced, cosmopolitan way of life that, for many of them, made the prospect of returning to a more settled existence in Birmingham unattractive. Many of Whatley’s musicians were still high school students when they first participated in extensive tours of the Southeast and beyond. Before his time with Sonny Blount, Frank Adams recalled weekend trips with ’Fess to Columbus, Mississippi, after the school week was over. Amos Gordon, a Whatley student who went on to play saxophone with Louis Armstrong and Andy Kirk, hopscotched as a high schooler between smaller cities throughout the state of Alabama, playing anywhere “they would have dances.” Blount himself received an early taste of life in a territory band in the summer of 1932, when he went on the road with a Whatley group

Industrial School to Territory Band


called the Society Troubadours. Two years later, fresh from a summer tour with Whatley’s Sax-o-Society Orchestra, Blount took his newly assembled thirteen-piece group on an extensive road tour—farther north than usual because of the increasingly onerous impacts of the Depression on their home territory. After a series of stops leading up to a successful two-night stand at Louisville’s Cotton Club, the Sonny Blount Orchestra played Chicago’s legendary Savoy Ballroom in mid-November 1934. It was a big moment for any musician, and the large contingent of Birmingham migrants living on the South Side no doubt turned out in force. The occasion garnered an appreciative (if orthographically challenged) notice from Chicago Defender music columnist Jack Ellis, who enthused a week after the event, “‘Sunny’ Blunt and band left smoke in the Savoy from the jazz he played recently.”21 Other appearances on this trip included Cincinnati’s Castle Farm, a wellknown dance and supper club, and the Moonlight Gardens in Harlan, Kentucky. On the way home, Blount’s band stopped for a return engagement in Louisville, where a local reporter eagerly anticipated a reprise of its “red hot rhythm, melodic crooner and unusual tap dancer.” Back in the South near the end of 1934, the group played a series of concerts in Atlanta, then continued to travel the well-established regional circuit, appearing in smaller cities and towns such as Middlesboro, Kentucky, and Meridian, Mississippi, and at the Sheffield, Alabama, YMCA.22 Sonny Blount’s was one of the bands that carried the most forwardlooking swing music of records and radio to archipelagos of black communities throughout the urban Southeast. By the early 1930s, the growing demand by audiences for fast-tempo dance music, sophisticated arrangements, and solo showmanship bolstered the need for players with musicreading and technical skills, and encouraged territory bands to make the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra their model. For younger Birmingham musicians such as J. L. Lowe, Henderson was the pivotal jazz pioneer and his arranger, Don Redman, “the first to master the technique [of] scoring music for big bands.” Henderson’s music also possessed an allure beyond its technical sophistication. Sonny Blount’s own childhood musical encounters apparently included a fascination with his older brother’s Henderson records, especially the exotic sounds of songs like “Shanghai Shuffle” and “The Gouge of Armour Avenue.” This distinctive quality of Henderson’s music—its ability to evoke strange and alluring worlds within the emerging conventions of big-band swing—played a key role in the popularity of the Sonny Blount Orchestra with southeastern audiences.23 A series of 1935 engagements in Atlanta suggests the Blount Orchestra’s particular appeal as well as that city’s ongoing musical relationship with Bir-


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mingham. Although Magic City boosters liked to portray the Georgia capital as an economic rival, Birmingham’s cultural reputation was overshadowed by the urban sophistication of black Atlanta—south of the North, as Du Bois had phrased it, yet somehow north of the South. Birmingham did produce high-quality musicians, though, and demand from Atlanta’s large numbers of college students, with their special affection for the hot swing bands, kept many Birmingham bands busy. Auburn Avenue, the east-side center of Atlanta’s black middle class, even boasted a tavern called the Yeah Man, named after one of Fletcher Henderson’s biggest hits.24 The Sonny Blount Orchestra engagements at the Sunset Casino capitalized on black Atlanta’s taste for the hot, sophisticated jazz associated with the Henderson bands. The Sunset, an early entertainment complex, featured a basketball court and amusement rides as well as a large, poorly heated dance hall where black university social clubs hosted afternoon and evening events. Following the band’s visit in early February, Atlanta Daily World society columnist Lucius Jones promised his readers a wide-ranging musical journey when they returned two weeks later: “Sonny Blount and his torrid fourteen-piece jazz orchestra will seek new worlds tonight, 10 to 2, at the Sunset Casino.” A sharp-dressing male club from the west side of Atlanta called the Lion Tamers (“We Tame Them All, Large or Small”) apparently performed a special dance to accompany the band’s version of “Star Dust.”25 Further return appearances ensued. Following one engagement Jones singled out the Blount orchestra for its performance of a popular up-tempo number called “Nagasaki.” An enormous hit in Harlem when recorded by the Henderson band the year before, this piece of “hot chinoiserie” (as musicologist Jeffrey Magee has called it) is a rhythm song whose nonsense lyrics celebrate a distant, exoticized city of “hot ginger and dynamite” where the women “wicky-wacky-woo.” Sonny Blount’s performance of the song at the Sunset employed, according to Jones, a positively “scorching” rhythm, enabling him to “break down the house” with its capacity crowd of twelve hundred patrons. Much later in his career, Blount reworked “Nagasaki” into a jump blues number for a Chicago doo-wop vocal group called the Five Chances.26 The assertively modern musical tastes of black urban youth in the South, particularly in cosmopolitan Atlanta, often turned in this period toward the evocation of other, idealized urban worlds. A piece of musical exotica such as “Nagasaki” or “Chinatown, My Chinatown”—or Cab Calloway’s “Man from Harlem,” for that matter, which was also a featured number at the Sunset—attracted college-age audiences in part because of its perceived

Industrial School to Territory Band


distance from older, rural traditions. As editor Ralph Matthews, writing in the Baltimore Afro-American, observed, “The plunking banjo and the cotton field have been supplanted by the moaning saxophone and the rent party wail.” Beyond conveying the fast-paced excitement of modern city life, this kind of swing number featured abrupt rhythmic shifts or vocal slurring to mythologize sensual, exotic locales where established conventions broke down. An assertion of black modernity, this musical subgenre both resisted and reproduced the racial conventions of the day—rejecting African American primitivism, for instance, in favor of a type of black imperial fantasy. Precisely how the Sonny Blount Orchestra inflected its performances of this material is difficult to say. But Jones’s enthusiastic write-ups, along with the club’s repeated invitations, suggest that Blount’s musical style tapped into the cultural wanderlust of his young Atlanta audiences.27 The life of the territory band offered Birmingham musicians regular employment as well as other rewards. Black highway travel in the early 1930s, hailed though it was by publications such as the Negro Motorist Green-Book, remained dangerous and often demeaning, especially in the US South. Yet whether outfitted with a bus or, as trumpet player Sammy Lowe recounted, two Cadillacs pulling trailers full of instruments and baggage, Birmingham bands often found road life exciting and full of opportunities, both musical and social. “On the road we’d mingle with the cream of Negro society,” Lowe recalled, “members of the medical profession, teachers, and so on. They’d usually introduce themselves . . . and insist we visit their homes.” Smaller cities in the South offered few hotels for African Americans, but “tourist homes” provided accommodation in the black neighborhoods of most urban areas. Married women or widows ran many of these guesthouses, as well as roadhouse cafes and other performance venues scattered throughout the territory.28 Meanwhile, “local girls” were, in Lowe’s recollection, “ours for the asking.” The bandstand offered a “paradise” of opportunities for catching the eye of a girl on the dance floor, and a musician such as Lowe, who once thought of himself as shy around women, might soon come to see them as “easy prey.” Aside from the value embodied in their sexual availability, local women in the territory-band accounts typically represented, as in the black male jazz narratives probed by Hazel Carby, “weights” that tied men down. The spatial mobility conferred by the territory band offered access to a special kind of male jazz fraternity, recentering black masculine identity away from sobriety and moral respectability and toward the newfound individual, portable freedoms of the regional marketplace. Yet racial dangers could travel too: bandleader Paul Bascomb’s two-year prison sentence


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for traveling across state lines with an underage white woman reminded Birmingham musicians that Jim Crow still set harsh restrictions on spatial liberties, even for the mobile men on the territory-band circuit.29 Sonny Blount rarely spoke about his own territory-band experiences. Unlike many of his fellow musicians, he seems to have socialized little with women on the road. He also rarely claimed the small privileges accorded a bandleader, preferring the solitary pleasures of reading even while traveling in less than ideal circumstances. Once after leading his band at a dance in Talladega, for instance, Blount found that the group’s car was too small to accommodate everyone for the trip home; someone would need to ride in the instrument trailer. “So he crawled in the back on that little wagon back there,” as Frank Adams has described it, “with all the cymbals and drums and everything falling on top of him,” and rode back to Birmingham in the open trailer, reading a book.30 This seeming gesture of self-sacrifice demonstrated instead, according to Adams, a strangely impressive independence—an early sign that a musical man of such commitment “can’t be stopped.” Most territory-band musicians saw the road as a mobile realm of independence and felt fortunate to have escaped the punishing regimen of industrial Birmingham. Distancing themselves from older middle-class notions of black manhood based on sobriety and self-discipline, they exemplified in many ways the new Jazz Age ideals of sexual freedom and masculine individualist expression.31 Despite his evident success as a road musician, Sonny Blount was cut from a different cloth. The young bandleader, isolated and bookish even when in charge, was exploring how to develop autonomy into a different kind of leadership.


Leadership Dreams

Sonny Blount, at the age of twenty-one, decided to step away from the burden of leading a band and even perhaps to leave behind a musicalperformance career altogether. Shortly after his 1935 engagements at the Sunset Casino in Atlanta, he enrolled at Alabama A & M in Huntsville, intending to pursue a teaching degree. Dropping out after only a year, however, he spent most of the next decade back in Birmingham, living a different, more place-based musical life—one that made his own house into an unlikely gathering site for local musicians and knowledge seekers. Ambivalence toward leadership was nothing new for Sonny Blount. He apparently had refused to be considered for high school valedictorian because it might set him above his peers. Yet giving up his band and relocating to Huntsville failed to relieve him of heavy responsibilities. One night at college he experienced an extraordinary dream in which, traveling inside a narrow beam of light (“like a giant spotlight shining down on me”), he was transported upward into outer space. Then, as he later recounted, I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. First thing I saw was something like a rail, a long rail of a railroad track coming out of the sky, and landed over there in a vacant lot. . . . Then I found myself in a huge stadium, and I was sitting up in the last row, in the dark. I know I was alone. [Spacemen] were down there, on the stage, something like a big boxing ring. So then they called my name, and I didn’t move. They called my name again, and I still didn’t answer. Then all at once they teleported me, and I was down there on that stage with them.

Once he was on the stage, the spacemen promised to teach him certain things, so that “when it looks like the world was going into complete chaos,” he might speak “and the world could listen.” Later, when he was back on


Chapter Three

planet earth, they gave him a robe and instructed him to speak to a large gathering of “bewildered” people, but he resisted. He wrote down the dream in his diary at the time, but after college classmates discovered the account and made fun of him, he destroyed it.1 Many of the dream’s images—the sky train, the space robe, the planet Saturn—would become important cosmological motifs for Blount in the years to come. Moving through outer space, but also arriving at a special gathering place or stage, would recur. Regardless of the dream’s particulars, though, this dramatic night journey was clearly experienced by Blount as a call to leadership, connecting his longtime sense of being different with the promise and obligation of a special destiny. This calling demanded an exceptional kind of leadership. To be an African American leader in the early twentieth century, particularly in the South, one was expected to embody the idealized aspirations of the race. Leadership, as political theorist Robert Gooding-Williams has observed, depended on “expressive self-realization”: leaders—especially charismatic male leaders—were expected not only to lift up the black masses but to convey, in their very person, the collective identity of the folk. Birmingham’s ministers-turned-businessmen translated this expressive style, in which they themselves represented the most disciplined ambitions of their people, into a commercial rhetoric of racial uplift. The city’s territory musicians, in turn, shifted these ideals toward a mobile embodiment of individual freedom in swing-life travel. Sonny Blount, however, had always felt that he was different—and now, it seemed, there was a reason for this: he was from somewhere else, and destined for something extraordinary. Like the visions experienced by figures as varied as Nat Turner, Zilpha Elaw, and William Saunders Crowdy, Blount’s dream initiated him to an alternative tradition of prophetic black leadership.2 His dream narrative also melded a call to prophecy with a science fiction–like account of futuristic transport. Although America’s post–World War II surge in reports of UFO sightings and abductions was still some years away, the notion of journeying through outer space to gain spiritual insight from otherworldly beings had been a staple of mystical religious thought for many centuries. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of supernatural conveyances—Jacob’s ladder, Ezekiel’s wheel, Elijah’s chariots of fire—that lift up and deliver the elect to a special realm. Modern writings in this vein by the eighteenth-century mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and the theosophist H. P. Blavatsky would have been readily available at the Booker T. Washington Library in Birmingham’s Colored Masonic Temple. Edgar Cayce, the clairvoyant and psychic healer, visited the city in the 1920s to

Leadership Dreams


give a demonstration of his special powers, and by the following decade the city’s theosophical society was hosting regular gatherings at its meeting hall on Twenty-Third Street. Industrial Birmingham was no stranger to metaphysical ideas, and Blount himself would become an increasingly important source for them.3 After the end of the school year, Sonny Blount left Huntsville for good. He returned to Birmingham to take up music again, but this time with a different mission. He began to put together a collection of musicians largely for rehearsal, “a band that would play for the sake of beauty and enlightenment.” His grandmother’s old house on Fourth Avenue, now headed by Aunt Ida, soon became a rehearsal hall. Although the Sonny Blount Orchestra still performed publicly from time to time, his musical life, as biographer John Szwed observes, came increasingly to center on these ongoing rehearsals at home. Here, from the piano bench, Sonny held court, instructing musicians, telling stories and jokes, and lecturing on a variety of subjects.4 His house became a recognized stopover, as musicians and the merely curious dropped by at all hours. In other cities, these gatherings might have taken place at society halls, taverns, or after-hours clubs. In late-1930s Birmingham, however, places hospitable to black cultural experimentation were few and far between, and so it was a private house that became a Magic City center of musical counterculture. In an era in which most such efforts were led by women, Sonny Blount’s musical salon nevertheless operated as a kind of utopian space within the “home sphere,” a living and working environment that bridged the household and the black community and that enabled those gathered there to call the city and the world as they existed into question.5 The physical layout of the house did not resemble the typical rehearsal space. The front room, recalled saxophonist Frank Adams, “was where he had his bed and where we rehearsed. . . . He had these records stacked about five feet off the ground, these 78 records, and he had his piano in there. . . .” The small room was often so crowded that singers were forced to wait out in the hallway, coming in only for vocal numbers. Despite the cramped space, the technology it contained seemed to transport Blount’s band members well beyond the musical confines of Birmingham. He possessed an early audio recording device called a wire recorder as well as a futuristic-sounding Hammond solovox, an electronic keyboard instrument first heard widely in the short film To New Horizons, produced for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.6 Somehow he also had acquired a shortwave radio. “I don’t know how he got it,” Frank Adams commented later, but “he could get music out of


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New York, like from the Savoy.” When Blount’s band members complained that some of the early bebop soloists they heard on these broadcasts were crazy, their leader disagreed: “That man’s not crazy. . . . He’s just trying to tell you he’s free.” Blount also claimed to be able to transcribe music off the radio; plucked from the ether, difficult passages from last night’s broadcast suddenly appeared in his own written arrangements. His musical colleagues saw this as an astonishing feat, akin to translating hieroglyphic messages from afar into a language mere locals might study and play. In this way, Blount made the house at 2508 Fourth Avenue North a kind of satellite station, pulling the sounds of strange new worlds to New South Birmingham.7 Sonny Blount startled his compatriots in other ways too. One day, for example, he casually announced that he himself was neither black nor white. In a world defined by race, Szwed observes, “it was the most radical claim a person could make.” Informal lecture topics also included the nature of outer space and the possibilities for traveling there. Blount sometimes depicted outer space as a realm of gods and angels; other times it was the source of powerful forces, such as the rotation of the planets, that shaped life on earth. The solar system could contain evil worlds too. He once claimed, according to Adams, that segregation was worse on Jupiter than in Alabama. The gatherings within the confines of his own house thus gave Sonny Blount the opportunity to begin developing his own expansive cosmology.8 The informal setting of the home also enabled him to experiment with visionary and millenarian styles of leadership. Faith healing, exorcism, and prophecy could be found in many places in 1930s Birmingham. Bishop Benjamin Garland Shaw of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, for instance, was known for stopping midsermon to grab hold of the devil himself, drag him down the aisle, and kick him out of church. The white minister Glenn V. Tingley of the Birmingham Gospel Tabernacle employed modern technology in theatrical fashion as he “saved people on the radio” each week on his wildly popular “Radio Revival.” Tent preachers routinely predicted end-time events, and the dramatic rise of political radicalism—revolutionary communism in particular—contributed its own millenarian appeal to the culture of Depression-era Alabama. Party activist Jane Speed opened a radical bookstore on Fifth Avenue North, not far from Blount’s house. Decorated with paintings by local black artists, her shop sold communist and labor movement writings as well as books on African American history, becoming for a time an unusual kind of public, interracial meeting place where a very different future could be posited and debated.9

Leadership Dreams


Sacred and secular dreams of freedom increasingly overlapped in theme and style. Local African American ministers began to challenge the class condescension of Birmingham’s black elite, while Alabama political radicals, as historian Robin D. G. Kelley has pointed out, reformulated Marxist precepts within spiritual traditions of African American resistance to racial oppression. Millenarian religious teachings and Communist Party doctrine sometimes shared an eschatological disposition: whether through revolution or the Second Coming, a radically different future was on its way. Although no evidence exists that Blount himself was a party member or even a regular fellow traveler, the radical futurism of this moment—melded as it was in Birmingham with African American visions of emancipation— became increasingly central to his own emerging beliefs.10 During the same period, Sonny Blount apparently began to write new kinds of compositions and arrangements that his musicians rehearsed but never performed in public. Although these works have not survived, they were inspired by his dreams or, as in the case of rhythmically complex compositions entitled “Thermodynamics” and “Fission,” by the new knowledge of the world and its possibilities conveyed by contemporary science fiction and popular science writings. Recent speculative fiction by African Americans, such as George Schuyler’s “Black Internationale,” published serially in the Pittsburgh Courier, was also imagining a black utopia based on the superior use of science. Blount picked up technological ideas from these kinds of writings—on the nature of sound waves, for example—for his own futuristic pronouncements: “I was born with x-ray ears,” Frank Adams recalled him saying. “I can hear all these things you humans can’t hear yet.” Reworking W. E. B. Du Bois’s conception of African American “second-sight,” Blount offered up himself as the leading exemplar of a new aural imagination.11 Local religious sources probably also inspired Blount’s futuristic notions of new-world exploration. “White Flyer to Heaven,” a sermon by the black Birmingham preacher A. W. Nix, first released on record in the late 1920s, dramatized an interplanetary railway journey of the elect. Invoking a utopian trope that Graham Lock and Alan Rice have called the “flying symbolic,” Nix took his listeners on a spectacular celestial voyage. Higher and higher! Higher and higher! We’ll pass on to the Second Heaven, The starry big Heaven, and view the flying stars and dashing meteors And then pass on by Mars and Mercury, and Jupiter and Venus, And Saturn and Uranus, and Neptune with her four glittering moons.


Chapter Three

The sacred journey continues—“beyond the sun, moon and stars, back behind God’s eternal Word”—until it reaches Nix’s final destination, the heavenly kingdom itself. It is hard not to see “White Flyer to Heaven” as a direct thematic inspiration for Sun Ra’s Chicago-era composition “Spaceship Lullaby,” with its own joyful tour of the solar system.12 Sonny Blount’s musical and philosophical excursions in this period also represented experiments in leadership. Adams, who in the early 1940s played simultaneously in bands led by Whatley and Blount, noted that both men embraced a “carefully stylized spectacle of pure showmanship” as well as an “absolute, single-minded devotion to craft.” Yet while Whatley modeled certain Bookerite leadership traits within a musical context, Blount developed the broader cultural and spiritual abilities of his musicians as well as their capacities to challenge accepted wisdom about the nature of the world. According to Adams, Blount’s expansive style of leadership enabled him to embrace both positions in the conventional debate over the correct path for African American social development: [He] would talk about somebody like W. E. B. Du Bois, who wanted blacks to have full education, and then Booker T. Washington, who wanted them to do menial things and “let down their bucket”— and he would appreciate both of them. He said, “How could you do without one or the other?”

Drawing on two philosophies typically seen as opposed, Blount was developing a more encompassing conception of leadership. Yet his approach also incorporated a quality that was foreign to both Washington and Du Bois: a profound ambivalence toward leadership itself.13 Blount’s reluctance to be a leader was based in part on his perception of the dangers it posed. He later invoked religious examples—the crucifixion, for instance—as well as instances closer to home: Birmingham’s civil rights and labor activists in the 1930s led a perilous existence, and many experienced violence and even death at the hands of Klan vigilantes or the police. Leaders also ran the risk of rejection by those they sought to lead. Not everyone in Birmingham, for example, applauded Blount’s approach to music making. Drummer Wilson Driver, who respected its experimental qualities, recalled plenty of locals who disparaged them. “Sonny Blount always had himself a nice bunch of musicians, but even then his music was a little too far out for most people. People’d say, ‘What the hell is this?’”14 Even Blount’s own band members sometimes rebelled against his idiosyncratic direction. When disobedience occurred, he meted out, as Adams

Leadership Dreams


recalled, his own singular kind of punishment: “‘I know you can’t see it now’—he had this soft voice—‘but people will be traveling in spaceships to different planets. . . . Those of you who don’t listen to me, I’m not going to tell you my address. Some of you will be looking for me, but you won’t know what planet I’m on.’” This sort of threat, invoking a future moment of interplanetary abandonment, probably struck some of his musicians as a strange warning. Yet the admonition conveyed Blount’s growing sense that the value of his leadership resided not so much in conventional forms of authority or musical expertise as in his role as seer and guide. Relaying this lesson in the future tense, he already seemed to examine life in Birmingham—its problems and possibilities—by looking backward from a better world to come.15 His Birmingham musicians lost him sooner than he expected. “Herman Blount, Band Leader, Held as Draft Dodger,” was how one newspaper announced his arrest in December 1942, and for several months he was in and out of jail, fighting induction until finally he was granted conscientious objector (CO) status. He continued to fight against mandatory public service until, against his will, he was shipped off to a civilian work camp in western Pennsylvania.16 Wartime conflicts with the government curtailed, for a time, Sonny Blount’s home-centered musical explorations—the rehearsals, the teaching, the philosophizing. Yet these struggles also radicalized his thinking in new ways. His pacifist leanings, already informed by readings about Christian nonviolence, grew stronger from contact with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Protestant antiwar organization that advised many would-be COs during World War II. His war resistance was motivated, however, by more than universalist principles of nonviolence; like many other African American conscientious objectors, he was aggrieved by the sense that the US government was persecuting him because of his race. Initially asking merely to be left alone, he became incensed by the racial composition of the all-white board that heard, and then denied, his appeal to remain at home. “The prejudice in my case,” he protested, was preventing him receiving a fair hearing. “Unfortunately,” he complained in a letter written to the board, “I am not living in a part of the US but more a section which seems a member of the Axis and which is determined that no Negro will ever receive justice.” In writings from jail, he reported that his state of confinement—and especially the extreme hardship of “being music-less”—was taking a major toll on his health and spirit, and that he was close to suicide.17 Blount’s subsequent time in the Pennsylvania service camp nevertheless nourished him in important respects. While physically challenging, it was


Chapter Three

his first experience in a nonsegregated social environment. Able to play piano for the other men, he also participated in nightly discussions of the “evils of war” and the “morality of resistance.” After six weeks he was given a medical diagnosis—“psychopathic personality,” not an unusual designation for black resisters—and then sent home, where he attempted to impart lessons from the camp to the musicians who would still associate with him. If people in general were “rotten to the core,” he wrote in a letter the following year, he “felt very proud” to be a member of the “one set of people who are men in mind and deed as far as the treatment of the black man” is concerned: “the COs.”18 Back in Birmingham, he resumed his rehearsals, and his band played occasionally at the Masonic Temple and other local venues. Yet he felt blackballed by other musicians, older ones especially, because of his war resistance and CO status. Few records exist of Sonny Blount’s band performing publicly in his hometown after his return from Pennsylvania. However, a one-sentence notice in the Atlanta Daily World about a Birmingham appearance in early 1945 states that one performance was abruptly shut down. Herman (Sonny) Blount is putting into writing a complaint saying that Supervisor Tom Briskey of the Park and Recreation Board used unpleasant methods in halting a dance which Blount’s orchestra was playing at Smithfield Court the night of January 24.

Was his performance peremptorily curtailed because of his CO status? Or were black youth at the dance being singled out as part of the city’s ongoing crackdown on “hoodlums and cutups”? Smithfield Court, a public housing development recently built for African Americans, was located along a legally inscribed borderline separating black and white Birmingham. Street-level challenges to Jim Crow segregation were on the rise at this time. Soon after Blount’s aborted appearance, dances were “banned out of the Smithfield Aud[itorium]” altogether. No further mention of Sonny Blount appeared in the southern press of this period. By the following year, he was on his way to Chicago.19 *



Sonny Blount’s creative sensibility, however unconventional it seemed, first took shape in everyday Birmingham. His early years downtown had situated him strangely at the center of urban life, surrounded by factories and

Leadership Dreams


skyscrapers, trains and trolleys—products of an urban economy that was dependent on black labor but consigned his community to the margins. The industrial dynamism championed by the Big Mules, the commercial aspirations symbolized by the Heaviest Corner, the motorized racial spectacles of the Klan, the stock characters of Octavus Roy Cohen’s Darktown—these white dreams of a modern Birmingham rested on notions of a black populace pulled along from a savage past, shackled to a Jim Crow present, and blocked off from a future of its own. Black Birmingham challenged this vision. The modern city of the New South, with its compulsively segregated economy, yielded up vital spaces for African American community building and advancement. Building banks and insurance companies, churches and fraternal organizations, schools and music associations and more, black leaders who were businessmen and ministers developed their own urban center. The Fourth Avenue business district anchored the notion of an autonomous community, united in purpose, guided by its worthiest individuals and committed to racial uplift—the commercial and moral development of its people—within the constraints set by white leaders and patrons. Industrial High School’s music program emerged as both cornerstone and stepladder in this project, and Birmingham became renowned throughout the territory and beyond for the strength of its bands and musicians. Linking together the towns and cities of the black South, their modern sounds and mobile lives confronted the sober respectability of early twentieth-century uplift with a new cultural ideal: the independent, fast-moving, disorienting, forward-looking ethos of the swing life. The city’s uplift and swing-band ideals influenced Sonny Blount’s musical and philosophical development. At the center of their appeal lay a particular conception of black autonomy: the idea that skillful devotion to achievement within established racial boundaries might somehow lead to collective emancipation. Yet his early years also fueled an ambivalence toward such constraints, along with a growing suspicion toward community notables and a search for new leadership styles that might serve a more transformative purpose. Meanwhile, his city routinely offered up cultural materials—musical performances, social rituals, scientific fantasies, historical legends—that were strange and suggestive in the possibilities they brought to mind. Even Africa, or Africa-in-Alabama, could be found there, in surprising places: the ritual lore of freemasonry, the masquerades of fictional satire, the music of the street. Like the ideals championed by the city’s African American businessmen and ministers, these strange materials


Chapter Three

often melded the commercial and the spiritual, magic and marketplace. In its less regulated spaces, however, black Birmingham gave rise not only to respectable projects of racial uplift but alluring hints of foreign places, sudden connections to ancient Africa, sonic clues from an impending future. City spaces, it seemed, might be used to reshape the scope of collective expression, imagine other lands, and even challenge prevailing conceptions of time. The ghetto-synthesis school of urban history emphasized racial segregation and spatial isolation as foundational characteristics of twentieth-century black experience. In early twentieth-century Birmingham, spatial restrictions were indeed pervasive and the risks for challenging them severe. Yet black urbanites also used space creatively to counter these restrictions, reimagining particular places or forging new geographical scales that afforded opportunities of their own. Spaces of music making, in particular, often enabled these creative processes. Recognized by historians for building solidarity and communal pleasure, and sometimes drawing the ire of both white supremacists and African American moral reformers, black musical settings also furnished openings for far-reaching dreams of flight, freedom, and fulfillment. Making sense of the early career of Sonny Blount as he moved through key urban spaces illuminates how African Americans in interwar Birmingham enacted a range of cultural ideals through music—and imagined, in multiple ways, their city’s place in the world and its possible futures.20 Beyond ghetto-centered frameworks, urban historians have also focused on twentieth-century processes of “proletarianization” in order to understand the African American urban experience. Although first developed to comprehend interwar black communities in the urban North, this emphasis on how rural blacks became urban-industrial workers, resulting in new forms of racial and class consciousness, provides a great deal of insight into 1930s Birmingham, where a dramatic surge in working-class radicalism sprang from the district’s system of industrial apartheid as well as from a distinctly southern, labor-centered African American freedom movement.21 Yet black critical consciousness in Depression-era Birmingham took multiple forms, and the cultural gulf in the city between advanced swing musicians and Popular Front notions of black musical culture—infused as the latter were with “interracial solidarities”—remained substantial. Sonny Blount’s story suggests that the Magic City’s industrial Jim Crow fueled not only a radical working-class movement but also a vernacular African American cultural modernism focused on the creative connections between black autonomy, commercial achievement, and spiritual transcendence—

Leadership Dreams


not so much a critical political consciousness as a proto-utopian uplift aesthetic. Blount’s ability to draw substantial numbers of musicians to his house rehearsals and lectures suggests the distinctive appeal of a fundamentally artistic racial project that scrambled black Birmingham’s class-based understandings of the world. In broad terms, Blount’s work in Birmingham might exemplify what urban historians have called a “community building” approach to twentiethcentury African American urban development. Community building—the notion that, even under the harshest strictures of early twentieth-century Jim Crow, black middle-class actors created robust communal institutions, a coherent ideology, and a particular model of urban leadership—sheds substantial light on the African American experience in Birmingham, as it has on many other cities.22 Yet the approach may fail to recognize cultural sensibilities that did not conform to the uplift projects championed by African American elites. Recentering the study of black Birmingham on the anomalous figure of Sonny Blount highlights the cultural limits of middleclass community building as well as the promise of more far-reaching ideals circulating at the margins of interwar urban respectability. In this sense, Blount’s Birmingham—an urban construction anchored in the real city but also shaped by imagined connections to other times and places—does not so much refute the field’s core understandings as reexamine them from new locations or in a different register. When Blount left the South in 1946, he took the cultural sensibilities, both musical and philosophical, of his Birmingham experiences with him. Although Sonny Blount was hardly ever typical in any respect, he became, like a surprisingly high proportion of the African Americans who resettled in Chicago during the postwar period, a migrant from the urban South. Popular depictions today of the Great Migration, while offering compelling insights into one subset of resettlers, suggest that most migrants had rural origins—thereby lending support to the notion that the social and cultural tensions roiling postwar Chicago’s South Side arose from what sociologists of the day called the “urban adjustment problems” of migrants with little experience of city life. In reality, the distinctive urban environment of southern cities and towns shaped Blount’s skills and aspirations, and those of many African American migrants, in myriad ways. Their beliefs and practices, in turn, made substantial contributions to the early postwar culture of the black South Side—though African Americans in the urban North might nonetheless have strong reasons, as we will see, to portray southern blacks as rustics.23


Chapter Three

For Sonny Blount, Birmingham offered urban spaces for making music where he began to reimagine himself and the world. His encounter with Chicago would involve a new struggle to devise a community-based institutional structure that ultimately could bring together his musical and philosophical worlds—and lead others to them as well. This process would take time.

par t ii


He arrived in Chicago early in 1946. He left no record of his first impressions, nor did he ever provide—either as Sonny Blount or as Sun Ra—a general accounting of his subsequent fifteen years in the city. Yet many of his musical activities and their locations during this time can be reconstructed in detail. When pieced together, and connected to his writings and other evidence from the period, these practices and places offer unusual insight into the evolution of the South Side music scene and, more generally, into the shifting conditions and cultural ideals of black Chicago in the post–World War II era. Drawing on idealized conceptions of the African American South Side from earlier moments in community history, Sun Ra’s musical approach to the city—as trial, stage, springboard, and veil—would become central to his increasingly utopian aspirations over the course of the 1950s. Blount’s approach to music making, while initially formed in Birmingham, evolved and deepened through his immersion in South Side culture. During his time in Chicago he played, wrote, and arranged widely varied types of music, from the popular to the experimental, in many different performance and rehearsal settings. Variety stage shows and dance halls, social club gatherings and taverns, jam sessions and burlesque shows, church halls and park amphitheaters, cramped apartments and retail-market backrooms—these sites afforded him disparate opportunities to discover surprising powers and purposes in music and to explore related philosophical questions about historical myth, racial identity, and the future. Over time, the South Side itself became for Sun Ra a kind of musical stage, its assorted spaces a multidimensional theater in which he and his fellow musicians not only presented themselves and their music to the local community but shared their own musical versions of community with diverse audiences and participants. Making music, for Sun Ra, remained in all of these circumstances an intensely serious form of entertainment. Even the playing of apparent trifles


Part II

involved profound ethical stakes, revealing the inner character of individual musicians as well as the moral tenor of whatever larger social collective they might represent. Any music, therefore, held the potential—if performed in the proper spirit—to travel beyond itself, to comment on the world, and to transport musicians and listeners to other places or states of being. In this sense, hidden and even transformative realities veiled by everyday social constraints might become newly accessible through certain kinds of musical experiences. Sun Ra’s work with the Arkestra would come to emphasize in highly distinctive ways the moral, theatrical, and revelatory qualities of music. Yet these qualities were already present, debated and sometimes celebrated, in the community culture of black Chicago when he arrived, reflecting the close connection of the South Side’s history of musical performance to its aspirations. Understanding this history, and the institutional structures that supported it, illuminates the cultural expectations, materials, and dispositions Sun Ra encountered—and reworked—in his new city. The professional life of an African American musician in late-1940s Chicago remained similar in many ways to that of earlier decades. Work still revolved around the South Side clubs, the community, and the union. Local 208, founded in 1902 when Chicago’s Local 10 of the American Federation of Musicians refused to accept African American members, enforced a union pay scale, regulated the workweek, and managed its own rehearsal space. By the 1940s, the two locals were following a well-established pattern of coexistence: Local 10 was gatekeeper for club work in the Loop and North Side, along with the classical music halls, radio stations, and recording studios, while Local 208 controlled the nightclubs, dancehalls, and other “legitimate” performance venues on the South Side. This division into two music-making territories mirrored the segregated character of the city’s neighborhoods, churches, schools, community organizations, and political machines. Chicago’s African American musicians had spent decades playing mostly for black audiences on the South Side, often—but not always—in venues owned by whites. In the process, many developed a strong belief in the value of black autonomy and cultural leadership from within the community.1 This belief stemmed in part from the recognition that racist patterns of development had defined the urban landscape for many decades. African Americans in Chicago had confronted residential segregation at the block level at least as early as the 1870s. Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, as migration swelled the city’s black population from thirty thousand to over a hundred thousand, segregation “scaled up,” with a large, well-defined neighborhood ghetto emerging along South State Street as



far down as Fifty-Fifth Street. Along with the size of the ghetto, strong black-led institutions grew in influence—from businesses, newspapers, churches, and medical facilities to upper-class civic associations, women’s clubs, and settlement houses. Turn-of-the-century activists such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Edward E. Wilson pursued political agendas centered on expanding rights as well as building community institutions. Black business leaders, however, responded to mounting discrimination throughout the city with an increasing emphasis on racial self-reliance—not simply as a community-building tactic but as a guiding strategy for African American achievement and progress.2 Under these conditions, making the black South Side into a city within the city offered community leaders and activists a path to self-directed freedom. The dream of a black metropolis—an autonomous urban realm where an excluded people might determine its own destiny—took different forms and served an array of aspirational purposes over the ensuing decades. Early in the twentieth century, “Old Settlers” and rising middle-class leaders alike championed the uplift values of respectability, ambition, self-discipline, and collective obligation. Modern urban life, in this view, confronted black Chicagoans with a kind of trial—a moral test of individual character that also spoke to the community’s larger progress and readiness for full freedom. For these leaders, music concerts in refined settings such as social clubs and choral societies not only elevated their participants but represented a collective moral triumph over misrepresentations of the race.3 Chicago politics, with its patronage networks and fragmented authority, served to reinforce independence as an African American urban ideal. Already incorporated into the city’s First Ward machine by 1915, black voters gained a modest but appreciable level of political influence even as the institutional walls of the ghetto went up. Community elites failed to hinder city government from concentrating undesirable activities—saloons, brothels, cabarets—within the Black Belt, but local entrepreneurs came to control a sizable portion of these “vice” revenues. Catering to a large white clientele as well as local residents, the area’s black-and-tan clubs in particular became interracial zones of unconventional social contact and commercial exchange. During the 1920s, such venues complicated the increasingly “sharp and clear” distinctions that were emerging between Chicago’s black and white residential spaces.4 Racial segregation in northern cities evolved differently than it had in the urban South. Black political rights in Chicago, limited though they often were in practice, led to a heavier reliance by whites on spatial tools for constricting African American settlement and access to economic opportunity.


Part II

Beyond the antiblack street violence that exploded in the race riot of 1919 and recurred on a smaller scale thereafter, mundane mechanisms of the real estate market—not only deed restrictions and property covenants but lending and appraisal practices, steering devices, and zoning rules supported by federal policies—worked to maintain boundaries around the interwar black ghetto even as its population grew dramatically. In contrast to Birmingham’s legal codes with their explicitly mandated “separation of races,” these tools were ostensibly not about race. The principles of racial regulation in Chicago, as in many northern cities, often lay buried beneath the visible metropolis, which operated as a kind of veil—a notion that would figure strongly in Sun Ra’s conceptions of the city.5 Nonetheless, many African Americans celebrated interwar Bronzeville— the name residents gave to the Black Belt—as a space of their own. The rise of the Chicago jazz scene after World War I, as the music of New Orleans was refashioned in South Side cabarets, played a key role in the development of black commercial enterprise, political influence, and nightlife. African American party organizers and gambling operators such as Henry “Teenan” Jones and William Bottoms owned prominent nightclubs, and musicians routinely contributed to political events that celebrated the entrepreneurial accomplishments of these self-same community leaders. At the black-and-tan cabarets, amid floorshows and vaudeville acts, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and other musical innovators refashioned early blues and jazz traditions into a polyphonic instrumental music of great technical sophistication and dramatic expression. If casual white visitors often enjoyed the clubs for their exciting presentations of the “exotic and perhaps dangerous peoples” in their city, black patrons could experience these performances as audaciously modern and playful expressions of an emerging communal character oriented toward pleasure and cultural triumph. Celebrating the African American good life as mass-commercial entertainment, this new urban ideal—the city within the city as a stage—clashed sharply with uplift notions of respectability and moral trial. Not surprisingly, then, the Nighttime Stroll, as historian Davarian Baldwin has called the State Street corridor of clubs, theaters, hotels, and saloons, became the focus of pointed community debate over competing African American aspirations.6 Those ideals underwent further development in the 1930s, when a dramatic decline in the commercial vitality of the South Side jazz scene set off a search for new opportunities outside the Black Belt. Early in the decade, black musicians renewed the struggle to integrate Local 208 into the larger white local, but union boss James Petrillo rejected their merger petitions and shored up the segregated musical marketplace even as New Deal–era labor



organizations championed interracial solidarity. Confronted by the extreme economic challenges of the Depression, African American musicians in Chicago and other cities took to the road in search of work at whatever wages they could find. The period’s emerging jazz styles, especially the big-band swing music coded as “hot” (black), came to express this powerful sense of a people in motion. Sharply attired and scrupulously precise in their playing, African American swing musicians became what historian Lewis Erenberg has called “traveling representatives of the modern city,” delivering the polished, fast-paced sound of black urban sophistication to ballrooms and—as in the nightly broadcasts by the Earl Hines Orchestra from the South Side’s Grand Terrace—radio sets across the country.7 Swing bands of the 1930s offered myriad songs about places, regions, and the mobile life. The music’s propulsive rhythms evoked the dynamism of mechanized movement, and complex arrangements manipulated sound and silence to suggest wide-open spaces. Despite the actual hardships of black life on the road, these musical qualities conveyed the belief that the entire country’s places and experiences were accessible and that “all places,” as musicologist Andrew Berish has put it, “were open to reconstruction.” In this sense, mobile African American swing musicians, while typically restricted in their hometowns, seemed to their audiences to embody a utopian spirit released from the spatial container of the ghetto. Recasting the city as a kind of springboard, the swing band projected an imagined geography of America itself as an ever-expanding web of pathways free for travel.8 World War II furnished the swing era with a dramatic second wind—one that was still blowing when Sonny Blount arrived in Chicago in 1946. The booming war economy drew massive waves of southern migrants, among them large numbers of musicians, and by the end of hostilities more than three hundred thousand African American residents were squeezed into a narrow strip of South Side territory.9 Beyond the urban dynamism and commercial stimulus generated by the war mobilization, the city’s wellworn segregation tools no longer seemed able to shore up inherited ghetto boundaries. Urban spaces and populations were now in motion. What this meant for the postwar future of the community, however—for its musicians or ideals—was far from clear.


South Side Music Scene

We have to advance towards some other aspect of tunes. —Sonny Blount 1

Accounts of Sonny Blount’s initial years in Chicago can take on the quality of a storybook in reverse. Arriving in early 1946, he manages, almost immediately, to get a job with Fletcher Henderson when his idol’s regular arranger falls asleep before a gig at the Club DeLisa, one of the South Side’s premiere nightclubs. Blount, the story goes, steps in flawlessly, his musical skills and knowledge of the Henderson repertoire soon establishing him as a valued arranger and performer at the DeLisa. Henderson’s departure for California nine months later, however, brings this good fortune to an end. For the next half decade or so Sonny Blount scuffles for work in Chicago and at the strip clubs in Calumet City, unappreciated for his talents and dreaming of a better existence on Saturn. His life in Chicago becomes, in a phrase once applied to Henderson, a “study in frustration”—a brief taste of paradise, followed by many years toiling obscurely in a declining South Side music scene.2 This story, though its basic plotline may be correct, misses much that was important about Sonny Blount’s early years in Chicago and neglects many insights into the musical origins of certain South Side cultural ideals that flourished later. Blount’s tenure at the DeLisa was hardly trouble-free, and his subsequent, more itinerant activities, working with an array of clubs and musicians, immersed him in a generative mix of musical sites and styles. By the end of the 1940s, Blount had established himself as a key figure in the varied South Side music scene and become something of a leader for many of his younger colleagues—some of whom learned from him musically and others as a philosopher or spiritual mentor. Tracing his activities across various settings reveals how particular racial and spatial conditions affected different centers of musical produc-


Chapter Four

tion, how production at these sites addressed an array of social issues, and how one cohort of South Side musicians developed community ideals that ranged beyond conventional liberal notions of black leadership and progress. Despite the racial conflicts and economic challenges reshaping black Chicago, Sonny Blount and many of his colleagues experienced the early post–World War II years as a historical moment full of possibility.

Destiny at the DeLisa Blount’s arrival in the city coincided with a small announcement in the Chicago Defender: “Fletcher Henderson signed a six-months contract to play for Mike DeLisa beginning with the next show.”3 By the time this contract was renewed half a year later, Blount himself was working alongside the bandleader, and what turned out to be a nine-month tenure with the Henderson orchestra at the Club DeLisa would have a significant impact on his musical career and aspirations. Sonny Blount was part of the advance guard of a second Great Migration, one of nearly twenty thousand black Americans who migrated to Chicago in 1946, many from the urban South. Other jazz musicians among the recent migrants included Lonnie Simmons (from Charleston, South Carolina), Tom Archia (Houston), and Vernel Fournier (New Orleans). For these musicians, as for Blount, the immediate challenge was not so much adjusting to city life—as imagined in the stereotype of rural-to-urban migrants—as establishing their position within a changing, multifaceted Chicago music scene and contributing, in different ways, to its forward movement. The first step in this process was finding work. Soon after his arrival Blount deposited four dollars to square himself with Local 208, the black musicians’ union; several months later, after an extended engagement with jump blues singer Wynonie Harris took him to Nashville, he submitted the full fifty-dollar membership fee. Back in Chicago, he seems to have had little trouble finding gigs and settling in.4 The job with Fletcher Henderson, though, was more, for the thirty-twoyear-old Sonny Blount, than just a timely commercial opportunity with an established musician and bandleader. Henderson was the foremost embodiment of the swing-band ideal and a compelling exemplar of community leadership. His presence at the DeLisa suggested that the swing era, deemed over and done with before the war, was somehow back again. Might Blount, working alongside Henderson, reenter the musical past to develop the music of the future? Many other Chicagoans also viewed the immediate postwar moment as

South Side Music Scene


4.1 Sonny Blount, publicity photo, 1940s. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

a time of enormous possibility. Urban planners were imagining a new city without crowding, without slums, and business leaders were envisioning new development outside the Loop and enhancing government powers to underwrite it. Developer Arthur Rubloff unveiled a large retail expansion up North Michigan Avenue; renaming the area the Magnificent Mile, he created a new destination of “smart shops” clustered near the elegant, recently opened Hotel Continental. Images of new worlds seemed to be everywhere in town, from the Chicago Plan Commission’s vision for eradicating the South Side slum to Mandrake’s “super spectacle of magic feats of India and the Orient” at the Civic Opera House. Even the menu cover of the Hotel Continental’s New Horizon restaurant, depicting a mountainous


Chapter Four

Shangri- La with Pan-like piper serenading a dancing ram, promised to transport downtown visitors to an enchanted land.5 Black Chicagoans were also entertaining new dreams. As restrictive covenants surrounding the Black Belt became increasingly unenforceable, the door to the American Dream seemed ready to open, at least for those with the means to step through it on their own. Affluent African Americans envisioned home ownership as the path beyond the ghetto—a dream vividly on display in the August 1946 issue of Ebony, featuring Supreme Liberty Life, the black-owned insurance company and mortgage lender. There were also more ambitious black ideals, some of them given voice by musicians. Paul Robeson, in a speech to mark the end of the European conflict, had imagined a greater dream: “What a vista lies before us! This can be the final war. It is possible to solve once and for all the problem of human poverty, to attain a speedy freedom and equality for all peoples.” Robeson reiterated this theme in 1946 at Chicago’s annual music festival, where he spoke and sang for an enormous crowd—and politely received a “scroll of achievement” given him by a young Illinois state senator named Richard J. Daley.6 Spiritually inclined musicians from Birmingham, meanwhile, were shaping the future of their music in Chicago. Former Industrial High School teacher Charles Bridges and his colleagues from the Famous Blue Jays of Birmingham were busy recording spirituals for nationwide distribution while also operating a South Side record store. Julie Mae Kennedy, another teacher from Industrial, became music director for First Church of Deliverance, a Spiritualist congregation, its modernist, streamlined towers newly dominating Wabash Avenue at Forty-Third Street. Led by the smooth and dapper Reverend Clarence Cobb, the church appealed to urban sophisticates among the rising black working class, broadcasting a late-night Sunday music program with Kennedy’s “swingy” choir, complete with pianos, violins, a pipe organ, an electric guitar, and even, in an innovation Blount himself no doubt appreciated, a Hammond organ. And like Blount, too, these Birmingham-bred musicians embraced a certain kind of cultural modernism in which the ideals of black autonomy, commercial uplift and spiritual transcendence were intertwined.7 For a future-oriented musician like Sonny Blount, Chicago itself presented the sight and sound of modern development in motion—urban stimuli that before long would figure in his own musical compositions. Beyond the elevated lines, their trains pulsing majestically even through the Black Belt neighborhoods, a new kind of limited-access “urban freeway” called the Outer Drive, its name an exotic promise, now connected the north and south sides of the city all the way down to Jackson Park. The aural presence

South Side Music Scene


of black-appeal radio spilled out of South Side stores, hailing local shoppers as savvy modern consumers, promoting the latest musical styles with the proselytizing fervor of the churches. Chicago was also home to WebsterChicago, a company that had just begun manufacturing wire recorders, and to Frederick J. Drake, publisher of Drake’s Cyclopedia, the instruction book on sound systems and electronics, its 1946 edition containing new sections specifically devoted to the “hyper frequencies.” If Birmingham was the modern city with a future that never quite fully arrived, in Chicago the future—or at least its imminent promise—seemed all around him.8 Shortly after his arrival, Sonny Blount rented a small apartment at 5414 South Prairie Avenue, a narrow, four-story brick building on a residential street—and easy walking distance from the DeLisa. His block was right off Garfield Boulevard, also called Fifty-Fifth Street, where a black nightlife corridor ran for over half a mile west of Washington Park. Directly across the street from his house was Kiah’s restaurant, a twenty-four-hour barbecue joint that was a favorite of club musicians; the house specialty was something called the “gospel bird.” In musical terms, “Fifty-Fifth Street was Main Street,” as saxophonist Von Freeman would later note—the South Side’s central thoroughfare for nighttime music venues. At the eastern end of the corridor, not far from the park, was the glamorous Rhumboogie Café. Co-owned by African American businessman Charlie Glenn and exheavyweight champion Joe Louis, the club was closed when Blount first arrived because of a New Year’s Day fire but soon reopened featuring vocalist Dinah Washington as well as a special anniversary revue entitled “Jazz Astronomy.” To the west were other venues, such as the Hurricane Theatre Lounge, where trumpeter Jesse Miller’s combo would soon be joined by tenor saxophonist Lester Young, the Onyx Club (not the famous one in New York), and the Café de Society, featuring “5 Female Impersonators.” Sonny Boswell’s was close by, presenting a New Orleans–style group led by white bass player Pat Patterson, as were smaller taverns like the Last Chance. And finally, near the western end of the corridor, around the corner on State Street, was the Club DeLisa.9 Blount’s arrival in Chicago happened to coincide with an exceptionally favorable moment for black musicians. Drummer Robert Barry, who later played with Sun Ra and the Arkestra, was then just a teenager scoping out the scene: Everybody was coming here because Chicago had the most clubs. New York had the famous clubs: Bandbox, Birdland, Onyx, Three Deuces— say, about seven or eight clubs. But Chicago had clubs from downtown all


Chapter Four the way down to 63rd Street. . . . A lot of guys . . . would walk from 29th, stop at each club in the 30s, walk down to the 40s and hit all the clubs, and just keep going.

For musicians, lots of clubs meant lots of work. While the South Side’s residential racial borders were starting to crumble, the city’s segregated musical marketplace still precluded access to the lucrative Loop and North Side venues; the unwritten agreement between the two union locals, according to bandleader Morris Ellis, was that “black musicians couldn’t play north of Twelfth Street and the white musicians wouldn’t come south.” Yet these racial restrictions cut both ways. The persistence of Jim Crow, Chicagostyle, meant that big-name groups like the Duke Ellington and Roy Eldridge bands continued to perform at South Side venues like the massive Regal Theater, while other Bronzeville clubs were also able to draw top African American musicians—and enjoy the economic stimulus that came with them. Loop hotel accommodations remained hard to come by for most black out-of-towners, so these musicians often stayed at South Side hotels as well, further fueling the community’s entertainment economy.10 Emerging from the war with renewed popularity, the DeLisa remained a swing-era embodiment of the good life, glamorous yet accessible. Built several years earlier to replace the original building lost in a fire, the new Club DeLisa was enormous, seating over eight hundred patrons—twice the size, according to New York newspaper columnist Dan Burley, of any club in Harlem. Offering live entertainment seven nights a week, and a breakfast show on Mondays, the DeLisa was a gathering place for South Side musicians and dancers, celebrities and hipsters, along with other community residents. Bebop pianist Argonne Thornton (later Sadik Hakim), who often ended up there with Charlie Parker and Tom Archia after they all finished their gigs at other clubs, recalled the venue’s popularity with Chicago’s fast crowd, black and white: “On Saturday night and Sunday morning, everyone would go to the DeLisa—all the biggest sportsmen (pimps), the top whores, the top Mafia hoods.” Mike DeLisa, who owned the club with his brothers, operated a popular gambling room in the basement and was known for having “48th Street [the local police precinct] in his pocket.”11 Despite the club’s reputation as a celebrity haunt, everyday South Siders frequented it too. Ads promised “No Cover or Minimum at Any Time,” and patrons brought their own alcohol to go with setups provided by the bar. The DeLisa hosted dances, holiday functions, and “style shows” for such middle-class associations as the Elite Masters, Green Donkeys, Gracious Nine, and Colonial Dames. The DeLisa brothers were also strong

South Side Music Scene


supporters of the South Side’s Bud Billiken celebration, the mammoth Defender-sponsored parade and music show held each summer. In August 1946, just as Sonny Blount joined Henderson’s orchestra, a DeLisa float bearing the band was a major parade attraction. A half million people turned out in Washington Park later in the day (Blount no doubt among them) to hear Henderson and other local “musical stars” perform for free. Later that month, the Defender returned the favor, running a photo of the great bandleader inspecting a South Side building damaged by fire, as if orchestrating its speedy recovery. The nightclub and its performers worked hard to build connections with local audiences, who in turn came to view the DeLisa as an important community institution. Although white-owned, the venue attracted a racially mixed crowd; its musicians, choreographers, dancers, and staff were black, as were most of its patrons.12 The entertainment program at the DeLisa ranged widely, presenting live shows in a variety format. Beyond its own featured numbers, Henderson’s fifteen-piece orchestra accompanied the full roster of other acts—vocalists, dance teams, comedians, chorus lines, and shake dancers—as well as providing music for club patrons out on the floor. Choreographer Sammy Dyer, working with arrangers like Blount, operated at a near-killing pace, churning out music and dance material that every four weeks reemerged in a fresh show, often with a theme of exotic travel: Sho-Boat Floats, Dude Ranch Revue, Romance and Rhythm, Bronzeville Holiday, Copper Cabana Revue, Creole Nights, Drumboogie Revue, Lime House Nites.13 Vocal performers at the club tended, by this period, to be well-known local talent rather than national musical stars. Most DeLisa vocalists were billed as variety-show “blues” singers, but in reality their styles ran in many different directions. During Blount’s time there, house regular Lurlean Hunter, for instance, sang pop and jazz standards with a lush, polished voice. Albennie Jones, a more traditional blues shouter, performed recent recordings she had made for National/Savoy Records, including “Salty Papa Blues” and “Evil Gal Blues,” backed by the young beboppers Dizzy Gillespie and Don Byas. Also featured at the DeLisa was seventeen-year-old LaVern Baker, a future rhythm and blues star who began performing that year under the name Midget La Verne. Then there were the regular male vocalists: risqué jump blues singer Dr. Jo Jo Adams, known for his multicolored tuxedoes; impersonator and singer George Kirby, the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” who, somewhat daringly for the period, imitated white celebrities; and Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore, a blues singer who not long after Blount’s arrival underwent a dramatic religious conversion—midsong on the DeLisa stage—and joined the ministry at First Church of Deliverance.


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Sonny Blount, as arranger and accompanying pianist, worked with many different voices during his time at the DeLisa.14 Henderson’s own music, if less polished than in earlier years, continued to exemplify the flashy yet accessible style of the interwar period. During the 1930s, stepping away from the financial struggles that increasingly plagued black bandleaders, Henderson had signed on with Benny Goodman as chief arranger, employing his unmatched orchestration skills to help propel the “King of Swing” to the top of the swing charts. Henderson’s writing, as many observers have noted, enabled the Goodman band to develop a differently racialized swing sound—a populist sound that appealed to black and white teenage dancers, embodying, or so it seemed, New Deal– like conceptions of racial equality and “amalgamation.” Henderson’s particular ability was to generate “hot jazz” orchestrations of popular songs— inventive arrangements of the commercial standards preferred by radio sponsors, rather than blues or jazz numbers. His own band at the DeLisa seemed determined to carry this swing ideal into the postwar era, and for Sonny Blount his leadership style and ability to integrate disparate musical elements into an inclusive sound remained worthy of emulation.15 The role of the DeLisa as a cultural meeting ground for the African American South Side meant that social tensions within the community inevitably surfaced in the music there. The club’s most successful star of this period was a performer whose well-honed stage act offered up a musical encounter between North and South. Appearing as a barefoot country girl under the name Little Miss Cornshucks, the singer and comedienne Mildred Cummings first amused audiences with the crude humor associated with a southern, backwoods demeanor, then astonished them with a singing voice that was mature, sophisticated, and remarkably versatile. Cummings’s vocal style ranged from the catch-in-the-throat dramatics of 1920s blues belters to the velvety smooth delivery of postwar crooners, along with bits of baby-talk scat. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, she developed her Cornshucks act while performing in northern cities over many years before becoming phenomenally popular with DeLisa audiences at the end of World War II. Although critics such as Bill Chase of the New York Amsterdam News sniffed that she “digs in her nose, grabs her derriere and other parts of the anatomy,” the Defender’s Lou Swarz recognized the appeal of the act: “Her appearance makes you look twice, and her singing makes you say, ‘How can one who looks so funny sing in such captivating way?’” Beyond providing a dose of what later would be called “Jim Crow nostalgia,” her performances compellingly dramatized, for a black community roiled by mass migration, a unified and modern urban identity—and

South Side Music Scene


amazed DeLisa listeners that music of this sophistication could come from a once-rustic people.16 The DeLisa’s musical pageants also explored timely questions of community identity through other popular entertainment genres. Despite the formulaic character of these shows, Sonny Blount took seriously the allure of their exotic destinations; indeed, the travelogue quality of his later Chicago-based music probably owed a debt to these Dyer-choreographed revues. As with Ebony magazine’s early postwar features on far-flung vacations now open to the black traveler, Dyer’s stage productions furnished Bronzeville audiences with a stream of romantic locales in which to imagine themselves at play. “Lime House Nites,” while probably occasioned by a popular Fred Astaire dance sequence in the recently released movie Ziegfeld Follies, nevertheless offered a setting and theme with a well-worn history, invoking a fantasy geography of London’s Chinatown as the site of strange, opium-induced desires. Along with costumes, scenery, and narrative, musical stereotypes such as gongs and parallel fifths helped transport audiences to this liminal ghetto, a dream realm of loosened social constraints and cross-racial romantic adventure. The popular song “Limehouse Blues,” no doubt a staple of the DeLisa show, relied on a circular, repeating melodic figure to conjure the hypnotic mood associated with the atemporal world of the Orient. It is the sort of looped musical trope the Arkestra would spin in exotic-sounding compositions many years later.17 A DeLisa theatrical pageant set in the exotic Orient inevitably would have furnished opportunities for the kind of racist caricature and parody that musicologist Charles Hiroshi Garrett has called “musical yellowface.” Yet beyond inherited stereotypes associated with magically distant lands, the changing image of Chicago’s own Chinatown also might have shaped clubgoers’ perceptions of the show. During the war years, Bronzeville “discovered” the nearby South Side immigrant enclave, as black residents fleeing overcrowded conditions sought housing there. African American clubwomen soon toured the neighborhood, with middle-class families making special trips to Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue to sample the foreign cuisine. Defender editor Lucius C. Harper, reflecting on the future of the black ghetto, pointed out that Chicago’s Chinatown was not only a product of racist exclusion but a “natural” outgrowth of ethnic clustering—in this sense, like Bronzeville itself. In such a context, the foreign travel conjured by “Lime House Nites” and other productions may have encouraged the DeLisa’s African American patrons to engage in a certain amount of local tourism—actual or imagined—and even to reflect upon the changing nature of their own community. After all, what would happen to the seemingly


Chapter Four

timeless realm known as Bronzeville, community members might wonder, now that its borders were suddenly in motion?18 Questions about the future of swing music also percolated at the DeLisa. If the precise musical qualities of Henderson’s orchestra as the DeLisa house band remain uncertain, musicians’ recollections make clear that neither the venue nor the orchestra offered much room for innovation. Several of the band’s younger sidemen enjoyed reputations as beboppers, but by all accounts, Henderson kept them on a short leash. The commercial constraints on a dance venue and show club were also substantial, and audience expectations at the DeLisa were well-honed. When the young trumpeter Freddie Webster, a new member of the Henderson orchestra, soloed on “Body and Soul” one night in what band members later recalled as an aggressively modern way, he “turned the DeLisa out,” sending patrons scurrying for the door.19 Sonny Blount’s own efforts to experiment with the orchestra’s arrangements met with determined resistance from the band itself. Early on, Henderson had ceded to Blount most of his own piano duties. But when Henderson urged him to contribute some orchestrations, the newcomer brought in several charts to a special rehearsal that, as he later recollected, did not go well. “The notes were there, but they couldn’t play them right. They couldn’t read them. After three hours Fletcher gave up. It was a different kind of syncopation, and they didn’t have it.” Subsequent conflicts emerged over Blount’s unusual chordal voicings. “I was playing my own inversions of the chords the way I felt them. It disturbed the band but it didn’t bother Fletcher.” After enduring slights and jibes, Blount set a razor on top of the piano as a warning. When this failed to quell the conflict, he announced that he was quitting the band. Fletcher didn’t say anything, he didn’t say he accepted it, and he didn’t say he didn’t. The next night the band played, I went, and they didn’t have a piano player. He was up there directing and they [the band] realized he meant it, so they told me to come back on stage, so my notice was over. After that the band didn’t bother me because they realized that Fletcher meant it.

What the bandleader might have “meant” is not apparent, though Sonny Blount did remain on board for the remainder of the Chicago engagement. If Blount’s recollections imply that he never lost Henderson’s personal support, they also suggest that his opportunity to experiment, small to begin with, did not open up much over time.20

South Side Music Scene


These conflicts failed to shake Blount’s deep admiration for Henderson or for his seemingly detached style of leadership. The successful bandleader of this era was expected to be a showman, a charismatic entertainer, and even a lordly benefactor. Lionel Hampton, born in Birmingham and based in Chicago, was called the “jumping jack vibe king,” renowned for his slick showmanship and phenomenal energy on stage. Cab Calloway developed an entire call-and-response routine with his band that, in hipsterly regal fashion, ended with the leader deigning to grant his men a fifteen-minute intermission. Even Duke Ellington, in his apparently effortless way, managed to hold the spotlight regardless of how spectacularly his sidemen might play. But not Henderson: as Sonny Blount later reflected, even when positioned out front as the leader of the band, “he himself was always in the background.” Characteristically, Blount saw this reticence as a sign of Henderson’s special charisma. “Fletcher,” he commented subsequently, perhaps drawing on his early reading of occultist Geoffrey Hodson’s Brotherhood of Angels and Men, “was really part of an angelic thing. I wouldn’t say he was a man.” The purity of Henderson’s intentions gave the man and his music a transcendent quality, one that Blount in his own way was pursuing.21 Yet if Henderson himself never seemed threatened by Blount, the younger man’s ideas about the future of music often startled his bandmates. “He’d say, ‘This piano’s gonna become obsolete,” trumpet player Matthew Rucker recalled. “Music’s gonna change, everything’s gonna be electric. . . . We’re gonna have something like an [electric] harpsichord.” For Rucker, this kind of speculation was “crazy talk.” For Blount, however, even while he was at the DeLisa working with the uncrowned king of swing, the future clearly was on its way. The question was where he might find it, and who might encounter it with him.22 In the meantime, his own future would no longer lie with Fletcher Henderson’s group. In May 1947, the bandleader headed to California, leaving his band members behind; his career as the head of a major orchestra was winding down. And more than simply Henderson’s professional life was on its last legs. Now that the momentum of the wartime economy was spent, the big bands were disappearing. The musical center of black Chicago, epitomized by show clubs like the DeLisa, was in motion, and Sonny Blount would be moving with it.23

Making Music on the Frontier After Fletcher Henderson left Chicago, Sonny Blount picked up several freelance gigs on the South Side. He also maintained a connection at the DeLisa,


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working with the Red Saunders Orchestra, which smoothly resumed its longstanding role as house band. But while Saunders provided semiregular work as rehearsal copyist and arranger, he apparently disliked Blount’s piano playing and offered him few opportunities to perform with the band. Before long, though, Blount was invited by bassist Eugene Wright to become music director of the Dukes of Swing. Wright probably received a first taste of Blount’s creative arrangements in August 1947, when he led one of his own groups in a Bud Billiken battle-of-the-bands competition with the Red Saunders Orchestra in Washington Park. Still in his early twenties, Wright was a sought-after instrumentalist who, between road tours with top-name ensembles such as Count Basie’s, was putting together multiple local bands to perform at South Side clubs. In the fall of 1948, Wright installed Sonny Blount at the helm of an eleven-piece ensemble that held down a regular engagement at the Pershing Hotel’s basement club, the Beige Room. Meanwhile, Wright himself led a big-band version of the Dukes that performed at the ballroom upstairs. Blount’s activities with Wright are not well documented, but by most accounts he composed or arranged the band book for both aggregations. His time with Wright would also lead to further South Side opportunities.24 Sonny Blount’s musical activities of the late 1940s are sometimes seen as an unrelated collection of local gigs, a kind of floating interregnum between his time at the DeLisa and his formation of the Arkestra the following decade. Situating his activities within the fluid spatial currents of the moment, however, suggests how Blount’s musical versatility was spurred on by the stylistic variety and social dynamism of the scene itself. In this period the Pershing Hotel, located at Sixty-Fourth Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, became the center of a thriving club district, replacing Fifty-Fifth Street as the dynamic engine of South Side nightlife. During the interwar era, black settlement in the Washington Park community area (where Sonny Blount now lived) had leapfrogged over a fiercely resistant white enclave directly south of the park. But African Americans continued to be shut out of housing opportunities east of Cottage Grove—positioning the commercial district surrounding the “L” train station at Sixty-Third and Cottage Grove as racially contested terrain. The two-hundred-room Pershing Hotel first opened up to black occupancy near the end of the war. Shortly thereafter, Blatz beer salesman Charlie Cole and his partners Harry Fields and John Simmons (all three African American) established two new music venues in the hotel—a lounge upstairs and the El Grotto Café downstairs, which soon was renamed the Beige Room—in addition to sprucing up its ballroom. The three venues

South Side Music Scene


became heavily promoted South Side destinations, regularly featured in ads and nightlife columns in the Chicago Defender and Chicago Bee. Newspapers treated not only the venues’ musical performers but also their owners, especially Cole, as local celebrities.25 Much later, scholars would look back on early postwar Chicago as a city that was scaling up its segregation—resulting eventually in a greatly “extended” African American ghetto, separate from the North Side and from newly emerging white suburban belts. Yet in its initial years this restructuring opened up spaces for new black nightlife. The Pershing anchored one such district, located just beyond the boundary of the interwar Black Belt, where growing numbers of white residents were decamping for the suburbs. The persistence of racial barriers in Loop venues and hotels made these sorts of new South Side districts particularly attractive to African American musicians and nightlife audiences, and a glut of music venues sprang up along this new frontier—especially in the Pershing district, to the southeast of Bronzeville, but also in the DuSable area, to the northeast (see figures 4.2 and 4.3).26 Spatial dynamics played out differently on Chicago’s South Side, it is worth noting, than in early postwar New York—with contrasting effects on the two music scenes. Harlem’s bebop innovators of the mid-1940s migrated downtown into white-dominated commercial areas in Manhattan, especially along Fifty-Second Street, even as black middle-class migration out of Harlem began leapfrogging to the city’s outer boroughs. Midtown’s Fifty-Second Street club district, in turn, while featuring black musicians and racially mixed audiences, nevertheless remained an interracial scene that operated largely on white terms, from venue operators and promoters to press coverage. In Chicago, harsher racial restrictions imposed greater geographical constraints and economic hardships on black musicians. Yet these constraints also encouraged proximity—the channeling of new musical activity into nightlife districts located just beyond the borders of Bronzeville—and thereby helped to sustain African American cultural leadership over the South Side music scene as well as strong communal support from black participants. The Pershing Hotel area became a striking case in point. This new entertainment district, spreading out along Sixty-Third Street, attracted a diverse mix of social groups and musical styles, even as its accessibility drew large numbers of African American residents. Enjoying high visibility in the black press and even a bit of glamour, the Pershing district of the 1940s generated a strong sense of community attachment.27 The hotel itself, offering three nightlife venues, in many ways encapsulated the South Side’s musical and social variety at a dramatic moment of

4.2 South Side music venues, 1946– 1948. Map by Richard P. Greene, Tom Chen, and Amanda Lindgren. Sources: US Census data, 1940 and 1950; Minnesota Population Center, National Historical Geographic Information System, version 2.0,; Chicago telephone directory, June 1946, December 1947, and September 1948; ads in Chicago Bee and Chicago Defender, 1946– 1948.

South Side Music Scene


community change (see figure 4.4). During the final years of the war, the basement club launched fully produced musical entertainments, complete with chorus lines, amid a “supper club” dining experience. In early 1946, it began featuring extended engagements by the ever-inquisitive pianist and bandleader Earl Hines, known by this time for presenting adventurous, modern-sounding bebop harmonies within a polished, swing-band style. This particular Hines ensemble struck the young trumpet player Clark Terry, new to the Pershing area, as the epitome of “Chicago style” club music—not so much embracing the new bebop as figuring out how its elements might mix with the broad range of existing local styles. Many of Hines’s shows at the Pershing basement venue stretched the musical repertoire of the nightlife scene, looking backward and forward in ways that influenced other musicians. Employing a “twenty-six-piece band with strings,” for example, Hines mounted reinterpretations of African American musical masters W. C. Handy and Fats Waller as well as the repertory of white songwriter Cole Porter.28 The upstairs Pershing venues also mixed established formats with emerging styles. The hotel lounge became the regular home to a “jumping jive” combo led by Lonnie Simmons, who was developing a solo technique on Hammond organ that anticipated rhythm and blues–inflected keyboard styles of the 1950s. For the hotel’s ballroom, local promoter McKie Fitzhugh put together a small house band that played for club dances and community groups. Led by young saxophonist Von Freeman, this group also accompanied visiting soloists like Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker; on these occasions, audiences, rather than dancing, would gather around the bandstand to watch and listen.29 Wright’s Dukes of Swing, with Sonny Blount as composer and arranger, followed Hines into the Pershing basement space in the fall of 1948, remaining there probably through the end of the year. Though commanding fewer resources than the Hines orchestra, the Dukes also attempted to stretch musical boundaries in terms of repertoire and style. Blount arranged, for example, several numbers for the Dozier Boys, whose vocal-quartet style combined elements of jazz as well as the early sounds of doo-wop. He also developed a theme song adapted from Miklos Rosza’s soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s recently released film Spellbound, which featured an eerie-sounding electronic instrument called the theremin—soon to become a staple of Hollywood science-fiction soundtracks. Although no recording or score of this Dukes arrangement has been discovered, Blount likely used a solovox to play the solo theremin statement. In the movie, this musical theme, while appearing to cue the onset of a psychotic bout afflicting the

4.3 Music venues near DuSable and Pershing Hotels, 1946– 1948. Maps by Richard P. Greene, Tom Chen, and Amanda Lindgren. Sources: see previous caption.

south side music venues, 1946– 1948

DuSable venues 1. DuSable Hotel, 764 E. Oakwood Blvd. 2. Macomba Lounge, 3905 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 3. Pitts Pub, 842 E. 39th St. 4. Shangri-La Lounge, 712 E. Pershing Rd. 5. Jimmie’s Palm Garden Lounge, 798 E. Oakwood Blvd. 6. Ciro’s Lounge, 796 E. Pershing Rd. 7. Zombie Lounge, 837 E. Pershing Rd.

8. El Casino Café Lounge, 823 E. 39th St. 9. Ritz Lounge, E. Oakwood Blvd./S. Parkway 10. Club Algiers, E. Oakwood Blvd./S. Drexel Blvd. 11. Morocco Lounge, E. Oakwood Blvd./S. Drexel Blvd. 12. New Green Gables, 3920 S. Lake Park Ave.

Pershing venues 13. Pershing Hotel, 6400 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 14. Sam Walder’s Wonder Bar, 543 E. 63rd St. 15. Hatcher’s Tap Lounge, 432 E. 63rd St. 16. Don’s Den, 416 E. 61st St. 17. The Juggs Lounge, 426 E. 61st St. 18. Blue Heaven Theatre Lounge, 742 E. 63rd St. 19. Harry’s Show Lounge, 432 E. 63rd St. 20. Joe’s De Luxe Club, 6323 S. Parkway 21. De Luxe 400 Club, 715 E. 63rd St. 22. Club Knickerbocker, 6241 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

23. Club Hi-Hat, 6223 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 24. 411 Club, 411 E. 63rd St. 25. New Monte Carlo, 6320 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 26. Entertainers, 6352 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 27. Zanzibar, 312 E. 61st St. 28. Music Box Lounge, 408 E. 63rd St. 29. Archway Lounge, 356 E. 61st St. 30. Minnie’s Lounge, 6242 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 31. Circle Bar, E. 63rd St./S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Other South Side venues Regal Theatre, 4719 S. Parkway Savoy Ballroom, 4733 S. Parkway Majestic Lounge, 4710 S. Indiana Ave. Stair Way to the Stars/Club Alice, 422 E. 47th St. New Congo Lounge, 4753 S. Parkway Parkway Ballroom, 4459 S. Parkway Doyle’s Boulevard Lounge, 4305 S. Parkway Rhumboogie Club, 343 E. Garfield Blvd. Hurricane Theatre Lounge, 347 E. Garfield Blvd.

Brass Rail, 329 E. 47th St. Onyx Club, 323 E. Garfield Blvd. Café de Society Lounge, 309 E. Garfield Blvd. Last Chance, 5507 S. Michigan Ave. Sonny Boswell Lounge, 5449 S. Michigan Ave. Club DeLisa, 5521 S. State St. Manchester Grill, 473 E. 31st St. Honey Dripper, 317 E. 31st St. Grand Terrace Café, 317 E. 35th St. Boulevard Lounge, 104 E. 51st St.

4.4 Pershing Hotel and Lounge, postcard, 1940s. Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, Newberry Library, and Kenton Yoder.

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main character, turns out to symbolize the insistent call of his actual, notyet-revealed identity. This musical material, with its coding of futuristic sound as the uncanny intrusion of a deeper, truer reality, offered Blount as arranger an early opportunity to play with musical commentary as a serious kind of unveiling. The notion that certain musical sounds might allude—or even provide access—to a secret realm of existence would become more explicit in his musical commentary several years later.30 The music of the Dukes, like that of the Pershing area more generally, responded to the full range of South Side tastes, stretching at this transitional moment from swing to bebop and jump blues to pop-oriented vocal quartets. Socially, the Pershing audiences, like the larger nightlife scene in the area, hailed from various corners of Bronzeville, though participants also included out-of-town celebrities and graduate students from the nearby University of Chicago. Patrons as well as performers were usually black. But when white tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld’s boplike swing band held down an extended engagement at the El Grotto, Down Beat magazine, usually shy with its South Side coverage, drew attention to the shows. Those nights, “loads of famous white artist[s],” as a Chicago Bee columnist noted, came to join the black musicians and celebrities.31 The broader nightlife area surrounding the Pershing offered a varied and dynamic cultural scene. Among the several dozen nightspots nearby, lounges such as the Circle Bar, the Wonder Bar, and the DeLuxe 400 Club provided continuous musical entertainment. Joe’s De Luxe Club, at SixtyThird Street and South Parkway, featured a “troupe of female impersonators” led by producer Valda Grey and backed by a five-piece ensemble; musical performers there included blues singer Petite Swanson (formerly Alphonso Hersley), who recorded with the local Sunbeam label. Performances at Joe’s De Luxe, featuring cross-dressing and what was later seen as gay-themed humor, attracted a straight-male and mixed-gender crowd, though South Side sexual identities of the late 1940s were more fluid than they became the following decade. There were also “drag balls” held at various community locations; these irregular gatherings apparently drew hundreds of queer South Siders, most of them black and working-class. Racially as well, the Pershing district was mixed and lively, though street life could be contentious. Even as some white-run nightspots opened up to African American clientele without evident conflict, other venues—most notably the storied Trianon ballroom—continued to bar black entertainers and audiences, drawing sustained civil rights protest campaigns.32 The Pershing district also offered creative opportunities of another kind. Playing regular dates at the hotel connected Blount with several spiritually


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inclined musicians, including two recent arrivals to Chicago: saxophonist and fellow Dukes member Bill Evans and pianist Fritz Jones. Both men soon converted to Ahmadiyya Islam, becoming better known, respectively, as Yusef Lateef and Ahmad Jamal. The Ahmadiyya movement, founded in northern India in the late nineteenth century, established mission centers in several US cities and by the late 1940s was building a sizable community among African Americans in Chicago, in part because the faith offered a pan-Islamist critique of American racism. After World War II, many black jazz musicians became members; other converts from the Chicago scene included alto saxophonist Sahib Shihab (Ed Gregory), a member of the Henderson orchestra during its DeLisa run, and reed player Ahmad Salaheldeen (Earl Ezell Jr.), who played with Sonny Blount over the coming years. Well before Blount’s documented interactions with South Side religious groups in the early 1950s, then, his immersion in the local jazz scene offered opportunities for spiritual discussion and reflection outside of the established Christian faiths.33 Working at the Pershing also connected Blount to another of the South Side’s new music districts, centered near the DuSable Hotel, some three miles to the north. Encouraged by emerging talent scout and producer Willie Dixon, Macomba Lounge owner Leonard Chess, who recently had become interested in the record business, assembled a group that included Blount and various swing instrumentalists from the Dukes as well as the Dozier Boys—and invited them into the studio in November 1948 to record a set of jump blues numbers for Aristocrat Records. These sessions led to several more over the coming year, bringing Blount together with various musicians from the DuSable club scene, such as smooth blues vocalist Andrew Tibbs. The musical qualities of this scene were very much anchored in the spatial location and cultural milieu of the district.34 The DuSable district, like the Pershing area, was undergoing dramatic changes as African Americans began to move eastward across the old racial boundary at Cottage Grove (see figure 4.2). Researchers from the University of Chicago understood this urban-ecological transition from the white side of what was now a moving borderline; their use of terms like black “invasion and succession” and “assault” reversed the actual direction of racial violence, minimizing what was in fact a widespread house-bombing campaign directed against new black homeowners and renters in the nearby Oakland community area. In the process, their studies ignored the perceptions of black residents and music-scene participants—not to mention those of Japanese American residents, a number of whom were also active in the nightlife district.35

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For African American musicians, the DuSable Hotel occupied center stage in an intertwined—and in many ways liberating—process of neighborhood change and musical ferment. The hotel itself, located on Oakwood Boulevard, had opened up to black occupancy in 1941, and its success in attracting African American travelers made it, as musician and newspaperman Charles Davis observed, both an “instigator” and a “product” of neighborhood changes on the ground. The economic success of the hotel lounge—operated, like the Pershing area venues, by Cole, Fields, and Simmons—encouraged other entrepreneurs to open taverns in the area, many of which also offered musical entertainment. Feeding off the initial commercial stimulus of the hotel, these venues congregated spatially in ways that soon created an entirely new nightlife district (see figures 4.2 and 4.3).36 For many of the younger South Side musicians who played with Sonny Blount in this period, a first visit to the DuSable area was nothing short of a revelation. Drummer Charles Walton later recalled his own initial encounter as a twenty-one-year-old: My first visit to the DuSable area was at night in 1946. I was in awe. The area was all lit up and alive with so much street activity. I had never seen anything like that before. . . . I would stand outside of the Macomba Lounge, near the curb, and I would see the musicians, through the lounge windows, performing in the club. Everybody came through there.37

African American musicians and nightlife-seekers soon made the district a South Side destination. From black cross-country travelers to DuSable High School students, visitors and locals alike gravitated to the area. Brennan Glanton, who worked as a clerk at Nate’s Men’s Wear on Thirty-Ninth and Cottage Grove, later observed that the nightlife surrounding his store came to represent “a status thing,” especially for younger black men: “When you got to the place where you could afford to take a date down to the DuSable Lounge where Lefty Bates and his trio was playing, you felt you were into something.” For certain musicians, the allure was economic as well as cultural. Drummer Vernel Fournier, who appeared at the Macomba and other DuSable area venues during those years, recalled, “I was making plenty of money on the South Side. You could make a living playing music on the South Side, working in your environment. You didn’t have to go north.” Despite the regular presence of white patrons, a major attraction for many African American participants was that the DuSable nightlife scene


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4.5 DuSable district nightlife, 1948. Wayne Miller/Magnum.

seemed to be mostly black, and black-led. For them, the musical activity and the ecological transformation were interwoven, resulting in a newly African American social and cultural space on the leading edge of Bronzeville’s expansion.38 The clubs in the DuSable area catered, Fournier recalled, to a variety of musical tastes: “There were commercial show bands, smooth slick trios, and hard driving quintets. They had far-out playing jazz cats. There was even the blues when Jo Jo [Adams, the jump blues singer] came out.” The lounges at the DuSable and Morocco Hotels, often featuring jazz trios, sought to project an elegant image of class and style; Pitts Pub featured

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boogie-woogie pianist Lil Palmore; and the more plebian Palm Garden and the Macomba presented a rougher style of musical offerings. Bass player Duke Groner, who played in a trio at the DuSable Lounge at the time, noted that while the district’s variety of music made the area a “Mecca of entertainment,” there was “a sort of caste system, as to who hung out and where.” Gamblers, celebrities, and “big shots” with money frequented the DuSable Lounge, for example, whereas a more working-class crowd gathered at Chess’s Macomba. There was a similar hierarchy for the sex trade: “A lot of the prostitutes hung out in the Macomba. The high-class ones, however, were in the DuSable Lounge, while others hung out in the Palm Garden . . . east of the DuSable.” Both socially and musically, the DuSable area was a crossroads but internally stratified.39 White visitors came for the music or for other attractions, such as drugs, gambling, and prostitution. “The frequent faces,” DuSable Hotel manager Eddie Flagg recalled, were from “downtown as well as up north.” For North Side whites, the area was readily accessible from the Oakwood Boulevard exit off Lake Shore Drive. Yet these visitors tended to be young; older white jazz fans, even those who already frequented other South Side clubs, seemed little drawn to the DuSable district. John Steiner, a well-established North Side jazz collector and producer who often traveled to the South Side to hear music, spent little time at the DuSable venues, which he viewed as “sort of scummy.” The music played there, he observed, was “too sweaty” for his tastes. Nor did the area attract white jazz critics, despite its musical dynamism. The result was an interracial scene that, like the Pershing district but unlike, say, New York’s Fifty-Second Street, was largely shaped by black musicians, audiences, and entrepreneurs, and one where a great range of musical styles could be encountered and appreciated.40 Sonny Blount’s 1948 recording sessions with Aristocrat furnished some suggestion of this range. Co-owner Leonard Chess would soon create a new label bearing his own name and specializing in a musical style that came to be called Chicago blues, but his slightly earlier recordings, issued by Aristocrat, encompassed an exceptionally wide array of music: piano trios, country and western, jump blues, and what would later be called lounge or exotica—along with lots of polka. South Side talent scouts such as Sammy Goldberg and Willie Dixon played key roles in funneling African American performers to Chess’s club and recording sessions, gradually tilting the balance of the label’s offerings toward black styles. Blount’s initial Aristocrat recordings with Tibbs provided the rising blues-ballad vocalist with piano accompaniment (featuring trilling right-hand runs in the style of Blount’s Birmingham friend Avery Parrish) as well as backing-vocal arrangements


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for the Dozier Boys. Subsequent recording sessions, involving the Dozier Boys and the Dukes of Swing, gave Blount an opportunity to record several of his own compositions. (As with “Chocolate Avenue” fifteen years earlier, though, someone else took the songwriting credits—this time, Leonard Chess.) Blount’s “Pork n Beans” began with a harmonically adventurous call-and-response between baritone and alto saxophones before settling into a bouncing boogie-woogie swing instrumental. Soft and stately, “Dawn Mist” was an Ellingtonian blues with solos by Blount on piano and Hobart Dotson, who later joined the Arkestra, on muted trumpet. In “The Music Goes ’Round and Around,” a novelty song from the 1930s, a Dozier Boys vocal opening gave way to an exuberant full-band call-and-response that traded octaves—Blount’s way of illustrating, perhaps, that musical scales may seem to go up or down but in fact are circular, going “’round and around.”41 Sonny Blount’s other commercial recordings from this time, with the Red Saunders Orchestra for a small local label called Supreme, featured sophisticated treatments of wildly varying material—befitting the broad range of the music scene of the moment. Blount’s arrangement of the Charlie Ventura bebop-scat number “Synthesis” employed what Christopher Trent has called a “meticulous arch form”: the alternating vocal ensemble and solo sections of the piece are organized into a complex, symmetrical structure, anticipating the formal inventiveness that would emerge in Arkestra compositions to come. “Jitterbuggin’,” a jaunty swing-bop instrumental, featured angular scoring touches reminiscent of Mary Lou Williams. For the novelty number “Legs Gettin’ Bigger and Bigger,” Blount’s arrangement used elaborate, cartoonlike orchestral coloring for comedian George Kirby’s vocal commentary about “fine chicks” and their latest styles. As in the sessions with Aristocrat, a something-for-everybody aesthetic seemed to shape the choice of repertoire and musical styles—encompassing not only the newer tastes characteristic of the DuSable and Pershing areas but the more traditional preferences of Club DeLisa, which remained home base for Saunders.42 Blount’s presence on these recordings suggests the versatility of his own musical talents as well as the unsettled nature of the moment for popular music in black Chicago. Post-Henderson music making was taking Blount in new directions, in part because the local scene was comprised of many moving parts. Pushing beyond the lingering swing-band ideal, with its ensemble hierarchies and established musical vocabulary, the South Side’s as yet uncharted spaces encouraged newly appealing mixtures of blues, swing, bebop, and early rhythm and blues, while complicating unitary con-

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ceptions of African American community identity. Pianist Andrew Hill, who came of age in this scene and played with Blount, later called it a time “before the music got separated”—a resonant phrase, suggesting not only a short spell prior to the sorting of music into discrete genres marketed to distinct categories of consumers but also a moment when innovative music remained strongly connected to community audiences and tastes.43 In this sense, Blount’s crisscrossing of musical borders in early postwar Chicago was part of a larger “intra-black” cultural dialogue, one that, as musicologist Guthrie Ramsey Jr. has noted, cut across emerging community cleavages. These divisions reflected in part the North-South tensions between old settlers and newer migrants—differences navigated, as we saw earlier, by performers such as Little Miss Cornshucks at the DeLisa. Yet the Pershing and DuSable border areas also afforded opportunities for negotiating other intraracial distinctions, as affiliations based on class, gender, sexual identity, and generation found open expression in urban spaces focused centrally on music. Distinctive in-between spaces brought together a fluid mix of musical styles, with both spatial conditions and sonic expressions contributing to complex communal interchange. Blount’s ability to work productively across this shifting musical landscape gave him an established presence within the transitional spaces of the South Side scene while introducing him, in ways that would bear fruit over the coming years, to younger musicians who were searching for new ways to make music speak to their moment.44

Bebop and Bump-and-Grind The vibrant music scene of late-1940s black Chicago extended beyond nightclub engagements and commercial recording sessions—and in different ways seemed to carry musicians both forward and back in time. Music making was central to South Side life, taking place in churches, theaters, homes, streets, parks, and empty storefronts. Sonny Blount was an inveterate self-recorder, and his recordings from these years, made in various places, offer insight into his musical and cultural development as well as that of his younger colleagues, especially their early experiences with the newly arriving music of the future.45 At the same time, commercial gigs in Calumet City strip clubs were turning into a major source of livelihood. For many of these musicians, performing in such venues, with racial codes reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, became an equally formative experience. The mix of musical and social ideals encountered in these often-ignored settings—from standards-


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based traditions to bebop experimentalism to black self-assertion and war resistance—left its mark on emerging South Side musicians, while also challenging postwar liberal notions of cultural tradition, racial progress, and loyal citizenship. Roughly thirty-five audio tracks survive from Sonny Blount’s selfrecordings in Chicago between 1948 and 1951—a period when he was also working with Red Saunders at the DeLisa, the Dukes of Swing at the Pershing, and Leonard Chess at Aristocrat Records. A persistent conviction in the history of popular music is that recordings not initially intended for commercial release can provide listeners with more authentic access to the musicians and circumstances behind the music. In the case of Blount, the temptation to imagine a private person behind the public one is especially strong. Was the Afrofuturist Sun Ra already operating deep within a musical underground in late-1940s Chicago? Blount’s personal recordings from this period do offer moments of musical experimentation, but their most striking quality, perhaps surprisingly, is his enthusiasm for the many manifestations of the popular song. This passion for “standards,” shared by many of his young musical colleagues, also suggests certain insights into South Side culture of the period.46 Three tracks from 1948, among the earliest-dated of the surviving tapes, consist of Blount playing solo organ. The instrument’s Wurlitzer-like sound indicates these recordings were probably made in a South Side theater. Blount gives lush, pull-out-all-the-stops treatment to “All the Things You Are” and “Willow Weep for Me,” perhaps inspired by memories of Birmingham radio’s Stanleigh Malotte. These two selections bracket an initially free-form-sounding piece titled “Wind in the Trees.” Although music archivist Michael Anderson has described the piece as an early avant-garde effort, this “venture into the abstract” offers unmistakable passages from “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”—a sentimental, mock-Irish song from the recently mounted Broadway musical Finian’s Rainbow, about a muchmissed town back in the old country. Was Blount, then, waxing nostalgic about Birmingham, his own hometown? Intentionally or not, his playing of the song reverses a performance staple of nineteenth-century blackface minstrelsy, in which Irish American musicians “blackened up” to perform plantation songs in ways that somehow reaffirmed a sentimental attachment to their homeland.47 A line from the “Glocca Morra” lyrics—“Is that willow tree still weeping there?”—clearly suggested Blount’s segue to “Willow Weep for Me.” A surprising number of the other self-recorded tracks from these years also offer mainstream fare—“Old Man River,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,”

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“Cocktails for Two,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “You and the Night and the Music”—though these songs do not get entirely straight-ahead treatment. Even in private moments least constrained by marketplace pressures, though, Sonny Blount played, and sometimes played with, commercial popular songs and show tunes. Several recordings do reveal Blount and his South Side colleagues exploring the challenges posed by bebop, though in unexpected ways. If the new bebop sounds emerging from mid-1940s New York and Los Angeles were heard by many listeners as a defiant rejection of swing-era racial norms, Blount’s late-1940s self-recordings suggest his own selective engagement with bebop, along with a broader sense that this new style was developing somewhat differently in Chicago. One set of Blount recordings from 1948, for instance, pays homage to the influence of Mary Lou Williams, a prominent swing-era pianist and arranger who became an early bebop innovator. Beginning with “Ode to Mary Lou,” Blount recorded himself playing a series of his own pieces for solo piano that display some of the lyrical chromaticism, unexpected modulations, and blues-based swing associated with his model. More a transitional figure than a full-fledged bebopper, Williams, like Blount, carried forward earlier styles of jazz, and his interest in her exploratory music of this period is not surprising. She exhibited strong astrological interests (a recording of her Zodiac Suite was released in 1945), and her somewhat anomalous status in the jazz world probably resonated with him as well. Recognized primarily as an arranger rather than as a performer, despite her fine piano work, Williams offered an example of musical leadership quite different from the brash, hypermasculine individualism of bebop’s customary ethos.48 Recordings of Blount playing in small-group settings suggest that he and other young Chicago musicians of the late 1940s sought to integrate bebop styles on their own terms. One self-recorded track, perhaps made in a South Side theater, features Blount and John Jenkins practicing angular runs on organ and alto saxophone from a somewhat abstract-sounding piece labeled “The Phantom,” as noise from nearby “L” trains periodically intrudes. Although the playing on this and other tracks with Jenkins is bebop-inflected, the influence of swing strongly persists; several organ runs also echo motifs from the musical score to the 1943 motion picture The Phantom of the Opera. A Blount self-recording from 1949 with bassist Wilbur Ware and guitarist Leo Blevins is, by contrast, a dynamic trio rendition of “You Go to My Head,” complete with double-time runs, broken rhythms, harmonic substitutions, and countermelodies—in short, a sizable portion of the bebop arsenal. Yet a quite different recording from the same time


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presents a bop-inflected boogie-woogie workout called “Sunny’s Place #1.” Adapted from an Ellington standard called “Duke’s Place” (also known as “C Jam Blues”), this song is performed by Blount on celeste, a keyboard with the timbre of a tinkling bell—a sound more often associated with heavenly chimes than with aggressively bebop sensibilities.49 Bebop styles, in fact, underwent a protracted and uneven process of absorption in black Chicago—musically and perhaps socially as well. If many young South Side musicians were excited by the brash virtuosity of mid-1940s bebop innovators Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell, they also, by their own accounts, struggled to incorporate those innovations into instrumental skill-sets and dispositions steeped in swing music, the blues, and various popular-song traditions. Pianist Chris Anderson, who came of age in Chicago just after the war, recalled that for quite a while even bebop’s enthusiasts on the South Side—the “young Turks” as he called them—weren’t fully “in the music, just on their way into the music.” Anderson described his own playing with Von Freeman at the time as “prebebop.” Their music, that is, fit the new style (as in developing new lines to old chord progressions) yet still played mostly through standard tunes. By the same token, interactions with Sonny Blount could bring encounters with musical ideas that sounded alarmingly advanced. “One day,” Anderson recalled, “I was talking to him on the telephone, and he played a tape of something. It was called, ‘The Devil Dance.’ And it scared me over the telephone! It really did. I had never heard anything like this in my life.”50 Young African American musicians in Chicago were generally slower than those in New York to pick up defiant, bebop-related social styles and political attitudes. But in the late 1940s these were settling in. A number of Blount’s younger South Side colleagues refused military service, and musicians such as Richard Davis and Robert Barry have suggested that a gradual process of self-education, along with Blount’s influence and example, nurtured their resistance. Davis in particular was impressed with Blount’s ability to tell you “what was happening in the world” and by his “resolve philosophies” in the face of racism and militarism, which already had been tested and strengthened back in Birmingham. When Davis was drafted for military service in Korea and “didn’t think it was my business to be involved,” it was Blount who helped fortify his determination not to go— enabling Davis, as he later phrased it, to “put a cap on that.”51 Young musicians were drawn to Blount not merely for his musical abilities and pacifist example but for his knowledge of books and apparently inexhaustible capacity for serious talk about philosophical issues. More than a few South Side musicians spent as many hours in deep conversation

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with him as they did playing music with him. As drummer Tommy (Bugs) Hunter recalled, “We would . . . sit in the park all day, and he would talk . . . and if you listened, you couldn’t get rid of him.” Sonny Blount’s ability to gather younger musicians around him, already apparent in Birmingham, was again in evidence long before the formation of the Arkestra.52 In this sense the bebop years in black Chicago, while marked by a new cultural and political sensibility, did not play out as a generational rebellion—as more New York–centered accounts sometimes suggest. If younger South Side musicians were developing new musical ideas as well as social stances that challenged Cold War liberal notions of loyalty and assimilation, they were doing so in ways that drew support from older musicians, enduring traditions, and well-tested ideals. These attitudes took shape, moreover, in circumstances that were racially distinctive—not only the social dynamics of nightlife districts such as those around the DuSable and Pershing Hotels but the harsher economic conditions that settled into the South Side by the end of the decade, cutting back on union-scale opportunities. For growing numbers of musicians, making a living in late-1940s Chicago involved commuting regularly to Calumet City—a different kind of challenge. Sonny Blount first began playing the strip clubs in Calumet City, Illinois, in 1949. A long-established “sin suburb,” Calumet City flourished anew in the first decade after World War II as a regionally scaled commercial crossroads. Drawing together an unusual mix of participants—Southeast Chicago steel workers, Bronzeville musical laborers, and West Side dancers— the suburb’s downtown strip became a place where postwar racial, gender, and class identities unexpectedly collided. South Side musicians, traveling the fifteen miles to Cal City for eight-hour gigs, encountered a raw and unapologetic form of Jim Crow as well as a demanding milieu for making music—for some, an environment too difficult to endure for long. Yet for many other musicians, that hardship fostered solidarity and offered, more surprisingly, a valuable musical and social training ground. For these black men, the deep kinship forged in Calumet City reinforced the sense of cultural self-determination already coursing through certain South Side circles. Calumet City’s “wide open” reputation dated back to the early twentieth century, when antiliquor laws passed in nearby Indiana made the town a favored watering hole for residents from across the state line. But it was geographical proximity to the area’s resurgent manufacturing belt that set the stage for its dramatic postwar growth. The steel mills in South Chicago, along with those in nearby Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago, Indiana, emerged from World War II retaining an outsize role in the nation’s


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industrial economy. Strong union contracts made for well-paid employees, and even African American and Mexican American workers were finally securing solid footholds in these factories. Yet whereas black employees often commuted to the mill districts from Bronzeville, workers who were European immigrants or their descendants—Poles, Slovenes, Croatians, Serbians, Italians, Germans, and Irish—enjoyed new options, moving out of their old ethnic enclaves surrounding the South Chicago mills to take advantage of government-supported housing developments in Harvey, Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Lansing, and other south suburbs.53 Public rationales for American suburbanization often emphasized a strong desire among middle-class populations to escape the immorality and corruption of the city. Yet metropolitan expansion in early postwar Chicago involved the suburbanization of sin, as organized crime found profitable markets in liquor, gambling, and extortion easier to set up and maintain outside the central city. From the late 1940s on, Calumet City grew explosively, taxes for residential-property expansion kept low by the 150 taverns and strip clubs concentrated in its three-block vice district downtown. The suburb thus became a destination for second-generation European immigrants, while solidifying its position in the metropolitan region’s illicit economy, along with other suburban towns such as Cicero and Chicago Heights. In the process, Calumet City became a magnet for a variety of Chicago day-trippers, from out-of-town businessmen and middle-class residents looking for commercial entertainment to gay and lesbian urbanites seeking a tolerant social milieu.54 For Sonny Blount and other South Siders, working Cal City entailed a substantial commute through swaths of unwelcoming Chicago terrain. The drive took them down Stony Island Avenue through the South Side, then along Torrence Avenue across a bleak industrial plain studded with grain elevators, steel mills, oil refineries, and freight-car shops. Along the way, they passed steelworker neighborhoods such as Bessemer Park and Trumbull Park—tidy bungalow communities that would soon become infamous for launching mass racial violence against their new black neighbors. Closer to Calumet City, in towns such as East Chicago and Hammond, store windows continued to post “white only” signs. For some of the South Siders, the clubs themselves, with names like the Playhouse, the Riptide, the 21 Club, and the Rondavoo, brought to mind disturbing images of the Deep South. As Bugs Hunter recalled, “If you were a black musician you had to go in the back door, and get a sandwich, and you couldn’t stay.” Nor were musicians permitted to socialize openly with the dancers. When a Calumet City club owner with ties to the DeLisa got word that Hunter was consorting with

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a DeLisa show girl, his response was chilling: “You know what? If I didn’t like you, you’d be dead.” Black men were tolerated in Calumet City for one single purpose.55 Musical labor at the clubs involved long, routinized shift work. Stints ran typically from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Space and time at the nearby steel mills, as sociologist William Kornblum noted in his classic study of South Chicago industry, were organized by the exigencies of steel production, and the schedule of musical labor at the strip clubs was aligned with that of the mills. Bassist Richard Davis called his work in Calumet City “a factory job.” Like shifts at the mills, show schedules at the numerous clubs were tightly synchronized, with one beginning just as another ended—in this case to encourage customers to zigzag back and forth across the street from one venue to the next. Owners referred to this system as “continuous action,” much like the industrial sector’s continuous-flow production models.56 Strip-club work in Calumet City belonged to the secondary labor market, where women laborers and workers of color often confronted difficult and demeaning conditions. In the variety burlesque press, the Cal City clubs were renowned for presenting low-end strip acts and ruthlessly fighting the unionization drives that improved conditions elsewhere. Beyond large numbers of dancers and prostitutes, the clubs employed armies of poorly paid “B-girls” (bar girls), whose job it was to get the patrons drunk. As Hunter described it, “When these [steel mill] guys would get paid they’d come to this club, and the girls would take them in the back and steal their money.” Physical violence was common, in the clubs and in the street. Although reformers might call for beefing up the absurdly understaffed local police force (thirteen police officers to watch over 150-plus taverns), there was no shortage of organized-crime muscle when the smooth operation of the clubs needed protecting.57 The racial policing was also extensive. To reassure white patrons, many club owners hung drapes between the black musicians and the white dancers on stage. Yet for musicians to accompany a dancer, they had to discern her movements; as Davis has recalled, “We could see her through a veiled curtain of some type, so that the drummer would catch the bumps and things like that.” It was a complicated setup, carefully balancing racial etiquette and performance requirements. The dancers themselves often commuted from Chicago, and despite the rules against fraternization the musicians sometimes gave them rides back to the city. Tura Satana, who grew up in the Jane Addams public housing project on Chicago’s West Side, began performing at the Rondavoo Club at an early age. Like many Cal City dancers, she developed an exotic stage persona. Satana, who was born


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in Japan and interned with her family in California during World War II, performed as a tragic heroine billed as Galatea, the Statue That Came to Life. Wearing a Japanese kimono and a large headdress, she brought along a statuette of the Buddha. “He would sit on a stool on the stage” to observe the proceedings. “After the dance routine,” Satana recalled, “I’d take a very small hara-kiri knife and [pretend to] kill myself”—the sort of violent finale that helped make Cal City strip acts highly successful for a time. As performers became too old to dance, though, the clubs moved them “down the road” to the brothels.58 For African American musicians, the economic and racial exploitation was also extreme and unrelenting. Freddy Cole, a pianist whose brother, Nat King Cole, was already a successful recording artist, lasted only two weeks. “It was too much,” he recalled. Nevertheless, a substantial cohort of his generation’s finest musicians did considerable time in Calumet City, including Sonny Stitt, Clifford Jordan, Richard Davis, John Young, Von Freeman, John Gilmore, Sonny Rollins, Chris Anderson, Jodie Christian, Wilbur Ware, and Ike Day. For many of these talented instrumentalists, playing the strip clubs became not only a means of economic survival but, unexpectedly, a valued musical apprenticeship. The strict functionality of the dance routines, of course, placed tight restrictions on the music and how it could be played. Freddy Cole summarized the formula: “You played a slow tempo when the stripper was fully clothed, a bounce tempo when she was half-clothed, and a fast tempo when she was down to the G string, [then] finishes nude.” Yet these constraints also presented useful challenges, even opportunities.59 Because of conventions that developed later, the musical accompaniment to Calumet City striptease might be assumed to have been some sort of rhythm and blues, or perhaps songs like composer David Rose’s “The Stripper,” which, with its blaring brass and rhythmic backbeat, became a 1960s show-business cliché. In reality, Cal City dancers, like many other burlesque performers of the period, preferred Tin Pan Alley standards and even light classical tunes for their routines. George Gershwin was a particular favorite. “They always wanted the standards,” Sonny Blount recalled, “because that’s what they danced to. I played everything from ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ on.”60 Pianist John Young recalled Gershwin’s signature composition as a particular challenge. “Some of these striptease artists had some very difficult music while they was out there taking clothes off. . . . All they’re doing is just walking, traipsing around and taking a piece off here and there . . . and you’re back there sweating, trying to play the ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’” For certain musicians, however, learning this repertoire offered an education: “I had never heard those songs before,” confessed Blount. Similarly, drum-

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mer Charles Walton insisted that many of the South Side’s best musicians “got themselves together” playing standards at the strip clubs, “because you played nothing but tunes.” Von Freeman, known later for the melodic quality of his playing, attributed this skill in part to his Calumet City experience: “You’d sit there playing the melody of the songs all night long.” For many musicians, then, the demands of the strip-club repertoire cultivated a valuable kind of musical literacy.61 Musicians could learn a lot about their instruments, too, when playing at the Cal City clubs. For drummers, accompanying dancers was especially useful training. “I worked out there just to get the experience of playing,” Walton recalled. “It was a great experience for learning how to play for a show, to play for the dancers.” Pianists, meanwhile, learned to play stride in Cal City—or, in the case of Sonny Blount, who already started with the strong left hand this style required, became even stronger at it. As Hunter recalled, “The problem is in Calumet City you don’t [typically] have a bass player, so you’ve got to have somebody who strides.” Hunter’s first piano player failed to last because the dancers complained “he wasn’t strong enough.”62 But after Hunter enlisted Blount, the rhythmic foundation of his strip-club trio was solid. Many South Side players made the trip to Calumet City simply to work with musicians they admired. Richard Davis recalled that he first encountered Wilbur Ware, a fellow Chicago bassist who ended up having a strong influence on him, at a Cal City burlesque house. For Davis, Sonny Blount was also a major reason to play the strip clubs, even if it interfered with his studies. “I was going to college at that time, getting off [from strip-club gigs] at 4 o’clock in the morning and I had to be in school at 8, you know. But it was nothing, because I was with Sun Ra, learning a lot of things.” Because the strip-club owners often refused to pay for bass players, who were seen as nonessential labor, Davis was paid out of the meager earnings of his fellow musicians—a sign of musical commitment on both sides. “They would all chip in ten dollars of their fee, and hire a bass player.”63 One lesson Davis learned from Blount was that expanding his knowledge of the popular songbook might lead to unexpected discoveries. For Sonny Blount, the mastery of musical standards was more than simply a requirement of professional practice. Achieving a higher level of competency with old songs promised something more, which might even reveal an unsuspected pathway to superior understanding. “We have to advance towards some other aspect of tunes,” Davis recalled Blount saying. Though it is not fully clear what he meant by this comment, Davis responded by “learning more and more tunes as fast as I could!” Because Davis had come to Calumet


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City to apprentice—“I came to play with him”—the bass player was willing to follow Blount’s lead and see where it might take him.64 Another lesson Davis learned from Sonny Blount at Calumet City was a heightened capacity for concentration and self-discipline. “He would be reading a paperback book for the whole time he was playing, and he’d turn the pages, you know, and play and never missed a beat, turning the pages and reading. I said, ‘This guy is phenomenal.’” According to Davis, Blount also demonstrated the hidden power of musical sound—even sound that was supposed to function merely as background noise in a club: [One time] he looked over at me, and he said, “See the guy over there who’s drunk?” I said, “Yeah.” There was a guy laying on a booth, who had probably seen the show more than once or twice, but he was drunk . . . pissy drunk. And he said, “Watch me sober him up.” And I watched. . . . And we were playing, “Body and Soul.” Then Sun Ra started going further and further out with the chords, and I was watching his left hand to see what he was doing. . . . He wasn’t playing any louder than he had been playing before, because it was all background music. And sure enough, this guy must have been about 50 feet away from us, and he stirred . . . and within three minutes he was standing up as if he was a soldier standing at attention. And then Sun Ra looked at me kind of with that little grin he had; he just looked at me and said, “See?”

For Davis, it was a striking display of the power of music—its capacity to influence body as well as soul. He was also struck by the apparent power of the performer. “And I said,” Davis later recalled, “‘What else do you do?’”65 Sonny Blount himself, when looking back on his time in Calumet City, also emphasized the unexpected musical opportunities. As he saw it, the club scene there was less restrictive than it might have appeared: “See, we were able to create. They didn’t restrict us in our playing. All they wanted you to do was swing.” The grueling, synchronized schedules of the strip clubs, he claimed, also came with other benefits. Because the shows were staggered, he could use his intermission at one club to play at a second place—and get paid twice. Moreover, certain burlesque shows, like the travel shows at the DeLisa, stimulated his imagination, becoming occasions to transport participants and audiences beyond the immediate reality of the moment. “What I remember are the emcees. They did all kinds of things. There was one guy who did a whole science-fiction thing as a host, and I dug that. He was ‘The Man with the Glass Head.’ He had music to it and the club’s other pianist always played for him.”66

South Side Music Scene


As it happened, this particular host—who was probably the comedian Don Rickles—gave Blount an unexpected opportunity to contribute to this act: One night the other pianist had to go across the street and play for Charlie Ventura, and it came that I had to play for the Man with the Glass Head. . . . [But] the Man with the Glass Head got up and said he couldn’t do his usual bit because he had a different piano. I got mad, so suddenly I hit a chord on the piano and everything on the piano— the music, the flowers— all jumped to the floor. He turned around and looked at me, and said, “On second thought, uh, I think I will do that— just play whatever you want to.” When I got through playing for him, he said it was the best music he ever heard.67

An unanticipated chance for musical creativity, this moment also turned the tables, however briefly, on racial and economic servitude. Like a number of other stories about Blount from this period, this one, told by Blount himself, harped on the hidden powers of creative music. The story also, and not incidentally, demonstrated the unsuspected abilities of a particular musical performer. By the late 1940s, even in the unpropitious world of Calumet City, Sonny Blount’s capacities for an unusual kind of community leadership were gaining attention.

Traversing the Scene Blount’s first several years in Chicago offer insight into a music scene pushing in multiple directions—like the South Side itself—yet centered on a stillundefined search for possibility. His musical activity in this period ranged from professional work at established clubs and independent record labels to music recorded privately or performed for white-run burlesque shows. These varied performance contexts illuminate not only the scene’s broad range but something of the expansive potential ascribed to music making by Blount, his colleagues, and other participants. Exploring the music scene at ground level provides a fresh approach to community culture in black Chicago at this transitional moment. Shifting settlement patterns, new housing developments, accelerating suburban expansion, recurrent waves of racial violence—a multitude of urban changes were reshaping the South Side social landscape during the second half of the 1940s. These changes pushed and pulled community boundaries in different directions, diminishing economic vitality in the older


Chapter Four

Bronzeville commercial core but also opening up new cultural spaces to African American participation, creativity, and leadership. Sonny Blount’s work in his early Chicago years ranged from established venues such as the Club DeLisa and newer outposts in the Pershing and DuSable districts to the sin-suburban clubs of Calumet City. Working alongside an emerging cohort of young colleagues and apprentices, he played in— and sometimes with—a mix of musical styles. These disparate venues also staged different kinds of musical tensions related to new questions about community identity: the DeLisa shows, with their Old South travesties and exotic-travel themes; the insistently modern big-band fare of the Beige Room; the something-for-everybody approach in Aristocrat session work; the relation of bebop to South Side traditions; the mastering of standards in the Cal City burlesque. In different ways, musical performers contending with issues of style and performance were also struggling to define, or divine, the future of the community. More than simply a music scene, this multisite urban cultural milieu urged South Side African Americans to reexamine their history and possibilities under newly fluid conditions. Sonny Blount, while a recent migrant to Chicago, was scarcely a marginal figure within the local musical marketplace. His versatility gained him entrée into a variety of commercial settings, while his searching musical intelligence drew in the more adventurous of his fellow musicians. Beyond his musical contributions, he was becoming a mentor to younger colleagues, who observed him carefully, learned from him, and consulted him on questions of life and principle. Even Calumet City, with its racially abusive conditions, presented him with a range of creative opportunities, demonstrating the hidden workings of music and its unsuspected powers in the world. Suggesting in small ways that transformative possibilities lay dormant even within less-than-elevated settings, Blount’s late-1940s activities established a rich cultural grounding for his utopian work to come.


“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”

The confusion troubling the world today started in Africa, many years ago. —“Solution to the Negro Problem”1

In 1951 Sonny Blount met a young radiology technician named Alton Abraham. Along with several other men, they soon formed a secret society called Thmei Research, devoted to the study of the origins and identity of black Americans. One result of this activity was the production of nearly fifty short, typed pieces of writing—polemical broadsheets—that constitute a pungent if often puzzling set of cultural texts. Historical studies of earlypostwar South Side culture, whether religious or secular in focus, offer little interpretive insight into the themes of these broadsheets or the sort of urban intellectual milieu that gave rise to them.2 The central current running through the Thmei broadsheets is a rich and unsettling amalgam of religiously inspired commentary directed toward “the Ethiopian race”—or “the Negro problem”: THE SPIRIT UA L LE A DERS OF THE ETHIOPIA N R ACES H AV E MIS IN TERPRETED THE BIBLE A N D IN DOING SO H AV E BROUGHT MISERY A N D DE ATH TO THE WORLD. . . . IF THE PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA A RE GUILTY OF TE ACHING THE WORLD A LIE, THEY SHOU LD REPEN T OF THE LIE A N D TE ACH THE WORLD THE TRU TH A N D INSTE A D OF BEING H ATED, THE ETHIOPIA N R ACE WOU LD WIN THE EV ERL ASTING FRIEN DSHIP OF A LL ON THIS PL A NET.3

These broadsheets combine biblical hermeneutics, millenarian warnings, and religious commentary of various kinds with Africanist mythology, creative etymology, numerology, and pronouncements on the Cold War. At first glance the texts offer little connection either to Sonny Blount’s musical activities of the time or to the major cultural preoccupations typically associated with black urban experience in the 1950s. Examining street-level reli-


Chapter Five

gious and political debates on the South Side, however, provides a window into the unorthodox conceptions of racial identity suggested within these commentaries while also uncovering a kind of textual prologue to Sun Ra’s utopian musical explorations later in the decade. Early postwar intellectual culture in the black South Side is generally framed in relation to the writers and artists of the secular, progressive Chicago Renaissance. Although recent historical work suggests a broader resurgence of black nationalist thought in US political and intellectual life during the period, this insight, with few exceptions, has not been taken aboard or developed by scholarship on the post–World War II city. Yet in parks, on street corners, and at religious meeting places and bookstores, challenging visions of African American identity—nationalist, spiritually oriented, and deeply critical of black community leaders—were circulating in early 1950s black Chicago. These social and intellectual spaces, especially the soapbox gathering sites in the South Side’s Washington Park, helped to generate many of the initially puzzling themes of the Thmei broadsheets. Mid-twentieth-century US cities also gave rise to much greater diversity of black religious expression than is often recognized, and recent scholarship on African American religion focuses on the influence of faiths and practices long seen as outside the mainstream. This work too, though, has little explored the specifically urban conditions or implications of the strong current of black religious nationalism emerging in the period—a moment when, as historians have noted, European immigrant communities in cities such as Chicago were developing a “harder” white racial identity. In various ways, then, an examination of the Thmei broadsheets promises to shed light not simply on Sun Ra’s intellectual development but on the community from which these documents emerged.4 One means of entry into these unusual texts is to recognize the remarkably expansive temporal imaginations of their authors. Much like midtwentieth-century Rastafarian theologies, the Thmei broadsheets play with time in a prophetic language of racial redemption, extracting lessons from ancient history, recuperating and restaging ideas in ways that collapse the usual conceptions of historical time to illuminate conditions and concerns in the immediate present. Explaining patterns of oppression in ways that carry the meaning of ancient events forward into 1950s black Chicago, the Thmei authors strive to make black emancipation not simply a distant dream but an ever-present possibility. In the process, these texts also furnish important intellectual insights into how Sonny Blount became Sun Ra (figure 5.1).5 Place looms large as well, in several registers, as an influence on the intellectual and moral universe these writings construct. The unruly counter-

“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”


5.1 Sun Ra, studio portrait, 1950s. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

space of Washington Park, with its cluster of unorthodox religious groups competing for adherents, establishes not only the cultural milieu but also the cauldron of theological ideas that came to inform the Thmei group’s own particular vision. Yet place also becomes central to the broadsheets’ conceptions of biblical narratives and their vital implications for a new Afri-


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can American identity in the post–World War II city. Place-names, places of origin, and places of racial lineage establish the terms of black Americans’ singular history and special destiny; by paying particular attention to placebased notions of group identity the dormant agency of a long-oppressed people can be made visible. What most sets off the Thmei broadsheets as the handiwork of Sun Ra and Alton Abraham, though, are the musical and folk-cultural references interwoven, often in jarring ways, throughout these religious and philosophical commentaries. Jazz music titles and slang phrases intrude to clinch arcane biblical readings; long-venerated spirituals are made to reveal hidden celebrations of lynching; crass rhythm-and-blues songs somehow are made to disclose the hidden, noble Ethiopian identity of black Americans. Song lyrics and folk sayings of all sorts, it seems, harbor a recurring commentary full of coded biblical and racial content. Throughout the entire fabric of American popular culture, the broadsheets imply, runs a secret thread attesting to the exceptional identity of a special nation—a “people apart and separate,” “most hated” and “most confused,” yet the only people who, if they wake up, can “free not only Negroes but the world.” Integrating an often bewildering variety of heterodox religious and ideological claims, these texts construct for mid-twentieth-century African Americans a protoutopian cultural identity directed toward radical emancipation. In doing so, they also offer a new lens—simultaneously dystopian and utopian—onto the racial subtext and unrecognized power of American popular music.6

Thmei Research Alton Abraham was in his early twenties when he first met Sonny Blount. Born and raised in Texarkana, Texas, Abraham had migrated as a teenager with his mother and siblings to Chicago, where he attended the South Side’s DuSable High School. After being drafted for military service in August 1945, he spent much of the following year serving with US Army occupation troops in the newly liberated Philippines and in Okinawa, Japan. While stationed in Manila, he was startled by the unrelenting racism he and other black GIs encountered, both from their own white officers and from the local populace. At a historical moment when the United States was formally granting nationhood to the Filipino people, Abraham and his fellow African Americans experienced the sort of Jim Crow treatment—as a group of them complained in a letter to the Chicago Defender—that “could only happen to a Negro in the South.” Abraham’s time in Manila also introduced him, however, to theosophy, an esoteric philosophy devoted to the recovery of

“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”


ancient wisdom. Theosophical societies welcomed adherents regardless of race, and their teachings would furnish suggestive ideas for the broadsheets.7 After returning to Chicago in early 1947, Abraham finished up at DuSable and then enrolled at Wilson Junior College. While studying electrical engineering and radiology there, he also encountered the notion that music and other intellectual pursuits might advance larger political and cultural aims if taken in an experimental direction. He graduated from Wilson in early 1950 and found work as a radiology intern at Provident Hospital, at the north end of Washington Park near his mother’s apartment. Abraham pursued his musical interests through a respected men’s singing club called the Knights of Music, whose members consisted primarily of returning black veterans. He also spent time on the west side of the park, a gathering place for community orators and proselytizers, and formed a study group with several other men—including James Bryant and Lawrence Allen—who shared his philosophical interests in biblical research, the occult, and the racial origins of mankind.8 Meeting Sonny Blount further encouraged these interests, as Abraham himself later recalled. “We found out that we had a lot of things in common, because at that time [my group] was already doing ancient biblical research and research in astrology and researching the origin of mankind— that means black, white, and everybody.” They called their group Thmei Research—a reference, Paul Youngquist has suggested, to the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice. The men pored over unorthodox religious and philosophical texts, filling notebooks with ideas about the hidden origins of black Americans and their implications for the future. When Blount disclosed his long-held belief that he himself was fated for a special destiny, he and Abraham agreed that he needed officially to claim a new identity in order to be recognized and respected by others. On October 20, 1952, Sonny Blount went downtown to the Cook County Circuit Court and legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra—for reasons that are still not entirely clear, though the reference to the Egyptian sun god is evident. He would use Sun Ra as an abbreviated form and a kind of stage name thereafter.9 Meanwhile, the Thmei group began to share the results of its research. “We used to meet out on 54th and Washington Park near King Drive [then called South Parkway],” Abraham recalled. “We had our own tree that we used to stand by. People came to our tree.” Handing out copies of the broadsheets in the park, the group exchanged ideas with passersby and competed for audiences with other proselytizers. Once Sun Ra became involved, musicians also came by.10 The broadsheet texts, though undated, were probably written during the


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first half of the 1950s. The majority of them are unsigned. Several conclude with “Sun Ra,” “We—Ra,” or simply “Ra,” though it is not clear whether this indicates Sun Ra’s particular authorship or served as a collective name. Frequently typewritten in all capital letters, and making liberal use of exclamation points, the broadsheets have an emphatic, urgent tone. Their key thematic threads knit together an unsettling amalgam of unorthodox Christianity, black mythology, and popular folk wisdom.11 The Thmei authors reject postwar liberal optimism, along with the exuberant interracialism exemplified by Chicago’s All Nations Pentecostal Church, headed by Elder Lucy Smith. One broadsheet interprets a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah to suggest that the phrase “all nations” is in fact a coded name for “Negroes”: A LL NATIONS A RE AS NOTHING TO G OD . . . A LL NATIONS A RE AS NOTHING TO G OD . . . NEGROES A RE A LL NATIONS. HISTORY H AS PROV EN TH AT A LL NATIONS (the negro) IS AS NOTHING TO GOD OR M A N[.] THIS IS THEIR REWA R D IN HE AV EN FOR THEIR DISOBEDIENCE A N D REBELLION AGAINST G OD . . . ETER NA L SORROW A N D SH A ME A N D SUFFERING . . . CRUCIFIXION DELU XE.

Sermon, chant, and rant all combine here. These qualities suggest, as John Corbett has noted, a “performative dimension” that may be linked to the broadsheets’ use as scripts for soapbox delivery. A common rhetorical element in many of them is the blending of revisionist catechism and creative blasphemy—of the kind that could only prove effective within a biblically literate community—in order to awaken audiences to the catastrophically degraded condition of black America.12 The broadsheets convey a preacher’s dizzying mastery of biblical chapter and verse. As sermons or commentaries, many proceed through an improvisatory kind of wordplay laced with bitter, mocking humor. The texts rely heavily on rhetorical reversal, paradox, and against-the-grain biblical interpretation to undermine both religious and secular authorities. Their targets range from the systematic unreliability of biblical scripture to the delusional aims and moral bankruptcy of both sides in the Cold War. The broadsheets take a similarly incendiary, plague-on-both-houses approach to the relative responsibilities of white and black leaders for postwar racial conditions. Some of the worst enemies of racial progress, the authors claim, are “NEGROES WHO ARE IN HIGH POSITIONS WHO ARE DOING NOTHING TO BETTER THE CONDITION OF THE NEGRO RACE .” Criticizing both the NAACP and the black church for failing to teach Afri-

“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”



Black leaders, secular and sacred, thus share blame with whites for the extraordinarily dire condition of the world. The broadsheets are harshly dismissive of the conventional forms of black communal striving and self-assertion in the postwar American metropolis. The respectable term “Negro,” for example, is here associated— via the quasi-biblical etymologies typical of these writings—not with race pride but with racial death. Question: Does the Bible contain anything about the Negro?

Answer: Yes. Jesus said, “Let the Negro bury the Negro.” . . . Unfortunately for the Negro the word Negro means dead body . . . The Cemetery itself is named after the word Negro: Necropolis or City of the dead. The word Niger is a Latin word meaning Black and Simon the Apostle upon whom the Church was built was called Niger because he was a Black Man.

Question: Is it better to be a Negro or a Niger?

Answer: Negro means dead body . . . Niger means black . . . If you like death and like being one of the Living dead then call yourself a Negro and continue to be rejected by the world as firstclass citizens.

Elsewhere in the broadsheets, the African Americans of the early postwar city are seen as lost beings: “THEY HATE THE THOUGHT OF BEING WHAT THEY ARE . . . THEY WANT TO BE WHITE RATHER THAN THE BLACK AND BROWN THAT GOD MADE THEM .” Lost souls, they are compared to the residents of the fallen biblical cities of Babylon and Tophet, oblivious to their own imminent destruction.14


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5.2 “Jesus said, ‘Let the Negro Bury the Negro’”: Thmei broadsheet, early 1950s. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

Conventional understandings of black Chicago offer little guidance as to where—intellectually and culturally—these broadsheets might have come from. Scholars often view African American intellectual culture in the early postwar South Side as an extension of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Rooted in interwar left politics and cultural interracialism, the prevailing aesthetic of Renaissance writers and artists such as Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, and Frank Marshall Davis privileged a kind of sociological realism and protest sensibility that, while similarly contentious, remained a far cry from the religious, millenarian spirit of the Thmei broadsheets. The politically repressive climate of the late 1940s, however, splintered left interracial alliances, and many Renaissance figures simply left Chicago for France, Mexico, and other more hospitable locales. Even those who returned, such as Margaret Burroughs, founder of the South Side Community Arts Center, experienced marginalizing pressures within a Bronzeville political culture shaped by McCarthyism as well as the market-liberal conceptions of racial progress advanced in new commercial media outlets such as Ebony and Jet. In a telling sign of changing times, Alice Browning, associated during the war with Wright’s leftist Negro People’s Front, began

“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”


publishing in the early 1950s a chatty, ad-driven society newsletter directed toward middle-class South Side shoppers.15 Quite different forms of popular expression filled the resulting cultural vacuum, with Washington Park, as an agitational public forum, playing a key role in shaping these ideas. Along the western edge of the park were a variety of well-established gathering sites where, as at the Thmei group’s tree, nationalists, communists, Holiness preachers, Ethiopianists, mystics, and Muslims enlisted support. These gatherings, more than just recruiting opportunities, effectively became working-class lyceums—sites of rhetorical education where skillful oratory, arcane knowledge, and polemical debate flourished. Although activists there drew on political and religious traditions extending back many decades, mass conscription during World War II bolstered the popularity of nationalist groups that questioned whether the US-led overseas military alliance really served the interests of black Americans. Many South Side–based groups, in turn, combined war resistance with unconventional religious or cultural beliefs and strong appeals to racial self-determination: Elijah Muhammad’s Allah Temple of Islam, the predecessor of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam; the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, led by Mittie Maude Lena Gordon; the Washington Park Forum, a nationalist group led by Stokely Delmar Hart and Charles Newby; and a number of other organizations espousing various philosophies. After the war, the rise of McCathyism divided the African American political left and severed connections with anticolonial movements elsewhere in the world. Yet even as the more overtly political groups withered in the face of Cold War repression, heterodox currents of religious thought and practice remained very much alive in the Washington Park lyceums.16 The sharpening of racial divisions in postwar Chicago also reshaped the park itself as a political and organizational space. In 1946 so many Chicagoans, white and black, attended the summer Bud Billiken Day celebration in Washington Park that the Chicago Defender declared the event to be “the most gigantic inter-racial demonstration this city has ever seen.” Ten years later, whites rarely traveled to Washington Park, and black-led soapbox areas that previously included at least some white participants became gathering spots for an all-black counterpublic. In the interim, a range of African American religious groups, or “religio-racial movements,” as Judith Weisenfeld has called them, carved out a strong presence in the park and in the Bronzeville community more generally—while also becoming important interlocutors for Ra and Abraham’s Thmei group.17 Among these religious organizations was the Moorish Science Temple of America, whose national headquarters remained on the South Side at 3603


Chapter Five

South Indiana Avenue. Founded in the 1920s by the prophet Noble Drew Ali, the Moors rejected the term “Negro,” believing African Americans to be Asiatic Muslims descended from the inhabitants of North Africa and embracing the notion of self-determination for all peoples. Drew’s faith adopted Islamic symbols, such as the Turkish fez, and developed its own sacred text, the Circle 7 Koran, from various late nineteenth-century esoteric writings. Ten blocks further south, the Black Israelites, claiming upward of two hundred adherents in Chicago, practiced their own Ethopianized form of Judaism at the Israelite Temple on South State Street. Proclaiming, “We are the true foundation of Ethiopia,” Black Jews, as they were also called, asserted a direct connection between African Americans and biblical Hebrews, with Africa as the ancestral homeland where this history began. By the post–World War II period, there were Black Israelite congregations in multiple northern US cities, espousing various theological principles and employing a range of Hebrew symbols, scripts, and titles as part of their own distinctive ritual practices. Just blocks away, at 4448 South Wabash Avenue, stood the local Ahmadi mission and mosque, a well-established site of worship for many African American jazz musicians as well as other adherents of the faith. A universalist, reform strain of Islam created in the late nineteenth century, Ahmadi religious practice promoted social equality and self-determination for African Americans as part of a broader emphasis on peace and harmony among all peoples.18 The Nation of Islam, its national headquarters also in Chicago, was quickly becoming the largest of these groups. Already serving nearly three hundred members in 1950, the local chapter of Elijah Muhammad’s organization grew rapidly over the next several years—helped by a young organizer named Malcolm X—and relocated from a rented space on East FortyThird Street to its own two-story temple on South Greenwood Avenue in leafy Hyde Park. Founded by W. D. Fard in 1920s Detroit, the Nation relied on rereadings of the Bible to develop postwar teachings that emphasized the African origins of America’s “so-called Negroes” and a particularistic version of Islam as the one true religion for the black man. Promoting racial separation and economic self-reliance, Muhammad’s group was, by the mid-1950s, less often portrayed in the African American press as an embarrassing cult than as a vibrant and respected community-within-thecommunity in black Chicago, with its own stores, restaurants, and other businesses. Offering a singular account of African American historical and geographical origin, as well as a distinctive religious and racial identity for its members, the Nation of Islam thrived in part—much like the other groups active in Washington Park—because its worldview offered a forceful alter-

“Sound So Loud It Will Wake Up the Dead”


native to postwar liberal promises of racial progress that were no longer compelling. The Thmei broadsheets bear the imprint of close conversations with members of these groups and a complex engagement with their religious and racial claims.19 The book culture of the black South Side was also an important source of Thmei ideas. Afrocentric and spiritualist texts, both old and new, were published in resurgent numbers in mid-twentieth-century Chicago, and sold in small South Side bookshops as well as stores like Star Novelty Curio Co. on East Sixty-Third Street and Ace Products on East Forty-Seventh, where they were offered alongside incense, oils, and candles. The Thmei broadsheets drew challenging ideas from these texts, including an extensive body of revisionist writings on the secret nature of ancient civilizations, such as Egypt under the pharaohs. The work of eighteenth-century French writer Constantin-François Volney, for example, focused on the specifically African or black characteristics of antique civilizations, along with their hidden but powerful influence on subsequent European culture. In addition to Volney’s Ruins of Empire, Abraham’s personal library contained other classic works in this vein, as well as more recent vindicationist titles such as J. A. Rogers’s 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro with Complete Proof. Combining Egyptology, mysticism, and racialist evolutionary theory, these writings rehabilitated a noble lineage for the African American in ways that suggested portents of future achievement.20 The Thmei broadsheets drew on various traditions of biblical hermeneutics and prophecy, religious etymology, numerology, and the occult. Theosophy, the spiritualist philosophy founded in the nineteenth century by Helena Blavatsky, was clearly a major influence. Works such as The Key to Theosophy and H. P. B. Speaks figured prominently in Abraham’s collection, as did Albert Ross Parsons’s New Light from the Great Pyramid, with its embrace of the “astronomico-geographical system of the ancients.” Theosophy’s emphasis on secret societies devoted to recovering and synthesizing the “lost” hermetic wisdom of ancient philosophers—intellectual alchemists of magic, science, and religion—was especially appealing to the Thmei group. Abraham’s personal notebooks, along with several of the broadsheets, record numerological experiments, and one of the Thmei group’s unfinished projects was an etymological dictionary of religious knowledge. There was also a utilitarian side to Abraham’s interest in numerology and the science of prediction, as seen in his well-thumbed copy of Policy Pete’s Mutuel Number Dream Book, a trove of betting advice for the mystically inclined South Side “policy” player. Handwritten marginal notes in Abraham’s copy highlight propitious numerical combinations


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linked to everyday hardships: “Your apartment robbed: 513”; “Gas Shut Off: 499.”21 The Thmei group developed its own philosophy from what might seem an eccentric mix of black political ideologies. One evident strand comes from a cultural version of nationalist political thought. From antebellum activist Martin Delany onward, the notion that black or African peoples constituted a singular nation became a pronounced theme among radical critics of white supremacy.22 Nationalist conceptions attracted an especially prominent constituency in Chicago, in part because of the fierce post-1920s competition between Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple and the followers of Elijah Muhammad. Beyond these religious rivalries, Marcus Garvey’s emphasis on black self-determination by a reawakened people with ties to the African homeland remained influential long after his movement’s organizational capacities had dwindled. Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association had emerged from World War I as the organizational center of an international mass political movement, bringing together millions of followers under the banner “One God, One Aim, One Destiny.” Refashioning ideas from black Christianity, natural rights philosophy, and radical anticolonialism, Garveyism created new “vocabularies of agency” through which to pursue a modern, pan-African national identity based on shared racial origins and a collective future. Philosophical remnants of Garveyism and other secular movements commingled with mystical and religious ideas to sustain the broader appeal of a strong cultural nationalism in black Chicago into the second half of the twentieth century.23 These various thematic elements—racial revisionism, biblical and occult spirituality, and cultural-nationalist ideology—come together in the Thmei group’s broadsheets. While speculation has centered on whether their ideas were adapted from Nation of Islam precepts or the other way around, philosophical affinities suggest that both groups were drawing from the same countercultural well. The broadsheets sometimes offer a similarly harsh rhetorical style, particularly in their slashing critique of mainstream black Christianity: NEGROES A RE WORSHIPPING A G OD TH AT H AS NOT SAV ED THEM ACCOR DING TO THE SA LVATION TH AT THE W HITE M A N H AS ENJOYED AS RU LER OF THE W HOLE E A RTH. A G OD OF POWER COU LD H AV E SAV ED THE NEGRO LONG AG O BU T NEGROES A RE WORSHIPPING A G OD TH AT WILL NOT SAV E THEM.

An emphatic call for African Americans to reject the god of white people is also prominent, of course, in Elijah Muhammad’s teachings of the period:

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“There is no mystery God. . . . So they have agreed that the only God is the son of man. So they lose no time searching for a God that does not exist.” Like Nation of Islam pronouncements, the Thmei broadsheets contend that because sacred texts have been tampered with, their systematic falsehoods can only be rectified by extensive—and creative—reinterpretation.24 Yet major differences separated the two groups. The broadsheets do not embrace the Nation’s invidious racial cosmology, according to which white people are devils created by an evil black scientist. Nor is there the expectation that whites will be destroyed at the Day of Judgment: “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID UNTO YOU THAT WHITE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE DESTROYED, BUT I SAY UNTO YOU THAT IT IS YOUR DUTY TO TEACH WHITE PEOPLE THE MEANING OF LOVE AND YOU CAN DO THIS THROUGH PROPAGATING AND SPONSORING BEAUTY.” White and black people are similarly

deluded, the broadsheets suggest; they are all in need of uplift, not destruction. Even the nationalist themes in the Thmei texts are often intertwined with more centrist beliefs, though again with unusual twists: while they echo Booker T. Washington’s credo of racial uplift, they embrace black self-improvement through training in music and the arts—a distinctly Du Boisian turn.25 Several broadsheets, for example, focus on independent African American cultural development as the path to racial advancement. “ALL THE RELIGION IN THE WORLD,” one claims, “CAN NOT SAVE AN UNCULTURED PEOPLE.” After asking, rhetorically, how many symphony orchestras African Americans have that are not sponsored by white people, the authors assert, “IF THEY [African Americans] WERE A CULTURED PEOPLE THEY WOULD SUBSIDIZE THE ARTS IN SOME FORM OR OTHER.” Yet while the broadsheets at times single out the unique contributions of black music to civilization, they do not draw sharp racial boundaries around artistic creation or aesthetic values. Adapting the title of a recently published work by J. A. Rogers, Sun Ra and his colleagues insist, “ART KNOWS NO COLOR LINE IN ITS HIGHER FORMS.” The Thmei group thus rejects the racial and cultural essentialism often associated with Afrocentric aesthetics. Whereas postwar Afrocentrists often viewed American popular culture with suspicion, seeing it as a debased distraction from nobler pursuits, the broadsheets are not shy about relying on folk aphorisms to clinch a subversive biblical reading or racial critique.26 The Thmei broadsheets combine black traditions—intellectual and cultural, sacred and secular—in novel ways, often moving in an unsettling fashion across temporal moments, bringing together biblical past and postwar present. Unraveling their distinctive mix of religious hermeneutics and racial assertion entails focusing on the rhetorical techniques their authors


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deploy, along with the implications of these strategies for revealing the catastrophic “truth” of history and the modern condition of “the Negro.” Buried in the long history of Ethiopianist inquiry, a new conception of black racial identity was waiting to be discovered.

Lineages of Race The Thmei broadsheets remain strange and elusive texts. They are difficult to interpret, in terms both of their “genre” and their substantive import. Are they religious texts? Political manifestos? Cultural commentaries? All of these? Although focused intensively on religious topics, the broadsheets do not present the sort of sober, canonical rules typically used to organize sects, with their membership procedures, ritual practices, and forms of doctrinal adherence. Nor do they seek to persuade through emotional appeal. Instead, they strive for a rhetorical effect that is highly intellectual, displaying a mastery of arcane knowledge in a scholastic discourse that is ironic and disputatious, continually shifting register between “high” and “low” commentary, pedagogy and polemic, the language of theological allusion and that of popular cultural references, jokes, puns, and the dozens. What exactly are the broadsheet authors attempting to do? And why use a kind of theological discourse, with recurring references to biblical ancestry? One might start by situating the broadsheets within a wider array of traditions than is conventionally associated with the political rubric of “black nationalism.” The term often underestimates, and to some extent mislabels, a diverse set of cultural sentiments about ethnic origin and emancipative destiny that, throughout much of African American history, has been interlaced with religious and spiritual concerns—and that emerged in part to resist deeply corrosive European American traditions of religious racialism. Many nineteenth-century African Americans, in fact, grounded the struggle for ethnic identity in evangelical Protestantism and the zeal of believers to Christianize the lands of their ancestors. By searching the scriptures and the works of historians of antiquity, intellectuals such as Martin Delany, Alexander Crummell, and Edward Blyden developed theological foundations for linking black nationhood, missionary emigration, and various kinds of Africanist political consciousness. Creatively reinterpreting biblical accounts, such writers insisted upon a recognition of the early inhabitants of Egypt or Ethiopia as black peoples responsible for the achievements of ancient civilizations—peoples whose contemporary descendants in America and throughout the diaspora were likewise destined for a special historical mission.

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Yet these views were more than simply scholastic arguments, dusted off from old texts and debated by insular groups of writers and intellectuals. As historian Gayraud Wilmore has noted, Ethiopianism—a prophetic belief in the providential future of Africa—became the “inchoate, unofficial theology” of nineteenth-century black folk religion in America, embracing interconnected notions of African homeland and collective racial destiny. The Thmei authors often draw on and elaborate this informal theology: “The Negroes now in America were all inhabitants of ancient Ethiopia when they were captured and brought to America. . . . They are never referred to as negro, in the Bible. Negro is not their God-Given name.” Assertions such as these, offered up with a sense of revelation and urgency, run through many of the broadsheets. Understood by anthropologist St. Clair Drake as a prophetic “thought-style,” this kind of twentieth-century Ethiopianism operated not simply as the reminder of a founding site of black existence but as an “energizing myth,” a “pre-political” racial project for understanding and ending black suffering in the New World and in Africa itself.27 The Thmei broadsheets, with their intertwining emphases on racial origin and religious knowledge, bear the heavy mark of this long, prophetic tradition. Scholars now recognize that post-Enlightenment religious thought and racial belief developed in tandem. “Universal history,” the eighteenthand nineteenth-century term for a European-centered study of the evolution of humankind, invariably subjected the racial character of the earliest civilizations—understood through biblical sources—to obsessive scrutiny. Early modern Europeans saw racial variation among the world’s peoples as a threat to the Bible’s monogenetic account of humanity as descended from Adam and Eve. Over the centuries, a flood of scholarly biblical readings wrestled with questions of lineage: precisely who was descended from whom? As early modern intellectuals began to read racial difference into the peopling of the world, certain lineages, these writers asserted, were singularly cursed or blessed by God. A given genealogical reading would shape, in turn, a biblical geography, in which regions or cities associated with particular scripturally derived moral standings also became racialized.28 Which lands the different racial groups came from, in other words, spoke to what they were worth. Interconnected religious and racial concerns shaped early American historical thinking as well. Anti-abolitionist writers, in particular, often relied on biblical authority to support racial claims about the moral worth of peoples, and to define genealogies of civilization, as well as norms related to evidence and interpretation, in ways that relegated Africans and their descendants to the margins of the larger human story. Meanwhile,


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nineteenth-century African American writers, making use of many of the same texts, articulated quite different visions of religious history and ethnic identity. Black bibliophiles and lay historians, as part of an antebellum “pamphlet culture,” employed a wide variety of approaches, including biblically grounded accounts of racial lineage, to press their claims for black equality upon the American public. Building on these early pamphlets, African American ministers such as Robert Benjamin Lewis and James W. C. Pennington wrote extensive rebuttals of the Hamitic hypothesis—that certain descendants of Noah were made black as punishment for the wickedness of his son Ham—in order to undermine the theological defense of slavery. Pennington’s own biblical genealogies, inspired by references to the “blameless Ethiops” in Homer’s Iliad, demonstrated the worthiness of black ancestry in ways that also strengthened claims about the African basis of human civilization.29 The Thmei broadsheets likewise rely on genealogical arguments, featuring figures such as Shem and Cush, to rehabilitate the identity of modern African Americans. In “There are Two Ethiopias,” the broadsheet authors argue that “ETHIOPS are ETHIOPIANS!! . . . . The Ethiopians are the descendants of SHEM . . the descendants of SHEM are ETHIOPS! . . . . The American negro is ETHIOPS.” This ancient identity, however, has persistently been reversed, and blacks denied their righteous lineage. “THE ETHIOPS WERE KNOWN IN ANCIENT DAYS AS ‘the blameless ETHIOPS’. NOW THE WORLD KNOW[S] THEM AS THE BLAMED ETIOPS/ETHIOPS.” Another Thmei broadsheet, “Solution to the Negro Problem,” restores the ancestral chain of identity: “THE PEOPLE WHO MOSES WERE LEADING WERE OF THE ETHIOPIAN RACE, THEY DWELT IN A PLACE CALLED GOSHEN OR CUSH. TODAY, THE WORD GOSH IS USED AS AN EXCLAMATION OF ASTONISHMENT OR DISGUST.” Playing on the words “kosher” and “Goshen,” the text goes on to connect Haile Selassie, the modern ruler of Ethiopia (“known as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah”), with the claim that “the Jews in the Bible were black.” In this fashion, the broadsheet authors move back and forth through history, rereading biblical accounts in order to rebalance the moral ledger of civilization through racial lineage.30 The broadsheet writers draw on other intellectual weapons of nineteenth-century African American religious historiography to challenge, in their own mocking way, a host of mid-twentieth-century misconceptions about race. Employing what Stephen G. Hall has called essence history, the Thmei group insists on the overwhelming power of God to influence the affairs of the human world—while observing that his vengeful intervention has resulted in unrelenting sorrow and suffering for “THE PEOPLE IN THE

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UNITED STATES CALLED negroes.” Enlisting the rhetorical technique of the

jeremiad, Ra, Abraham, and their colleagues conclude, given the enormous wickedness in the world, that divine retribution must be imminent—but add, sardonically, that God has already delivered black people to a heaven known as “GOD’S COUNTRY”: segregated America. The broadsheets make use repeatedly of doubling, another nineteenth-century theological contrivance, to refigure the supreme embodiments of good and evil. “Men everywhere have forgotten their Creator instead the[y] are worshipping someone they call God not knowing that the very name of God mean enemy to the true Creator.” Repurposing rhetorical devices from much older religious polemics, Sun Ra and his coauthors lift the veil to reveal a deformed, secondorder theological universe entirely given over to racial calamity.31 What does it mean for mid-twentieth-century pamphletlike texts to rework techniques of historical writing already seen by many educated African Americans as antiquated or even illegitimate? St. Clair Drake points out that with the gradual secularization of black leadership in modern America came a certain intracommunal divergence in historical knowledge. Even as professionally trained African American scholars attempted to build broadly respected understandings of the past, a biblically grounded Ethiopianism remained “deeply imbedded in the urban subcultures” of black communities, sustained by religious groups that were also influenced by Garveyite ideals. Garvey’s associate Arnold Josiah Ford, for instance, went on to found a Black Israelite synagogue; other United Negro Improvement Association followers joined the Moorish Science Temple; and Robert Athlyi Rogers, author of The Holy Piby, published in 1924, designated Garvey an apostle in his own faith. These religious groups, not only in Chicago but in urban communities throughout the African diaspora, reanchored the Garveyite emphasis on self-determination and national autonomy within longer traditions of religious Ethiopianism. As Drake later observed, the belief systems of these faiths persisted because they provided meaningful schemes for living and “answers to the identity quest” for a significant fraction of black urban communities in the United States, as well as in South Africa and the Caribbean.32 It is not entirely surprising, then, that certain working-class African Americans in early postwar Chicago might have remained unconvinced by liberal, secular models of historical understanding and racial progress. The Thmei broadsheets, for example, deride African American community leaders not for economic selfishness or political ineffectiveness but for their supposed refusal to “speak the truth,” that is, the literal truth of the Bible properly (subversively) understood. In their emphasis on revealed


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truth, these texts echo the thought-style of many of black Chicago’s esoteric religious organizations. Despite profound differences in doctrine and ritual practice, the Ethiopianist heritage and Garveyite nationalism shared by these groups—Christians, Moors, Israelites, and Muslims—imparted a similar style to their historical ideas and rhetorical strategies. In the process, ministers and lay proselytizers in early-1950s Washington Park, like those from the interwar period examined by historian Jacob Dorman, adapted theological ideas borrowed from one another. United by a common experience of racial marginalization, these religious activists often shared as well the belief that established African American leaders had failed or even knowingly betrayed the community. Participants in this South Side counterpublic sphere, for all their internecine disputes, were engaged in a similar search for a new ethnicity—a collective identity as a nation—that might liberate a people from demeaning conceptions of race. Displaying an even more syncretistic bent than other Washington Park groups, the Thmei authors freely combined Africanist and Orientalist histories of the race with what might be called counter-Ethiopianist polemics on the fallen state of the “American Negro”—tirades deploying Ethiopianism against its traditional grain of hope.33 Occult sourcebooks influenced the ideas of many of these religious groups, as they did the Thmei broadsheets. Issued by the Chicago publishing house of author L. W. de Laurence, texts such as The Famous Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses and The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden offered biblically oriented inscriptions, dream interpretations, and magic spells as well as scriptures purportedly suppressed by early Church fathers. The broadsheets draw on De Laurence works primarily to support racialized, darkly subversive readings of the Bible. In “The Reach for a Better World,” for example, Sun Ra and his coauthors quote directly from “lost” books of the Bible in order to establish a series of equivalences between the religion of the white race and civilization’s legacy of “sadness” and “evil.” The broadsheets marshal support for such starkly counterorthodox claims as “THE WORD OF GOD IS EVIL” and assertions that the “DEEP WISDOM” of white Gentile civilization has resulted in the “H bomb, A bomb, dust bomb, germ warfare, segregation and injustices.” For these authors, lost texts provide grist for against-the-grain—and often bleak—readings of the catastrophic condition of black people and the contemporary world at large.34 De Laurence presented his publications as faithful translations of centuries-old mystical systems of the Oriental world. In reality, the books were steeped in ideas derived from various strands of the early twentieth-

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century New Thought movement, including theosophy, with its refutation of Christian orthodoxy through the recovery of “hidden wisdom” from the ancient world’s misunderstood texts and lost cities. The Thmei broadsheets borrow symbols like flying camels and fiery serpents from theosophical works such as H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, in support of dark and poetic reflections on Jesus, the crucifixion, and “the Negro.” Blavatsky herself had argued, for example, that the pre-Christian meaning of the cross—as “tree of life,” a symbol of man’s rebirth—had been perverted “through its use by the Romans as an instrument of torture and the ignorance of the early Christian schemers,” turning it into a “tree of death.” A Thmei broadsheet called “The Great Whore” extends this critique, linking the crucifixion to lynching. Characterizing the crucifixion in Christian theology as an Orwellian inversion of the truth, the Thmei authors proclaim, “THE CROSS IS DAMNATION AND CURSE. . . . THE CROSS IS THE JUST HANGING ON THE TREE . . . BRUTALITY, MURDER without reason, TRUTH twisted to be a lie, Good called EVIL . . .”35

The Thmei authors deploy Blavatsky’s revisionist theology, in fact, in ways that rework her own problematic racialism. Theosophy’s notion of “root-races” and evolutionary hierarchies identified the white race as a higher type of humanity than other groups. In “Satan Is the God of the Spooks,” however, the broadsheet authors not only equate Jesus and Satan—both unjustly cast out, humbled, despised—but compare them to “spooks” or “Negroes,” who are similarly spurned and dishonored. Observing that Jesus’s disciples believed they were seeing a ghost when they saw him walk on water, Sun Ra and his coauthors note that “spook is another name for ghost”—thereby connecting a persecuted people to the figure of Jesus. Reinvesting a derogatory epithet with unexpected religious significance, the broadsheets “Ethiopianize” key figures in the Bible in ways that furnish new possibilities for African American lineage—and issue forth what Brent Hayes Edwards has termed “a call for willful autonomy” in the rhetoric of Christian vindication.36 The biblical commentaries in the broadsheets, with their frequent use of rhetorical doubling and reversal, set the stage for a re-presentation of postwar black identity. Reinterpreting sacred texts, for the Thmei group, enables African Americans to become people dramatically different from the (non)beings that white society typically assumes them to be. This continual recasting of identity leads to a kind of self-othering—as a mechanism not of alienation but of self-exoticization. At any moment, imply the broadsheets, black Americans may reveal themselves anew.


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Ancient Geography, Modern Identity A striking characteristic of the Thmei broadsheets is the repeated mention of geographical locations associated with ancient civilizations. Nubia, Africa, India, Aethiopia—these place-names are peppered throughout the texts, and would become titles of compositions by Sun Ra later in the 1950s. Yet how the geography of the broadsheets relates to issues of black identity, so central to the concerns of the Thmei authors, is not immediately clear. Ethiopia, not surprisingly, figures prominently as a place of origin. Precisely where this Ethiopia is located, however, or how it might be related to the other ancient places mentioned in the broadsheets, is difficult to unravel: Two places hold the keys to the identity of the American negro: EGYPT and IN DIA. The first ETHIOPIA was in IN DIA.

ETHIOPS IS OU DE W HICH IS J U DE W HICH IS J U DA H. THE American negro is J U DA H. . . . . . J U DA H was last heard of in AFRIC A, when they went to EGYPT.

Ethiopia embraced modern Nubia, Sensaar, Kordofan & Northern Abyssinia and in its more definite sense the Kingdom of MEROE. Syene marked the division between Ethiopia and Egypt. Ethiopia lay to South of Egypt.37

Place-names run riot here. Beyond the names of Noah, Ham, Shem, and other ancestors, this litany of geographical proper nouns becomes the discursive space through which a long-hidden African American identity is imagined. Ethiopia, Israel, Judah, India, Meroe—sequences of place-names articulate a lineage for “Negroes” that establishes their uniqueness as a nation, as a historically “despised” group, as a potential agent of universal transformation. A people long assumed to be from the rural South or from a distant land too primitive to register as civilization—from “nowhere here,” as Arkestra members would chant in later performances—become, when located by the broadsheets in the lands of their ancestors, a chosen race, present at fateful moments of history and still harboring a secret, unfulfilled destiny. The location of utopia, the ideal realm as place, has been central to depictions of other worlds ever since Thomas More coined the term in the sixteenth century. More’s “utopia”—a Greek neologism that humorously combines ou-topia (no place) and eu-topia (good place)—situated a not-yet-discovered place at the center of the uncertain quest for a New

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World. Over the centuries since, utopian writers projected this ideal onto a shifting array of geographical spaces: autonomous and previously undiscovered territories stumbled on by errant travelers, in early-modern texts such as More’s; ideal earthly societies accessed largely through time travel, as in the nineteenth-century novels of Edward Bellamy and William Morris; and then outer space, in twentieth-century science fiction, as well as, of course, the musical creations of Sun Ra and the Arkestra that would emerge several years after the writing of the Thmei broadsheets.38 The broadsheets, however, look not to the future or outer space but unswervingly back to the ancient world. In this sense, are these utopian texts at all? Distant, exoticized realms—Africa, Asia, the Orient—have furnished much raw material for the Western geographical imagination. Yet how the broadsheets reimagine these realms was very much a response to rival exoticizations imposed upon early postwar Chicago. Employing the concept of Orientalism, scholars have come to recognize that imaginative geographies—whether in literary narratives, manifestos, paintings, and maps or advertisements and theme-park spectacles—are deeply intertwined with the imperial projects of modern history. Twentieth-century American racism, as Jacob Dorman notes, often took the form of Orientalism, leading to a “Manichean othering” of people of African descent, whether in Africa or in Chicago, as irredeemably alien and savage. During the early 1950s, Time, Life, and National Geographic magazines routinely trafficked in primitivist notions, as when their writers explored, for example, the “jungle neighborhoods” of equatorial societies in search of the “rhythm of Africa.” Chicago Confidential, the self-consciously sensational bestseller published in 1950 by journalists Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, portrayed postwar migrations to the Windy City in similar terms, as “darkest Africa moves to darkest Chicago.” The city’s South Side, they suggested, was becoming a “different country” overrun by a “dusky multitude.”39 Faced with this kind of rhetorical violence, black Americans participating in the broader public sphere often sought to project a cultural image that was decorous, middle-class, and indisputably American. Yet for Washington Park–centered activists speaking exclusively to black Chicagoans, exotic Africa loomed as a powerfully attractive site for the construction of alternative identities—one that was not only mythically resonant but also imagined as radically distant in both time and space. To understand these African Americans’reimaginings of place as a kind of black Orientalism is not to belittle them or to conflate their exoticizing operations with those of Euro-American racism or essentialism. Dorman’s historical study of interwar black esoteric religions observes that African American Orientalism,


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understood as a “recalcitrant” discourse that challenged American racism and white-centered conceptions of civilization, was an important stimulus for the black cultural imagination. Orientalist geographies likewise enabled the Thmei broadsheet authors, along with other black heterodox religious groups in Chicago, to reimagine ancient India and Africa as spatially interconnected antecedents of African American ethnicity. In the broadsheets, as in the early nineteenth-century writers studied by intellectual historian John Ernest, Africa became “the site of an imaginary order disrupted by profane history.” The continent’s rediscovery and recovery required, in the mid-twentieth century as in earlier modern periods, a new map, one that might provide a spatial grounding for a new kind of historical theology. In the case of the Thmei broadsheets, this new map took the form of a creatively revisionist geography—a respatialization of Ethiopia that multiplied the land beyond the dreams of any earnest Ethiopianist.40 In a broadsheet called “I Have Set before You Life and Death—Choose Life,” the Thmei authors assert that the first Ethiopia was actually in India, the earliest cradle of civilization: “The Ethiops at one time ruled supreme over the whole of ANCIENT INDIA.” A second Ethiopia arose when these eastern Ethiopians moved west to Egypt, becoming known as “mighty builders and the wisest of men”—“THE BLAMELESS ETHIOPS” who created the “first real civilization in Egypt.” So the two Ethiopias, as places of origin for the ancestors of African Americans, also become twin originators of civilizations in Asia and Africa. Geographical doubling, in this sense, situates contemporary black Americans as the legatees of multiple cradles of the world’s civilizations.41 Meanwhile, invoking Chaldea and Judah, lands of the Jews, sustains the black Hebraic claim: the Jews of the Bible were also Ethiopians. One broadsheet supports this argument through a rereading of God’s statement in the book of Exodus, “Israel is my son.” Moses is to convey this declaration to Pharaoh so that he will let the Jews go. The passage is traditionally interpreted as an unequivocal endorsement of the Jews as God’s chosen people. In “There Are Two Ethiopias,” however, the authors play on the word “son.” “ISR A EL is my son.” (son = sun) EXODUS 4:22. Race of the sun reigned in AYODHIA (new OU DE). . . . OU DE is J U DA therefore J U DA is ETHIOP = ETHIOPS.42

The homonyms son and sun enable the conflation of Israel and Ethiopia. Judah, land of the Israelites, is now repositioned as one of several ancestral homes of African Americans. The original children of Israel, accordingly,

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“were Black-Brown not White,” while the seed of Abraham is “really the Seed of Shem-Ham.” Shem-Ham—a conflation of Shem and Ham, two of Noah’s sons—brings together the Semitic and Ethiopian lineages of black Americans and repositions the Holy Land as their New Land. The “Aith-io-pians of AFRICA,” in this fashion, emerge as the hidden founders of both East and West—or as the broadsheet “Lucifer Means Light Bearer” puts it, the “So-Called” American Negroes “are the MOTHER-FATHER of civilization.”43 Beginning with the creative geography of two Ethiopias, then, the Thmei broadsheets bring about a dramatic revision not just in black identity but in human history. “The American negro,” concludes one broadsheet, “is of ASIATIC Judaen-E[t]hyiopic descent.” This “original” identity is not only diasporic but syncretic—what Dorman has called polycultural—in character. By remapping the ancient world, the broadsheets advance an origin story that brings together mythologies culled from many religious texts and traditions, all creatively read and reassembled. The Thmei texts thus engage in their own kind of place reassignment—this place turns out to be that place, familiar places are rediscovered as quite different places, and a host of their places become our places. This reimagination of place takes place almost entirely through a linking of names. In contrast to works of Afrocentric historical revisionism by other twentieth-century utopian authors, there is no descriptive language that evokes these ancient, idealized places—no phrases conjure the spiritual grace of ancient India, the splendid cities of Canaan, the sumptuous courts of the pharoahs.44 Indeed, the Ethiopias, Indias, and Egypts of the broadsheets do not represent places at all in the sense that a geographer might define them: as locales with unique topographical features and particular meanings for those who inhabit or visit them. They are simply place-names whose meanings depend on their asserted symbolic identification with a particular people. By making these connections between places and peoples in new ways, the broadsheets reshuffle an inherited ethnic cartography to render peoples of African descent, long off the map of civilization, now fully present and even central in many of the ancient world’s places. The Thmei broadsheets give us, then, a creative toponymy, a playful imaginary where, as in More’s Utopia, placenames become the property of ideal peoples.45 The topic of utopia, for the broadsheets, ultimately centers on the latent capacities of black Americans to free themselves. By placing forebears throughout the ancient world, the Thmei authors establish a correspondingly large role for their descendants’ agency—a role that is ennobling but also, it turns out, an extraordinary burden to bear. Present in so many of


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antiquity’s important biblical settings and hiding behind so many of the Bible’s apparent protagonists, black people become responsible not only for the world’s civilizations but for its most horrific crime. In the New Testament—when its veiled meanings are properly illuminated—readers encounter the truly epochal agency of the Ethiopian people: It has been demonstrated that anywhere a Negro goes is not home, no matter how hard you work you are not going to be appreciated. Your only hope is to stop believing that Jesus died for your sins. Jesus did not die to save any Negro (true Jew). His death brought the wrath of God upon your heads. The Black man is in torment and misery everywhere on the face of this earth. Why? Simply this. You are accountable to God for the death of Jesus.46

Asserting that the Jews of the Bible were actually Ethiopians creates the opportunity for African Americans, as we have seen, to claim the status of chosen people. This radically revisionist history, however, alters not simply the identity of biblical victims but also, with the shift in narrative positions, the moral valences assigned to key protagonists. The broadsheets are unambiguous on this issue: “THE JEWS WHO SOUGHT TO KILL JESUS WERE OF ETHIOPIAN ORIGIN. ” The persecution suffered by Jesus, therefore, “IS THE SAME KIND OF PERSECUTION FACED DAILY BY THE NEGRO RACE NOT ONLY IN AMERICA BUT EVERYWHERE ON THIS PLANET, THE RACE ONLY REAPING WHAT IT SOWED LONG AGO .”47 The broadsheets’ notion that black people were responsible for

killing Jesus is a bold and morally consequential claim. The anti-Semitism of recurring Christian myths that the Jews persecuted or killed Jesus is thereby redirected, with “the American Negro” assigned the transhistorical moral burden of having engineered the crucifixion of Jesus. This heinous act, instigated by black church leaders such as Caiaphas, has imparted, for the Thmei authors, a deep moral stain to “the Negro race” and accounts for the many centuries of persecution and suffering experienced by the perpetrators: QU ESTION: HOW C A N WE PROV E TH AT THE A MERIC A N NEGRO A RE DESCENDA N TS OF THE CH U RCH A N D NATION TH AT TRIED TO KILL JESUS BEC AUSE THEY H ATED TO A DMIT THE TRU TH? A NSWER: WE C A N PROV E IT BY THE SA LVATION DOCTRINE W HICH NEGRO PRE ACHERS A RE TE ACHING TODAY. THEIR DOCTRINE IS THE DOCTRINE OF C AIAPH AS A N D HIS SA LVATION PL A N.

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Conventional forms of Christianity—which the Thmei authors here call the salvation doctrine—advance the notion that Jesus, an “innocent,” needed to “die for the nation.” Typically portrayed as part of God’s plan, this doctrine is instead seen by the broadsheet authors as a catastrophic error. Resulting from a misguided plot by black “leaders of the church itself,” the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus has been compounded by centuries of false Christian teaching, including that of “Negro preachers” today.48 Black Americans, responsible for the shameful treatment of Jesus, and treated ever since exactly as they treated him, thus occupy both positions—victimizer and victim—in the central moral equation of the broadsheets’ revisionist theology. This equation may seem uncomfortably close, particularly for twentyfirst-century sensibilities, to a blame-the-victim ontology of black suffering. If so, it is useful to note that earlier religious Ethiopianists also sometimes assigned responsibility to black people for their own mistreatment and disunity. Nineteenth-century minister James W. C. Pennington, for example, proclaimed, “Our venerable ancestors provoked God to give them up to the influence of their folly, open[ing] the door to the slave trade and causing Africans to be riven up . . . into petty tribes and ready to be made dupes of.”49 This kind of transhistorical mea culpa does not, however, absolve whites from their own share of the moral burden; white people—sometimes understood in the broadsheets’ biblically coded universe as “gentiles”— are still guilty for their racism, for leading the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon, and for “CONCEALING THE TRUE IDENTITY OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO”—perhaps their greatest crime. Yet emphasizing the biblical perfidy of African Americans’ ancestors serves an important purpose for the broadsheets: recentering the “problem of the Negro” on his hidden, and still available, collective agency.50 Millenarian rhetoric often implies that moments of epiphany can activate secret powers. The moral command “wake up!” carries the promise of great transformation, or at least a turn away from catastrophe, if only its hearers can grasp a simple truth. The Thmei broadsheets offer precisely such a promise. However counterintuitive their biblical claims in conventional Christian terms, these texts convey not only the flash of illumination that comes with suddenly revealed wisdom—a world seen anew—but also the thunderclap of agitation when people long viewed as lowly objects in this world are recast in the role of its makers. If African Americans ultimately bear responsibility for their own plight, then they need not wait for others— they have the capacity to free themselves at any time. To a receptive audience, it is a powerfully stirring appeal, bringing together, in a kind of temporal collision, the Ethiopian biblical past and the


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American Cold War present—at the center of which stands “the Negro,” not only as problem but as its solution. For the broadsheet authors, the recognition of a hidden identity augurs a path to emancipation, for African Americans and for a world on the brink of disaster.

Decoding the Songbook The Thmei broadsheets offer surprisingly little direct commentary about music. An initial search for Sun Ra’s views about music—his own compositions, those of his contemporaries, the possibilities for music in the future—reveals almost nothing. If recent historical scholarship has shown that a people’s music became a vital marker of national identity for Du Bois, Garvey, and many other twentieth-century black intellectuals and activists, then the lack of sustained musical discussion in the Thmei broadsheets seems to pose a major puzzle. There is, to be sure, the assertion at one point that the extraordinary musical creativity of African Americans routinely becomes—in the words of George G. M. James’s popular book of the mid-1950s—a “stolen legacy.” Most musical references in the broadsheets, however, concern not cultural theft but rather the hidden meanings of particular songs or lyrics. These references are typically brief, and many of them initially appear cryptic, trivial, even absurd. Yet their frequency and timing—often appearing in the middle of a theological discussion—suggest a particular role for musical meaning in the Thmei group’s understanding of cultural identity, agency, and racial consciousness.51 Sifting through these strange references reveals a consistent strategy: the extension of racial theology to popular song. At one level this operation involves spinning out playfully subversive readings of apparent trifles. The Thmei commentaries find profane meanings in spirituals, brutality in light Broadway fare, and redemptive claims in throwaway lyrics. Beneath the surface, though, the broadsheets also pursue a kind of racial reappropriation in which all music becomes black music—and African Americans become music’s inevitable subject and agent. In this regard, these texts not only unveil in deeply unsettling fashion the omnipresence of racial catastrophe but also challenge black Americans to take up their long-awaited mission of redemption—through music.52 Woven throughout the broadsheets are myriad comments that connect lyrics from popular songs to harsh statements about the black condition. The scope of popular-musical allusion is enormous, spanning—and sometimes mashing together—old American folk songs, Christian hymns, spirituals, Tin Pan Alley pop tunes, jazz scat, swing hits, and rhythm-and-blues

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drinking songs. References to blackface minstrel songs abound. There are even allusions to “moon and coon” songs, a musical subgenre in turn-of thecentury America that imagined the man in the moon as black. A broadsheet entitled “Little i’s I Love You” draws on the Cornish folk song “Little Eyes” as well as “Them There Eyes,” a jazz composition made popular by Billie Holiday, in order to depict African Americans as God’s children—betrayed by him. In “The Light Is G,” the broadsheet authors quote the Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler song “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” to dramatize the dead-end choices whites have constructed for black people. The title line from “I Cover the Waterfront,” another jazz standard, is borrowed to depict an ignorant Jesus walking on the water as symbolic of white people walking all over African Americans: “JERUSALEM TRODDEN DOWN BY THE GENTILES.”53 Black people hardly escape criticism in these pop-musical references. In a broadsheet called “The Stumbling Block,” the Thmei authors quote from “Whatcha Know Joe?,” a peppy call-and-response swing number associated with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra that makes fun of an ignorant fellow: “WHATCHA KNOW JOE?***** ANSWER: ‘I DON’T KNOW NOTHING.’” Subsequent references relate this fellow to the main character in “Old Black Joe,” Stephen Foster’s song about an elderly black servant facing death with noble resignation—a figure the broadsheet writers insistently mock for his ignorance and Christlike submissiveness. In “I Don’t Give a Hoot,” the Thmei writers refer to “Blow, ‘Mr. Low Blow,’” an early 1950s rhythm and blues song that Sun Ra arranged for Red Saunders and vocalist Joe Williams, to decry the “low” place and cowlike nature (“lowing”) of “Negroes.” In the broadsheet “Neptune Is Rex,” the lyrics of the Harold Arlen song “Stormy Weather” are quoted—“Life is bare / Gloom and mis’ry everywhere / Stormy weather / Just can’t get my poor self together / I’m weary all the time”—to dramatize the plight of the black man: “YOU JUST CAN’T GET YOURSELF TOGETHER . . . POOR SELF YOU . . . KEEPS RAINING ALL THE TIME. . . . . POOR NIGGER YOU.”54

The broadsheets draw out the hidden—and sometimes not-so-hidden— currents of racial violence lurking within America’s most popular songs to make a larger theological point. A broadsheet called “There’s a Nigger in the Woodpile” uses a series of song titles to evoke the fiery persecution of African Americans by God as well as by white men. One such reference is to “Holy Smoke,” a “coon song” from the 1890s that describes a church full of black people being burned alive. By connecting this song to “Nigger in the Woodpile”—a blackface minstrel song that became a string-band commercial hit in the 1920s—this broadsheet conjures a similarly deadly


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inferno as the woodpile goes up in flames: Jesus’s incineration of African Americans as revenge for his crucifixion. A similar theme emerges in “The Negro Is a Burden to the White Man,” in which the act of being touched by the almighty—as in the African American spiritual “I Know the Lord Laid His Hands on Me”—is depicted as God’s fiery vengeance upon black people: “He toucheth the Mountains and they Smoke.”55 This theme continues in “Days of Vengeance,” which associates the 1920s jazz dance-song “Ballin’ the Jack” with a divine fireball sent to destroy a wicked Judah. In the “Woodpile” broadsheet, a divine mode of transport normally seen as a vehicle of salvation—Elijah’s chariot—results instead in yet another conflagration: AS YOU C A N PL AINLY SEE NEGROES DON’T K NOW THE BIBLE ELSE THEY WOU LD MOST CERTAINLY NOT SING, “SWING LOW SWEET CH A RIOT.” TRU E, ELIJA H WEN T TO HE AV EN IN A CH A RIOT BU T THE CH A RIOT WAS ON FIRE, A N D THE BA N D OF A NGELS W HICH JESUS SEN T A RE A BA N D OF A NGELS OF EVIL.**************

Other broadsheets invoke this particular spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” in order to connect swinging to being lynched. The broadsheet called “A Spook Sho’ Is a Dragg, Man . . . He’s a Dragg” develops this association in elaborate fashion. After introducing “the Spook” (here the dark spirit of one who is dead but nevertheless still walking), the authors refer to this ghost as “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA”—the rejected composer whose music was stolen and who haunts the Paris Opera. Subsequently, the broadsheet suggests that this phantom figure, no longer visible, has been lynched, though he remains present in some spectral way: “THE LITTLE BOY WHO ISN’T THERE IS AT HIS ROPES END . . . HE IS NOT IN THE PICTURE . . . YET THE ROPE IS THERE AND SO IS HE . . .” This theme returns

later in the broadsheet: “SWING LOW SWEET CHARIOT. . . . . . . . . . . . . SWEET CHARIOT. . . . . SWEET CHARIOT . . . JESUS SWUNG LOW LONG AGO. . . . LONG AGO. . . . LONG AGO. . . .” Finally, near the end of the broadsheet,

the theme returns again, connecting “swinging”—this time with its musical implications made explicit—to lynching, with “HE” referring to Jesus and “YOU” referring to contemporary African Americans: “THE CHARIOT SWUNG LOW . . HE’S STILL SWINGING. . . . . HE’S GOT RHYTHM . . . YOU’RE SWINGING TOO.”56

Several particular songs resurface across multiple broadsheets, touchstones of a revisionist black identity. One frequently mentioned song is blues singer Stick McGhee’s popular hit from the late 1940s, “Drinking

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Wine Spodee-O-Dee.” Seemingly a straightforward celebration of alcoholic indulgence, the song’s lyrics recur throughout the broadsheets as evidence of a hidden Ethiopian identity for black Americans. In the midst of a biblical discussion of the “two Ethiopias” and the descendants of Shem, for instance, the authors suddenly decode—via a palindrome and a series of equivalences—a secret meaning lurking within the song’s lyrics: The American negro is ETHIOPS . . ETHIOPS IS SPOIHTE . .



DRINKIN’ WINE SPOIHTE- OIHTE is a favorite negro song . . It positively identifies the American negro as SPOIHTE- OIHTE . .

McGhee’s hit would not have been cited by many of his contemporaries as an exemplary expression (covert or not) of the collective identity of the African American people—except perhaps in a derisive fashion. The words “drinkin’ wine, spodee-o-dee, drinkin’ wine” on McGhee’s 1949 release for Atlantic Records were apparently a cleaned-up version of his song’s original refrain, “drinkin’ wine, motherfucker, drinkin’ wine.” Yet in “The True Way to Life” the broadsheet authors expand on their reference to McGhee’s lyric, suggesting a serious agenda at work: “GOD GAVE HIS ENEMIES BLOOD TO DRINK . . . negroes call wine blood. . . SPOIHTE-OIHTE IS ETHIOPS. ETHIOETHIOPS. ETHIOPS is the true identity of the American negro.” In effect, African Americans, makers of human history as Ethiopians, also committed evils that have attracted the unrelenting anger of a vengeful God. Buried within the drinking song, a hidden stain and secret identity were waiting to be discovered.57 Throughout the broadsheets, musical lyrics operate as covert allegories of the agonizing contemporary plight of African Americans. Popular songs old and new—“Johnny One Note,” “You’re the Man in the Moon,” “Stormy Weather”—are invoked repeatedly to rail against the unrelenting subordination of black people as well as their apparent unwillingness to change, or wake up. The original lyrics to “Johnny One Note,” a Rodgers and Hart show tune made popular by Judy Garland in the 1948 movie Words and Music, describe a plucky boy who can sing only one note but sings that note with gusto. The broadsheet authors connect this boy to African Americans, stuck in the same spot for three thousand years:


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Associating “Johnny One Note” with the phrase “Johnny on the spot,” the authors play with the musical meaning of “changes” (chord progressions) in order to dramatize the metaphysical immobility of black Americans. Through further wordplay, this broadsheet connects Johnny One Note to the crucified son of God, fixed in the same position. Riffing on an apparently lightweight musical selection, the broadsheet authors unveil the grim multimillennial condition of a savior people: stuck in place, embodied word of God, nailed to the cross.58 Later, however, this same broadsheet brings into play a more hopeful and active set of connotations. Signifying on the word “sound,” the passage suggests—perhaps in an Ellisonian nod to invisibility—that African Americans cannot be seen, only heard. Then the authors pose the question, “HOW YOU GOIN’ TO SOUND?” The answer provided is, for the broadsheets, unusually forthright and assertive: “i know how I’m going to sound. i’m going to sound so loud that it will wake up the dead.” This sentence reworks a line from “Where Shall I Be,” a popular hymn written by turnof-the-century black Holiness preacher Charles Price Jones. Jones’s lyrics urge Christians to ready themselves for judgment day and God’s millennial reign: O where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds, O where shall I be when it sounds so loud? When it sounds so loud as to wake the dead? O where shall I be when it sounds?

The broadsheet author, also speaking in the first person, inserts into the eschatology a powerful voice for himself, claiming the trumpet’s capacity “to sound so loud that it will wake up the dead.” Musical agency surfaces here, briefly lifting Johnny One Note from his “purgatory,” sounding out a strong note of defiance—a wake-up call. It is a conception that echoes Sonny Blount’s wake-up style of piano playing in Calumet City, as related in chapter 4, while anticipating how Sun Ra and his Arkestra would explore

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the purpose of music later in the decade—the idea that musical leaders can “wake up” community members.59 A fuller eruption of defiant agency takes place in the broadsheet “Neptune Is Rex.” After a long description of Jesus Christ, and implicitly the African American people, as a sacrificial lamb—a “VICTIM MAN” burdened with the sins of the whole world—the crucified figure surprisingly turns into Prometheus, a mythic figure who is much less submissive: HE IS PROMETHEUS THE BOU N D WITH THE CROSS ON HIS BACK . . . PROMETHEUS IS SUFFERING . . . CRY FOR YOU RSELF PROMETHEUS . . . IF YOU CRY G OD WILL HE A R YOU . . . C ATCH A NIG GER BY HIS TOE . . IF HE HOLLERS . . LET HIM G O. . . .



The dead, in this passage as in others, represent contemporary black Americans. The introduction of Prometheus, the defiant deliverer of illumination or insight, brings on an abrupt shift in register. Rather than fire, the gift of this black Prometheus is sound. The authors command him to cry for himself over his punishment, and to cry out loudly, suggesting again a sonic road to emancipation: God will hear him and release him from bondage. This can only come to pass, though, if Prometheus can wake himself up from the dead. If he does, the broadsheet concludes, he will awaken as Sleeping Beauty—his true, hidden features finally becoming his own identity and destiny.60 What do the various musical references running throughout the broadsheets tell us about these writings as cultural texts? One effect of drawing on popular music is to leaven and extend the biblical theology of the Thmei group. Although it is impossible to know precisely how the group’s Washington Park interlocutors responded, a major contrast between these texts and those of the more prominent esoteric faiths—such as the Moorish Science Temple, the Black Israelites, and the Nation of Islam—is the notion in the broadsheets of commercial culture as a vehicle to religious knowledge. The Nation, for example, encouraged adherents to separate as much as possible from the entanglements of urban popular culture; though its ritual practices in early 1950s Chicago incorporated collective renditions of the


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National Song (a simple anthem rallying members for the “fight for Islam”), commercial music was shunned as the plaything of white devils. Little is known about everyday Black Israelite musical practice in the postwar South Side, though Arnold Josiah Ford’s own best-known compositions apparently were hymns and anthems to inspire the faithful. The religion’s cultural references—like the Oriental icons and rituals displayed in De Laurence volumes—were most likely calculated to turn adherents away from standard vehicles of commercial musical expression circulating through mainstream American society.61 By contrast, the musical references interwoven throughout the Thmei broadsheets encourage a probing reengagement with the popular music of the marketplace. Suggesting that theological meaning can be found in every corner of the American musical landscape, these texts encourage readers or listeners to ferret out and decode the hidden meanings of song lyrics—unsuspected, pervasive sources of revelation. The Thmei texts, however, for all their quasi-religious disposition, are not really catechistic or doctrinal writings at all. Their lessons do not define an orthodoxy, mandate a set of ritual practices, or unify a collective. Instead, they are cultural texts that use the intellectual tools of theological revelation to engender a radical skepticism toward received understandings of the world, replacing them with a secret or hidden body of knowledge that offers, however uncertainly, a new path to social emancipation. In this sense, the writings of the Thmei group, like those of other alternative “sciences” such as theosophy or communism, summon the breathtaking power of a singular, totalizing narrative. This narrative, however againstthe-grain it may appear, not only enables a sweeping reinterpretation of much of what passes for social and historical knowledge but also, by restlessly recoding lyrics to popular songs and sayings, demonstrates its capacity to rework meanings routinely conveyed through the musical discourse of everyday life. In the process, this unrelenting play with lyrics from all types of songs entails a kind of reenchantment of popular musical culture. “Reenchantment” in this context does not so much involve finding new magic within the folds of mass-cultural conventions—though the supernatural is present in abundance in the broadsheets—as it means discovering the same haunting narrative encoded within every single lyrical expression. The effect is not to deconstruct the popular song but to essentialize it—to invest every gesture within it with a fateful, deadly, transhistorical reality. By this measure, one could select a line or two from practically any popular song— whether folk song or standard, spiritual or swing—and uncover the same latent text about the multimillennial purgatory of African peoples.

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The Great American Songbook is the name often given to the collective body of popular song from the early decades of the twentieth century: the “standards.” As a rubric, the notion of these songs as musical standards echoes the idea discussed earlier that long-canonized texts and scholarly norms—other kinds of historical standards—also merit probing for their hidden, countercanonical potentials. If the Bible remains the Ur-text of every racial narrative throughout the broadsheets, then what might be called the Greater American Songbook—that is, not only the early-twentieth-century popular repertoire but the entire musical heritage of America—becomes, for the broadsheet authors, history’s great second “book.” Treating this musical heritage as a single, intertextual book of song, Ra and his colleagues divine, beneath its seeming emphasis on lighthearted diversion and conventional religious moralism, the bright thread of a people’s unending tragedy, suffering, and redemption as initially revealed in history’s first great book, the Bible. Much of this sweeping vision remains at this point merely implied. The Thmei broadsheets do not yet advance the claim that music, Sun Ra’s music in particular, can transform the world—which is what he and Abraham would soon proclaim. But these texts, in their own hermetic way, lay much of the intellectual groundwork for that proclamation. Taking Ethiopianist philosophical and historical propositions as their starting point, the Thmei texts not only rework the fundamental meaning of the Bible but reracialize the popular musical culture of America. In the process, they prepare the way for a still-unsounded music of the future—one that might wake up a slumbering people to its long-hidden destiny.

Making New Urban Ethnicities The Thmei broadsheets, wide-ranging though their themes might be, emerged from a very particular time and place. Early postwar Chicago was a city in which a new white racial identity was taking shape—where once-rival groups of immigrants from various European lands were coming together in their South Side neighborhoods to collectively, and violently, repel African American neighbors who believed they might finally be able to live where they wished. It was also a larger historical moment when anthropologists, echoing the nineteenth-century French racial theorist Count Gobineau, codified races into new types that seemed sharp and clear. In American cities, where populations were already in motion, these notions gave intellectual heft to ascendant binary distinctions between black and white. Aryans, Jews, and Italians, no longer races, henceforth


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understood themselves as ethnicities. Indeed, it seemed that every people now might be free to enjoy an ethnic identity—except African Americans, who somehow were to remain wholly defined by their race.62 The broadsheets say nothing directly about these dynamics. Yet the monumentality of their critique—that if race is real then all of human civilization must rest upon a racial lie—suggests not only that the long search for nationhood was alive and active in many forms in black Chicago but that immediate urban conditions confirmed, and even heightened, the urgency of this search. In such a context, the Thmei broadsheet authors, like many Washington Park groups, were striving to create an ethnicity for black Americans through a new religious history and geography of identity. For some groups this was a black Jewish identity; for others, a black Islamic identity; for still others, a Moorish American or African identity. Confronted by a hardening racial divide in the postwar metropolis, the promise of grounding nationhood in a new ethnicity—with all its attendant supports and comforts, such as a place of origin, a unique history, and a set of symbols and practices—offered religious believers not only an intellectual answer to the mystery of evil but also a singular myth of salvation, a mode of deliverance. Emerging from this shared counterpublic, the Thmei broadsheets also provided answers, if fewer such comforts. The Thmei writings are cultural commentaries on religious and other texts. While not theological texts in any traditional sense, they are hardly new-nationalist manifestos either. The broadsheets do not provide the intellectual grounding for a stable ethnic identity but instead embrace, and then destabilize, an array of identities variously assigned to or claimed by early postwar African Americans. The Thmei group’s counterEthiopianism—its rejection of the “Ethiopian salvation doctrine” according to which Jesus died to save black peoples—separates the broadsheets from earlier traditions of African American Christian thought, while its emphasis on collective self-blame departs from many other religious groups in Washington Park. The Thmei group’s ideas and rhetorical devices, in fact, assemble and combine an array of Ethiopianist, Islamist, and Israelite philosophies, each a polycultural construction in its own right. For the Thmei group, the African American is sometimes a Jew, sometimes an Asiatic, sometimes an African or Ethiopian—or even all of these. The effect of this continual recasting of the identity of “the Negro”—a kind of self-othering—operates as a mechanism not of alienation but of collective self-exoticization. At any moment, these texts imply, African Americans may become alluringly different from how they so often see themselves, taking on new identities full of possibility, transcendence, and moral agency.

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In this sense, the broadsheets, if not precisely “utopian” texts—in the sense of blueprints or revealed illuminations of an alternative future— nevertheless prepare the intellectual ground for more utopian work to come. In Ernst Bloch’s terms, the proto-utopian quality of the Thmei broadsheets is directed not so much toward the abolition of misery and suffering—the concerns of “social utopian” texts—as toward “do[ing] away with all that stands in the way of autonomy.” The primary pedagogical operation of the broadsheets is to estrange audiences, to teach them how to think of the spaces and identities they already inhabit in a more expansive and critical fashion. For the broadsheets, a counter-Ethiopianist reading of the Bible—or of the American folk and popular music canon—creates an imagined site outside conventional reality from which to see the world anew.63 Yet there are moments in the broadsheets when a more forthright utopianism emerges. On several occasions the Thmei group proclaims, in a reworking of postwar US nationalism, that America can indeed save the world, but only if African Americans can save America. In “Why Don’t You Turn Again!” the broadsheet authors draw on John Winthrop’s Puritan symbol of an idealized America—the City on a Hill—to depict African Americans as the no-longer-hidden nation that can save the earth. You (Negroes) are the only people on the face of the earth who have ears and hear not; eyes and see not. To such a people, I bring a message, “Turn Again, Turn Again,” and you will be forgiven.

Ye cannot hide any longer. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.

Black Americans, for the broadsheet writers, embody—if only sub rosa— the American religious-utopian ideal. They are the “light of the world,” as Chicago minister Clarence Cobb liked to say of Jesus, plain for everyone to see—everyone, that is, except for African Americans themselves. In the broadsheet entitled “A Nigger Is a Mess,” the authors permute the word “mess” into “messiah,” drawing out the hidden redemptive powers within a people conventionally defined as mired in degradation and disarray.64 In effect, African Americans need not wait, as postwar race-relations frameworks insisted, for America to free them; they can do it for themselves. The question that remained, however, was precisely how they might do this—in Chicago.


Utopian Chicago

The possible had been tried, and had failed; now it was time to try the impossible. —Alton Abraham1

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Sun Ra and Alton Abraham worked to develop a new music that could change the world. If the Thmei broadsheets were a hermeneutic wake-up call to be alert to the fundamental evils of the world— and to the hidden identities of African Americans within it—Ra and Abraham now sought to invent a creative music and a broader approach to cultural production that might lead the way toward a different future. For Sun Ra, these efforts entailed a range of musical activities; his work with vocal groups and various instrumentalists, and with the new ensemble he created, called the Arkestra, all contributed to bringing this new music to life. For Abraham, these ambitions sparked a parallel kind of entrepreneurial creativity as he fashioned community networks, local performance opportunities, and independent record production into a broader cultural vehicle called El Saturn Research. The formation of the Arkestra and El Saturn is a story of grand ambitions, uncertain beginnings, and eccentric accomplishments. Yet why did this musical and cultural project take the form it did? And what, if anything, does it reveal about Chicago? The role of Abraham in this enterprise has not been fully understood, nor has the relation between the Thmei broadsheets and the two leaders’ musical and artistic pursuits later in the decade. The customary focus on the unorthodox features of these activities as the product of Sun Ra’s peculiar genius, while compelling, can eclipse important connections between the early development of El Saturn and the evolving community ecology of the South Side. Central to Ra and Abraham’s effort was transporting a newly imagined racial identity out of the Washington Park counterpublic and into the social world of the South Side nightlife circuit. Exploring this process offers fresh insights into Ra’s music of this

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period, while also bringing out the community conditions that shaped his emerging vision—one that looked through Chicago’s South Side to glimpse a utopian city that lay beyond it. A community-centered reconstruction of the early years of Ra and Abraham’s efforts reveals a different post–World War II Chicago than the one historians of the city, and of its music, typically recognize. Black Chicago of the 1950s has, in retrospect, become closely identified with a distinctive genre of the blues. Associated with the harsh pain and physical pleasures of daily life in the industrial city, this music is often presented as the undisputed “sound” of the postwar South Side. Mike Rowe’s classic account, for example, claims that Chicago blues conveyed essential qualities of the Windy City itself: Muddy Waters’s more raucous, rocking music after 1954 reflected the “tempo of life” in the city; the Willie Dixon song “I’m Ready” distilled the “hopes of life in the city”; the Chess Studio sound on Jimmy Reed’s 1956 hits, with their two-guitar boogie bass, was “very much of the city.”2 Reading community culture through one particular musical style, however, often glosses over, as music scholars have noted, the “hidden histories” that emerge from a more differentiating focus. Beyond the electrified reinvention of Mississippi Delta blues, mid-1950s Chicago was also an incubator for evolving forms of swing, bebop, pop, jump blues, hard bop, and doo-wop, as well as the teen-oriented styles of rhythm and blues pioneered by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Many young South Side musicians learned to play in all of these styles. The further assumption that music simply expresses its immediate environment—the city as directly experienced— rules out in advance the possibility that performers and audiences alike might associate their music with other, differently imagined kinds of urban experience. Sun Ra’s mid-1950s compositions and writings suggest, in fact, that he and his colleagues approached music making as a search for a different black Chicago, and another kind of city altogether.3 To explore Ra’s distinctive conception of the city, though, it is necessary to reconstruct the family history and community location of his most important colleague. Abraham, like Ra himself, was a product of the urban New South, and his own family ties, along with the overlapping social circles he belonged to in early postwar Bronzeville, gave shape and support to the two men’s community projects within the increasingly unstable spatial conditions of Chicago’s South Side. Drawing on this support, El Saturn, with the Arkestra at its center, developed into an unusual, hybrid community organization embodying multiple traditions of African American self-help. The result was a community-based utopianism—a project to


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develop a new future out of a “found” set of musical styles and commercial opportunities readily available in the local community.4 Post–World War II utopians, musical and otherwise, typically pushed aside inherited traditions to develop the new. Ra and Abraham instead drew on African American community-building ideals of the urban New South— where tradition and modernity, commerce and spirit, often intertwined—to rework the cultural materials of the South Side entertainment world into a music of the future. Probing the community context of this work reveals the popular impulses and reflexive commerciality of a musician rooted in the city as it is along with the avant-garde ambitions of a search for the city as it might be. Founded on paradox, El Saturn’s project was, as Abraham would suggest, an “impossible” one—constructing a locally anchored vehicle for universal cultural uplift.

Building an Arkestra Alton Abraham located the philosophical and practical origins of El Saturn and the Arkestra in the research work of the Thmei group. He and Sun Ra, along with several other men, came together regularly during the early 1950s to engage in a particular kind of Bible study—one that led them to question conventional accounts of the racial origins of modern peoples as well as humankind’s ultimate purpose on earth. Meanwhile, Ra’s South Side performance opportunities dwindled. Not only had the nightclub scene thinned out, but local bandleaders who remained active, such as Red Saunders, did not always embrace Sun Ra’s playing. “His chords were different,” Abraham later recalled, “his structure, his way of playing so-called ‘pop tunes,’ standards, were different.” Colleagues in the Thmei group pushed a reticent Sun Ra to start his own band.5 Abraham played a key role in developing the ensemble, as well as the larger organizational entity and community network that enabled it to survive. His own early life remains mysterious, partly because he was as secretive about his past as Sun Ra was. Most accounts suggest that he grew up in Chicago, yet no Cook County birth record has been found. John Szwed, Sun Ra’s biographer, implies that Abraham was born in 1937, but his military records and marriage license, along with an altered driver’s license, all suggest birth dates that are much earlier. In fact, census records show that he was born in 1928 in Texarkana, Texas, and did not arrive in Chicago until his early teenage years. His parents, Barney and Mary (Ford) Abraham, had been sharecroppers in De Soto Parish in northwest Louisiana. During

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the 1920s the family moved to Texarkana, a rapidly growing city of nearly twenty thousand people straddling the Texas-Arkansas border—sometimes imagined as two cities in one. After Barney died, Mary raised six children alone, working as a domestic, until sometime in the 1930s when she married a man named George Graham. By 1940, George and Mary owned a modest home at 1221 Phenie Avenue, a stable area west of downtown on the Texas side of the city. Both worked as cooks, he at a café, she at one of the downtown hotels. Alton’s oldest sister, Almeter, had already moved out of the house, but four other siblings, including his brothers Artis and Zenophon, remained at home. They were a literate family, and all of the remaining children attended school.6 Alton Abraham spent his childhood years, then, like Sonny Blount, in an urban New South environment. Texarkana, a major railroad junction, had become a thriving commercial city by the end of the nineteenth century. Ragtime composer Scott Joplin received his earliest music lessons there, as did jazz trumpeter Lammar Wright, who went on to play with Kansas City orchestra leader Bennie Moten and then with Cab Calloway in New York. The white composer Conlon Nancarrow also grew up in Texarkana, playing trumpet in a local band as a young man. Strongly influenced by jazz, his experimental pieces for player piano later gained acclaim in the classical music world.7 During Abraham’s childhood years, the city’s downtown area attracted attention for its prestigious hotels. The ten-story McCartney was the biggest, but the eight-story, 250-room Hotel Grim became the best known, its top-floor ballroom hosting many of the established jazz orchestras of the day. Among the two-state city’s twenty-six thousand residents in 1930 were more than eight thousand African Americans; for these locals, the notion that two cities might be contained within a single city had more than one meaning. The Texarkana Negro Business League, founded a generation earlier, had acquired its own office building by that time, and much like the Colored Masonic Temple and the Pythian Hall in Birmingham, Alabama, the multistory structure became an important center of downtown African American commercial life. Lorenzo Johnston Greene, a former student of Carter G. Woodson, visited the town at the time, selling books about black achievement and finding many takers among the building’s tenants. “Most of the Negro professional men,” he reported, had their offices there in the Jamison Building, at the corner of Oak and Third Streets, near State Line Avenue. Not far away was the Ambassador Nite Club, where, in the words of its advertising, “all the ‘name bands’ play.” Other, more modest venues


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for African American musicians included the New Town Rhythm Club and the Froggy Bottom Nite Club, where J. C. Green’s Swing Band played every Wednesday.8 Black community life in the area was also marked by the growing influence of Holiness and Pentecostal religious groups. Among them, the Church of the Living God gained considerable attention for its claim that the “Hebrew patriarchs and prophets and Jesus himself were black.” Based on the Israelite teachings of Bishop William Christian, this congregation—one of several hundred scattered mostly across Arkansas, Texas, and other states of the Upper South—offered a race-conscious form of Holiness Christianity that asserted the fundamental humanity of all peoples. Meanwhile, East Texas remained a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, with a resurgent reputation for lynchings and other acts of racial brutality. The particular religious, political, or musical inclinations of Alton’s family remain uncertain, but Texarkana, like early twentieth-century Birmingham, was a New South crossroads deeply shaped by urban commerce, musical innovation, white supremacy, and black religious heterodoxy.9 Shortly after 1940, Alton, his mother Mary, and most of his siblings migrated north to Chicago—arriving only a few years before Sonny Blount of Birmingham. Living with his family at 560 East Fiftieth Place, just north of Washington Park, Abraham acclimated quickly to the South Side. Key to his transition was nearby DuSable High School on Wabash Avenue. Built the previous decade to accommodate the swelling numbers of Black Belt residents, the massive high school was already, by the war years, hugely overcrowded. Several generations of African American South Siders would move through DuSable. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the South Side Community Arts Center, was a well-known teacher there, as was Walter Dyett, whose band leadership and music instruction influenced legions of young instrumentalists. Even students who were not training to become professional musicians were immersed—as historian and DuSable alumnus Sterling Stuckey has noted—in a school-wide musical culture of dance, popular ritual, and community that served to integrate black Chicagoans from North and South. During Abraham’s time there, he was involved in various choral activities and became president of the glee club, setting the stage for musical pursuits that would continue long after he was out of high school. Broader South Side involvement in school events was routine at DuSable, and organizational networks within the school extended outward into professional circles throughout the community.10 Dyett, the DuSable band instructor, was a larger-than-life personage at the school who also became an omnipresent community figure. Many of

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6.1 Alton Abraham (right), DuSable prom, 1948(?). Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

black Chicago’s postwar cohort of professional musicians, including core members of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, were trained by “Captain” Dyett in music theory, harmony, and instrumental performance, as well as punctuality, practice habits, and professional decorum. Like Sun Ra’s former teacher ’Fess Whatley of Birmingham, Dyett was known as a tireless disciplinarian. In addition to leading multiple school bands, Dyett became locally celebrated for producing Hi-Jinks, an annual Broadway-style musical revue for South Side audiences, along with other shows involving community dance teachers, performers, and professionals. Also like Whatley, Dyett


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was a working bandleader who helped usher his students into full-time professional careers. Several landed jobs with the Regal Theatre house band before graduating from high school, and the young saxophonists Jimmy Ellis and John Gilmore, before playing with Sun Ra, found musical work through Dyett with a Harlem Globetrotters tour. Even students not destined to become working musicians were often exposed by Dyett to South Side cultural activities—like Abraham with the vocal group Knights of Music— that led to important community connections. And the DuSable bandmaster, who was an officer in several fraternal organizations, himself embodied the notion that the musical life was a deep-seated community and spiritual commitment.11 By the early 1950s, the challenge for Abraham was to develop a business plan that might also create the conditions for a life of spiritual study and discovery. This interest had been strengthened by his encounter with theosophy during his military service in the Philippines, and then by time spent among the proselytizers in Washington Park and the research activities of his own Thmei group. Alton’s siblings, early supporters of El Saturn, shared his entrepreneurial orientation. His older brother Artis, for example, who was active in Bronzeville social clubs, acquired a music nightspot near the Pershing Hotel called the Club House Lounge. Their younger brother Zenophon, meanwhile, became active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an interracial protest group founded in Chicago in 1942, and was arrested in the early 1950s as part of a civil disobedience campaign to challenge racist exclusion at the Trianon, a dance hall near the Pershing Hotel. Zenophon went on to work for the Chicago Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company, one of the city’s oldest African American firms, and became a vocal advocate for black-owned businesses. At different times Artis and Zenophon ran high-profile campaigns to become mayor of Bronzeville, a ceremonial office that typically served as a South Side platform for community leaders. Several of Alton’s siblings, including Artis and his older sister Almeter, were later listed on various incorporation papers of the El Saturn organization.12 Yet Alton’s own entrepreneurial interests were closely tied to a larger research agenda. His notebooks from this period include miscellaneous philosophical musings—directed perhaps toward the Creator, or to no one in particular: A. Enlighten me on the Pythagoren triangle and its relation with my ancient past and future present. B. Metamathematics: explain. C. Metageometry and its spiritual relation to my ancient life and

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my future present explaining to me how I can use this knowledge today . . . [for] advantage spiritual and material . . .

These ruminations often mingled the metaphysical with the practical: The expenses of living are high. Seeking the truth requires the buying of books, research, traveling, etc. What are some of the means of making money would you suggest to pay bills, to live comfortably and to have most of the time for research?13

For Abraham, then, the quest for esoteric knowledge might pay off in practical ways, but the pressing question remained: how to generate the economic wherewithal to support a life of spiritual research and truth-seeking? Although no business plan of the traditional sort has been found among Abraham’s papers, he and Ra pieced together the initial resources central to their enterprise—musicians, audiences, venues, and production support— from the South Side community itself. The musicians for their enterprise were assembled slowly. Sometime in the early 1950s, Ra began playing regularly with drummer Robert Barry and saxophonist Laurdine “Pat” Patrick; that group came to call itself the Space Trio. Both graduates of DuSable High School, the two instrumentalists would become core members of the Arkestra. In early 1954, Barry brought in tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, another DuSable alumnus who by this time was making a local name for himself working with bandleader Earl Hines. In addition to being a strong instrumentalist, Gilmore was a deeply serious person, a seeker of spiritual knowledge as well as a musician who was unrelentingly committed to his craft. For Patrick and Gilmore, the attractions of playing with Sun Ra were both musical and philosophical. Patrick, who was “utterly amazed” to hear Ra “getting sounds from the piano that didn’t sound like a piano,” also was impressed by the bandleader’s unusual commitment to the broader development of his musicians: “Sun Ra was another kind of being. He was educational, he helped you to grow and develop.” Gilmore, like Patrick, quickly found in Sun Ra a spiritual mentor, and the two musicians remained with Ra for most of their careers. Many other musicians, largely DuSable alums, came and went, but by early 1955 a stable octet emerged, consisting of trumpet player Dave Young, trombonist Julian Priester, bassist Richard Evans, and tympanist Jim Herndon, along with Gilmore, Patrick, Barry, and Ra.14 By all accounts, Sun Ra rehearsed his musicians—still without a consistent name—intensively throughout this period. When there were too


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many instrumentalists for his nine-by-twelve apartment, they assembled anywhere they found space: nightclubs during daylight hours, community ballrooms, lodge halls, or even other people’s homes. Trumpeter Art Hoyle, who joined the Arkestra in late 1955, recalled rehearsing in the living room of Pat Patrick’s mother’s house on State Street, with Patrick’s little son Deval—who went on to become governor of Massachusetts—“crawling around on the floor.” These rehearsals, like those at Sonny Blount’s house in Birmingham two decades earlier, apparently involved equal parts musical and spiritual pedagogy. Musicians experienced the daily gatherings, according to Szwed, as “exhausting but exhilarating ordeals, half musical instruction, the other half teaching, prognostication” and other spiritual and practical advice. While Ra did not insist on complete philosophical agreement from his ensemble, members were subjected to lectures on myriad subjects: on personal discipline; on the history of black people and their role in the creation of civilization; on etymology, numerology, astronomy, and astrology; and on the capacity of music to change the world. Interspersed throughout the rehearsals were jokes, wordplay, biblical interpretation, and anecdotes about famous jazz musicians.15 Despite Ra’s unquestioned leadership among his musicians, he did not embrace the spotlight in public settings. Early photographs of the Arkestra on stage show the bandleader sitting well behind the rest of his group, sometimes barely in sight of the audience (figure 6.2). It was Abraham, by his own recollection, who pushed Ra to take his new band out into performance settings and to assume a public position of leadership over the group. And Abraham’s organizational connections were often key to creating what performance opportunities did emerge. Social clubs and other associations remained an important part of black Chicago’s local music scene, and Abraham’s high school experience, his family connections, and his involvement in the Knights of Music helped the group secure bookings at an enormous variety of venues. Early gigs included commercial music clubs, certainly, but also taverns, lodge halls, listening clubs, social clubs, and churches. Even as Bronzeville’s old nightclub infrastructure was contracting by the mid-1950s, a new two-thousand-seat local music hall, the Roberts Show Club, was kept busy most nights hosting South Side social club functions. Abraham relied on many of these social organizations—clubs with names like the Pleasurettes, the Sophisticated Socialites, the Gay Silhouettes, the Day Breakers, the Presidents, Good Times, and Los Charmente Dantaze—to assemble a performance calendar for Sun Ra’s band.16 Meanwhile, Ra himself was spending a lot of time with vocal quartets.

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6.2 Sun Ra Arkestra at Parkway Ballroom, 1955. From left: Pat Patrick, Julian Priester, John Thompson, Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Dave Young, Robert Barry, Richard Evans, and Jim Herndon. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

Those familiar only with the bandleader’s later experimental music and persona may be surprised to discover the extent of this work. The quartets’ singing styles and levels of sophistication varied considerably, from novice groups to more polished and versatile doo-wop quartets. One of these quartets, the Nu Sounds, sang mostly older songs in an earnest style—from George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” to forgotten numbers such as Rudy Vallee’s “The Wooden Soldier and the China Doll.” Chicago’s black-owned Vee-Jay Records apparently rejected the group as “too good,” which was understood by contemporaries as a euphemism for “too white.” The Cosmic Rays, a doo-wop–style quartet named by Sun Ra himself, possessed a smooth, mature musical sound. Both vocal ensembles recorded with Ra and various Arkestra instrumentalists, and El Saturn (or Saturn, as the record division was often called) eventually released several of these collaborations as singles. Although Sun Ra’s musical interest in these quartets stemmed in part from his early immersion in Birmingham vocal music, they also offered a teaching opportunity; according to group members, the teaching, as with Arkestra rehearsals, involved extensive mentoring and encompassed many subjects beyond music.17


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For Sun Ra, though, a further attraction of working with these vocal groups was that their standard repertoire—the popular songbook—offered a nearly inexhaustible array of otherworldly signifying possibilities. The lyrics of commercial pop ballads throughout the early twentieth century typically focused on romantic love. Yet the poetry of romance in many of these songs, whether bouncy or wistful, included an almost limitless stream of references, however fleeting, to the sun, moon, stars, or magical lands— celestial bodies or idealized realms. Ra’s vocal-group repertoire drew heavily from such songs: “Come Rain or Come Shine” (“days may be cloudy or sunny”), “Just One of Those Things” (“a trip to the moon on gossamer wings”), “Stranger in Paradise” (“somewhere in space I hang suspended”), “A Foggy Day” (“the sun was shining everywhere!”), and many more. For many listeners, these allusions no doubt did little more than enhance the music’s light, romantic, diverting qualities. For Sun Ra and his initiates, however, persistent otherworldly references could be construed as a hidden thread, even a secret code, much like the veiled racial narrative discerned by the Thmei group as connecting otherwise disparate Bible stories. Approaching America’s vocal repertoire as one unbroken book of song, Ra embraced the celestial declarations in musical standards not as throwaway metaphors but as buried clues and literal truths about the unsuspected possibilities at work within the universe.18 Abraham, for his part, organized longer-term engagements at commercial clubs for Ra’s larger instrumental group. By July 1955, he had set up a five-week gig at a club called Shep’s Playhouse, near the fading DuSable Hotel scene and not far from his mother’s new home on Drexel Avenue. Later that year, a group billed variously as “Sun Ra & Orchestra” and “Sun Ra, His Electronic Piano and Band” appeared at the Grand Terrace, an increasingly threadbare ballroom on East Thirty-Fifth Street, as part of a musical show called “Autumn Follies.” Abraham also set up a series of appearances at the Parkway Ballroom—one-night stands for social clubs—at which the full octet could appear. Finally, in January 1956, Abraham secured an openended club engagement for Ra’s emerging ensemble. Formerly the Beige Room, the revived basement club at the Pershing Hotel was now called Birdland, though it would soon rename itself again, following threat of a lawsuit by the New York City club of the same name, becoming Budland. The Dukes of Swing had held court there many years earlier when Sonny Blount was the group’s musical director. Now Robert Cherry, a perennially cash-strapped African American entrepreneur known as Cadillac Bob, was the proprietor, and soon after a ten-day appearance by the Miles Davis

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Quintet at the end of December 1955, he signed Abraham’s group to open under the name of Sun-Ra & His 8 Rays of Jazz.19 The Pershing Hotel music scene had thinned out since Ra’s appearances there during the late 1940s. Yet nearby venues still offered an array of swing, bebop, pop, and rhythm and blues, along with performers who traversed these categories. While Sun Ra’s early version of the Arkestra was at the Pershing, soulful rhythm and blues crooner Ivory Joe Hunter, who was beginning to gain pop-chart success for Atlantic Records, was appearing down the street at the Crown Propeller Lounge; Chuck Berry, fresh from early rock ’n’ roll success with “Maybelline,” was at the Stage Lounge; tenor saxophonist Melvin Scott, who had played with the Dukes of Swing and more recently with Little Miss Cornshucks, was appearing at a café next to the Pershing called Basin Street; and pianist Bud Powell was leading a bebop group at the Beehive. Throughout most of the first year that Sun Ra’s group played Birdland/Budland as the house band, the club featured well-known performers in various styles as headliners: Dinah Washington, B. B. King, Jimmy Witherspoon, Billie Holiday, Ruth Brown, and Lowell Fulson, along

6.3 Sun Ra Arkestra at Budland, 1956. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.


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6.4 Budland audience, as seen in The Cry of Jazz, a film by Edward O. Bland (KHTB Productions, 1959). Library of Congress.

with Cornshucks herself. While hardly a headliner, Ra’s ensemble began establishing itself as a South Side musical mainstay, gaining special mention as the one “local group” among the big-name acts surveyed in Ebony’s 1957 Chicago jazz roundup.20 The Arkestra’s musical activities were nested within the broader organization, El Saturn Research. In addition to the work of Abraham as promoter, organizer, financier, and sometime recording engineer, Saturn depended on Lawrence Allen as chief record distributor—which typically meant taking delivery at his house on East Sixty-Fourth Street and bringing copies to the bandstand. By this time, Abraham resided at his mother’s place on Drexel, where he headquartered the company’s various enterprises. El Saturn became the umbrella organization for a broad range of cultural research, from inventing musical instruments and designing objects to producing album art and sketching out initial designs for a cosmological research laboratory. Instruments and objects such as cymbals, medallions, glass orbs, and brass pyramids often incorporated playful allusions to the symbolic capacities of music. One large necklace, for example, contained a metal medallion decorated with musical notes paired to look like spectacles—a vivid claim that music makes one see the world differently (figure 6.5).21

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6.5 Seeing through music: El Saturn medallion with note/spectacle markings. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

Recording music, though, became El Saturn’s major preoccupation. With financial help from his brother Artis, Alton Abraham arranged a recording session for Ra’s Budland ensemble in early 1956, renting several hours of time at the Balkan Music Company, a storefront music shop on West Eighteenth Street that also had a small studio specializing in Croatian and Serbian music. Saturn released two tracks recorded there, “Super Blonde” and “Soft Talk,” on a 45-rpm single later that year. Further recording sessions followed in May, this time at Chicago’s RCA Studios. Abraham put together two of these tracks, Ra’s “Medicine for a Nightmare” and Julian Priester’s “Urnack,” for another Saturn 45, ordering five hundred pressings


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from RCA Victor in early June and nearly another five hundred by the end of the month. More singles followed, typically in small batches—the product of what the writer John Corbett has called “a very uncommon agreement” with RCA Records: the company would press copies of Saturn’s records in unusually small numbers—as few as twenty copies for a given concert. This arrangement, however it was arrived at, provided the fledgling company with a music-production economy appropriately scaled to its very small and local market.22 In addition to their regular Budland engagement, Sun Ra and the group picked up other work throughout the course of 1956. A one-night gig in May at the Roberts Show Lounge led the club to book the Arkestra for regular weekly “jazz concerts,” sponsored for a time by a local music association calling itself the Rounders. The association’s motto, “no squares allowed,” was a self-conscious announcement of its members’ hip musical tastes as well as a joust at a more traditional, Dyett-sponsored association called the Squares.23 Trumpeter Art Hoyle recalled the Rounders as a group of black working-class men with stable jobs—“bread truck drivers, potato chip truck drivers, milkmen, postmen, firefighters”—and a shared affinity for adventurous jazz. The Rounders published a newsletter called Jazz Informer that aimed to broaden the musical tastes of South Side audiences; a photograph published in Ebony shows a relaxed group of members socializing and listening to music at club president Alvin Williams’s apartment. For a time the Rounders adopted Sun Ra’s musicians as standard bearers for the new jazz it was seeking to promote. For all their forward-looking aesthetic, though, the Rounder gatherings also featured dancing—a performance context that encouraged Ra to continue playing his own versions of standards as well as more adventurous compositions.24 During the same period, the Roosevelt University Jazz Club gave Sun Ra and his band prominent billing in its final concert of the spring semester. Young jazz curator Joe Segal, who later became a prominent local venue owner, talked up the ensemble in his jazz column, calling Ra’s arrangements “the most advanced Modern Jazz yet devised.” Tom Wilson, a young African American producer who had recently created a small record label in Boston called Transition, also was taking note of Sun Ra’s band. Wilson would go on to record Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and other folk and rock artists, but with his fledgling label he sought out jazz composers and performers, such as pianist Cecil Taylor, who seemed to be operating on the cusp of a new kind of music. Wilson gave Ra and Abraham permission to add several extra musicians to the Budland octet and in July 1956 took

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this larger group into the Universal Recording studio in Chicago to record an entire album’s worth of material; it would be released early the following year with the title, Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1. At a second Universal session in December, Transition recorded another album’s worth of material by the expanded ensemble—intended as a second volume. Unfortunately, Wilson’s young company folded in early 1957, and little from this second session was commercially released until the following decade, well after Ra and the group had departed from Chicago.25 Meanwhile, though, Saturn issued its own first long-playing record, Super-Sonic Jazz, in March 1957. The album’s front cover carried a red-andwhite illustration by Claude Dangerfield of a keyboard landscape with flames on the horizon and lightning bolts crossing a sky replete with stars and winged sun; on the right, dark hands are playing a flying conga drum that resembles a large cocktail shaker. Dangerfield, an important part of El Saturn, grew up around the corner from Sun Ra’s apartment on South Prairie Avenue and may have met Abraham when the two of them overlapped at DuSable, where Dangerfield seems to have fallen in for a time with the school’s heroin-using crowd. He connected with Abraham and Ra in the mid-1950s over shared interests in outer space, and this was the first of several cover designs he created for El Saturn albums. Dangerfield’s playful illustrations, with their mix of musical motifs, space iconography, and (in Corbett’s words) “tiki lounge” imagery of the sort favored by South Side taverns of the period, became an important visual representation of the Saturn aesthetic—simultaneously local and extraterrestrial.26 The process of producing album covers, as reconstructed by Corbett, was painstaking. After the initial images were redrawn on boards, independent black businesses such as Capital Photo-Engravers on Stony Island Avenue or South-Side Printing on South Wabash transferred the drawings to metal plates, which were then hand-inked to print the covers, one by one, often at Abraham’s mother’s home on Drexel. Complementing the limited-pressings agreement Abraham had negotiated with RCA, this home-based, small-batch production process enabled Saturn to capitalize on local resources while also maintaining an unusual degree of control over its work.27 El Saturn embodied Sun Ra and Alton Abraham’s grand ambitions—a project whose cultural sensibility was broadly based on the Thmei group’s commitment to an emancipatory break with thousands of years of violence, betrayal, and misery. In pursuit of that project, they built an intensely local enterprise, relying heavily on “found” resources and strategies centered in


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black Chicago, including various community networks—school-based ties, social clubs, music venues, and small business ventures—still active within the thinning postwar economy of the black South Side. Abraham’s entrepreneurial abilities, along with his self-taught skills in the areas of musical and cultural production, played a key role in getting El Saturn and the Arkestra off the ground. Yet for Abraham, as for Ra, the aim was not simply to launch a self-help project that, like many inspired by Booker T. Washington, could prove the worth of the community through self-discipline and economic advancement. Their kind of community-building encompassed a much more far-reaching set of ideals.

Community Enterprise It is hard to overemphasize how economically challenging such a project could be in mid-1950s Chicago. Major economic and spatial changes— downtown decline, suburban expansion, population resettlement, labormarket shifts, and more—were transforming older American cities, and the South Side was becoming a different community from that of earlier decades. The city’s African American residents had long relied on their own walled-in institutions to build an urban culture for themselves, and the shifting geography of the postwar era—far from putting an end to this pursuit—encouraged young cultural activists to think about racial selfreliance in new ways. Yet the economic vibrancy of interwar Bronzeville had resulted in part from extreme population densities, and now growing numbers of residents were moving out. Relying on timeworn communitybuilding strategies in a black South Side faced with accelerating economic disinvestment and dramatic spatial expansion now became a process of jerry-rigging platforms on an unstable, outward-flowing flood plain. Performance venues opened and closed; independent record companies came and went; select musicians enjoyed sudden national success while growing numbers scuffled to survive. And all the while the consumer base of the previously circumscribed Black Belt fanned out into the greater South Side, stretching farther than its disinvested and redlined local economy was able to sustain. Nevertheless, Sun Ra and Alton Abraham somehow launched an integrated set of cultural projects—assembling a medium-size musical ensemble and an independent record company while also producing visual art, artifacts, and assorted research ideas—that relied on locally available and self-generated resources. When Abraham later described their larger project as “impossible,” the term was, historically speaking, accurate: the material conditions to support such an ambitious enterprise no longer

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existed in Chicago’s Bronzeville, and a more realistic effort undertaken there likely would not have survived its early years. El Saturn’s economic challenges are best understood within the broader community conditions of this period. Inherited conceptions of midtwentieth-century black Chicago often bifurcate into competing notions of timeless urban ghetto versus golden-age cultural crucible. The Black Belt, a term that still had local currency in this period, has typically conjured up images of a fixed urban Bantustan—a rigidly circumscribed area within which, over many decades, African Americans suffered, struggled, and survived. A spatially attentive view of 1950s Chicago suggests instead how the changing shape of the city affected cultural conditions in the black South Side in complex ways. As suburbanization exploded along the perimeter of the metropolis throughout the decade, African American migrants from the US South continued to settle in the city in substantial—though gradually diminishing—numbers. Large-scale urban-renewal projects, intended in part to wall off expansion of the Black Belt into the city’s downtown, resulted in massive displacement of African American residents and businesses, while proliferating suburban developments drew white Chicagoans and housing investment out of the city to new communities that actively excluded nonwhite residents. Outmigration from Bronzeville flowed into adjacent community areas on the South Side, more than doubling the territorial extent of black settlement and resulting in dozens of new African American neighborhoods in Woodlawn, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, and Chatham. The smaller settlement of African Americans on Chicago’s West Side grew enormously over the course of the decade; southern migrants as well as South Siders displaced by urban renewal moved in large numbers into the North Lawndale community area, and then into Garfield Park. In broad terms, then, the dramatic spatial reconfiguration of the South Side during the 1950s was closely intertwined with the racial restructuring of the entire Chicago metropolitan area.28 Planners and policymakers of the day considered many of these changes to be positive developments. African Americans in Chicago, as in the United States more generally, enjoyed general increases in income levels, homeownership rates, and educational opportunities over the course of the 1950s. Chicago’s leaders, for their part, saw these gains as signs of inexorable progress and hailed the “remarkable growth of a Negro middle class.” Despite absolute gains, though, black incomes were already failing to keep up with those of whites. Persistent racial segmentation and employment ceilings in northern labor markets meant that newly arriving black migrants competed for jobs largely with longer-term black residents—


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holding down the relative gains of all African American workers. Despite a significantly expanding economy and a slowly emerging black middle class, the country’s occupational structure remained quite different for the two racial groups over the early postwar era. By 1960, when 44 percent of white workers held middle-class jobs, only 13 percent of black workers did. Even in Chicago, where African American occupational gains were somewhat better than average, two-thirds of the city’s nonwhite men still worked in unskilled labor at the end of the 1950s, compared to one-third of white men. Black unemployment, which for much of the twentieth century had been lower than for whites, became substantially higher over the course of the decade, as a Chicago Urban League report from the time pointed out. In effect, the celebrated economic expansion of the 1950s hid both old and new racial disparities.29 The spatial economy of Chicago’s postwar order confronted South Side musicians with an initially confusing set of challenges. Early on, as longdeferred opportunities in housing and industrial employment opened up to African American residents and workers, new outposts of commercial nightlife emerged well beyond the old Black Belt. South Side jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues performers also began breaking out from the “race” market, as white radio and record consumers became increasingly fascinated with African American musical styles. Black musicians benefited from these developments, at least initially, and the disintegration of old categories even brought certain Chicago musical artists—Nat King Cole, Muddy Waters, Dinah Washington, Chuck Berry—an unprecedented “crossover” celebrity. From a particular angle, then, the erasure of inherited racial boundaries in the music world, like those in early-postwar urban space, could be seen as steps on the road to opportunity and integration. Over time, however, the 1950s became a decade of economic disappointment for many South Side musicians. The music industry clustered more and more in New York and Los Angeles, and white-led genres started to incorporate black stylistic innovations, eroding African American musicians’ commercial advantages. Racial employment hierarchies proved to be highly resilient in the venues and production facilities that remained in Chicago, and Local 10, the white musicians’ union, again beat back integration efforts by civil rights activists. For black musicians who stayed in the South Side, economic fortunes continued to be tied to a performance scene that struggled to survive. The same racial barriers that excluded African Americans from postwar suburban developments also kept black consumers more closely tied to the central city economy than their white counter-

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parts. Nevertheless, the Bronzeville-centered nightlife economy inexorably lost steam, a casualty of inner-city disinvestment, slum-clearance renewal, and thinning residential densities. If clustered musical employment in earlier eras had made Bronzeville a “gilded cage,” as historian Amy Absher suggests, the postwar scene became a hollowed-out territory—with racial barriers continuing to confront black musicians who tried to follow the music to other parts of the city.30 The conditions under which Sun Ra and Alton Abraham developed their community-based project thus were different from those of a generation earlier. Superficially, perhaps, the South Side of the 1950s still resembled interwar Bronzeville, where black-led institutions such as labor unions, political organizations, community associations, and criminal enterprises sustained a tightly bounded commercial infrastructure that provided employment for large numbers of African American musicians. Yet the early commercial establishments of the Stroll—the clubs, theaters, hotels, and cafes that lined the lively corridor along interwar State Street—had anchored an urban ecology that recirculated significant economic and cultural resources throughout the community. Policy gambling, the popular lottery game on the South Side, became big business during this period, and, as Harold Gosnell’s classic study from the 1930s showed, commercial establishments such as nightclubs and ballrooms, along with politicians and the black musicians’ union, depended on the flow of economic resources from “underworld” entrepreneurs. The entertainment economy of the interwar South Side rested, then, in important respects, on symbiotic relationships between black-led commercial, political, labor, and criminal organizations.31 These various institutions remained visible and active in 1950s black Chicago, but they no longer supported a nightlife economy in the same way. White organized-crime syndicates had muscled in aggressively during the 1940s, taking over the lucrative South Side gambling trade and eventually assassinating Theodore Roe, the “last independent policy king.” Meanwhile, Loop opportunities for top African American entertainers and audiences finally began to open up by the early 1950s; performers such as Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan not only performed downtown but stayed there, often without playing a second round of shows in Bronzeville. Corporate investors began to withdraw from the South Side commercial real-estate market, while white-owned venues that remained within the Black Belt, such as the Regal Theater, cut back on live stage shows, and thus on musicians. Declines in steady employment led, in turn, in a dramatic membership loss for Local 208, the African American musicians’ union—


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reflecting not so much a decrease in South Side musicians as a marked expansion in nonunion gigging. By the end of the following decade, even a partial list of Chicago musicians who spent time in postal employment, from pianist Herbie Hancock and vocalist Eddie Jefferson to such Arkestra veterans as trombonist Nate Pryor and trumpeter Lucious Randolph, comprised a stellar roster of South Side talent.32 In short, as Sun Ra and Alton Abraham launched El Saturn, what once had been an interwoven set of local institutions—a commercial ecology supported by interdependent political, criminal, and labor-market organizations—could no longer undergird a stable musical infrastructure. Postwar shifts in settlement patterns and resource flows, coupled with the diminished sway of black politicians, unions, and crime bosses, made for a South Side marketplace that was living, commercially speaking, on borrowed time. By the mid-1950s, economic disinvestment and slum-clearance projects were eroding commercial strips within Chicago’s older Black Belt neighborhoods. In the DuSable Hotel area, nightlife spots, music venues, and movie theaters suffered. Classic ballrooms like the Grand Terrace and the Parkway, along with live-music showplaces such as the DeLisa and the Regal, visibly struggled. Smaller music clubs came and went in rapid succession. A map showing the venues hosting longer-run engagements by Sun Ra’s group from 1954 onward provides one geographical illustration of the community’s more general outward migration—residential and commercial—away from the traditional Bronzeville areas.33 Several black entrepreneurs struggled, in the face of these challenges, to keep the mid-1950s South Side club scene afloat. Besides Herman Roberts, who had converted his taxi garage on East Sixty-Sixth Street into the Roberts Show Lounge, there was music shop owner Dan Gaines, who invested proceeds from his mob-franchised jukebox concession into a series of clubs. For a time, Gaines supported a number of taverns up and down Sixty-Third Street, as well as the Flame Show Bar (formerly the Morocco) near the DuSable Hotel—turning them over, after an initial investment, to other men to operate. As musician Eddie Johnson recalled, “He would give people a start and let them try to make it, and if they didn’t make it, he’d foreclose on it and give it to somebody else. . . . He was like a little black syndicate.” One beneficiary of Gaines’s bankroll was Cadillac Bob, who at various times operated the Flame, the DuSable Lounge, the Pershing Lounge, Toast of the Town, Basin Street, and the Sutherland—along with Budland during the time of the Arkestra’s 1956 residence.34 Cadillac Bob Cherry was an important figure in the South Side music

6.6 Sun Ra Arkestra: major South Side club dates, 1954– 1961. Map by Ben Roth. Sources: Chicago telephone directories; Chicago Defender advertisements; Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,”


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scene. He enjoyed a mixed reputation with musicians, though, as Charles Walton has recalled: Bob was a nice guy in his way, but Bob’s ideas were always higher than his bank book. . . . He built some fabulous places, or rather Dan Gaines built them and let him manage them. Bob always stayed in debt with the musicians. You never did get your money on time but you would finally get it. He had trouble with the musicians union but he always tried to provide a place for musicians to play. He just couldn’t make the money.

In commercial terms, Budland, where the Arkestra first become something of a house band in 1956, turned out for Cadillac Bob much like his previous ventures. Judging from the club’s headline roster during the Arkestra’s initial year, Bob had reopened the Pershing basement club with high hopes and a decent financial stake from Gaines. Multiweek summer engagements with stars like Dinah Washington, whom he also booked for a return engagement over the year-end holidays, were expensive. By early 1957, however, the club was featuring very few out-of-town headliners, and Arkestra members later recalled that evenings often ended with Sun Ra having to chase down Cadillac Bob for their money. In effect, as community nightclubs fell into the hands of perennially cash-poor businessmen like Bob Cherry, it became clear that African American club ownership no longer represented a new level of black economic achievement but, rather, an advanced stage of commercial disinvestment—the last stop before foreclosure and abandonment.35 Black-owned independent record labels also dwindled in Chicago, as they did elsewhere. After a flurry of late-1940s efforts, including Marl Young’s Sunbeam and Parkway Records (the latter owned by a white man but operated by African American record store owners Ernie and George Leaner), the commercial terrain for independents became more challenging. Black radio personality Al Benson enjoyed success for several years with Parrot and Blue Lake, recording such diverse performers as Coleman Hawkins, Sunnyland Slim, Ahmad Jamal, and King Fleming, but by 1956 his labels were going under. The major exception was African American–owned Vee-Jay Records, founded several years earlier in Gary, Indiana, by Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken. On the strength of a very broad range of popular recording artists—jazz performers such as Wardell Gray, Jay McShann, and Arnett Cobb, blues instrumentalist John Lee Hooker, and gospel groups like the Staple Singers, the Orioles, and the Swan Silvertones—Vee-Jay managed to keep its head above water. But by the second half of the 1950s, stable

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black-owned independents in the Chicago area were clearly the exception rather than the rule.36 These community conditions influenced the shape of black Chicago’s emerging musical avant-garde. Among jazz historians, the second half of the 1950s is legendary as a transformative period, with the prevailing bop styles (cool jazz and hard bop) giving way to a host of innovations, such as modal jazz, atonality, and free improvisation. Historical accounts have long recognized the significance of particular club settings for launching these new styles. A New York City nightclub called the Five Spot, for example, hosted a series of appearances by Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, among others, that were subsequently recognized as pivotal for the emerging shape of the jazz avant-garde. The club itself became a “downtown” meeting ground for African American musicians and intellectuals as well as white artists, journalists, and cultural entrepreneurs. Beat poets and abstract expressionist painters hailed the new jazz as an exotic, racially freeing form of music, a resurgent expression of Greenwich Village bohemianism. In this sense, the Five Spot scene not only served to disseminate the new styles to a broader public, leading to further bookings, recording opportunities, and press commentary, but also influenced popular understandings of the music’s social meaning and the supposed aspirations of its makers.37 South Side nightspots of this period also proved formative but in a very different way. African Americans continued to be excluded from much of Chicago’s music marketplace in the 1950s, including its North Side bohemian precincts. The city’s lack of an integrated subculture, as musicologist George Lewis has noted, fostered a South Side avant-garde musical culture that was “solidly rooted in a geographically and socially overdetermined black community.” Few white artists, journalists, or promoters visited South Side clubs such as Budland, the Crown Propeller, Swingland, and the Kitty Kat Lounge. Black musical leadership remained the norm at the informal rehearsals and after-hours jam sessions held at places like the Cotton Club on East Sixty-Third Street, which drew both established and emerging African American musicians. These participants, while finding some of the new music being created there strange and exciting, also saw it quite often as an extension of established community styles such as swing and bebop. Regardless of their views, the musicians were rarely given the opportunity to record this music—or to articulate what it meant to them— for a general commercial public. Yet it is clear from retrospective accounts that younger musicians, in particular, experienced musical experimentation in black Chicago’s club settings not simply as a boundary-breaking aesthetic


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project but as a process of African American community-building—in ways that musicians at the Five Spot did not. Jodie Christian, for instance, at the time an emerging pianist, recalled how even the highly competitive South Side jam sessions he attended involved a certain communal pedagogy in which older musicians shared their musical skills as well as their broader knowledge of the world.38 Community-building for these musicians, however, did not emerge from a renewed aspiration for a “city within the city.” This conception, exemplified in early twentieth-century crossroads of black business achievement and commercial dynamism, such as the Stroll or the corner of Forty-Seventh Street and South Park, once gave a spatial reality to the notion of a proud and autonomous future for the African American community. St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s sociological study from 1945 suggested the enduring power of the Black Metropolis as the collective urban imaginary of African Americans: “It is something ‘of our own.’” Ten years later, though, African American settlement was pushing rapidly outward, and Bronzeville’s “community feeling,” its place-based sense of a collective center, was fragmenting and pulling in multiple directions. For the musical avant-garde, local sites capable of symbolizing black Chicago’s forward-looking community were increasingly scattered across the South Side.39 In this context, Ra and Abraham’s El Saturn represented an effort to internalize, in an organizational sense, many of the community’s increasingly dispersed self-help resources. Of course, independent production by African American musicians, both to gain greater economic control over their own work and to redefine a distinctive black aesthetic, has had a long history in the United States, and key aspects of Ra and Abraham’s project echoed earlier experiments. As early as the first decade of the twentieth century, James Reese Europe’s Clef Club, part labor union and part booking agency, expanded economic opportunities for members by challenging the racial channeling into particular genres or venues that routinely limited black musical artists. The record company Black Swan, founded in the early 1920s by Harry Pace, also embodied economic as well as aesthetic aspirations. Devoted primarily to producing jazz and blues records, Black Swan—whose active supporters included such luminaries as Fletcher Henderson and W. E. B. Du Bois—sought to establish commercial self-reliance within a white-dominated marketplace by releasing both popular music and the sorts of “serious” offerings that might elevate the public image of African American music.40 The post–World War II era, in turn, saw renewed efforts by African American artists, particularly those centered in New York, to exert greater control over their music. Several years before the formation of El Saturn,

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Dizzy Gillespie had established Dee Gee records, while Charles Mingus and Max Roach created the Debut label; Gigi Gryce and Benny Golson soon followed with the Melotone and Totem Music publishing companies. Much like Pace with Black Swan, Mingus’s initial intention with Debut, as scholar Eric Porter has detailed, was to address the growing economic problems plaguing black musicians by self-producing records that mixed popular and challenging musical styles. Several of Mingus’s own compositions issued by Debut fused chamber music, popular song, and jazz idioms. Titles such as “Precognition” and “Extrasensory Perception” also suggested the composer’s interest in advancing music that, like Sun Ra’s, pointed toward metaphysical forms of knowledge.41 El Saturn, too, embodied this struggle for economic and aesthetic independence. Yet Ra and Abraham’s search for autonomy was also deeply rooted in the South Side community—a local embeddedness that, combined with the collective’s visionary leader and spiritual commitment, helped the project endure. Significantly, Sun Ra’s liner notes on the first Saturn album release, Super-Sonic Jazz, combine grand musical claims (“THIS IS UNIVERSAL MUSIC”) with an emphasis on the local identity of his ensemble: “le SUN RA’s arkestra is of CHICAGO origin. The group was organized four years ago; the musicians are CHICAGO musicians.” The notes go on to detail the particular South Side clubs played by each band member. In effect, Ra and Abraham’s vast ambitions were matched by a firm grasp on the fundamentally local character of their early enterprise, base, and audience. Beyond its spiritual philosophy, El Saturn’s ability to enlist local musicians and community contributors who supported this vision enabled the Arkestra to survive both economic hardship and aesthetic indifference when other self-help music projects could not.42 El Saturn’s leaders, then, discovered an unusual balance—if in the early years still a precarious one—by piecing together a hybrid community enterprise infused with shared utopian purpose. Surviving on the strength of community support, its local networks also furnished the organization with the independence to operate as a kind of cultural laboratory, experimenting with new ideas and interpretations of the world. This utopian experimentation made El Saturn’s commercial self-help approach quite different from other initiatives by African American entrepreneurs in 1950s Chicago. Far from demonstrating the wealth-generating potential of black capitalism, Ra and Abraham’s business organization remained a shoestring affair, clearly incapable of bootstrapping the community or even enriching its principal owners. Not that this relative poverty made El Saturn an egalitarian enterprise; Ra himself seemed to have an outsize say in how a night’s proceeds


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were divided, and his musicians usually remained in the dark as to how those decisions were made. As Jimmy Ellis, who stopped playing with Sun Ra sometime during the 1950s, complained later, “Sun Ra had some beautiful ideas about the music, but it just didn’t seem to be a sharing type of thing as far as finance.”43 In strictly economic terms, El Saturn was unlikely ever to be much more than a makeshift operation. Small business ownership in this instance represented a precondition for the development of cultural autonomy—not freedom from the dictates of the marketplace but the kind of organizational independence required to redevelop inherited aesthetic and commercial forms into the pursuit of an otherworldly ideal. Constructing a millenarian cultural project atop a rickety community-based business, Ra and Abraham repurposed the sort of petty-bourgeois corporate organization typically associated with Booker T. Washington’s self-help philosophy into a vehicle for exploring the city—or, more precisely, the city beyond the city.

Urban Transport Over their initial years together, Sun Ra and Alton Abraham recorded substantially more music than the two Arkestra albums released in 1957. The full set of recordings shows Ra working in an unusual mix of styles, including a surprising amount of music for vocal quartets as well as Arkestra-performed material that exhibits both forward-leaning and more traditional-sounding characteristics. Later commentators have often described Sun Ra’s music from this period within the context of things to come, suggesting, for example, that he was already a “free jazz” musician or that Arkestra performances presented a fully developed, Afrofuturist space music. Yet discographers Robert Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter aptly describe much of Ra’s music of the mid-1950s as a kind of hard bop; while unorthodox in certain ways, its compositional structures and solos remained mostly within established jazz and popular styles of the day. Sun Ra’s own liner-note writings from this period characterize his music as uniformly “of the future.” However, the music’s most unsettling effect on listeners may have been its more diffuse quality of dislocation—an odd sense that the music was not quite the product of its historical moment.44 This disorienting effect stemmed in part from decisions by the music’s producers. Ra’s bent for drawing on musical resources from disparate traditions and eras, along with Abraham’s subsequent practice of releasing old and new recordings together, often confounded reviewers—perhaps intentionally—who were wedded to notions of linear and progressive musi-

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cal development. More recent commentators, too, have experienced a sense of historical dislocation from this music, especially if they encounter it with overly narrow expectations about black Chicago and post–World War II utopian ideals. Scholarship on postwar urbanism has recently rediscovered the deep connection between slum-clearance urban-renewal strategies and broader cultural beliefs about how best to remake cities. An international avant-garde modernism strongly marked these ideals, as planners and architects argued that violently clearing away the inherited detritus of past forms—tenement buildings, neighborhoods, street blocks—would permit the creation of a new urban order based on scientific rationality, functional abstraction, and technocratic planning. A parallel aesthetic movement swept through the ranks of 1950s-era composers, many of whom championed a rejection of traditional musical forms in favor of “total” serialism and other abstract, systematizing techniques of composition. This modernist spirit, with its resolute negation of the past, was no stranger to certain musical quarters of the postwar South Side. Edward O. Bland’s film The Cry of Jazz, for example, espoused a radical kind of musical modernism, and even Sun Ra himself sometimes spoke this language—though, musically speaking, his own agenda was quite different.45 Sun Ra’s liner notes, along with his prominence in Bland’s film, might give the impression that Ra’s own musical urbanism in this period embraced a similarly hypermodernist stance. His commentaries on the album Jazz by Sun Ra, after all, allude to the precision, rationality, and abstract beauty of his compositions, which embodied an “intelligent approach to the living future” and an “intelligent reach for a better world.” Yet unlike many utopian-minded composers of the early postwar period, Sun Ra neither rejected past musical forms and styles nor developed a new compositional system that might detach his music from the urban social conditions that gave rise to twentieth-century jazz traditions. Many of his compositions and recordings from the period, in fact, draw on or allude to existing characteristics of the city in ways that gesture beyond the known world. Several original compositions rely on relatively simple popular song forms, bringing together Ra’s vocal quartets with Arkestra instrumentalists to perform “travelogue” compositions that suggestively remap Chicago and the solar system. City-related compositions from the period also combine musical styles drawn from popular and jazz idioms, as well as “urban” sounds and images associated with folk-modernist strains of black utopianism, especially those related to the train. In different ways, these urban allusions suggest that, for Sun Ra, the actual city—and the South Side in particular—continued to offer the utopian imagination a compelling locus and thematic figure.46


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Two compositions recorded in rehearsal in 1954, “Chicago USA” and “Spaceship Lullaby” (or “Bop Is a Spaceship Lullaby”), provide a double window into Sun Ra’s early experimentation with urban utopianism in song form. Never released commercially by Abraham, these two performances involved a Sun Ra–led vocal group called Nu Sounds, along with the Space Trio personnel of drummer Robert Barry, baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick, and Ra on piano. Both are travelogue songs about journeys on vehicles—one earthbound, the other bound for outer space. And in different ways, each reimagines the reality of a seemingly known and stable world.47 “Chicago USA” depicts a simple train trip through the city. With bouncy musical revue–style themes and boosterish lyrics, the song seems to have little to do with utopian conceptions of the city—except those of the sort that might emerge from a local tourist board. There’s a city most people don’t forget: I mean Chicago Maybe it’s just because they never met: I mean Chicago. . . .

Buildings reaching up, up in the night Towers of beauty in their right Skyline of Chicago

These lyrics may strike listeners today, observed John Corbett, as “astonishingly corny.” Yet in its own way, “Chicago USA” is also a remarkably elaborate trifle. As the song continues, instrumental and vocal effects begin to imitate a host of nonmusical sounds—what writer Albert Murray has called musical onomatopoeia. These sounds situate listeners spatially in different areas of the city and, more generally, convey the experience of movement through urban space: the “click-click” of the moving “L” train, the conductor’s voice calling out the stations, and even the use of Patrick’s baritone sax to sound out a train horn.48 The remainder of “Chicago USA” establishes the South Side as a comfortable starting point, home base for the narrated train journey into the city center. A conductor calls out each stop along the way: [Train conductor’s voice:]

Stony Island! Take three flights of stairs up to the elevated train,

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The train is waiting . . . Jackson Park . . .

[Background vocals imitate a train:] Click-click-click . . . click-click . . .

University . . . Cottage Grove . . . South Park . . .

[Background vocals, in ascending phrases:] Bound for Chicago’s Loop . . . bound for Chicago’s Loop . . .

Roosevelt . . . Harrison . . . Jackson . . . Monroe . . . Washington!

The specter of African Americans traveling to Chicago’s Loop, however lightly conjured, was hardly an innocuous allusion in this era. Much of the city’s post–World War II urban-renewal policy centered precisely on stopping African American “slums” from encroaching on the downtown, an area still not fully accessible to black residents in the mid-1950s. Sun Ra’s booster song, for all its hokey music-revue affect, dramatizes a journey in which black South Siders are, as the vocalists repeatedly chant, “bound for Chicago’s Loop!” In this sense, “Chicago USA” anticipates subsequent popular-musical efforts, such as George Clinton’s “Chocolate City,” that celebrate much more explicitly (“gainin’ on ya! gainin’ on ya!”) an impending black takeover of urban America.49 The second vocal composition from 1954, “Spaceship Lullaby,” offers a very different travelogue—but one whose musical and narrative style makes it something of a companion piece to “Chicago USA.” After a short, boppish intro by Sun Ra on piano and Robert Barry on ride cymbal, Ra repeats an ascending, discordant three-note arpeggio that is accompanied by a bit of unison vocalese sung by the four members of Nu Sounds, all in triple meter: “zoom, zoom, zoom / zoom, zoom, zoom / zoom, zoom, zoom / zoom, zoom, zoom . . .”—then, shifting to duple meter, “zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom / up in the air.” Then the vocalists introduce a second, angular melody, singing, “Bop is a spaceship lullaby / bop is a spaceship lullaby,” before shifting smoothly to “In-ter-plan-e-ta-ry mel-o-dies / shoobop, shoo-bop, shoo-bop / In-ter-plan-e-ta-ry har-mo-nies / shoo-bop, shoo-bop, shoo-bop.” Metrically disorienting, the first section of the song also combines, in a similarly unsettling way, the futurism of its outer-space


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lyrics with the old-fashioned sound of a vocal quartet: space men gathered comfortably around the piano. The remainder of the song launches into a much calmer, guided-tour narration: There’s the moon Next is Venus We’re coming up to Mercury now . . .

We’re running into a little trouble so we’ll have to take a shortcut through a cluster of stars We’ll go through the sun . . . to Saturn!

The parallel with “Chicago USA” is striking, as the various planets are called out like stops on the train line. Again there is onomatopoeia, with much use of vocalese to evoke the motion of the spaceship, the encounter with turbulence, the sudden breakthrough to Saturn. The trip through the solar system, like the one through the city in “Chicago USA,” is a joyful, comfortable journey. The trajectory in “Spaceship Lullaby” suggests, in a more obviously fanciful way than its urban counterpart, that the spatial order of the known world might be magically reconfigured, with earth no longer at the center—and the sun (or perhaps Sun Ra himself?) as a special conduit to the ultimate destination. In this period Sun Ra wrote a number of compositions with titles that draw attention to the city—as a place, as an idea, and as a gateway to another world. A 1956 recording of “Street Named Hell,” an up-tempo number with angular riffs and extended solos for tympani and drums, appeared on the Transition album. Ra’s liner note for “Street” offered a Hellenized version of the type of hermeneutic reversal characteristic of the Thmei group’s Ethiopianist commentary. Observing that “sometimes the Grecians called Hell, Helios,” Ra suggested that “according to this interpretation, STREET NAMED HELL is STREET NAMED SUN ”—shifting the cosmological valence of this urban avenue from dark to light. “El Is a Sound of Joy,” another Ra composition, was recorded in 1956 for the projected second volume of Jazz by Sun Ra but only released by Saturn a decade later. As John Szwed points out, “El Is a Sound of Joy” and “Street Named Hell” both allude to Fletcher Henderson’s “Hotter Than ’Ell,” but El was also a Canaanite god and a figure united with Ra’s magical planet in the full name of the record label, El Saturn.50 El also pays homage to Chicago’s elevated train line, the “L.” The train as

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utopian symbol, of course, has a far-reaching history in African American culture. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, spirituals invoked trains as metaphors for biblical arks, chariots, and other conveyances of emancipation, culminating in the metaphor of the Underground Railroad. The imitation of train-related sounds—propulsive rhythms, steam whistles, station bells, and freight-car clanking—became a recurring characteristic in work songs, railroad ballads, and blues numbers, and hit songs of the swing era, such as Count Basie’s “Super Chief” and Ellington and Strayhorn’s “Take the A-Train,” presented the train as the preeminently modern vehicle of black advancement. From a young age, Sonny Blount of Birmingham developed, as we saw earlier, his own intense set of associations with the railway journey. Over the second half of the 1950s, as he experimented with developing a modern music for the Arkestra that might explore the reality of other worlds, the train as talisman of modern urban life and medium of spiritual transport became a recurring sonic figure.51 “Street Named Hell” offers several striking examples. Rhythmically jolting, the version recorded for the Jazz by Sun Ra album features extended solo work by tympanist Jim Herndon and drummer Robert Barry. The music’s percussive clatter and the tympani’s wild pedal-shifting—what Allan Chase calls the “surreal effect of Herndon’s rumbling portamenti”—suggest the rollicking sound of a fast-moving train nearly off its rails. Then, when it seems that the piece has ended, there is a transition to a slow, lushly orchestrated section in waltz time for piano and horns. After Pat Patrick’s baritone sax makes a series of train-horn blasts, Ra’s composition weaves in a musical allusion to the counterpoint melody of “The Inch Worm,” a Frank Loesser composition sung by Danny Kaye in the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen—conjuring the movement of the inchworm as the by-now stately and peaceful locomotion of the train. Introduced in the film as a symbol of magic discovered amid the mundane drudgery of urban life, the inchworm reference in “Street Named Hell” implies a similar possibility for the “L” train: even in Chicago, an everyday conveyance can offer a magical path to another realm.52 “Brainville,” another ambitious composition from this period, brings together musical invention and the imagined city in a much different way. The liner note for Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1 presents in detail Sun Ra’s ambitious intentions with the song: Dedicated to scientists, space pilots, those of the medical profession and all others who are of daring mind—In Brainville, I envi-


Chapter Six

sion a city whose citizens are all intelligent in mind and action. Every principle used in governing this city is based on SCIENCE and LOGIC. The people are happy and always willing to learn, even from a stranger. . . . All of the institutions stay open 24 hours per day . . . the places of entertainment never close because people need to be entertained throughout the day . . . Musicians are called SOU N D SCIEN TISTS and TONE A RTISTS. Every being is healthy, and there is no extinction of being. Yes, Brainville is a wonderful city, and we like the thought of it.

Within the space of a single paragraph, Ra furnishes a fully developed vision of an urban-musical utopia where universal health and eternal life have been secured. Ra’s assurance that there is no extinction of being in Brainville brings to mind Adorno’s defining characteristic for any genuine utopia: the elimination of death itself. In its place, Ra’s city offers an expansive conception of musical entertainment. The need for centers of culture and amusement to be always open implies a just society defined by an abundance of surplus leisure time. In this ideal city, too, the long struggle of professional musicians for livelihood and esteem finally comes to fruition. Honored as “SOUND SCIENTISTS” and “TONE ARTISTS” as well as entertainers, working musicians in Brainville embody a new social unity between art, science, and entertainment.53 Ra’s note on “Brainville,” while brief, makes a significant contribution to the many-century tradition of blueprint utopianism focused on the city. Ever since the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia more than half a millennium ago, writers and artists have reimagined the world’s great cities in order to outline the foundational characteristics of the utopian metropolis. More apparently drew on early sixteenth-century London for inspiration as well as critique; one can recognize in Ra’s “Brainville” an indirect appreciation for the Chicago of his own era. In addition to the train and the spatial geography of the city, he may also have been inspired by the Windy City of 1946, when he arrived, and when around-the-clock musical employment—a possible kernel of his transformative vision—was still to be found on the South Side.54 Throughout history, abstract visions of utopian cities have been shaped in different ways by the very social or spatial conditions they sought to transcend. The geometrically fixed and identical cities of Renaissance utopianism, for example, exemplified that era’s humanist ideals of egalitarian virtue and rationality. Nineteenth-century urban planners, for their part,

Utopian Chicago


sketched out “restorative” cities that redressed the dehumanizing effects of modern industrial capitalism with prototypical suburbs. By the midtwentieth century, it was the scientific, mechanistic modernism of Le Corbusier’s Radiant City that rose to prominence, striving to replace the inherited, “chaotic” urban landscape with a coherent, dynamic, and functionally segregated order. Urban technocrats in much of the postwar world embraced these modernist planning and design principles, exemplified by superblock districts with tower-in-the-park buildings made of steel, concrete, and glass. In Chicago’s Loop and other US downtowns, such ideals shaped the aesthetic austerity and degree-zero redevelopment approach exemplified by the International Style corporate skyscraper—its own exclusive kind of city within the city—as well as the urban-renewal apartment building and the slum-clearance housing project. These redevelopment principles aimed to reimagine time and space, replacing the sedimented city of tenements, row houses, and unruly streetscapes with a “smooth, rational city of the now.”55 Certain jazz-affiliated musical visionaries of the postwar era were strongly influenced by this kind of urban cultural modernism. Bob Graettinger’s City of Glass, for instance, was directly inspired by a radiant city come to life, “a city in which the buildings are structures of energy . . . a city of moving glass-like structures . . . tonal skyscrapers.” Recorded by bandleader Stan Kenton in 1951, this symphonic jazz composition, with its dissonant harmonies, broken rhythms, and atonal counterpoint, creates an orchestral sound that is massive, sharp-edged, and abstract—International Style architecture as music. The contrast with Duke Ellington’s Harlem, another symphonic jazz work recorded the same year, could not be more striking. Structured around a two-note descending minor third that articulates the name “Har-lem,” this composition revels in the panoply of everyday life in New York’s black mecca as an urban ideal in its own right. If Graettinger’s city is an urban space without people or places, Ellington’s program note describes the various sections of his piece as a “tour” of the community, celebrating its social heterogeneity, lively street culture, steadfast religious faith, and forward-looking political optimism. Whereas Graettinger’s composition presses relentlessly forward toward a utopian city that is abstract and austere, Ellington’s Harlem humanizes an increasingly maligned community by looking back to the city within the city as an urban ideal.56 Compared to the jazz-concert music of Graettinger and Ellington, Sun Ra’s mid-1950s musical evocations of the utopian city are much more het-


Chapter Six

erogeneous, fleeting, and elusive. “Brainville,” his only composition accompanied by a blueprint-utopian program note, is not a long-form orchestral piece, nor is it radically innovative in structure or sound. Yet its artful combination of elements, including four different interludes, makes the multisectional composition both ambitious and unsettling. The alternating tonal center of the piece creates a disorienting effect, as does an apparent shift between triple and duple meter (a kind of hemiola) for extended stretches; the composition’s early sections unfold in unpredictable ways before settling into standard blues forms and chord progressions for solos. If hardly thrown into an entirely new musical world, experienced South Side listeners probably heard “Brainville” as an intricate but oddly assembled musical landscape that also featured many characteristics—such as sectional interplay and bop-style solos—that were familiar from inherited jazz styles. The composition, like much of Sun Ra’s Arkestra music of the period, looks both forward and backward, and in this way also straddles the sharp postwar distinctions between modernity and tradition.57 Sun Ra’s liner note on “Brainville,” in fact, combines elements from various historical imaginings of the ideal city. The rational and civic-minded citizens of Ra’s utopia bring to mind the egalitarian virtue and reason of the Renaissance; their freedom from toil echoes the central value of late nineteenth-century restorative idealism; their prodigious technical rationalities exemplify the modernist capacity for eliminating social ills and governing unruly cities through science and logic. To these visions, Ra adds his own emphasis on the full cultivation of leisure and entertainment as rewarded work, social reason, and aesthetic pleasure. In Brainville, then, not only are various modern utopian aspirations deeply realized, but the twentieth century’s own fragmentation of art, science, and amusement—a legacy of the Enlightenment project—is finally transcended. Yet “Brainville” was merely one of Ra’s pieces of music from this period. By early 1957, Sun Ra and the Arkestra had released two full albums of music, along with an array of singles, while recording considerably more. In his album liner notes Ra grappled with various ways to articulate the different elements of his aesthetic agenda, and his efforts to reimagine urban experience—the magical sights and sounds of the city—often seemed to operate as musical gestures toward the beyond. Precisely how particular compositions and recordings strove to evoke these associations continued to vary, often wildly, even as his mix of disparate musical styles conveyed its own, perhaps intentional sense of musical and intellectual dislocation. Creating a music that might combine past and future—a modernist utopia

Utopian Chicago


made out of the Ethiopianist insights of the Thmei research—was still for Sun Ra an open-ended process.

Sounding Out Cities Over the course of the mid-1950s, Sun Ra and Alton Abraham launched a range of musical and cultural activities intended to convey the possibility of other, better worlds. Ra himself worked extensively with a number of vocal quartets, while gathering together an increasingly stable ensemble of instrumental musicians and establishing the group as a local club band of note. Their earliest recordings included many that went unreleased, beyond the initial album of recorded material issued by Transition. Under Abraham’s direction, El Saturn created an array of illustrations, artifacts, and musical instruments and released its own records—45-rpm singles as well as one album—focusing mostly on Ra’s material with the Arkestra. The strongest thread running through all these activities was an effort to spur audiences, mostly South Siders at this point, to question the city as it appeared and to glean the possibility of another one beyond it. Each of the two business partners put his stamp on their collective enterprise. Sun Ra, of course, was the undisputed inspiration and leader— composer, band director, philosopher, teacher, and spiritual mentor. But Alton Abraham, as we have seen, also took on vital roles, pushing Ra to assume leadership in the first place and assembling the organizational and logistical components for making music. Particular community contexts had prepared Abraham for this work: his family’s origins in New South Texarkana, a city with its own history of commercial music and heterodox religion; the DuSable High School milieu that shaped his self-help entrepreneurialism, as well as the musicianship of so many Arkestra members; and his own reliance on local South Side networks for economic resources and opportunities. These networks, however, proved increasingly hard to weave into a sustainable nightlife economy, as the spatial expansion of the African American South Side—combined with economic disinvestment and slum clearance—pulled apart the intricate ecology of interwar Bronzeville. For this reason, Ra and Abraham’s mid-1950s experiment remained utopian in a double sense, an idealistic cultural project that survived its own practical impossibility. Retracing the early years of El Saturn opens up new ways of understanding community culture in postwar black Chicago. Historical accounts often point to the artistic legacy of the Black Chicago Renaissance or the grow-


Chapter Six

ing presence of black-owned commercial media as pivotal for community understandings of midcentury South Side culture. Seen in this context, El Saturn’s emergence was certainly less momentous, and hardly representative of 1950s-era South Side cultural dynamics in general. But Ra and Abraham’s activities did operate from a consequential community position, one that enabled the organization to draw resources from a variety of associational networks and small-scale commercial settings and to build a measure of local support. Beyond El Saturn’s roots in the Thmei project, the organization’s hybrid form—commercial business, music collective, utopian cultural laboratory, and entertainment outfit—reflected this particular community location as well as its own unusual mix of purposes. In this sense, the rise of Ra and Abraham’s group was much more than simply an anomaly or the product of a cultural “underground” isolated from local institutions and broader community sensibilities.58 Their mid-1950s activities created a different kind of musical sound of the city. Rather than developing a particular style intended to convey the lives and dreams of an existing community, Sun Ra’s music carried the notion of a special utopian agency from the Thmei group circle in Washington Park into the entertainment world of the South Side. Bringing to musical expression the hermeneutic tools of Ethiopianism—doubling, reversal, and reenchantment—his compositions, song titles, and liner notes began in various ways to reimagine the geography and purpose of the modern city. Urban sights and sounds, especially those associated with the train, became everyday means of speculative transport, offering city dwellers new access to other ways of being without leaving this one behind. Neither a degreezero modernist music nor one focused on expressing the social character of the existing community, Sun Ra’s sounds of the city furnished accessible harbingers of a better, future world. Sun Ra was not, of course, the only urban idealist who found inspiration in mid-1950s Chicago. White cultural aspirations of the period became strongly identified with distinctive features of the city’s built environment: International Style modernism with the lakefront’s new steel-and-glass towers; twilight industrialism with the fading immigrant neighborhoods mourned by writer Nelson Algren; a new kind of bachelor individualism with the “ultra-urban” fantasy of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Town House. Black Chicagoans of the era also discovered compelling ideals concealed within the streets and structures of the South Side: Gwendolyn Brooks’s aria-singing “dream” fighting through the “onion fumes” and “yesterday’s garbage” of a Bronzeville kitchenette building; Margaret Burroughs’s etching Slum Child, its half-submerged colors gleaming warmly and powerfully

Utopian Chicago


from the hidden depths of child and tenement alike; and even blues songwriter Willie Dixon’s celebration of South Side nightlife joints, with their “sawdust on the floor,” “snuff juice everywhere,” and raucous music “gonna break out all the windows,” as described in his lyrics to “Wang-DangDoodle.” Yet among these varied eruptions of another, better urban life, Sun Ra’s music seemed capable of finding the utopian city almost anywhere.59 Sun Ra’s music of the mid-1950s was not merely a product of the South Side. It was also, in many ways, about the South Side, both the city as it was and the city as it might be. Everyday urban experience—the sights, sounds, and spaces of Chicago—furnished the inspiration for dreams of another kind of Chicago, to be found on the planet Saturn or in the nonstop entertainment world of Brainville. In this sense, Ra’s musical experimentation took the form not only of blueprint utopianism but also of what critical theorists have called “everyday utopianism,” a mode of urban apprehension in which the routine and the extraordinary, habitual life and transfigured existence, are experienced as productively intertwined. Through composition titles and musical references, Sun Ra endowed his city’s streets and trains with a double existence, one that lent shape and substance to the daily lives of community members while also transporting them, at certain musical moments, to somewhere else.60


African Space

Strange and curiously shaped is the country of Ra. —Trowbridge Hall, Egypt in Silhouette1

Sun Ra’s final years in Chicago found him exploring ideal worlds beyond the city. Song titles such as “Space Aura,” “Saturn,” and “Interplanetary Music,” along with futuristic stage props and performance attire, signaled an embrace of outer space as utopian realm. Despite this turn toward extraterrestrial themes, however, Ra’s music making, as an everyday set of cultural activities—writing, rehearsing, performing, listening, and talking about music—remained deeply connected to Chicago’s South Side. Sun Ra and his colleagues, of course, were hardly the only Americans preoccupied with outer space during this period. Following the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I, in 1957, much of the world became caught up in a dramatic Cold War rivalry over the “conquest” of space—a frontier territory that, in the US cultural imaginary, beckoned as the ultimate test of the nation’s character and destiny. A number of years before the space race emerged as a national obsession, though, America had already discovered a spatial utopia closer to home. It was called the suburb. More than simply geographical locations outside the city limits, early postwar suburbs in the United States came to represent the outposts of a sprawling new civilization, freshly created yet highly domesticated worlds where an exceptional nation could be reborn. The outlying metropolitan landscape, in turn, became a key frame for imagining America’s expansion into outer space: Disney and other mass-cultural institutions portrayed the coming occupation of the solar system as a kind of suburban development, complete with carlike rocket ships, interplanetary highways, and nuclear family–centered settlement patterns. Sun Ra’s own extraterrestrial imagination drew from a very different

African Space


urban sensibility. If postwar suburbanization relegated the American city to secondhand status—a discarded way of living left behind for those unwilling to face the new frontier—Ra and Abraham continued to find inspiration within the city’s older spaces, pursuing a community-centered mission that understood local music making as a pathway to cultural transformation. This would be no easy task. As suburban growth drained resources from the central city, urban-renewal projects knocked down vast stretches of the old South Side, further thinning out the club districts of commercial Bronzeville. Nevertheless, in what would be Ra’s final years in Chicago (1957–1961), he and Alton Abraham relied on a disparate array of South Side–centered places, styles, and fantasies to develop a rich and heterogeneous body of musical work as well as a stage presentation that infused show-club theatricality and jazz-based experimentation with space costumes, poetry, and chant. The result, in other words, was the development of a Sun Ra Arkestra whose look and sound later commentators would easily recognize—though without a full appreciation for the urban milieu from which its performance palette emerged. For Ra’s ensemble, sensibility and style reflected more than simply personal or even group eccentricities; particular locales, community audiences, and local tastes continued to exert a discernible influence on the Arkestra and how the collective sought to communicate the aspirational character of its music at the end of the 1950s. In addition to the local nightclub world, an uneasy collaboration with Chicago music arranger Edward O. Bland—director of the South Side–based independent film The Cry of Jazz—played an important role in honing Sun Ra’s musical and philosophical agenda. Even interplanetary music, in effect, bore the material traces of a distinctly local set of urban conditions. Yet if Sun Ra’s cultural practices remained anchored in South Side places and expectations, the mythical locus of his music now shifted decisively to far-flung domains. In earlier years, Ra’s music had explored the city before him as a world of harbingers and portents—its trains, streets, and everyday musical activities all coded signs of an ideal future to come. By the end of the decade, his song titles, along with new explorations in musical style, signaled an urban imagination pressing well beyond familiar landmarks toward spaces where ancient and future, home and abroad, might creatively collide. During this time, he fully became Sun Ra, the leader of a collective exploring other worlds. As cultural emissaries charged with conveying the experience of an idealized future to a still mostly local audience of the present, Ra and his Arkestra members now performed utopia, not by modeling


Chapter Seven

the life of a new society but by furnishing a suggestive musical vehicle for dreams of collective freedom—a cultural project devoted, in its own way, to what historian E. P. Thompson has called “the education of desire.”2 Sun Ra and the Arkestra fully grew into this performative identity by exploring and combining two musical geographies—ancient Africa and outer space—each with its own distinctive history and local inflections. Beginning with Latin-styled arrangements written for other bandleaders, Ra reworked the Afro-Caribbean dance music that was increasingly prominent in South Side nightlife culture, developing an array of instrumental and compositional techniques with which to signify the musical presence of Africa. Over time, he applied these techniques, and more, to the process of “Africanizing” outer space as a richly imagined, multidimensional realm, a world that could be rendered musically through hard-driving swing or offbeat grooves, minor-key blues or open-ended improvisation—or through space-chant songs that combined avant-garde experiment with reassuringly familiar music-revue travelogue. Retooling an assortment of locally anchored musical and cultural practices into an idiosyncratic outer-space sound, Sun Ra’s extraterrestrial worlds projected in the process an accessible, South Side–inflected urban sensibility.3 In this way, Sun Ra’s final musical journeys in Chicago took him through the fading city to the exploration of those other worlds. Over the course of the 1950s, African American creative artists—the writers Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin prominent among them—grappled with the painful collapse of inherited urban ideals, exposing the urban north as a broken “Promised Land” and the city within the city as a treacherous site for selfdetermination. Yet in the meantime the presence of Africa, as a source of creative inspiration and utopian possibility, began to glimmer, faintly yet promisingly, even within otherwise harsh depictions of postwar urban life by Chicago writers such as Frank London Brown and Lorraine Hansberry. Sun Ra’s own Africa, developing out of an Afro-Caribbean musical palette with persistent appeal in black Chicago’s nightclub circuit, became an important compositional sourcebook for his subsequent conceptions of extraterrestrial space. At a moment when America’s larger vision of its future seemed to hinge on the conquest of both urban and outer space, he marshaled an array of South Side musical resources to engage in a very different kind of spatial exploration. Ra’s musical spaces, shaped by the sounds of Africa as heard in Chicago, were constructing an open-ended, manyfaceted interplanetary future—a set of community-based utopian journeys that could reconfigure sonic conventions into pathways to new worlds.4

African Space


Shadows of Tomorrow Sometime in the late 1950s, Alton Abraham wrote an impassioned letter to James Petrillo, the president of the national musicians’ union and a major power broker in the American music world. Only draft versions of the letter survive, but in each of them Abraham seeks to communicate the utopian aspirations of the new music that he and Sun Ra were creating. Dear sir, We need your help greatly. This world is on the brink of disaster. The only solution that can save man kind is the Kreation . . . of a new music that is purposely designed to draw the evil attributes from the hearts and minds of men and to replace those evil attributes of death with attributes of life through music. During the past five years we have been experimenting with this “ATONA L” music from outer space on dope addicts, drunks, mental-patients, depressed and even just plain stubborn fellows. The results abtained were remarkable. Top musicians from all over the country as well as members from “ASC AP” (at least they say they were members) and local musician Union Top Officers admitts that there is no music on earth as beautiful or that there were any one else Kreating a new music. These men, who should be well qualified due to their profession, have stated that this “ATONA L” music will be the world’s next music.

Abraham goes on to lament the bestial nature of a world that is run by those who only value destroying and killing: “such, today, is the state of the minds of your world leaders.”5 Yet a world defined by death, Abraham continues, can be transcended. Returning to a central theme of the Thmei broadsheets, he points out that long ago the world failed to embrace a utopian road to eternal life, with catastrophic consequences: Approximately three thousand years past, the Kreator sent a Master mind to teach man kind wisdom that is necessary for man to have in order to conquer death. (it can be done.) Through ignorance, man rejected this Mastermind. In doing so the world was deceived into thinking it had life, through the death of an innocent man, when it had and still has death.


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Echoes of the Thmei group teachings from earlier in the decade ring loudly in this letter. Fatal, catastrophic error long ago plunged the world into deep darkness—a culture of death from which it has yet to recover. But the possibility of redemption remains. If the precise identity of Abraham’s early “Master mind” is unclear, the “death of an innocent man” suggests a biblical, Jesus-like figure. However, the reference to “three thousand years past” points instead to an ancient Egyptian deity or messianic figure, as does the use of “atonal,” an apparent allusion to music lacking a tonal center that more likely refers to Aton, the sun god. In any event, now it is redemptive music—El Saturn’s music in particular—that offers, Abraham suggests, the only secure path forward.6 Abraham’s letter furnishes a window into the unusual cultural project that preoccupied El Saturn’s leaders near the end of the 1950s. These cultural producers saw themselves as performing extraordinary community social work—redirecting the lives of ground-down South Siders, even “just plain stubborn fellows,” through the power of music. Through these efforts, however, El Saturn’s founders were also engaged in a far-reaching utopian endeavor. The irresponsibility of world leaders, trapped in a Cold War nuclear arms race now expanding into outer space, called out for an ambitious musical intervention, a wake-up music, to transform the hearts and minds of humanity. As in the Thmei broadsheets, redemption here is imagined in the form of a messiah or savior; and yet humanity’s inability to accept earlier saviors—a calamitous refusal that implicated blacks as well as whites—has apparently led the “Kreator” to experiment with new agents and new means of collective salvation. The music created by Sun Ra and his associates, by extracting evil from listeners’ hearts and minds, promised to replace the culture of death with that of “life through music.”7 Ra and Abraham, then, saw their own work in the most ambitious and transformative terms possible. Despite its far-reaching aims, though, El Saturn’s utopian project at the end of the 1950s continued to be deeply rooted—in terms of personnel, audience, commercial potential, and community impact—in the local club world of the South Side. After the release of Super-Sonic Jazz in early 1957, the second half of the year ushered in an extended period of hard times and financial improvisation for Sun Ra and Alton Abraham, along with many others in the community. Smaller venues folded, while others, following the lead of McKie’s Disc Jockey Lounge, incorporated a “platter-spinning” format, sometimes dispensing with live music altogether. In early 1958, the mighty Club DeLisa closed its doors after nearly two and a half decades. The following year, a writer surveying the entertainment scene for the Chicago Defender noted that surviving

African Space


Bronzeville clubs only featured live music on weekends—and depended heavily on “downtowners rushing in on Saturday nights.” For South Side musicians, even Calumet City became a shrinking option as the strip clubs there focused more on straightforward prostitution, cutting back on the combos that once seemed indispensable.8 Committed to El Saturn’s ambitious agenda, Alton Abraham found the financial struggle taxing at certain moments. In a written appeal drafted roughly at the same time as his letter to Petrillo, Abraham turned to unspecified higher forces (apparently even more powerful than the union chief) for help: I Alton Abraham do petition the forces of better superior power of the living universe to immediately begin to function and work for me, bring[ing] and giving to me all the cosmic wisdom, spiritual knowledge, understanding, protection, health, strategy, strength and whatever I may need to better increase my understanding about the superior forces of all the universe.

Never one to ignore practical issues, he concluded with an additional request: “Give me finance to respond with and to research with. [signed] Alton Abraham.”9 Despite hard times in the South Side, new clubs somehow continued to spring up, and Sun Ra’s band found opportunities at several of them. Casino Moderne opened its doors in March 1957, under the Sixty-Third Street “L” tracks east of Cottage Grove, on a stretch that only recently had transitioned from white to black. The Arkestra entertained patrons at the club’s “grand opening” and played there off and on through the remainder of the year, often on a double bill with a Latin ensemble headed by bandleader Mike Hernandez. On South Parkway, not far from the Roberts Show Lounge, a club called the Queen’s Mansion opened in 1958. Located on a site occupied a decade earlier by Joe’s DeLuxe, the new club briefly established itself as a center of the now lower-profile gay entertainment culture of the South Side. Ra’s ensemble performed there regularly over the course of the club’s oneyear existence, honing the mix of material they recorded in early 1959. This repertoire included danceable standards, such as the elaborately arranged cha-cha version of Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night”— complete with soaring countermelodies and conga-line rhythms—along with an ample number of Sun Ra originals, several of which would end up on the Jazz in Silhouette album released later that year.10 Abraham’s energetic efforts and local connections continued to be key


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to finding performance venues. Beyond the commercial music clubs, the Arkestra performed at taverns, community associations, listening clubs, social dances, pageants, and churches, and even, as Alton implied in his letter to Petrillo, for psychiatric patients at the VA hospital in suburban Hines, Illinois. (Ra later recounted this hospital performance as evidence of his healing powers, claiming that a woman who had not moved or spoken for years got up from the floor, walked to his piano, and cried out, “Do you call that music?”) Abraham’s marketing of the group, in turn, required considerable creativity, sometimes with an emphasis not so much on experimental or even therapeutic music as on novelty entertainment. One event from 1958 touted the attractions of “Miss Bronze Chicago’s Coronation Ball, Featuring the Great Sun Ra plus a host of stars and Girls Girls Girls.”11 Yet there were also public appearances that fell more into the category of community enlightenment or consciousness-raising. A local organization called APPROACH, inc., for instance, enlisted Sun Ra and the Arkestra for a series of jazz concerts and lectures at a South Side church, part of a cultural program to counter youth delinquency. Describing the event as not so much a concert as “a question and answer period augmented by music,” one organizer acknowledged that the discussion between musicians and young people “often goes as far astray as the history of the Negro”—a topic on which Sun Ra no doubt had quite a lot to say. Taken together, the Arkestra’s appearance schedule encompassed a remarkably varied mix of local settings, an eclecticism of audience and purpose that seemed to find its way into the music itself.12 In the meantime, talented newcomers joined the Arkestra, propelled as much by spiritual interests as by musical ones. Alto saxophonist Marshall Allen entered the fold in 1957. Despite being told by Sun Ra that henceforth he could only play flute, Allen stayed with the ensemble because it offered, he later recalled, the chance to “translate spirit into music.” James Spaulding, another alto player, became a member that same year after a visit to an Arkestra rehearsal provided him with his “first taste [of] improvising freeform” as well as an encounter with new historical notions about “the human race”—that one could, for instance, “trace it back to Africa, the roots of it, all the way back to Ethiopia.” These ideas also attracted bass player Ronald Boykins, who previously had run a private club called the House of Culture focused on promoting black civilization. Boykins, a former student of DuSable’s Walter Dyett, had been playing in local rhythm and blues bands. Joining Ra’s Arkestra involved discoveries for Boykins, as it had for others, in multiple dimensions: a “big band, a new music, a new philosophy.”13 Meanwhile, Sun Ra resumed working more intensively with young

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vocal groups in Chicago. Although he sought to mentor all of these musicians, his favorite was a quartet of young men from the West Side that he called the Cosmic Rays. Shifting between doo-wop and more traditional vocal styles, the Rays often attended Arkestra rehearsals, working with the bandleader during breaks or with the entire band at the end of the session. Saturn recordings of the quartet featured performances of Tin Pan Alley standards (especially those with lyrics that referred to the sun, the moon, or other celestial matters), along with Ra originals such as “Black Sky, Blue Moon,” a romantic ballad, and “Africa,” a percussion-heavy composition with instrumental solos as well as (depending on the recorded version) lyrics or wordless vocals.14 At the same time, Ra also began working with a very different kind of singer who billed himself as Yochanan (or Yochannan), the Space Age Vocalist. Described by Ra’s discographers as “an eccentric R&B performer in Chicago who wore ‘sun colors’ and open-toed sandals” even in winter, Yochanan, originally from Memphis, also called himself the Man from Outer Space and (perhaps in an echo of Elijah Muhammad’s former alias, Maat Maat) the Muck Muck Man. Claiming to be “descended from the Sun,” he became known for a wild-man style of performance, first on Maxwell Street and then in South Side clubs. His half-sung, half-shouted vocals combined outer-space references with more typical rhythm and blues lyrics, as in the single “Hot Skillet Momma,” or songs that drew on insult humor reminiscent of the dozens. Sun Ra and other Arkestra members began performing with Yochanan in 1957, and over the next several years Abraham recorded him a number of times, including an R&B track called “Rocket Ship Rock,” with John Gilmore featured on tenor saxophone.15 El Saturn expanded the scope of its cultural activities in other directions, too. When local music arranger Edward O. Bland and his colleagues produced their independent film The Cry of Jazz, over the course of 1956–1958, Sun Ra and the Arkestra contributed in multiple ways. Visually, the ensemble became a significant onscreen presence; recordings furnished by Abraham free of charge, meanwhile, came to comprise much of the soundtrack. Despite these contributions, and even though the film’s narrator at one point touts Sun Ra as a creator of “the newest sounds to come along in contemporary jazz,” the vision of music and the city expressed in The Cry of Jazz was emphatically the director’s and not Ra’s. Yet Bland became an important South Side interlocutor for Sun Ra in this period and, much like the Washington Park religious milieu for the Thmei group earlier in the decade, their uneven filmmaking collaboration helped Ra clarify his own vision of racial identity, history, and musical possibility.


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A didactic educational film interspersed with dramatized fictional scenes, The Cry of Jazz recounts the stylistic history of jazz music as a linear story tightly intertwined with the changing forms of racial oppression endured by African Americans. Bland’s intention, as he later noted, was to demonstrate a “structural identity between the black experience and the nature of the music.” Accordingly, his narrator traces the development of Dixieland jazz, swing, and bebop as successive musical responses to the different forms of “inhuman” racial treatment accompanying twentieth-century black migration and urbanization. This music history sets up, in turn, a sharp contrast between the contemporary sound of black jazz, which Bland portrays as rooted in black urban cultural life (illustrated in the film by the Arkestra’s hard-driving “Blues at Midnight” playing over images of African American men in a pool hall), and what his narrator calls “the sound of jazz as performed by whites,” which the director exemplifies with a light-sounding cool-jazz number played over a sequence depicting a white woman grooming her poodle. Bland’s historical account thus leads not only to a stark distinction between the expressive qualities of black and white musicians but to a racialization—reinforced by unmistakable class and gender markers—of musical sound itself.16 This historical and social portrait, then, sets up the film’s culminating claim. “Jazz is dead,” declares Bland’s narrator, meaning that the music is blocked from any further formal development because African Americans themselves remain trapped in the urban ghetto. To illustrate his thesis, the director furnishes shots of the inside of Sun Ra’s piano—showing the repeated movements of the keys as the pianist plays the same passage over and over—while the voice-over narrator explains that inherent formal and social constraints condemn jazz music to endless repetition. The narrator adds somberly, “Jazz cannot grow because it was not meant to grow. Its dead body stands as a monument to the Negro, who was supposed to die in the American scheme of things.” The film’s climax, in turn, involves staged musical sequences of Arkestra instrumentalists playing dissonant, maniacally repetitive phrases accompanied by visual images of ghetto destruction. In dramatic fashion, the sequence drives home the urgent need for a radical break from inherited history and culture—both jazz and the city—in order to liberate black Americans, their music, and their country from its racist way of life. This modernist utopian vision was largely overlooked when The Cry of Jazz premiered, to considerable controversy, in early 1959. Music critics assailed the film for the “jazz is dead” claim; film reviewers, for their part, saw its racial politics as “anti-white.” The contributions of Sun Ra

7.1 Sun Ra in silhouette, in The Cry of Jazz (Edward O. Bland, KHTB Productions, 1959). Library of Congress.

7.2 Musical slum clearance, in The Cry of Jazz (Edward O. Bland, KHTB Productions, 1959). Library of Congress.


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and the Arkestra also went unnoticed, in part because Bland had filmed the musicians in silhouette—so thoroughly disguising them, in fact, that performance footage of the same handful of musicians could be used to illustrate all of jazz history’s different styles of music. (Masking the instrumentalists was also intended to avoid trouble with the musicians’ union.) Consequently, while Ra and several other members of his group enjoyed extensive screen time, their precise identities, not to mention the venues they were playing or the responses of their audiences, would have failed to register with viewers of the film. Even when Ra’s own music is attributed directly to him, the narrator’s dismissive assessment of contemporary jazz practices—a “circular see-saw” of stylistic repetition—hardly champions the musical innovations of the Arkesta. Yet consigning his musicians and locations to the shadows was also consistent with the filmmaker’s larger aesthetic stance: the South Side, for Bland, was not a musical community to be lionized or revived but a dead weight from which African Americans needed to be freed.17 Sun Ra never addressed his experience with The Cry of Jazz in any explicit way. Yet he did take the occasion of his next album release to advance his own utopian understanding of these same issues—and in ways that, quite clearly, played off Bland’s vision. In March 1959, Abraham somehow scraped together enough money to afford an extensive recording session at a professional studio. Sun Ra and the Arkestra, along with vocalist Hattie Randolph, recorded sixteen tracks in one day—originals by Ra and trumpeter Hobart Dotson in a variety of styles, along with assorted standards in both instrumental and vocal settings, apparently intended for two full albums’ worth of music. Pressed in RCA’s Chicago plant, one album containing half of these tracks was released in May of that year. The original silk-screened cover bore an abstract illustration and design attributed to one H. P. Corbissero—a pseudonym, by most accounts, for Ra himself. Tucked inside each album jacket was a “hectographed” booklet (its designs produced by a gelatin duplicator), with color-crayon drawings by the bandleader as well as poems and liner notes. Issued just as The Cry of Jazz was enjoying a series of high-profile public screenings in Chicago and New York, Jazz in Silhouette delivered an exuberant, high-energy set of musical offerings—a “joyous riposte,” as Paul Youngquist has called it, “to Bland’s jazz obituary.”18 Much later, this Arkestra album would be regarded as a musical gem overlooked by history. At the time, though, many other jazz musicians were releasing albums that each seemed to point the music in a new and important direction, and to much greater fanfare—such as the modal innovations of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or the unusual time signatures of Dave

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Brubeck’s Time Out. Jazz in Silhouette, by contrast, was probably most distinctive in gesturing, like the scarecrow pointing the way to Oz, in many different directions at once. For an ensemble seeking to build a “futuristic” reputation, Jazz in Silhouette was, in fact, surprisingly full of older-sounding musical material—albeit arranged or performed in eccentric fashion. The piece with the most retrospective-sounding title—“Ancient Aiethopia,” with its idiosyncratic spelling—was probably the most musically forwardlooking composition. And then there was “Enlightenment,” an elaborately arranged, impeccably performed composition cowritten by Ra and trumpet player Hobart Dotson. With an old-fashioned theme-and-variations structure and sudden cha-cha interlude, the piece conveyed the impression that it had been reconstructed from a forgotten musical past by an oddly advanced civilization. Throughout the album, musical eclecticism, born in part out of the enduring breadth of South Side styles, seemed raised to the level of historic principle. Rejecting the narrow linearity of Bland’s conception of jazz history, Jazz in Silhouette instead crafted together past-, present-, and future-laden sonic statements that encouraged listeners, as Youngquist has noted, to question what was, is, and will be.19 Sun Ra’s writings for the album also offered a coded response to Bland’s film. Printed as part of the album booklet, a poem entitled “JAZZ IN SILHOUETTE” played with the black-and-white image both as a symbol of racial definition and as a question of musical identity. This is the story of silhouettes, Bright silhouettes and dark background . . . Dark silhouettes and bright background . . . THIS IS THE SOU N D OF SILHOU ETTES IM AGES A N D FOREC ASTS OF TOMOR ROW DISGUISED AS JAZZ

In Ra’s poem, the visual image of the silhouette—the figure given shape only by what surrounds it—posed the interdependent relation between blackness and whiteness, one defining the other in ways that imply their reversibility (“Bright silhouettes and dark background . . . Dark silhouettes and bright background . . .). By connecting the relational nature of racial definition to the sound of jazz, Ra’s poem also touched on what at the time was a charged issue, not simply in The Cry of Jazz but more broadly: the racial identity of the music itself.20 Jazz achieved growing legitimacy as a musical art form over the course of the 1950s. While generally welcomed by musicians, this elevation in status


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also sharpened concerns by black performers about the music’s appropriation by white performers and audiences. One response by African American jazz artists, already being given the label “hard bop,” was to reemphasize certain musical characteristics—blues stylings, spiritual and gospel flourishes, R&B-related riffs and vamps—that were conventionally coded as black, much like those highlighted by Bland in his film’s pool hall sequence. Yet as jazz commentators of the period fought over erasing versus reasserting the racial distinctions often used to define musical styles, Sun Ra’s liner notes seemed, instead, to ask a more unsettling question: what sorts of racial reorderings are possible when white and black in music can only be defined in relation to one another? Much like the Ethiopianism of the Thmei broadsheets, which employed rhetorical doubling and reversal to insist on a dramatically different identity for biblical figures and postwar black Americans alike, Ra’s inverted silhouettes suggested an ever-present possibility for reassigning racial identities through making music.21 Sun Ra’s liner notes for Jazz in Silhouette proposed a different history, one derived from looking back at the past and present from the vantage point of a better future. Continuing to play with the imagery from Bland’s film, the album booklet presented a second poem, “The Shadow of Tomorrow,” also written by Ra: Today is the shadow of tomorrow Today is the present future of yesterday Yesterday is the shadow of today . . .

Today is the prevue of tomorrow, but for me, only from a happier and better point of view. My point of view is the thought of a better, untried reality.

Here Ra imagined yesterday and today, seen from the position of an ideal world to come, as a shadow realm. Tomorrow’s figures, illuminated (one assumes) by a sun located even farther off into the future, shrouded this present world and its past in semidarkness. Much like the angel of history imagined by the writer Walter Benjamin, Sun Ra’s future-centered, backward-facing gaze revealed history to be not a linear march of progress but a veiled or benighted state of confusion—perhaps even, as in the Thmei broadsheets, a long, dark racial catastrophe. Nevertheless, the refracted light from the future also illuminated, within the past, scattered glimmerings of a better world to come: “The wisdom of the past is the light of the past / The light which is to be the wisdom of the future.” In musical terms, this

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historical conception suggested that certain past forms—inherited styles and traditions as recognized and reworked by visionary musicians—might anticipate or reveal the ideal music of the future.22 Ra’s liner-note writings, while cryptic, clearly took advantage of the opaque figure of the silhouette to distinguish his own utopian aesthetics from Bland’s death-of-jazz modernism. A shift to capitalized lines in the album’s first poem—“THIS IS THE SOUND OF SILHOUETTES / IMAGES AND FORECASTS OF TOMORROW / DISGUISED AS JAZZ”—brought together the bandleader’s racial and musical counterthemes within a redemptive conception of history. Reversing temporality, these lines suggest that the musical sounds of the past and present, whether defined as black or white, are the sonic equivalent of silhouette images, projected backward in time from a future world—and thus remain alive, vital, and perhaps even unfinished. Listeners, then, might hear the compositions on Jazz in Silhouette not as musical statements of the moment but rather as a half-recovered anticipation of future sounds. Jazz silhouetted, as John Corbett has suggested, meant not so much jazz music itself as “the outline of jazz, the futuristic relief of jazz . . . an absent space in which jazz can transform into something else.”23 Death, in this context, was nowhere in sight. Just as Abraham’s letter to Petrillo asserted a life beyond the twentieth-century world’s killing and destroying, Jazz in Silhouette raised a set of rich, lively, open-ended questions about historical temporality, racial identity, and the creative possibilities inherent in musical redemption. Beginning with the future, and reimagining all that precedes it as a series of temporal worlds shrouded in shadows projected backward from this future, Ra conjured a visual field—a tableau of silhouettes—that also could be understood as a cluster of musical signs of the utopian world to come. Yet what Jazz in Silhouette did not clarify is how, precisely, one might hear the sounds of past or future in the composer’s own music. And then there was the further question: how might this music of the past and future be raced? For Sun Ra, important answers to such questions were to be found close to home in Chicago’s South Side.

African Expeditions Africa, as a place of origin and realm of aspiration, became accessible to black South Siders in new ways over the course of the 1950s. Early in the postwar era, even African American newspapers were still portraying the continent as an embarrassingly primitive and pagan land in need of enlightened Christian guidance from America. As independence movements in African lands attracted growing attention in the United States, however,


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the notion of a deep historical connection to the mother continent became a much more evident source of cultural pride in black Chicago.24 Musical developments played a significant role in this mounting sense of diasporic kinship. Early on in the postwar period, bebop bands began incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms and sounds into their performances, and Caribbean-derived dance musics soon emerged as weekly features in South Side clubs. Chicago cultural societies were sponsoring concerts and appearances by African musicians by the mid-1950s, and these events were often occasions for lectures, exhibitions, and other forms of exchange. Signs and symbols connoting Africa—in music, clothing, sculpture, advertising, and spirituality—became prominent features of the South Side cultural landscape, often linked to notions of power, prestige, and nobility. By the end of the decade, Africa loomed as a potent symbol of emerging political consciousness in various literary depictions of black Chicago, from Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun—in which a Nigerian character named Joseph Asagai (“spear”) embodies the new pan-Africanist sensibility—to Frank London Brown’s novel Trumbull Park, with its climactic reference to the growing international nonaligned movement as the dawning of a new era (“colored folks from all over the world . . . are getting together”). Even Bland’s The Cry of Jazz, which refrains from any overtly diasporic commentary, positions an African statuette looming over the shoulder of the film’s most race-conscious dramatic character as a vivid symbol of his intellectual authority.25 A major route taken by Sun Ra’s own musical exploration of Africa, though, led through the commercial dance-music culture of the South Side. As an arranger for bandleader Red Saunders in the early 1950s, Ra had developed a signature style that relied on startling rhythms and tone colors inspired in part by Latin dance music. Key elements of this style, integrated in different ways with other jazz and pop traditions, became building blocks of later compositions. For many South Side clubgoers, dance music inspired by Afro-Caribbean styles served as an indirect cultural introduction to Africa. It was an Africa, to be sure, that was profoundly shaped by musical traditions, social meanings, and commercial considerations particular to postwar black Chicago. Yet this sonic Africa nevertheless afforded a cultural vehicle through which to imagine a different and more expansive conception of black identity in America. For Sun Ra, this kind of musical experimentation became in part an exercise in imaginative geography. By combining musical sounds associated with different parts of the world, he could complicate conventional geographical distinctions between Africa and America—that is, for him, between then and now as well as here and there.

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Sun Ra’s decade-long exploration of Africa, in fact, was marked by a kind of sonic Ethiopianism—the implication that black Americans might discover an ancient, long-veiled identity within certain newly discovered musical sounds. As early as 1953, in recordings such as “Voodoo Blues” and “It’s Raining Again,” Ra’s arrangements for Red Saunders and vocalist Joe Williams featured splashy, Latin-derived intros and vamps. A bravura mambo version of “Summertime,” for example, scored Gershwin’s song with a two-bar cha-cha pattern over a four-bar swing rhythm—not only urbanizing a tune long associated with rural-folk images of Catfish Row but suggesting its deeper origins in an exotic Afro-Caribbean world. Other such arrangements from this period included “Mambo in Trumpet” for Saunders, “Vivian” for a King Kolax session issued by Vivian and Jimmy Bracken’s VeeJay Records, and “Mambo Is Everywhere” for Saunders again, this time with vocalist Billy Brooks. Ra also probably had a hand in arranging music for choreographer Sammy Dyer’s various Latin-inspired shows at the DeLisa, such as “Tempo Mambo” in 1954.26 Sun Ra was not the only South Side community member enamored with Latin music at the time. Over the course of the 1950s, Latin-style dance activities—performances, lessons, competitions, soirées—were becoming ubiquitous in most of the clubs he was playing; in the South Side, mambo more or less was everywhere. At the DeLisa, for example, “Mambo King” Juan Soler and his orchestra played through much of 1956 on a double bill with Saunders and contributed to a Dyer-directed production called “Tan Tropics” (“torrid, musically and tunefully,” raved the Chicago Defender) that transported South Side audiences through an Afro-Caribbean dream world. The Roberts Show Lounge, while hosting Ra and the Arkestra on Mondays, presented Puerto Rican bandleader Vitin Santiago and his orchestra on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with featured dancer Josephine Flores; dance instructor Frank Battle was also on hand to ensure that the floor stayed busy. When the Arkestra was appearing at the Casino Moderne in 1957, Santiago’s group (“Chicago’s Greatest Latin Band,” heralded the Defender ad) also held down a two-night-a-week program there, featuring cha-chas and mambos. The Latin Socialites, an African American social club committed to Latin dance music, were frequent sponsors of such affairs.27 Calypso, another popular musical style, was a frequent dance theme for South Side club entertainment. In June 1957, Ra and his group played a cabaret party and floorshow at the Casino Moderne sponsored by a community group called the King of Clubs: “Music will be by SUN RAY and his ork; spotlighted will be VANDETTA SHAN, CLAYTON WHITEHEAD and the VALASQUE CALYPSO dancers with vocalists CLYDE WILLIAMS and GWEN


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STEVENS giving with the melodious song-styling.” The Arkestra’s appearances at Budland were also often organized around Latin themes, presenting “Sun Ray and his band” as a kind of Latin/rhythm-and-blues crossover act for the dance-party circuit. A recently surfaced recording of “Sun Ra and His Rays of Jazz” playing at Budland in 1958 captures the ensemble in workaday Latin-dance mode. One can hear Arkestra members serving as back-up instrumentalists for a local doo-wop group, the Supremes, in a number called “Everybody Mambo”—its single-minded purpose, as the title suggests, was getting the Budland audience out on the dance floor.28 Sun Ra’s ongoing engagement with Latin music also led to the semiregular inclusion of a conga player into his ensembles. Tito, as he was known to fellow band members (no full name has surfaced), may have come into Ra’s orbit from one of the Latin dance orchestras regularly featured on the South Side, such as those led by Soler or Santiago—or possibly from the small Puerto Rican community still clustered around the Pershing Hotel in the late 1950s. One of the city’s earliest Puerto Rican community organizations, Los Caballeros de San Juan, operated out of the nearby Holy Cross Church at Sixty-Fifth Street and South Maryland Avenue, sponsoring dances and other social functions, and the organization probably served as a musical conduit to commercial engagements in nearby African American clubs. In any event, the versatile conga player performed frequently with the Arkestra, contributing to standards such as “Lover Come Back to Me” and “’S Wonderful,” Ra originals like “Blue Space,” and doo-wop vocal tracks recorded with the Cosmic Rays.”29 Latin-influenced music and dance, then, were pervasive in the African American South Side of the late 1950s—and for reasons that were particular to Chicago. Whereas a New York club like the Palladium might serve as a Midtown mecca for that city’s multicultural Latin-dance crowd, Chicago’s more segmented racial dynamics inhibited emergence of a centrally located alternative to the Puerto Rican barrio–centered music scene on the Near Northwest Side. African American clubgoers were thus more likely to encounter Latin dance music in South Side venues, where they could expect Afro-Caribbean sounds to be integrated into established African American musical traditions. If, as Christina Abreu suggests, different Afro-Cuban musical styles in 1950s New York became competing markers for “Cubanness,” Sun Ra’s incorporation of elements associated with Latin music into swing, bebop, and R&B compositions might be understood instead to signal a sonic revision of African American racial identity.30 For Sun Ra, as for many black American jazz musicians of the era, Latin-

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associated musical material offered startling access to Africa, even an unveiling of origins. Early bebop innovator Dizzy Gillespie, for instance, recalled his initial encounter with Afro-Caribbean music as revelatory—a direct and immediate reconnection to his ancestral roots. Sun Ra, like other postwar jazz composers, seemed drawn to certain elements of this music as “retentions”—sonic remnants of diasporic connection to the mother continent. Perhaps more than most of his contemporaries, though, Ra, in his Chicago years, played with the metrical tension between the Afro-Cuban clave (in simple terms, a two-bar pattern with alternating three- and twobeat bars) and the more typical time signatures (four-bar patterns of single bars subdivided into two or four beats) of most jazz compositions. For South Side clubgoers, such tensions could be counted on to create moments of surprise and uncertainty, challenging listeners’ secure sense of the beat— and no doubt wrong-footing dancers at times.31 These sorts of metrical shifts would have had extramusical resonance for a philosophically playful composer such as Sun Ra, questioning, in effect, the self-evident ethnicity of a song: Whose music was this, and where did it come from? North American jazz figures of the 1950s, including Sun Ra, also enjoyed new access to the music of Africa itself. Ethnographic field recordings were becoming more widely available, and increased travel gave African and North American musical artists new opportunities to play together. Chicago became an important destination for musicians from Africa, as the historian Robin D. G. Kelley has shown, and Ra likely encountered several pioneering instrumentalists from the continent who played in town for significant stretches. Babatunde Olatunji, for instance, the Nigerian-born New York University student-turned-percussionist, performed frequently in Chicago, including an appearance in 1958 with the tambourine-playing Juaria Moore, a former Miss Bronze America, at the South Side’s Trianon ballroom. Guy Warren (Kofi Ghanaba), the Ghanaian highlife drummer, visited Chicago as well, playing and recording with DeLisa bandleader Red Saunders. Given Sun Ra’s longstanding relationship with Saunders, it would not be surprising if Ra and Warren also met during this time. Warren recorded his groundbreaking album with Saunders, Africa Speaks America Answers!, at the local Universal studio shortly before Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1 was recorded at the same location. Chicago, in effect, was becoming a key site for defining and redefining the postwar sound of Africa.32 Yet Sun Ra’s music of this period, quite different from Warren’s innovative mix of jazz with the pop sounds of Nigerian highlife, reflected his own idiosyncratic associations with Africa. “Nubia,” from 1958 or 1959, fore-


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grounds electric piano and Western drum kit with what Ra called “Nigerian bells”—a percussion instrument that sounds more than a little like what had long been familiar as sleigh bells. A recording of his composition “Africa,” from the same period, has plenty of sounds—low-register trombone and baritone sax, percussion, unison male humming and chanting—that might be read as primordial evocations of the mother continent. Yet the carefully harmonized vocalizations by members of the Cosmic Rays seem more inspired by the group’s local doo-wop style than by any particularly African musical tradition. As for the electric piano and “space lute” (an unspecified stringed instrument plucked by baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick), their sounds register as contributions from a still-emerging future. All this music may have been intended to be African-sounding in some way, but it was an Africa fashioned largely from musical resources available in the South Side.33 Impressions of Africa in Chicago, in the meantime, were becoming more modern, varied, and urban over the course of the 1950s. Images circulating in white Chicago, to be sure, still included a generous share of primitivist spectacle. A June 1958 headline from the Chicago Tribune, for instance, insisted that even the continent’s urban centers remained in thrall to savagery: “Witchcraft, Sexual Evils, Paganism Run Riot in Africa: Natives Commit Ritual Murders and Cannibalism Despite City Veneer of Civilization.” Earlier in the decade, Chicago’s black press had also associated Africa, if in more subdued fashion, with primitive peoples and pagan cults. Gradually, however, as cultural exchanges mounted and news of nationalindependence movements punctured notions of African backwardness, South Side interest in the continent became more affirmative, including in the nightlife world of club entertainment. The Chicago Defender’s annual Mardi Gras ball for 1957, for example, adopting the theme “Tropic Capers,” proposed continental Africa as a diasporic locale ripe for costuming inspirations. Society columnist Marion B. Campfield asked, “Can’t you just see yourself whirling gaily in the colorful garb of a native of some such fabulous Caribbean isle like Bermuda . . . ? Or Gold Coast West Africa . . . ?” Photographs of South Siders dressed up in African attire became staples of the Defender society page during this period.34 Community interest in African history grew as well. F. H. Hammurabi, former Washington Park activist and pan-Africanist operator of the local House of Knowledge, found new opportunities to market his “5,000 Year Negro History and World Pictorial Packet”—display cards bringing together Cheops (“black builder” of the pyramids) with the much-honored soprano Marian Anderson. Sidney Williams, former executive secretary of the Chi-

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cago Urban League, developed a second career promoting travel and trade between the African continent and the South Side. Even Louis Martin, editor-in-chief of the Chicago Defender, decided Africa was becoming too interesting to cover from afar; he resigned his position in 1959 to witness firsthand Nigeria’s impending transition to postcolonial independence. In Chicago’s South Side, Africa was looming larger by the year—as land of origin and destination, ancient source and emerging future.35 Multiple sources inspired Sun Ra’s own Africa-related music. Beyond the Latin jazz arrangements of Gillespie and other bebop composers, “exotica”—a genre of commercial pop music that, like mambo, seemed omnipresent in the English-speaking world—was a strong influence. Later associated with the “tiki” or “lounge” music of arrangers such as Martin Denny and Juan Garcia Esquivel, exotica typically involved inserting foreign-sounding elements into combinations of more familiar musical styles—just enough “there,” as Jonathan Bellman has put it, to spice the “here.” Exotic sounds, images, and travel fantasies were part of a broader wave of commercial Orientalism that resurfaced in 1950s Cold War America, offering up Asia, Africa, Arabia, and other foreign lands as alluring, newly accessible realms of experience. Musical exotica of the postwar period relied heavily on Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, often conveying an exciting primitivism. When combined with orchestral sonorities taken (via Hollywood film music) from Stravinsky and Debussy, its sound evoked an indeterminate yet familiar world located somewhere outside of Western modernity. Sun Ra’s Africa-related compositions shared with pop exotica this playful, elusive sense of musical geography.36 His exotic soundscape, however, was very much his own. In contrast to pop exotica, the more familiar elements in Sun Ra’s music—sounds and structures derived from North American jazz traditions—were often used in unfamiliar ways. Compositional forms took surprising turns; musicians juxtaposed vocal and instrumental timbres associated with different styles; conventional jazz instruments were played with unconventional techniques; and certain pieces merged folk soundscapes with modern urban musical textures. In effect, Sun Ra’s Africa-related music could be just as ambiguously related to here as it was to there. His sonic geography, while offering some of the familiar pleasures of commercial pop exotica, scrambled the well-ordered center/periphery relations of the typical 1950s global musical map. By destabilizing what was “our” sound versus the sounds of others, Ra was also enlarging and reworking the musical terrain of the South Side. Sun Ra’s use of place-names in song titles would have carried, for insid-


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ers, certain redemptive associations. Ethiopia, India, Nubia—these names evoked, for the authors of the Thmei broadsheets, a reconstructed lineage for African Americans. Ra and his colleagues, inspired by the Orientalism of theosophy as well as a variety of African American intellectual traditions, asserted that ancient Africa and India were interconnected sites of early civilization; according to their biblical rereadings, the ancestors of black Americans initially settled both lands. This revisionist geography, in turn, enabled mid-twentieth-century descendants to reimagine themselves as yet-unrecognized agents of world historical transformation. By the mid-1950s, “India”—in the broadsheets, a name for the first of the “two Ethiopias” settled by ancient Africans (“dark-skinned Aryans” responsible for the earliest cradle of human civilization)—had become the title of Ra’s evocative tone poem. Released on the Arkestra’s Super-Sonic Jazz album, the piece was performed by an old/new combination of non-Western-sounding percussion instruments and electric piano, along with Art Hoyle’s muted trumpet, which played a sinuous, atmospheric solo that no doubt conjured snake-charmer and magic-carpet associations among Chicago listeners accustomed to such imagery.37 “Ancient Aiethopia,” recorded several times and released on Jazz in Silhouette, represented a sort of culmination in Sun Ra’s development of Africa as imagined musical space. The piece displayed a remarkable number of the forward-looking musical characteristics associated with late-1950s North American modernist jazz: percussion-driven ostinato, modally based solos, various types of group improvisation, the use of band members’ voices and instrument bodies (mouthpieces, the wood of the bass) to contribute sonic textures. These avant-garde innovations, deployed in conjunction with more traditional jazz elements (a recurring melody, conventionally harmonized ensemble play, an ABA song structure), made this performance, as Allan Chase has observed, “a bold step toward the free jazz style of the 1960s”—but one that also carried with it many hallmarks of the earlier history of the music.38 The composition marshaled these jazz-modernist musical resources to create a sound space that could be imagined as radically distant in time and location—a different world that, while long ago fully formed, was only now revealing itself to the initiated. Unfolding at a precise, stately tempo, “Ancient Aiethopia” conveyed the calm, steady motion of a formal, even ritualized musical journey. Like “October,” another Sun Ra composition from this period, the piece seemed to enlist certain qualities of the processional: a ceremonial march of unhurried pace, conjuring—amid the sound of gongs and muffled chants—the majestic, river-borne progression

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of a sacred vessel or the measured, disciplined entry of a regal entourage into an ancient city.39 Beginning with the hushed near-silence surrounding Hobart Dotson’s trumpet solo midway through the song, then deepening amid a murmur of male voices (largely unintelligible except for the words “souls” and “calling”), the performance took on the dramatic atmospherics of a priestly convocation. Recognized by later musical commentators as a highly innovative piece of late-1950s jazz, “Ancient Aiethopia” was also a remarkably effective exercise in the theatrical integration of disparate musical resources of here to stage a world located there—distant, yet somehow close enough to be easily accessible. Over the course of the 1950s, then, Sun Ra’s search for Africa created, within a South Side community culture that was also opening up to a diasporic sense of connection, a range of possibilities for the development of a utopian music. Spurred by the popular appeal and musical resources afforded by Afro-Caribbean–derived dance styles, Ra drew initially on the opportunities of a Latin-oriented South Side nightclub culture and commercially successful pop exotica not merely to enliven conventional jazz styles but to complicate inherited conceptions of musical geography. Yet black Chicago’s own cultural relationship to Africa was shifting, as the first-world condescension characteristic of early postwar American internationalism gave way to an emerging view of African peoples as ancient sources of wisdom and contemporary beacons of independence. African-themed fashions, expositions, and travel programs signaled a cultural sea change on the South Side, with the mother continent now truly a New Land onto which community members might project their collective hopes and dreams. As the decade unfolded, Sun Ra, perhaps more than any other Chicago cultural producer, developed a remarkable range of ways to explore Africa in music. Combining traditional jazz and popular styles with both nonWestern and avant-garde modernist sounds, Arkestra performances experimented with creating imagined spaces, destabilizing notions of musical territories, known and uncharted, in ways that suggested new realms of mythic identity.

Africa in Space “Saturn,” “Space Aura,” “We Travel the Spaceways,” “Interstellar Low Ways”—as these and many other composition titles suggest, the music that Sun Ra and the Arkestra created during Ra’s final years in Chicago turned decisively toward worlds beyond earth. Subsequent commentators have not always recognized, however, that when the bandleader took off

7.3 “On Africa . . .”: Sun Ra chart for the “Interplanetary Music” suite, copyrighted 1960.

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for outer space, he carried Africa along with him. On October 10, 1960, for example, as part of a suite of pieces approved for copyright by the Library of Congress under the title “Interplanetary Music,” Sun Ra included a version of his song “Africa,” this one with lyrics that described life not in Africa but on Africa. On Africa On Africa There’s never a sky so blue as on Africa

The sun’s ablaze Its burning face Shines like a god of pleasure on Africa

Come let’s explore Adventureland To discover mysteries which may be new to man Long lost from ancient days of old. . . .

Sun Ra’s Africa, in other words, was not an earthbound territory but a celestial body. By using the prepositional phrase “on Africa,” the composer made clear that his original continent was an idealized realm, located somewhere in space (figure 7.3).40 Yet where, precisely, was Africa in relation to Sun Ra’s music and mythology in this period—and how did it come to be situated in space? Much of the answer to this question is to be found, perhaps surprisingly, in Chicago’s South Side, where both Africa and outer space were objects of growing fascination. This was, of course, the Space Age, as American commentators anointed it—a cultural moment when, in the wake of the Sputnik launch in 1957, the country and much of the world became focused on the possibilities and perils of life beyond earth. America’s spatial adventures were not, however, limited to outer space. New conquests of metropolitan space, from the remaking of urban slums to the building of new suburbs, also loomed large in the era’s utopian culture, and helped give imaginative shape to its extraplanetary ventures. Many postwar Americans—black and white, religious and secular, urban and suburban—became deeply fascinated with the forging of a national destiny in space. The spectacle of nuclear annihilation in World War II, followed by feverish Cold War competition to develop rockets and satellites, strengthened currents in American culture long directed toward outer space


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as the ultimate national proving ground. Well before the Space Age, though, the suburb represented an actual utopia on the metropolitan periphery. Not merely an ascendant form of spatial settlement, the US suburb of the postwar era became a composite social ideal embodying certain notions of family, community, and national destiny. For all its real-world social variety, the overlapping spatial imaginaries furnished by the mid-twentieth-century American suburb—metropolitan frontier, pastoral landscape, industrial garden, domestic redoubt, futuristic tomorrowland—gained appeal through sharp contrast with the industrial and commercial city as a dirty, discarded site of physical decay, social mixing, and unruly public display. Hollywood played a role in this, reworking the “pastoral” sound of interwar film music (open chords, folk melodies, simple musical textures) to evoke the “wide open spaces” of the urban periphery, now filling up with tract-home settlements symbolic of the American Dream. And as suburbs and cities were increasingly juxtaposed in American popular culture as utopian and dystopian realms, these imagined spaces also became coded as white and black.41 Spatial dreams about cities centered on reimagining their downtowns—at a moment when African American and Hispanic growth was spurring anxieties over territorial control. For American city leaders, central area plans and slum-clearance urban-renewal projects represented, like suburbia, a belated opportunity for the nation to start over again. The Development Plan for the Central Area of Chicago, unveiled in 1958, was explicitly intended to remake the downtown area for commercial purposes but also, in doing so, to stem the northward expansion of the black South Side—which, as in the lyrics of Ra’s “Chicago USA,” seemed increasingly “bound for Chicago’s Loop.” Slum-clearance efforts were similarly directed, uprooting large numbers of poor African American residents and reconcentrating many of them in a new kind of public housing “black belt” encircling the older sections of Bronzeville. Several miles further south and east, in Hyde Park, the University of Chicago was using public urban-renewal powers and private resources to create its own spatial buffers against African American expansion. Here along East Fifty-Fifth Street, the containment of black settlement also meant clearing old commercial strips where South Side music clubs such as the Beehive drew a largely nonwhite clientele. Rooting out “the primitive beat of the tom-tom,” one Hyde Park Herald letter writer stated baldly, was necessary to ward off the “effluvia of the spilling slums.”42 The University of Chicago was one of a number of institutional entities during the late 1950s that found ways to blend its urban-space and outerspace interests. Contracted to support the development of satellite-based weapons systems for the US government, the university’s space-research

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program expanded the facilities of its Chicago Midway Laboratories into the Woodlawn area, an increasingly African American community surrounding the Pershing Hotel. Fortifying the national “race for space,” this move also represented an early step in chancellor Lawrence Kimpton’s bid to claim the urban area south of campus as one of “University interest and dominance.” Meanwhile, Disney, a much bigger corporate entity, conjoined its urban- and outer-space ambitions in a very different way. At the company’s new theme park in Anaheim, California, the Tomorrowland and Adventureland exhibits introduced visitors to outer-space worlds patterned on the car-based culture of postwar urban sprawl. Staging the imminent conquest of space as a cheerful voyage of America-led discovery, Disneyland promotions featured animated depictions of astronauts piloting rocket ships like suburban dads in station wagons.43 Sun Ra, then, was not alone in bringing together urban and outer-space ideals, crafting a utopian conception of extraterrestrial travel from cultural materials readily at hand. Cultural ideas and practices connecting diasporic identity and outer-space exploration increasingly circulated in Chicago’s South Side by the second half of the 1950s, as demands for autonomy by African peoples gained attention and public figures from Werner von Braun to Walt Disney championed the conquest of space as a vital extension of the American project. Ra’s vision was distinctive, however. In a spirit of critical pacifism, Sun Ra extended and reworked Ethiopianist intellectual traditions, creating new musical techniques for projecting Africa-in-Chicago—a land distant in place and time—into the utopian thematics of an outer-space future. This musical Africanization of space employed a stylistically varied use of blues and chants, swing grooves and Latin vamps, folk and futurist sounds, suggesting, as we will see, not so much the conquest of new territory as a set of backward-facing, forward-moving journeys through black utopian worlds still in formation. Cultural historians have recently portrayed African Americans as highly skeptical toward their country’s late-1950s turn toward outer space. Certainly, some black commentators at the time saw space-race fever as a distraction from the urgent realities of racial discrimination and civil rights struggle. Others took up the enthusiastic language of patriotic conquest when addressing America’s space program; in an essay called “The Race for Space,” Duke Ellington managed, somehow, to knit together a subtle blend of both responses. African Americans could also embrace, though, a utopian space vision with a quite different assertive spirit. In 1958, for instance, the Pittsburgh Courier published a short story by David M. Warren, “The First Man on the Moon,” in which a black astronaut’s skin pigment


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enables him to survive a blast of solar radiation that proves fatal to his white colleagues—revealing, in effect, a long-unrecognized racial advantage possessed by black Americans. “In the vast emptiness of outer space,” the story’s narrator concludes, “his darker skin was proving to be a badge of superiority.”44 Outer space as a new realm of black freedom, pleasure, and fulfillment—a key notion in Sun Ra’s utopianism—became a significant theme in South Side commercial culture in the second half of the 1950s. For the entertainment and social club scene, the space race created compelling opportunities for fashion and “frolicking.” Throughout early 1958, the Defender’s Marion B. Campfield offered costume ideas for “Space Capers,” the theme of an upcoming Mardi Gras celebration, and followed up with a visual guide to the ideal “Jet Age Wardrobe.” Later that year, the newspaper’s annual consumer exposition embraced a space-future theme, offering four days of demonstrations of the RCA Whirlpool Space Kitchen accompanied by live performances from the Red Saunders Orchestra. Ladies’ club luncheons developed skits on trips to outer space, and even the Funeral Directors’ Wives Club picked up on the theme, holding annual competitions at the Roberts Show Lounge to crown a Mrs. Astronaut.45 Defender announcements of appearances by Ra’s group, not surprisingly, picked up on the theme: Sun Ra and his Outer Space Arkestra was featured at Budland Sunday when the Atonites played host to the Tempo Players on their “Open Season Program.” Of course, the affair featured Outer Space dancing.

Space-age fantasy events, among them an Arkestra appearance at the Casino Moderne, were often sponsored by a local group calling itself the Outer Space Club. Sun Ra’s own headgear, now moving in an interplanetary direction, may have taken inspiration from local hat styles—such as the “sputnik chapeaux” given significant society-page attention in the Defender. For the Arkestra, though, the homemade space suits and celestial hats represented more than fashion statements or performance accessories. Hats and uniforms, for Sun Ra as for Marcus Garvey, were intended to ready an emerging nation for the collective work to come. And as Ra later observed, “Costumes are music”—in the sense that otherworldly attire, for him, facilitated transport to distant spaces and future times.46 African American utopians, in fact, had long been fascinated by the emancipatory potential of space travel. The nineteenth-century writer and abolitionist Martin Delany threaded his writings with descriptions of

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7.4 “Costumes are music”: Sun Ra Arkestra, 1960. From left: Ricky Murray, John Gilmore, Ronnie Boykins, Sun Ra, Walter Strickland, Billy Mitchell, and Marshall Allen. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

mechanical devices and metaphysical notions of transport, all intended to help peoples of the African diaspora understand and traverse the globe in newly liberating ways. In Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood, a utopian novel published in 1902, space travel took her African American protagonist to Africa, where he encountered a hidden city and the special knowledge that freed him from the cultural hegemony of white America. In Light Ahead for the Negro, Edward A. Johnson’s utopian novel from the same period, the narrator’s leisurely excursion on a “dirigible airship” led him to a future city that had emancipated black people but nevertheless rejected race-


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mixing. In different ways, African American utopians of the early twentieth century explored how magical technologies might serve as vehicles for self-determination.47 A generation later, Robert Athlyi Rogers published a theological tract called The Holy Piby that imagined an Africa-centered interplanetary future. A Caribbean-born religious activist strongly impressed by Garvey, Rogers envisioned a city-connecting form of space travel fueled by solar power that would reunite all the “Children of Ethiopia.” According to the Piby, Rogers himself would govern this solar system from a new African city (also called Athlyi), relying on a kind of sun-powered global omnivision to oversee his emancipated realm. “O sun, thou outlet of the inter-planetical fumes, shine on. For with thee, he shall sit in his parlor in Athlyi, Africa, and see his daughter flirting in Chicago, U.S.A.” Beyond connecting Africa and Chicago, these new panoptic capacities would extend deep into outer space, enabling the leader to monitor the interplanetary state of nature, the progress of working-class struggle and the well-being of far-flung family members. Athlyi, Chicago, and the planets of the solar system all would be interconnected.48 Other black heterodox religions incorporated space travel into their theologies. Most prominent among them was the Nation of Islam, which, by the second half of the 1950s, centered its eschatology—the religious narrative of final judgment—on the arrival of an intergalactic spaceship. Inspired by Ezekiel’s Old Testament vision of the wheel in the sky (the wheel, as Wayne Taylor has noted, being the foremost technological innovation of that age), Elijah Muhammad described in a 1957 publication a “dreadful looking” wheel-shaped plane or planet that was already visible, twice weekly, in the sky above Chicago. At the appointed time, this space vessel would provide safe harbor for the righteous among the “so-called Negroes” while raining down explosives to destroy the world of white people, the slavemasters. For the righteous of the “lost Nation of Islam in the wilderness of North America,” the avenging ship from outer space—the Mother Plane—would clear the way for paradise on earth.49 By the end of the 1950s, Sun Ra and his colleagues at El Saturn were exploring their own outer-space themes through a variety of cultural media: visual arts, advertising, costumes, and poetry as well as music. Sketches and writings in Alton Abraham’s notebooks from this period, full of wordplay and visual double-entendres, often connected outer space and mystical science. Geometrical drawings showed arcs with the word “Ark” written nearby, the shape thus associated with the mythical vehicle; substituting K for C, science was spelled “skyenke,” playing on the notion of ancient

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astronomy as a science of the sky. Abraham’s notebooks also contained sketched plans for a Cosmic Research Center, with specific floors dedicated to Space Communications, a Department of Sound, and a Division of Phonetics, suggesting an ambitious interest in expanding the research work of El Saturn.50 Claude Dangerfield’s illustrations were another important part of the group’s cultural production. Intended for El Saturn album covers, they often brought together visual symbols of ancient Africa with those of music making: pyramids, magic carpets, and kettle drums floated in outer space alongside piano keys and staff lines reassembling into architectural structures (figure 7.5). One Dangerfield design—never used by El Saturn except as a decoration pasted onto a weather-beaten manila folder—presented a

7.5 We Travel the Space Ways: album cover illustration by Claude Dangerfield. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.


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7.6 Music from tomorrow’s city: illustration by Claude Dangerfield pasted onto a manila folder, ca. 1960 (the lines of type may have been added later). Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Adam Abraham.

glowing nighttime vision of the city of the future (figure 7.6). An angular, cantilevered building stands next to an edifice shaped like an ancient urn; to the left, a dramatically elevated train moves away from the viewer, as if en route to the stars twinkling overhead. This nighttime scene strikingly integrated many favorite Ra motifs: the train in the modern city, the ancient world, a future in outer space.51 Musically, Ra’s late Chicago work with the Arkestra brought together a similar set of themes, extending sonic elements previously associated with Africa into different kinds of outer-space experience. If his composition “Africa”—with its lyrics about the pleasures of life on Africa—furnished the most explicit reinvention of the ancient homeland as an extraterrestrial body, many other outer-space songs of this period prominently featured musical elements associated with the mother continent. Several Ra compositions, for example, projected a kind of exotic, rhythmically forward Latin dance music into outer space. “The Lady with the Golden Stockings” borrowed rhythms from the bolero, while “Plutonian Nights” presented a modified cha-cha drum pattern, with bebop solos; one can imagine audi-

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ences on the Queen’s Mansion dance floor forming a jazzy, interplanetary snake line. More contemplative pieces, almost languorous in tempo, included “Interstellar Low Ways,” with its Latin-rhythm pattern of even eighth notes on tom-toms, suggesting a quiet, reflective exploration of space. Building on the gentle unfolding of musical texture heard in “Ancient Aiethopia,” this piece, along with several others from the same period, created room for the use of silence as sound in Arkestra song performance. Musical space opened up, inviting the ceremonial hush of ancient ritual into outer space.52 The presence of Africa in Sun Ra’s outer space also registered through the use of new or reworked instruments. When Phil Cohran joined the Arkestra in early 1960, the cornet and trumpet player brought with him strong interests in developing a music of the future that was also grounded in Africa. Cohran introduced new instruments, such as an amplified African thumb piano that he called the Frankiphone, and the violin-uke, a stringed instrument that could be bowed, plucked, or strummed. Purchased originally at a South Side pawnshop near the music venue called the Wonder Inn, the violin-uke—actually a retuned zither—offered a range of nontraditional harmonic and timbral possibilities, imparting to several Arkestra pieces otherworldly qualities that had not been heard before. In an abstractsounding composition called “Music from the World Tomorrow,” Cohran used the violin-uke for sonic texture, such as screeching percussive fills, chiming sounds, and harplike shimmering runs. His bowed solo on violinuke in “Interplanetary Music,” by contrast, carried traces of string-band or fiddle music—lending a folksy, down-home feel that complemented the welcoming-chorus style of the unison male vocal lines.53 During their final years in Chicago, Sun Ra and the Arkestra created outer-space worlds drawing on many different musical styles. “Space Aura,” with its hard-driving tempo and offbeat rhythms, was a minor-key swing tune with abrasive, bebop-like solos. “Somewhere in Space,” based on a two-chord piano ostinato, drew on a melodic scale generally associated with Spanish flamenco music, as Allan Chase has pointed out, lending it a concentrated, if exotic-sounding mood. Slow blues were also encountered in outer space, as in Ra’s “Space Loneliness,” a minor-key piano blues with a mood of deep foreboding, much like several of his 1940s-era Andrew Tibbs sides; the tap-tap-tapping of a wood block, echoed by Sun Ra’s stuttering right hand on his piano solo, suggested fragments of satellite-transmission code—or perhaps something more ominous. When the Arkestra performed this piece of sci-fi blues on local radio in 1960, Cohran has recalled, a woman apparently called the station to complain, saying “It sounds like


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something that crawled up from beneath the earth and died when it reached the sunlight.”54 The recurring use of ensemble vocals to introduce listeners to outer space underscored the accessible, entertainment-oriented dimensions of the Arkestra’s music—along with its persistent urban origins. Space-chant compositions such as “Interplanetary Music,” with their simple melodies and compositional structures, brought the musical qualities of the swing-style travelogue and DeLisa floor show to outer-space journeys. A related spacechant song, “We Travel the Spaceways,” also conveyed musical elements associated with Ra’s earlier, more city-focused compositions, while evoking older musical forms such as the work song. With its driving, left-hand piano figure and regular, metallic strike of the cha-cha bell, the pulse of the piece suggested the steady forward motion of a work train—and its male unison vocals the patient refrain of some kind of celestial labor crew. The end of the piece featured an odd mechanical noise, the sound of a toy robot popular on the South Side that Arkestra members sometimes released into the audience during performances. Outer space in this song was not so much a separate realm endowed with particular attributes as an exploratory process, a set of pathways routinely traveled—in a strange yet everyday mode of utopian exploration—by the musician-workers who created them.55 “Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus” incorporated elements of the space-chant song into a more musically ambitious and experimental composition. Yet like Ra’s “Bop Is a Spaceship Lullaby” from a half decade earlier, “Rocket Number Nine” contained playful ensemble vocals that imitated the launch of an outer-space voyage. Beginning with a fasttempo lead-in of piano and percussion, the ensemble vocal was a rapid-fire, monotone chant. Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus . . . Venus Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus . . . Venus Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Up in the Air! Up! Zoom! Up! Zoom!

After an instrumental variation of the main statement, the ensuing sections featured free-sounding solos that sometimes moved away from the tonal and metrical foundations of the piece. Following these more avantgarde segments, however, the piano introduced a second musical theme,

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quickly accompanied by ensemble vocals with the repeated chant, “The second stop is Jupiter.” A final, raucous chant concluded the piece with a unison conductor’s call: “All Out for Jupiter!” In this way, “Rocket Number Nine,” for all its musical experimentalism, echoed the playful spaceship onomatopoeia of “Bop Is a Spaceship Lullaby” while reconnecting thematically with “Chicago USA,” the novelty song about an “L” train journey to a more proximate—yet for African Americans, still utopian—destination: the Loop.56 The sheer variety of Ra’s space journeys suggested that outer space was a realm of endless possibility, but one with a persistent identity. If the conventional appeal of the postwar white American suburb was the uniformity and regimentation imposed upon its wide-open spaces—an orderly spatial conquest that also marked the culture’s futurist fantasies of interplanetary development as national renewal—then the music of Sun Ra and the Arkestra explored the possibilities inherent in the many worlds to be discovered within more heterodox urban and outer spaces. These many worlds all bore traces of Africa, as transmuted through the musical culture of the South Side. No longer content simply to encounter utopian glimmerings where they might find them, Ra and the group now possessed a musical imagination that, while shaped by local styles and audiences, also looked beyond the South Side—and even beyond the city itself—to spaces where here and there, past and future, could be recreated and explored anew.

South Side Adventureland By the end of the 1950s Chicago was, to some observers at least, a city mired in twilight. Nelson Algren, writing earlier in the decade, had already envisioned the future of its factories, forges, and even the elevated train as a rusty ruin, like the remains of the city of Atlantis. Black residents had even more reason to see the Windy City as an exhausted promise. The postwar struggle for economic revival in Bronzeville, and for expanded opportunity beyond it, was increasingly sapped by community disinvestment, metropolitan resegregation, and a mounting legacy of frustration and anger. Filmmaker Edward O. Bland, who saw the South Side ghetto not only as an oppressive social container but as a crippling constraint on the further development of black music, spoke for growing numbers of African American intellectuals when his Cry of Jazz described the ongoing humiliations of segregated life in Chicago as the path to a “futureless future.”57 Ra and Abraham also looked upon social conditions as dire—and as very long in the making. Now a pervasive culture of death, as Alton’s letter to


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Petrillo suggested, was pushing the world to the brink of disaster. Yet for Sun Ra and his colleagues the deep darkness covering the South Side, and indeed the entire planet, was not only the shroud of civilization’s destructive legacy but a shadow cast backward from a brilliantly shining future. The music of the moment, or at least the music being created by Ra and his colleagues, was itself a jazz in silhouette—a veiled anticipation of future sounds from this brighter, better realm. Even as most black urban commentators grew more pessimistic at the end of the 1950s, El Saturn’s leaders worked without hesitation over their final years together in Chicago to develop a forthrightly utopian music. Their “ATONAL” music, an African music from outer space, might save the world from death and destruction. This project, for all its far-reaching ambitions, remained deeply anchored in the community life of the South Side. As Bronzeville’s commercial nightlife areas declined or disappeared, El Saturn struggled to stay afloat, and over the Arkestra’s final years in Chicago Abraham financed only one more record album along with a small trickle of singles. Yet musically these were flourishing years, and the South Side’s cultural resources—its remaining venues, eclectic styles, community tastes, collective hopes, and nightlife fantasies—gave refractive shape to the rich and heterogeneous body of work created by Sun Ra and his colleagues. Taken together, this music focused on an outer space with many different inflections, defined variously by slow blues, Latin vamps, free-jazz improvisations, and rock ’n’ roll saxophone wails as well as vocal chants, mechanical sounds, conga beats, and strange-sounding strings. It was an interplanetary world, therefore, both traditional and modern, familiar and otherworldly, composed and improvised; a realm of foreboding, languor, loneliness, pleasure, and deep spiritual contemplation; an ancient, Ethiopianized Adventureland with an array of musical pathways regularly patrolled by utopian workers who were nevertheless steeped in the local ways of the South Side. Outer-space dreams became a growing cultural preoccupation throughout the United States over the course of the 1950s. So did remaking the metropolis, however, and the country’s post-urban vision of the good life on earth—from slum clearance to suburban development—informed masscultural dreams of the coming conquest of space as a securely ordered project of national renewal within a clean, unspoiled realm. This image of outer space envisioned the future as an extension of America’s progress, its providential capacity to renew itself now sharpened by the imminent taming of a new frontier. Sun Ra’s own historical conception imagined future space, instead, as a radically different realm from which to look back upon the world of today. From such a vantage point, black-and-white notions of life

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and music on earth—revealed or reveiled by the “shadow of tomorrow”— presented a truer picture but could also be reordered or reversed, offering half-hidden anticipations of an ideal world to come. Sun Ra brought ancient Africa and outer space together in Chicago to give musical shape to this future world. His reworkings of North American jazz traditions, Afro-Caribbean dance music, and even postwar commercial exotica strove for surprising moments of mythic connection, making Africa newly accessible to South Side nightclub audiences. Imbued with magical properties, this sound of Africa-in-Chicago, in turn, furnished key components of the Arkestra’s toolkit for its outer-space explorations. Sharing with Ethiopianist mythologies a deep attraction to miraculous technologies of transport, Sun Ra assembled outer-space musical journeys from new and old instruments, traditional and experimental sounds, the music-revue travelogue, and the ancient-world theme park—all in the service of Africanizing an imagined future of open and peaceful interplanetary adventure. Meanwhile, Ra’s work with the Arkestra, and with vocal performers and a great variety of local organizations and venues, established him by the end of the 1950s as a kind of leader in the community. Not a “community leader,” precisely—the sort who might claim to represent South Siders—but an anomalous, heterodox figure who nevertheless seemed to be an everpresent interlocutor among them. Embracing his role as full-time utopian in late-1950s Chicago did not mean ceasing to be a local musician, bandleader, and teacher. Even as he fully became Sun Ra, on stage and off, he and the Arkestra continued to perform utopia as everyday practice, providing musical dreams of future freedom to the community of the South Side.


Wonder Inn, 1960

Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared semiregularly at the Wonder Inn between summer 1960 and early 1961—among the group’s last extended engagements before leaving Chicago. By most accounts, the ensemble’s performance style came together at the club in ways that would become familiar to later audiences. The homemade spacesuits, special hats, and flashing lights—these costumes and props as well as the group’s interactive style of presentation, which expanded in subsequent decades to include dancers, acrobats, fire-eaters, and audience incursions of various kinds, emerged in their essential features at the Wonder Inn. Musically, too, the group and its audiences seemed wholeheartedly to embrace Ra’s expansive repertoire. Centered now on the space compositions, his performance selections nevertheless revealed an enduring commitment to standards and popular songs. The stripped-down version of the ensemble that left Chicago in August 1961 had to build an entirely new audience in New York—and this audience, with its different tastes and expectations, would also influence the group in important ways. But the Arkestra itself was already fully developed as a musical performance vehicle, as was Sun Ra himself as bandleader and philosopher. Like the mythical ship of Theseus, Ra’s ark would be rebuilt many times over the coming decades—as new personnel, instruments, and compositions were added—without altering the fundamental identity or purpose of the vessel. A recording from 1960, probably made on the bandstand by Sun Ra himself, suggests what an evening at the Wonder Inn sounded like. As heard on surviving portions of tape, the Arkestra moves through an array of very different songs in a relaxed manner, and a couple of numbers stretch out a bit for extended solos. There is little crowd noise on the first several songs, which could be part of a rehearsal or a sparsely attended show. Yet the playing does not sound casual. The set list, pacing, and overall presentation are all polished, and the musical performance, as Paul Youngquist

Wonder Inn, 1960


has aptly observed, both “soars and swings sideways.” This particular set combines experimental and popular elements: strong, edgy solos by John Gilmore and trumpeter George Hudson in a hard-driving “Space Aura”; mood-driven exotica such as “Angels and Demons at Play”; and plenty of audience opportunities to sing along with old favorites. Over the course of the recording, the performers connect comfortably with the growing and enthusiastic crowd.1 The Arkestra’s Wonder Inn engagement figures in the historical reminiscences of Chicago musicians, and reflecting on its significance offers insight into the relationship between place, space, and the musical imagination on the South Side, circa 1960. Located at Cottage Grove Avenue and SeventyFifth Street, the Wonder Inn was not known as the center of an adventurous music scene when the Arkestra first began playing there. Earlier in the year, the venue had featured rhythm and blues musicians of midlevel commercial success, such as former Chess recording artists Willie Mabon and Danny Overbea, along with the usual cha-cha and mambo parties. Club proprietor Harold Harris often saw fit to buy Chicago Defender ads for his own piano trio’s appearances, and to draw attention to the charms of hostess Rose Marie (“the bronze temptress”), but rarely posted ads for Sun Ra’s group. The Wonder Inn gig came with an important bonus, however, as far as Ra was concerned: he could commandeer the place as rehearsal space during off-hours. So afternoons, Ra rehearsed his group at the club, along with a shifting cast of other musicians who came to sit in. Weeknights, the Arkesta performed for as long as six hours, drawing an eclectic mix of patrons, from neighborhood residents to large numbers of young South Side musicians. The six- or seven-member version of the band that appeared there in the evenings usually included Ra, Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Ronald Boykins, drummer Jon L. Hardy, and either Hudson (trumpet) or Phil Cohran (cornet), along with Ricky Murray, a smooth, deep-chested vocalist.2 Photographs of the Wonder Inn bandstand suggest that Sun Ra was no longer reticent about positioning himself front and center (figure 8.1). Only a handful of years earlier, he had directed the group almost surreptitiously from the back of the stage, his piano, like a hidden god, guiding the performance from behind a wall of instrumentalists. Now out front, his robe sparkling as he moved back and forth between acoustic and electric piano, Ra presided over the evening’s entertainment, but not in any traditional manner. Rather than a bandleader’s customary patter, the betweensongs commentary might include recitations of poetry, improvised lines on the electric piano, and vocal chants by Arkestra members offered up as a kind of ensemble call-and-response. The set list leaned on recently writ-


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8.1 Heliocentrism on the bandstand: Ra and the Arkestra, Wonder Inn, 1960. From left: Marshall Allen, Jon L. Hardy, Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Ronald Boykins, and George Hudson.

ten outer-space compositions but also incorporated exotica such as “China Gate,” the Nat King Cole song from the recent movie of the same name, with the usual parallel fifths, chimes, and other Orientalizing touches. Ra’s bandstand demeanor, still anchored by his keyboards, now more openly embraced the roles of music conductor, master of ceremonies, and exotictravel guide.3 A long, thin room, with a bar stretching along one side and tables on the other, the Wonder Inn was a humble tavern with a cramped stage in the back. On the Sun Ra recording, a microphone picks up fragments of casual talk among clubgoers; while often appreciative, audience members do not follow the performance with rapt attention but instead convey the early-evening sounds of people ready for a good time. Patron voices seem to belong mostly to black South Siders, along with a sprinkling of young whites, probably students from the nearby university. These audience members engage in various ways with the Arkestra’s performance, sometimes vocally—“play it, Sun Ray, play it!”—and other times distractedly, sustaining the thread of their own conversations. Several moments on the recording hint at the familiar relationship

Wonder Inn, 1960


between Sun Ra and his audience. One comes during a rendition of the Gershwin song “’S Wonderful.” On the surface a conventional crowdpleaser, the Arkestra’s version features a swing-style call-and-response vocal by the band that implicitly recasts the conventional romantic “you” (“It’s wonderful / it’s marvelous / that you should care for me . . .”) as a collective or Creator-like “You”—taking the song in a more spiritual direction. This sense is accentuated when growing numbers of patrons join in by singing along. By the final refrain (“it’s paradise . . . that You should care for me!”), audience participation turns the song into an anthem of communal selfcelebration, perhaps even a fleeting moment of collective redemption. As “’S Wonderful” concludes amid shared laughter and applause, however, Ra’s keyboard launches into the opening strains of the next song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—a sly comment, met with knowing laughter, that puts the Creator’s favor into question. The religious skepticism in this second Gershwin song is given full unison-vocal treatment by the Arkestra: “The stories you’re liable / To read in the Bible / It ain’t necessarily so.” Ra’s rearrangement of the melody is rhythmically tricky. Yet it also sustains a strong gospel-blues character, inspiring enthusiastic handclaps from the audience. The gospel mood turns more comic when, after an especially soulful solo by Hudson, one patron offers (to more laughter) a mock scolding of its churchlike feel: “This is Sunday off, fellas!” During this number, as in several others, musicians and audience members engage in a kind of ongoing dialogue in which extramusical commentary abounds. One interlude between songs includes an elliptical recitation by Ra of several lines of his poetry, with piano accompaniment. Linking the imagination to interplanetary travel, these verses imply the absurdity of black life on earth—as opposed to the more realistic prospects of a life in outer space: Imagination is a magic carpet ride On which we soar to distant lands and climes, And even go beyond the moon to any planet in the sky. If we are here . . . [All the band members shout in unison:] W HY C A N’T WE BE THERE?!

Rim shots resound, punctuating the cosmic joke. Loud, raucous laughter from band members ensues. A few audience members join in. This is quickly followed by a double-time version of “How High the Moon”— posing a question, again, about the accessibility of outer-space worlds.4


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This brief moment of poetry and performance plays in deeply ironic ways with racial identity and notions of here and there. As later published in Ra’s poem “Imagination,” the final two lines of verse would be rendered, “If we came from nowhere here / why can’t we go somewhere there?” This slightly elaborated version, which plays on the ancient-origins investigation of the Thmei broadsheets, also conveys the meaning of the verse more fully: If African Americans are seen, in the conventional world, as a people without a history or geography, then is it surprising for them to claim a home in outer space?5 The Wonder Inn recordings give some sense, then, of the relationship between the Arkestra and the club world of the South Side near the end of the group’s time in Chicago. Many audience members were clearly familiar with Sun Ra and the band. To what extent those present in the club actively shared his vision of the world is a more open question, of course. It is impossible, in the end, to know precisely what Wonder Inn patrons heard that night or what meanings they ascribed to the performance. Nevertheless, the recording suggests that Ra’s music, as well as his sensibility, had found a receptive audience. What we do know for certain is that the Arkestra engagement at the Wonder Inn attracted a large number of young Chicago musicians. Jack DeJohnette, who would later enjoy international renown as a jazz drummer, was still in high school when he began rehearsing regularly with the Arkestra during its stay at the club. He had grown up across the street from Washington Park, a block from Abraham’s teenage home. The Arkestra’s Pat Patrick, who lived around the corner from DeJohnette’s grandmother, taught Jack how to play jazz chords on the piano when he was a boy, and like his own mentor, urged the youngster to learn standards. DeJohnette’s piano trio, with himself at the keyboard, was hired to play at the Wonder Inn between Arkestra sets, and soon he began sitting in on drums at Sun Ra’s afternoon rehearsals. Never a full-fledged member of the ensemble, he became for a time an active participant, learning to play—and chant—much of the space repertoire, and even helping to make Arkestra costumes.6 Chicago native Herbie Hancock, back home from Grinnell College, also played at the Wonder Inn in a band with Alvin Fielder, one of Ra’s regular drummers. Another young drummer, Edward Skinner, fresh from playing in a Los Angeles burlesque house, was encouraged by his friend George Hudson to come to the club; he soon joined the Arkestra rehearsals, and later—after converting to Islam and changing his name to Luqman Ali— became a full-time member of Sun Ra’s group. Meanwhile, young musicians

Wonder Inn, 1960


such as Joseph Jarman, still years away from forming the Art Ensemble of Chicago, came to the Wonder Inn just to listen.7 Even musicians unable to attend the club took notice of Ra’s presence there. Anthony Braxton, a fifteen-year-old fan of doo-wop, rock and roll, and spare-styled jazz pianists such as Ahmad Jamal and Dave Brubeck, was on his way to high school one day when he became fascinated by the name of Ra’s ensemble on a sign outside the Wonder Inn. Too young to hang out at the club, he nevertheless tracked down several Sun Ra recordings that made a strong impression. Braxton, who went on to invent utopian counterhistories and compositional systems of his own, suggested that while Ra indeed was a major musical influence on him, it was the bandleader’s unfettered imagination that was so attractive at the time. “Sun Ra helped me on many different levels as a young African-American guy growing up,” Braxton recalled. “He would help me to understand that I could dream and think about whatever I want to think about. That . . . there were no parameters on what I could do.” Ra inspired Braxton, and other South Siders too, through his example as an audacious public dreamer, a person whose very name somehow encouraged others to dream.8 The historical relationship between Sun Ra and these younger musicians has been a sensitive issue. Writers have recently clashed over the question of Ra’s purported musical influence upon future members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the pathbreaking collective founded in Chicago in the mid-1960s. What has perhaps been lost in such exchanges is the significance of the Wonder Inn itself, not as a musical “birthplace” or a site for the passing of an aesthetic torch but as a vital community location at a singular moment—a place which, by becoming a key meeting ground for creators of expressive culture at a particular time, contributed to the musical and mythical development of Sun Ra and the Arkestra as well as the capacity of other South Side cultural producers to develop and dream for themselves. The Wonder Inn, for a moment in 1960, encouraged a cohort of performers, listeners, and other musicians to entertain and contemplate, in a collective setting, entirely new possibilities—and to imagine an African American South Side that remained at the center of the future.9 Even before the Wonder Inn engagement came to an end, though, the Arkestra’s basic challenge—finding places to play—became acute. Budland had limped through the first half of 1959 with familiar local headliners such as Jo Jo Adams and guitarist Leo Blevins. The Arkestra hung in for a while, relegated to the Monday breakfast dance. Yet after Cadillac Bob failed to revive the club’s lagging fortunes with a summer variety revue, Budland


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finally closed. The Arkestra’s regular appearances at the Queen’s Mansion also had dried up earlier in the year, and the venue itself did not last much longer. The loss of regular club engagements presented Arkestra members with more than the problem of economic survival. Club access was also vital for daytime practice spaces, and without it the group struggled to find anywhere to rehearse. Under such circumstances, spatial improvisation became ever more the order of the day.10 Sun Ra’s own apartment remained one option. While hardly ideal, it was often pressed into service, much like the front room of his grandmother’s house in Birmingham several decades earlier. Joseph Jarman, living in a basement apartment around the corner, has described “thirteen or fourteen guys” squeezing into Ra’s little top-floor apartment on South Prairie Avenue. Trumpet player Bill Fielder recalled that no sooner had his parents opened up their new house in Englewood to jam sessions than Sun Ra started bringing his entire group to rehearse there. Englewood provided other kinds of fugitive rehearsal spaces as well. Musician and composer Henry Threadgill, who grew up in the area, recalled the Arkestra convening regularly in the back of a “wild game” meat market located at Sixty-Third Street and Morgan. Given after-hours access by the market’s Greek proprietor, Ra and the group spent evenings in rehearsal surrounded by bear and possum meat, as the fifteen-year-old Threadgill and his friend Virgil Pumphrey (later Abshalom ben Shlomo) sat at their feet, trying to make sense of the music they heard.11 Sun Ra’s reliance on “found” locations was born of economic necessity. Yet this recourse also demonstrated his conviction that an otherworldly music might emerge from practically any place. “Space Is the Place” would later become a favorite catchphrase for the Arkestra, and it is tempting to invoke the associations customarily attached to place—a familiar location invested with particular meanings. as opposed to the abstract and expansive realm implied by space—to understand the territorial dimensions of Sun Ra’s late Chicago music. Cultural historians have recognized the influence of particular performance venues on the development of modern music, and certainly the Wonder Inn and other South Side places gave shape to Ra’s musical practices. But more than most musicians he seemed determined to actively reshape places through music, and he worked to infuse even conventionally nonmusical places with the spatial imaginings his music might convey.12 In the meantime, commercial venues continued to disappear as Chicago’s black South Side spread out. Although African American incomes had increased over the course of the preceding decade and a smattering of

Wonder Inn, 1960


new venues were opening in outlying community areas, capital flight in a racialized land market, along with changing leisure tastes and consumption habits, was making it impossible to sustain the old commercial infrastructure or to recreate it in new areas. Black Chicagoans, finally gaining access to previously walled-off areas of the city, did not have access to the financial means to sustain them all. No longer stitched into urban nightlife districts, the handful of live-music venues remaining in Bronzeville—the Roberts Lounge on South Parkway, the Sutherland Hotel on Forty-Seventh Street, the Toast of the Town in the DuSable area, and the C&C Lounge near the Pershing Hotel—became scattered beacons in a sinking commercial economy. This South Side reality was part of a larger transformation in urban space that was changing the economic and cultural life of older US cities. Postwar suburban expansion redrew the fault lines of racial segregation farther out, as waves of white residents abandoned city neighborhoods, taking economic resources with them. Concentrating growth along the periphery did more than simply stretch the size of the metropolis; in cities like Chicago, this centrifugal force ruptured familiar development patterns, ending the steady ripples outward from a strong downtown core. Reshaping the larger metropolis, in turn, thinned out the urban fabric, imparting to many central areas an increasingly left-behind, “post-urban” character. As older regions hollowed out, public officials and residents alike struggled to reinvent central-city spaces.13 In Chicago, central area plans became the urban face of utopia, envisioning the Loop as the vital node of a new kind of postindustrial metropolis. Freed of nearby factories and train yards, the downtown would develop— according to these blueprints—into a corporate center enlivened by spaces for white middle-class shopping and connected to suburban rings by highways bypassing the rest of the city. In this way, the modern American metropolis, stripped of its accumulated history and communal life, could be reimagined in utopian terms as abstract space for a new national project. In response, critics reasserted the virtues of traditional urban places, especially the customs and loyalties embedded in the everyday life of neighborhoods. Championing place over space, neighborhood advocates in Chicago, as elsewhere over the coming years, would often steer a dissenting utopian imagination back toward traditional notions of urban community. Placebased solidarities, in this view, provided the social glue of the city—though they could also strengthen bonds of racist exclusion.14 These larger debates over the future of the city took place, of course, in settings far removed from Sun Ra’s cultural circles. In Chicago, where a new


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generation of African American community activists was coming of age, issues such as jobs, discrimination, and housing commanded much more immediate attention. Black unionization and civil rights agitation were on the march in the early 1960s, and newly militant organizations launched campaigns to open up hostile neighborhoods and claim control over African American community areas threated by urban renewal. For South Side and West Side organizers there was new opportunity to contest the city’s spaces, and in this political moment utopian ideas about outer space could appear to be little more than distractions.15 Sun Ra’s cultural imaginings, though, were not entirely disconnected from the city. Threaded through America’s postwar urban ideals were deeply troubling conceptions of space and place, and efforts to reenvision Chicago’s future often would be hobbled by these sorts of city limits. Space as an empty realm to be conquered and commodified, place as an unchanging and well-defended stronghold—these idealized visions based on conquest or defense offered little to those who dreamed of a very different urban world. By resituating the spirit of those dreams in an expanse located far from Chicago, Sun Ra’s interplanetary mythology entertained new possibilities of space and place in ways that also reimagined race. Ra’s outer space, in this sense, represented more than simply a diversion or an escape. Claiming extraterrestrial territory for a different kind of national project, his musical mythology promised not white American conquest but the movement of black subjects into a world already open to their own collective purposes. Africanizing outer space staked a claim to a newly liberated zone. By suggesting many different ways for exploring this space musically, though, Ra also presented utopia itself not as a singular, fixed territory or location but as a spatial array of possibly configured places. Members of this sort of mobile collective, united in their rejection of the known world, could finally begin to discover who they really were by exploring a new one. Though less than clearly defined, Sun Ra’s New Land did not offer itself as a black empire in the manner of earlier nationalist visions. African American literary utopias such as Sutton Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (1899) and George Schuyler’s Black Empire (1936–1938) represented the ideal society, however ambivalently, as an empire within the empire—a territory to be controlled, a hidden state within a state, separate from the white world and capable of armed defense to preserve itself. Ra’s music, by contrast, conveyed a sense of African American space that was heterogeneous, fluid, expansive, and open to visitors. This was partly because the music drew stylistically from many different traditions, including those not readily iden-

Wonder Inn, 1960


tified with African American tastes or conventions—any music, in fact, from what I called in chapter 5 the Greater American Songbook. Yet it was also because Ra’s own boundary-crossing tendencies suggested that a better universe could never be rigidly patrolled, or even fixed.16 Sun Ra’s conception of space as an idealized realm of experience implied, then, somewhat paradoxically, that his dream world was a utopia of temporal process. Most modern visions of ideal realms, as geographer David Harvey has pointed out, have been utopias of spatial form. Static conceptions of the ideal society, these new ways of living, from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, could be represented by maps, drawings, and architectural models. Such visions typically incorporated territorial containers (walls, canals, roadways) to control social change and historical meaning, to impose authoritarian constraints on new possibilities of inclusion and evolution—using space, in effect, to control place. Utopias of temporal process, by contrast, offer idealized realms that develop over time. These worlds evolve through the interplay of existing and emergent properties, tensions, and possibilities, fresh combinations of new and old. One contribution by Sun Ra was to reimagine space as this sort of temporal process: musical space, in his case, unfolded in a surprisingly open-ended, differentiated, complex way. In this regard, though, Ra’s space also complicated linear conceptions of time, combining musical elements, for example, from disparate genres with their own distinct temporalities, or offering up lyrical content with paradoxical historical claims. As a later Arkestra chant would proclaim: “It’s after the end of the world / Don’t you know that yet?” Historical rupture—a radical break with a failing world— combines with learning as an evolving process (“don’t you know that yet?”) to suggest the unfolding exploration of an entirely separate and newly discovered universe.17 This conception of space projected a utopian vision that seemed attractively open in terms of membership, constitution, and collective aspiration. Of course, Sun Ra’s leadership over the Arkestra created little doubt as to who was ultimately in charge of this particular vision of outer space. However, his musical mythology, by positioning African peoples centrally in an outer-space world of the future, also posed implicitly the question of whom, precisely, might constitute this collective. Who was the “we” in “We Travel the Spaceways”? Was this a delimited collective? And who might travel along in its wake? In this sense, the tensions between space and place opened up possibilities of identity but declined to resolve them. The mythology of Sun Ra and the Arkestra brought to the utopian cultural


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imagination deep and creative questions as well as new musical environments in which to explore them. *



By the summer of 1961, Alton Abraham’s commercial networks were drying up. The Wonder Inn engagement had come to an end earlier in the year, and few club opportunities emerged in its wake. A monthlong stay at the once-storied Pershing Lounge, now a shadow of its former self, ran out at the end of July. When Abraham found the group a two-week gig in Montreal, Ra and four band members (Gilmore, Allen, Boykins, and Murray) drove to Quebec over the course of one long day. But their stay in Canada did not go smoothly, and soon they drove down to New York, where Ra and several members remained. Abraham, meanwhile, kept El Saturn’s headquarters going, and even paid rent for a while on Ra’s South Prairie apartment. But Sun Ra did not return to Chicago until many years later, and then only briefly for musical appearances.18 His presence in the city persisted, though, in part because many musicians who had played with him remained in Chicago and flourished there. Phil Cohran soon became recognized in his own right as a South Side musical pioneer and community builder. Along with Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve McCall, and Jodie Christian, Kelan Phil Cohran (as he became known) was an initial convener of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), hosting its first membership meeting in 1965 at his house, not far from the shuttered Wonder Inn. Cohran went on to create the Affro-Arts Theater as well as the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, the latter a large-scale musical aggregation bringing together African percussion, funk, big-band swing, psychedelic rock, and experimental jazz. The ensemble’s outdoor concerts at the Sixty-Third Street Beach became massive gatherings, combining dance, poetry, and cultural celebration into now-storied political festivals of community reimagining.19 Faced with the collapse of the South Side club scene, the AACM invented a new kind of organizational infrastructure that might better serve the aspirations of the city’s black musicians. The goal was to create a genuinely community-based collective that provided members with the freedom and support to write and perform their own experimental music—in effect, to pursue their own distinctive musical visions with autonomy, support, and respect. Many AACM members had played with Sun Ra at some point during his time in Chicago, though this did not mean they viewed his particular path as a model for the new collective.

Wonder Inn, 1960


Joseph Jarman, for instance, turned down the opportunity to join the Arkestra shortly before it left town. Instead, he chose to become involved in an experimental group headed by Muhal Richard Abrams, one that prefigured AACM-style collectives: I . . . went to audition for Sun Ra’s band, and I could have been accepted, but I just got a feeling that I probably shouldn’t. They were similar in many ways, except the philosophical approach and concept was different. In Sun Ra’s organization he had everything to say and do. In Muhal’s organization everybody could say and do. That was the big difference.

Jarman’s discomfort with Sun Ra’s authority was shared by others, particularly younger Chicago musicians who observed Arkestra members following Ra’s dictates on matters large and small. Governance in the AACM would proceed differently and, in time, would begin to address the hierarchical structures—including gender-based exclusions—that pervaded the postwar music scene, especially Sun Ra’s groups.20 African American musicians in 1960s Chicago brought new artistic and political goals to the AACM, such as organizational transparency, democratic process, and respect for individual autonomy. If Sun Ra inspired these musicians, it was less by his particular style of leadership than by his musical openness, along with his role as a South Side utopian who pursued a larger community purpose. For young artists with similar aspirations, Ra was an exemplary figure—not a model to be emulated or a movement to be joined but, rather, someone who demonstrated that the impossible could be sustained by a different kind of leader. In this sense, Sun Ra created an independent kind of urban cultural space, freeing others to move beyond conventions and more ambitiously imagine their own dreams. Sun Ra remained a vital presence on the South Side in other ways as well. Bronzeville muralists of the 1960s and 1970s often integrated images of ancient Egypt and outer space into landscapes and portraits—sometimes directly inspired by the bandleader, sometimes not—that spoke directly to contemporary African American life. Philosophy of the Spiritual, a street mural painted by Mitchell Caton and C. Siddha Webber a few blocks west of where the Wonder Inn once stood, took its name from a 1971 jazz album by bassist Richard Davis. Dominated visually by an enormous policeman’s gun pointed at the street, the mural countered this menacing image of state violence with the face of Sun Ra himself, his calm visage hovering behind Webber’s poem “Run to the Sun,” with its fervent appeal to the community


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to “run to the SUN / RA.” Caton and Webber were part of a loose network of artists that also included Ayé Aton, best known today for a series of murals he painted in ordinary people’s homes across black Chicago. A jazz drummer who played with Sun Ra in the early 1970s, Aton created magically glowing “blacklight” spacescapes featuring multicolor, Horus-eyed suns and many-shaped interplanetary bodies. Like Ra himself and a great many other South Side artists from this period—several of them associated with local collectives such as the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) and AfriCOBRA—Aton discovered in images of outer space the possibility of a different African American future, an “alter-destiny” for a community increasingly under siege.21 Over the course of their final years in Chicago, then, Sun Ra and his Arkestra took on a fully developed utopian identity that could inspire others to dream as well. Musically speaking, the outer-space compositions written at the end of the 1950s presented the group as nomads from another world, possessors of special knowledge, keepers of the cosmos—and like More’s traveler Raphael Hythlodaeus, recently returned from Utopia, their new knowledge cast a harsh shadow on the world as it was. Arkestra performances at the Wonder Inn, while still grounded in a local place, became extraterrestrial journeys, waking up audiences to interplanetary realms that offered freshly imagined possibilities for existence. New and unsettling sounds circulated there; old songs, too, though altered somewhat by their reimagined settings. Taking a stance only suggested in passing in the Thmei broadsheets—though foreshadowed as far back as his 1930s dream—Ra and the Arkestra were emissaries from uncharted space, ambassadors from a future where music and life had already been transformed.


Over the past quarter century Sun Ra has become more widely known than at any time during his career. By 2014—the centenary of a birth he had often denied—he was inspiring concerts, art exhibits, film showings, ritual gatherings, and other celebrations of his musical and cultural significance in cities throughout the world. Musicians, artists, moviemakers, and cultural commentators continue to praise his originality, explore his musical imagination, and marvel at his enduring appeal.1 Amid all this attention it is tempting now to imagine Sun Ra as ethereal, a free-floating cultural phenomenon—just as his music, or any music, can be heard as disconnected from social space and historical time, abstract and self-defining. Ra himself often encouraged this view: “I’m not a human. I came from somewhere else, where I was part of something that is so wonderful that there are no words to express it. . . . I wasn’t just born; I had been somewhere before I was born.” Never having been born, of course, relieved him of any compulsion to die—a personal unfettering he eventually elevated into a broader statement of principle: “It is important for the planet that its inhabitants do not believe in being born, because whoever is born has to die.” Rejecting finite space and time as unalterable markers of what it means to have a life, Sun Ra could refuse to recognize the larger civilization that still accepted those limits.2 This book has argued nevertheless that Sun Ra’s own history, and in particular his earliest cities, became central to the development of his music and his mythology. Early twentieth-century Birmingham left its mark on the young Sonny Blount, through its musical traditions and territory-band circuits but also by making available notions of intellectual autonomy, community leadership, and spiritual transcendence that he reworked into his own emerging cultural repertoire. Chicago’s music scene of the late 1940s also put its stamp on him, furnishing a many-sited platform for his musical pursuits as well as his mentoring style and metaphysical aspirations. In the



early 1950s the intellectual provocations circulating in Washington Park counterspaces helped kindle the Thmei group writings, with their caustic and strangely redemptive focus on African American history and destiny. The subsequent ambitions of El Saturn, Sun Ra’s multifaceted collaboration with Alton Abraham, were also woven out of the fabric of the South Side community. Nightclubs, schools, musicians’ groups, cultural societies, business enterprises, and other organizations—these Bronzeville institutions became key to Ra and Abraham’s efforts to develop their distinctly local following. The city’s landscape in the early postwar period, with its modernist towers, elevated trains, and nonstop entertainment scene, inspired many of Ra’s musical visions of other worlds. Even the Africanized sound of his outer space was inflected by black Chicago’s eclectic mix of musical styles, new ethnicities, commercial networks, and nightlife possibilities. Situating Sun Ra in particular locations may seem to reduce the scope of his cultural significance, perhaps even to trivialize his extraterrestrial claims and ambitions. Yet not if one recognizes that imagination is always central to urban experience. Sun Ra’s dreams took inspiration from his immediate surroundings, but they also connected him, through the hidden and not-so-hidden cultural resources around him, to past histories and visions of the future, enlarging his utopian sensibilities as well as his music. The musical traditions, history books, religious myths, community ideals, and street folklore of his cities shaped his immediate circumstances as well as his aspirations, furnishing a rich supply of cultural materials with which he could dispute and revise conceptions of who he was, where he might be from, and where the world was heading. Conversely, there is much to be learned about Sun Ra’s cities by reanchoring his creative development within these urban settings. Historical portraits of early twentieth-century Birmingham often depict a city without culture or imagination—a “backwater colony” controlled by US Steel; a “great workshop town” with “very little gentility and grace”; a city of perpetual promise, undone by “Jim Crow poison.” Recentering the city’s history on Sonny Blount recognizes the powerful urban legacy of industrial Jim Crow but also the abundance of Birmingham’s musical culture. The “magic” of coerced black labor gave rise to an early twentieth-century city that rivaled Johannesburg, South Africa, as the most racially oppressive metropolis in the world. Yet extreme segregation also furnished surprising opportunities for African American self-organization and leadership. The black downtown, the Industrial High School, the swing-band territory, and even the “rickety, raggedy” house at 2508 Fourth Avenue North became, in different ways, improvised locations of communal autonomy and self-



assertion—interstitial spaces furnishing glimpses of an emerging city within the city.3 Sonny Blount’s life and community in Birmingham illuminate a hybrid character in Magic City utopian culture—a mix of the miraculous and the market. For the Big Mules of manufacturing, it was “the terrific desire for money, money, money,” as Virginia Foster Durr put it, that would lead to a glorious white destiny for this most modern city of the New South. Black Birmingham’s musical traditions and social ideals also mingled spiritual and commercial concerns, seeking clues to transcendence within the occupational struggles, fraternal gatherings, and cultural practices of the workaday world. “Utopian culture” conjures up images of sheltered poets and philosophers spinning out wistful dreams, far removed from the hurly-burly of everyday life. Utopianism in African American Birmingham, however, spread out from the street and the stage, the musical workplace, and the regional marketplace. Black utopian culture, far from being a sequestered pursuit, coursed openly through the commercial life of the city. The ideal of autonomy emerged not only in the form of uplift philosophy and swinglife mobility but also, at certain moments, in hints of ancient origins and outer-space destinies.4 Blount’s own cultural sensibilities, though, were sharpened through friction with established community norms in black Birmingham. His skepticism toward conventional behavior and notions of leadership; his pacifism and esoteric spiritualism; his fascination with myth and the exotic as modern; his use of various public and private places as unlikely sites of speculation and learning—these attributes challenged respectable uplift ideals and their ingrained accommodations to Jim Crow habits of mind, while also rejecting the easygoing hedonism of the interwar swing life. Beyond these characteristics, Blount embraced the notion that the commonplace cultural materials of everyday existence harbored secret import. Ordinary words, established routines, or simple-sounding popular songs might yield unexpected insight into matters of great substance or even transcendental possibility. This mystical bent set him apart from more conventional musicians in Birmingham—as it would in Chicago. His development after leaving Birmingham reveals, in turn, unsuspected dimensions to post–World War II Chicago. A long history of spatial segregation had helped to create the Windy City as a veiled object of knowledge—an urban space within which the influence of racial distinction remained pervasive yet rarely acknowledged. Emerging behind hidden walls, Bronzeville developed its own vibrant sense of communal autonomy, and notions of the city within the city—whether understood as a moral



proving ground, a cultural stage for collective self-expression, or a springboard to pathways elsewhere—gained widespread appeal. Early postwar shifts in spatial boundaries, however, threw inherited notions of the city within the city into question, opening up new opportunities for cultural expression and, within certain circles, more expansive notions of black nationhood and emancipation. Sonny Blount brought with him from Birmingham a distinctive utopian sensibility, but his own particular Chicago emerged gradually with his music. Moving across South Side border spaces amid a violent upsurge in the city’s white racial solidarities, he encountered wide-ranging musical and religious ideas. Disparate sites in the South Side commercial music scene introduced him to varied musical paths, along with a cohort of younger instrumentalists, trained at DuSable High School, who were interested in exploring old standards and new horizons alike. Meanwhile, Washington Park religious circles and the Thmei group’s Bible study proposed insistently heterodox readings of human history in which African Americans became central if tormented figures. In Blount’s hands, these ideas suggested new cultural identities for postwar African Americans beyond those envisioned in integrationist notions of racial progress. By forming the Arkestra and launching El Saturn, Sun Ra and Alton Abraham drew into their orbit musicians, artists, and other cultural activists committed to developing this alternative knowledge of the world through the pursuit of a locally anchored utopian project. Finding hidden meanings within the everyday spatial environment of postwar Chicago became central to the work of El Saturn. Ra and his colleagues explored how music might impart a double existence to the streets and trains of the city, mingling the immediate experience of daily life with dreams of other, better worlds. As sounds of Africa came to stretch and unsettle cultural boundaries that long had defined South Side life, Sun Ra developed a diverse array of musical techniques for exploring an outer-space world reenvisioned through Ethiopianist histories of cultural redemption. Playing and rehearsing in clubs such as Budland and the Wonder Inn, the Arkestra experimented with a range of styles in which music and mythology might entertain and transport. In the process, these South Side musicians came to imagine an extraterrestrial future that cast into shadow the fallen state of life on earth and opened up the sonic contours of a liberated cosmos. Sun Ra, of course, was hardly the only Chicagoan engaged in utopian cultural work. Urban planners were also offering far-reaching dreams of Chicago’s future. Envisioning a postindustrial metropolis as abstract space in



service of a larger economic function, their most influential proposal—the 1958 Central Area Plan—would often be countered, locally and elsewhere, by community visions based on the values of place. Understood as everyday life organized around neighborhood-based social ties, place appealed to circumscribed notions of the city and fixed cultural identities anchored in small-scale urban community. Chicagoans would do battle over urban space and place in the 1960s and beyond, and Ra’s activities might seem distant from these real-world struggles. Yet his interplanetary mythology recast this polar opposition— space versus place—within a powerfully revisionist understanding of race and emancipation. Claiming outer space as a world already open to the collective purposes of black subjects, Ra’s musical mythos presented utopia as neither abstract space nor local neighborhood but, rather, an unfolding spatial realm of possible places—panoramic and communal, diverse and dynamic, yet somehow interconnected—where an imagined community could discover who it might become.5 Playing a key role in Sun Ra’s evolution were his shifting perceptions of the city as a symbolic, multileveled world. Much like W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of the veil, Sun Ra’s writings, lyrics, and musical sounds from his Chicago period played suggestively with distinctions between black and white, conscious and unconscious experience, known and unknown worlds—and especially, the immediate city versus the utopian city. For Du Bois, the veil was not only a symbol of the fundamental separation between black and white realms of social experience but also a recognition of how African Americans’ singular capacity for “second-sight”—their clairvoyant ability to see through the false screen of the immediate world—could lead them to challenge or transcend this barrier. In Sun Ra’s hands, these special powers of cognition took many, often auditory, forms, from hearing urban sounds inaccessible to others to discovering African identities disguised within American musical traditions. Chicago’s South Side, in this view, became a kind of shadow world, a space of appearances, yet one with signs and clues that might reveal the better, truer world of the imagination. Lifting the veil of everyday life in the city revealed utopian worlds behind it.6 This utopian conception of the city as a direct portal to other worlds was not offered up simply as an attractive idea. More than most musical artists, Sun Ra and his colleagues in 1950s Chicago became fully committed cultural activists, embracing a visionary cause and putting their art in service of its requirements. Yet the precise nature of this cause was hardly spelled out in unambiguous terms, even at the end of Ra’s Chicago years. By the second half of the twentieth century, modern culture had already amassed a sheaf



of manifestos and statements of principle in which, separately from their creative work, artists declaimed to various publics their aesthetic visions or social concerns. For Chicago’s Sun Ra and the Arkestra, though, there was no manifesto in any conventional form. Instead, by the end of the Chicago period, the group’s musical performances became creative manifestos— proclaiming the vision and playing with it too, with all the ambiguity and uncertainty this might entail. When Arkestra members sang in unison, “We travel the spaceways from planet to planet,” they were fusing metaphysical claim, musical experiment, and interplanetary community outreach into a simple, accessible song that was nevertheless resonant with mystery. In this sense, Sun Ra as South Side utopian joined together multiple African American traditions of persuasion—secular and religious, theatrical as well as musical. These traditions embraced both celebrated and half-forgotten community figures who, in different ways, drew on alternative sources of historical knowledge to challenge the racial conceptions of their moment. One such tradition encompassed organization builders and wake-up proselytizers: Prince Hall, the Ethiopianist founder of black freemasonry; William Saunders Crowdy, the late nineteenth-century minister whose bold claim that the ancient Israelites were black became a core tenet of his interracial Holiness church; and Newark’s Robert Athlyi Rogers, the 1920s-era visionary who wished to unite the Children of Ethiopia across the entire expanse of the solar system. A separate tradition connected theatrical performers who relied on the power of the stage to defy conventional expectations of racial identity. These entertainers included James Hewlett, whose African Theater productions in 1820s New York unsettled the reigning social classifications held by the “white-washed” race; Bert Williams, the turn-of-the-century Caribbean American comedian who performed his own blackness in blackface; and blues singer Ma Rainey, who for a time dramatized her own transcendent celebrity—her mid-1920s triumph over racially confining time and space—by singing onstage from inside an enormous Victrola, the foremost sound technology of her era. Sun Ra meshed these transgressive histories in ways that discovered new purpose in the performer as proselytizer, the proselytizer as performer, staging his own life on earth as an errant traveler sharing the news of an alternate destiny.7 Ra’s cultural project also revived the longstanding historical connection between utopian ideas and urban life. Sir Thomas More published the first modern utopian tract, with its London-inspired depiction of his ideal city of Amaurot, in 1516—the same year that the city of Venice enclosed its Jewish residents behind the walls of the first modern ghetto. Over the following centuries, visionary writers often sketched out ideal cities that



were spatially contained and regimented as well as frozen in time, the better to imagine how civilization might produce populations suitable for a higher order of living. Yet actual cities also generated new sites of creativity, their built environments giving shape to dreams of a better world. Streets, marketplaces, parks, churches, universities, civic associations, and even ghettos—all such spaces, when reimagined, might inspire visions of emancipated futures beyond the constraints of the known urban world.8 The particular history of African American utopianism cannot be understood apart from changing patterns of racial confinement. Conditions of chattel slavery, rural peonage, and urban spatial containment often encouraged black subjects to envision freedom in terms of flight, migration, and unfettered movement. However, the modern world’s segregated spaces, when persisting over time, have operated not simply as ghettos of restriction and stigma but as the made-fertile ground for community formation, protection, and cultural development. What the historian Robin D. G. Kelley has called the “freedom dreams” of black American writers, for instance, have often been influenced by these dreamers’ own formative experiences in cities. Antebellum utopian Martin Delany developed his initial ideas about African American destiny and autonomy within the abolitionist circles and freemason societies of black Pittsburgh. Sutton Griggs penned his utopian novel Imperium in Imperio in Nashville, a newly emerging center of New Negro political and cultural assertiveness. For Du Bois, it was his university base among the hills of early twentieth-century Atlanta—a city “peering out from the shadows of the past into the promise of the future”— that provided the platform for his earliest speculations about the coming prospects for black communal solidarity and collective development.9 The long and varied history of African American urban spaces, then, offers important clues to the modern shape and persistence of black utopianism. Recognizing Sun Ra’s long “prelude” in his two earliest cities, then, reconnects his own utopian imagination to the early peer groups, community dynamics, and cultural scenes that influenced him. Among these influences were his musical mentors, colleagues, bandmates, and protégés; the club audiences, dance societies, civic associations, musician networks, and union rules that also inflected his music and professional development; the radical activists, freemasons, preachers, study-group partners, and young knowledge seekers who became his interlocutors; and the club owners, sponsors, record producers, and storefront operators who furnished local spaces for rehearsing, recording, and performing. Perhaps above all, this immersive historical perspective reconnects Sun Ra to Alton Abraham—DuSable High School graduate, overseas veteran, radiology technician, Bible reader, busi-



nessman, recording engineer, El Saturn entrepreneur, fellow New South migrant, and the friend who took Sonny Blount downtown to Cook County Court in 1952 to register his new identity. Sun Ra’s earliest urban routes through Birmingham and Chicago, while pivotal, did not fully define his subsequent musical development. After he and a handful of band members arrived in New York City in 1961, they scuffled for a time. Sun Ra rebuilt his ensemble, though, and eventually he and the Arkestra set up a collective residence on East Third Street in Manhattan, establishing themselves as a regular feature at Slugs’, a neighborhood bar and music venue. The club, like the East Village area surrounding it, soon became a major outpost of the New York counterculture, and Sun Ra himself emerged as an important figure in the city’s downtown music scene as well as its increasingly uptown-centered Black Arts movement.10 Moving back and forth between these two worlds, Ra worked with the era’s most ambitious musicians while also developing close associations with African American writers LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Ishmael Reed, and, especially, Henry Dumas. He cofounded the Jazz Composers Guild and pushed further, in his own music, into experimental territory. The marathon Arkestra performances at Slugs’ gained the reputation of riotous spectacles, complete with shrieking saxophone battles, electronic sound collages, percussive rituals, ecstatic dancers, space chants, and Mardi Gras–style parades spilling out onto the street. Back in Chicago, Alton Abraham released a flurry of Arkestra albums during those years, and a much broader swath of listeners discovered Sun Ra’s music through a startling mixture of old and new, Chicago and New York recordings. Initially treated by reviewers as a curiosity or even a charlatan, Ra acquired growing respect from the New York jazz establishment—though few of its members could say where he came from—as well as the rudiments of a national and international following. Before the decade was out, he even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. Both incubator and spectacle, 1960s New York served as a new kind of springboard for Sun Ra and his ensemble.11 West Coast cities also furnished Ra with new platforms and admirers. An early-1970s tour of California led to cultural exposure on a larger scale: an extended stay with the Black Panthers in Oakland; a guest lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley, where Ra’s reading list included many Thmei group favorites from two decades earlier; and the production of a feature-length motion picture, Space Is the Place, which over the coming years would introduce Ra to audiences well beyond the music world. Yet it was Philadelphia, perhaps surprisingly, that would become the Arkestra’s enduring home during the final decades of the twentieth century. After



losing their lease on the East Third Street building in New York, Ra and group members moved to Philadelphia’s Germantown area, where Marshall Allen’s father owned a row house on Morton Street. While continuing for a spell to commute back to Slugs’ for performances, the group gradually established a regular presence in its new city, playing community venues, drawing in new musicians from the area, recording for local labels, and even operating a neighborhood grocery store, the Pharaoh’s Den.12 Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, the Arkestra melded a globetrotting performance schedule with a more settled life on Morton Street (figure 9.1). After experiencing a series of strokes, though, Ra spent his final months back in Birmingham, cared for by his sister. He left the planet, as his fans put it, in 1993. The Arkestra eventually regrouped, and over the ensuing quarter century the ensemble has remained active, mostly under Allen’s leadership, playing an important role in extending Sun Ra’s—and its own—musical legacy.13 Ra’s early years, though, help to make sense of his enduring musical sensibility. If later listeners sometimes found elements of that sensibility disconcerting, perhaps this was because it encompassed musical materials or styles that seemed too old, too commercial, or too white for any

9.1 Sun Ra Arkestra, Detroit, 1979. Leni Sinclair/Getty Images.



self-respecting black experimentalist to embrace. In the course of Ra’s final decades with the Arkestra, the sounds of disco, funk, children’s songs, movie themes, and marching-band music all made their way into the repertoire, culminating (if that is the correct word) in an album of Disneyinspired material recorded in 1989. From a young age, Sonny Blount had been attracted to the popular music styles of his day, and the singles released by Saturn during the Chicago years included Gershwin tunes, doo-wop songs, and even seasonal novelties (“It’s Christmas Time!”), along with Ra originals that stretched toward outer space. What emerges from examining the longer arc of Sun Ra’s career, then, is a persistent disregard for the conventional lines between art music and popular fare. Alternately accessible and experimental, esoteric and entertaining, spiritual and playful— Ra’s music combines disparate attributes, and it is only by tracing his career from Birmingham onward that the cultural implications of this unsettling admixture can be fully explored.14 Sun Ra cultivated a similar openness to styles of jazz often seen as hopelessly passé. Adventurous New York audiences were initially befuddled when, in the early 1970s, the Arkestra began performing entire Fletcher Henderson swing compositions as part of its adventurous, hours-long sets at Slugs’. But even Ra’s more experimental-sounding “music of the future” from this period exhibited sounds and styles associated with earlier periods of music making. Sun Ra here was not only reconstructing the jazz tradition but creatively historicizing his own music—drawing on the simultaneously backward- and forward-facing aesthetic he had developed in Birmingham and Chicago in order to rework the past as well as the future.15 Later commentators were likewise puzzled by the Arkestra’s willingness to range across the ever-shifting racial boundaries in American music.16 Yet Sun Ra’s liner-note writings in Chicago had suggested early on a playfully subversive approach to “black” and “white” forms of musical expression. Even later, when Ra originals such as “Astro Black” (“Astro-Black American / The Universe is in my voice”) made explicit the universalistic ambitions of his pan-African space mythology, he did not stop playing music identified with white cultural traditions—just as the Thmei group had never shied away from drawing on white-associated religious philosophies. The implicit point was that this material, too, at least in his hands, had a place within the larger black cosmos—perhaps in the way that trumpeter Lester Bowie would recognize certain white musicians as seminal contributors to what his group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, would call “Great Black Music.”17



What emerges in historical retrospect is that Sun Ra’s Chicago music also conveys a different “sound of the city”—and perhaps a different way of thinking about musical sound, the city, and postwar Chicago itself. More than most musicians, Sun Ra strongly, if often cryptically, emphasized the extramusical qualities of his work, inviting a sustained focus on his sonic practices as clues to his conception of urban life, African American identity, and the future. By interpreting those practices in relation to an evolving local music scene as well as broader changes in the postwar metropolitan landscape, the preceding chapters explored multiple forms of urban experience conveyed by Sun Ra’s music of this period—Chicago, for example, as a modern urban dynamo, pulsing with motion, light, sound, and nonstop entertainment, or the South Side as a vital black center stretching toward the Loop. Yet Ra approached the city neither simply as an empirical object to represent in musical terms nor, as Bland argued in The Cry of Jazz, as a social environment that produced clearly (and racially) delineated styles of musical expression. Instead, for Sun Ra, the city was a reimagined realm whose hidden sounds emerged in myriad ways: in the guise of a “light” music that revealed dark secrets about racial history; in the form of a trumpet blast that could wake the dead; or in a combination of abstract and traditional sounds that could be heard as the shadowed reflection of another, future world. By the early 1960s, everyday Chicago, for Sun Ra, even furnished the sounds of Africa in outer space. Over the course of the past half century, musicians working in many different genres have developed cultural projects inspired by, or simply paralleling, the spirit of Sun Ra’s experiments. At the same moment that Ra was leaving Chicago, jazz pianist and composer Horace Tapscott founded his Underground Musicians Association in Los Angeles, and over the following decades its organizational successors, such as his Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, operated as both vibrant collectives and larger community institutions. In a quite different vein, George Clinton’s ParliamentFunkadelic collective, with roots in doo-wop, soul, and rock, pioneered an influential 1970s-era funk. Reworking the playful urban nationalism of its Chocolate City album into the Mothership Connection, P-Funk created its own psychedelic Afro-mythology of outer-space deliverance. Hip hop innovators, from Rammellzee to Outkast’s Andre 3000, also developed elaborately futurist conceptions of black existence, playing in various ways with coded languages, ancient histories, star cities, and alien personae. Indie rock groups, big-band jazz ensembles, and “neo-soul” vocal performers have all found inspiration in what, by the 1990s, were being called Afrofuturist



conceptions of history and black identity. Among recent musical artists, the singer-songwriters Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe have cultivated performance styles and personae consistently informed by imaginative technomythologies of black experience. Monáe in particular, inspired early on by futurist themes in the Fritz Lang motion picture Metropolis, has sustained an alter-ego android figure across multiple album releases, reimagining black women’s survival through utopian scenarios of escape, celebration, and messianic redemption.18 Many twenty-first-century performers have explicitly recognized Sun Ra as an important source of inspiration. Others have found their own way to Afrofuturist modes of expression, now circulating widely throughout the global mediascape. In the process, Sun Ra has become a figure to be lionized but also one whose shortcomings invite revisionist critique. His patriarchalism, for example—evident not only in how he led his largely male fraternities but in his essentializing commentaries on the roles of men and women—has attracted searching criticism from otherwise sympathetic commentators. Writers have similarly put pressure on Afrofuturist lineages that emphasize Sun Ra as creative “forefather,” tracing instead the foundational role of female and queer pioneers, such as the speculative fiction writers Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany. Sun Ra’s own selfaggrandizement, particularly later in his career, probably contributed to genealogies of Afrofuturism that marginalized other contributors.19 The Sun Ra–centered account developed in the preceding chapters does not stand in for a full history of Afrofuturism. Situating Sun Ra in his early cities has opened up to scrutiny, instead, the particular settings that shaped his own music and aspirations. His routes and dreams were distinctive, and these pathways do not fully account for, let alone prefigure, what has become a multistranded aesthetic or cultural sensibility. Indeed, if centuries-old notions of black emancipation combining ancient wisdom and advanced technologies were already part of everyday life in twentiethcentury Birmingham and Chicago, then important strands in what would be called Afrofuturist modes of cultural expression—not to mention black utopian thought more broadly—hardly originated with Sun Ra. Appreciating the importance of these longstanding traditions to Ra’s own development locates the artist and his urban settings within a much more expansive cultural history, one that recognizes how the utopian imagination has been repurposed in creative ways across an enormous span of times and places.20 Sun Ra’s particular urban encounters influenced the development of his utopian assertions. Focused on musical space, place, and collective identity, these ideals would give rise later in his career to such playful pronounce-



ments as “space is the place.” To trace the early evolution of his thinking, it is important to recognize that the history of utopian thought has been deeply interwoven with inventive spatial conceptions of other worlds and ways of living.21 It is also useful to move away from notions of modern urban experience as taking place only within a narrow band of historical time. Rather than compliantly inhabiting a unidirectional and sequentially constrained present, Sun Ra imagined the copresence of multiple times in postwar Chicago. The future, then, could become a standpoint from which to reenvision the past and present, all in service of musical anticipation of a racially redemptive realm in outer space. The history of twentieth-century American cities, in turn, can be enriched by considering Sun Ra within its orbit. Scholarly accounts have increasingly placed communities of color at the center of post–World War II urban life, recognizing this period as a pivotal moment of change for African American culture as well as for the racial identities implicated in larger patterns of US metropolitan development. Community leaders and civil rights activists loom large in many of these accounts, as do politicians, developers, media figures, and well-known intellectuals. Sun Ra directs our attention to a somewhat different postwar city, recognizing the twinned ascendance of suburban and ghetto imaginaries but also revealing the vitality of cultural countercurrents and recalcitrant forms of imagined community-building that typically receive little attention. Throughout the 1950s, in fact, unheralded groups and individuals—artists, activists, evangelists, entrepreneurs—were nurturing utopian ideas, discovering in music or language or spirituality new possibilities for a very different African American identity and future. By the early 1960s, US cities appeared to teem with such ideas, along with growing numbers of activists and community planners attempting to translate them into practice. Experimental musicians, visual artists, street philosophers, creative historiographers—many different kinds of community-based utopians were challenging settled views of the world, of progress, even of history and temporality itself. The growing appeal of these heterodox ideals and activisms suggests that certain overlooked strands of mid-twentieth-century urban culture were unrulier, more dissentient, and more enduring than they often appear.22 Focusing on Sun Ra illuminates the multiple spatial realities, local and translocal, of his experience of Birmingham and Chicago—and expands, in the process, our understanding of the creative possibilities inherent in urban space. Ra’s formative spaces were both downtown-centered and regionally networked; they encompassed well-mapped nightlife districts as well as emerging ones; they included interurban migration routes, city-



suburb commuter circuits, singular gathering places, fugitive rehearsal sites, and more. Yet Sun Ra’s spaces also embraced the remapped territories of ancient Ethiopia, India, and Egypt; the postwar metropole of musical North America and its exotic periphery; and the many future pathways connecting earth, Saturn, the sun, and other interplanetary destinations. Space, in his world, was not merely container or connector but a veil, stage, springboard, crucible, gateway, and vehicle. Generative and dynamic, space could be fully redefined by the imaginations of those who gave it new meaning. This endlessly creative understanding of space enabled Sun Ra to draw from urban experience a different kind of utopian conception of the city. From More’s Utopia onward, modern visions had imagined the ideal city as a separate and distinct realm, severed from the urban past, where a new people of the future could lead fundamentally different lives. Black visions of freedom, for their part, have often depicted the found city as a promised land—though also, sometimes, a promising city possessed by others or even a false promise where once-vibrant dreams could only wither and die. For many early twentieth-century African Americans, the city within the city offered up its own utopian ideal: the existing black metropolis, set off by segregation from the larger city, might provide a maligned people the urban space for self-determination. Such a vision faded in the postwar period, as growing African American impoverishment and isolation, and the pulled threads of the Black Belt, appeared to lead inexorably to the dark ghetto. Yet for Sun Ra the spaces of his Chicago, humdrum and exhausted as they might seem, continued to furnish access to an ideal realm—a city beyond the city.


The initial ideas for this particular utopian project date back more years than I care to recall. Providentially, these ideas did not come with any sense of how long it might take to develop them into a book. But also unexpected, and equally fortunate, were the encouragement and support I received along the way. Although not all of these generous people can be mentioned by name, I wish to express my gratitude to as many as possible. The intellectual genesis of this book came from the notion that music is, among other things, a historically embedded form of cognition through which we can understand the city and its possibilities. Sun Ra offers an unusually rich case in point, and his life and work have attracted an especially committed array of researchers, writers, musicians, artists, listeners, and seekers. Their insights—along with those of perceptive scholars who have explored the relationship between musical expression and urban experience more generally—furnished much of the early conceptual and interpretive groundwork for this study. Scholars who write on urban political economy and community conflict do not typically take on research projects about music and utopian culture. A handful of fellow urbanists nevertheless offered encouragement at various stages, probably against their better judgment. I remain grateful to Bob Beauregard, Larry Bennett, Neil Brenner, James DeFilippis, Bill Kornblum, Nicole Marwell, Simon Parker, Virginia Parks, Harold Platt, Nik Theodore, and Rachel Weber, among others, for their interest in this odd-sounding project—and for suppressing the quizzical eyebrow when I struggled to explain precisely what I was doing. I also benefited directly from the intellectual generosity of my university colleague Travis Jackson, whose scholarship and teaching have not only taught me much about music and the world but also, at formative moments, helped me stumble toward a sense of what this book might aspire to do.



The balance of the book’s intellectual origins emerged from the archives. The role of archivists in historical research remains crucial and unsung, and the able support of archival staff at the following institutions proved vital to my project: the Chicago History Museum, the Newberry Library, the Harold Washington Library, the Creative Audio Archive, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, the National Archives at St. Louis, and the Alabama Department of Archives and History. For remarkably helpful and efficient support, I owe a special debt to Beverly Cook and the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection; Catherine Oseas Champion and the Birmingham Public Library Archives; and the entire staff of the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library. I was fortunate to be invited to share early ideas and chapter drafts in a variety of generative settings. Thanks to David Boykin and the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts for the opportunity to present material at the symposium “Sun Ra: Astro Black Mythology and Black Resistance”; to Jim Chandler and the Franke Institute for the Humanities for the chance to give a Ra talk as part of the Fellows series; and to Reuben Miller for the invitation to join the School of Social Service Administration’s Let’s Get Free symposium “Music, Mass Incarceration and the Right to (Re)Make the City.” For helpful feedback at different stages, I am also grateful to participants in an Association of American Geographers conference session on “New Directions in Urban Theory,” in the University of Chicago’s Workshop on Cities, Society and Space, and in the SSA Doctoral Theory Workshop for helpful feedback at different stages. Over many decades, a number of friends have shared music, and ways to think about music, that ended up influencing this project in unforeseen ways. Among them I want to thank Charlie Mason, Brian Prager, Yoshi Morita, Sarah Renberg, Andy Mattson, John Therese, Steve Soper and Itamar Francez. More people than I can list here have given me new ideas, readings, images, kind words, or commiseration. But I am especially grateful to Summerson Carr, Irwin Chusid, Cathy Cohen, John Corbett, Franklin Cosey-Gay, Adam Davis, Lew Erenberg, Eve Ewing, Elliott Gorn, Edin Hajdarpasic, Laura Jamison, Gita Kapila, Hana Layson, Daniel Listoe, Kai Parker, Anthony Reed, Na’ama Rokem, Susan Rosenbaum, David Schwartz, Christine Sterkel, and Greg Tate. Will Faber, Mike Allemana, and Rachel Shaftman furnished, at different moments, the sorts of musicological insights that stimulate advances and ward off missteps. Katharine Lee and Valerie Gutmann provided timely research assistance; Matt Borus and Julian



Thompson did yeoman labor on ragged endnotes; and Rob Rokita helped out with copying. The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration kindly granted me a half-year leave to write an initial portion of the book, for which I remain grateful. Throughout the many years of this project, I have continued to appreciate SSA colleagues, staff, and students, past and present, for their intellectual curiosity, their good will, and their enduring commitment to social justice. The University of Chicago Press has been remarkably supportive throughout this process. I am grateful, first, to Robert Devens for signing me up, and then to Tim Mennel, Susannah Engstrom, and Joel Score for shepherding me through the editorial stages of publication with an almost otherworldly mix of persistence, patience, and good humor. Jacob Dorman and an anonymous reviewer provided valuable comments, and the final text is stronger thanks to their efforts. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine a finished book at all without Tim Gilfoyle’s guidance and support throughout. From ushering the initial project into the Historical Studies of Urban America series to providing lightning-fast comments and unerring suggestions for tightening the manuscript, Tim has made the rough path smoother and the book much better. His contributions as an editor probably deserve an entire paragraph on their own, but that would just make the whole thing longer again. Family members contribute in unique ways to an endeavor like this. My mother, Pat Sites, has been a supporter of good writing, and of me, for longer than either of us can remember. She will appreciate this book like no one else. My father, Jack Sites, is no longer with us, but he was always there when it mattered. Leaving on his own terms, he also left plenty of strength and courage behind. My brother, Jim, remains a steadying presence, and I value his help and friendship more and more, as I do Shannon’s. I am grateful to all of them—for their support, their endurance, their humor, and more. Izzy and Norie Kaufman-Sites have scarcely known a time when Dad wasn’t working on this book. Yet few people have waited more patiently for it to be done. Helpful throughout in ways large and small, my girls also developed the special grace of knowing when to ask how the book was going. Meanwhile, they have grown into their own. Making me proud every day, they are already discovering their own pathways. Suzanne Kaufman does get her own paragraph. But there’s still not enough space to detail the myriad ways she contributed to this book. My initial struggles to define the project only resolved when she taught me to



think like a historian. My work in the archives relied on her guidance and suggestions. Then there’s the routine stuff: talking through ideas, reading multiple drafts, helping to decide what each chapter was really about. It is hard to think of any stage, in fact, when her assistance wasn’t central to the progress of the book. No words can convey gratitude for support on this scale. Life partner, intellectual comrade, real historian—at this point all I can do is repeat myself: the next book is yours.


Introduction 1. Nat Hentoff, “Sun Ra,” Down Beat, 4 April 1957; Chip Stern, “Jack DeJohnette: South Side to Woodstock,” Down Beat, 2 November 1978, 26; Jimmy Ellis, Charles Walton Papers, box 11, folder 57, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library. 2. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 46 (“psychopathic personality”). Among the large body of recent writing on Sun Ra, much of it by scholars of literature and religion, see Anthony Reed, “After the End of the World: Sun Ra and the Grammar of Utopia,” Black Camera 5, no. 1 (2013): 118–39; Jason C. Bivens, Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 66–112; and Brent Hayes Edwards, Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 120–53. 3. Szwed, Space Is the Place; Paul Youngquist, A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016). See also John Corbett, Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 7–24; Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis, eds., Pathways to Unknown Worlds: El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954–68 (Chicago: WhiteWalls, 2006). My account also will rely extensively on documentation provided in Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, 4. Sun Ra did not call himself an Afrofuturist. The term—referring not only to black science fiction but more generally to Afrodiasporic cultural production that appropriates modern technologies in order to imagine a black future—was first introduced in print by Mark Dery, “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, ed. Mark Dery (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 179–222. For important early discussions of Afrofuturism, see The Last Angel of History, directed by John Akomfrah (Icarus Films Home Video, 1995, DVD); Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London:


Notes to Pages 3–4

Quartet Books, 1998); and Alondra Nelson, “Introduction: Future Texts,” Social Text 20, no. 2 (2002): 1–15. For a general survey, see Ytasha L. Womack, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2013). 5. Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Matthew J. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 6 (“civil rights liberalism”). For music and the Renaissance, see Ted Vincent, Keep Cool: The Black Activists Who Built the Jazz Age (London: Pluto Press, 1995); Paul Allen Anderson, Deep River: Music and Memory in Harlem Renaissance Thought (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001); Davarian L. Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 155–92; Lara Putnam, Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 153–95; Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 21–62; and Charles Lester, “‘You Just Can’t Keep the Music Unless You Move With It’: The Great Migration and the Black Cultural Politics of Jazz in New Orleans and Chicago,” in Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem, ed. Davarian L. Baldwin and Minkah Makalani (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 313–34. For the Black Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s and 1940s, see Robert Bone, “Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance,” Callaloo 28 (1986): 446–68; Bill V. Mullen, Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935–1946 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Anne Meis Knupfer, The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932–1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011); and Liesl Olson, Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 235–83. See also Steven C. Tracey, ed., Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011); Darlene Clark Hine and John McCluskey Jr., eds., The Black Chicago Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012). See also Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Michael C. Dawson, Blacks In and Out of the Left (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Adolph Reed Jr. and Kenneth W. Warren, eds., Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of African American Thought (New York: Routledge, 2010). 6. See “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing,” in Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), 1–17; Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990); David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005); David Pinder, Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in the Twentieth-Century Urbanism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005).

Notes to Pages 4–5


7. Centering a larger historical account on a socially marginal figure has generated significant methodological discussion across the subfields of biography and microhistory. See Carlo Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It,” Critical Inquiry 20 (1993): 10–35; Jill Lepore, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” Journal of American History 88, no. 1 (2001): 129–44; Sigurδur Gylfi Magnússon, “The Life Is Never Over: Biography as a Microhistorical Approach,” in The Biographical Turn: Lives in History, ed. Hans Renders, Binne de Haan, and Jonne Harmsma (New York: Routledge, 2017), 42–52. For classic microhistories, see Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (New York: Penguin, 1980); Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 (New York: Vintage, 1990). For more recent approaches, see Timothy J. Gilfoyle, A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York (New York: Norton, 2006), and Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: Norton, 2019). 8. For black utopian thought, see Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); Anthony Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals (New York: Routledge, 2003); Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post–Civil Rights Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Alex Zamalin, Black Utopia: The History of an Idea from Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019). For black self-help and the urban South, see August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto, 3rd ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 222; Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 84–85; and W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Social Evolution of the Black South,” American Negro Monographs 1, no. 4 (March 1911): 7–8. 9. James Weldon Johnson, “Harlem: The Culture Capital,” in The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1925), 301 (“city within a city”), 309 (“self-supporting”), 311 (“all Negro peoples”); St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 114–15 (“‘of our own’”; italics and quotation marks in original). An earlier use by Du Bois of the phrase “city within a city” did not imply a black urban capacity for self-definition or collective action; see W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899), 5. See also Marcus Anthony Hunter, “W. E. B. Du Bois and Black Heterogeneity: How The Philadelphia Negro Shaped American Sociology,” American Sociologist 46, no. 2 (2015): 219–33. 10. See Charles Scruggs, Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 206. For a late-1950s critique of Chicago’s slum-clearance program, see Chicago Urban League, Urban Renewal and the Negro in Chicago (Chicago, 1958).


Notes to Pages 5–7

11. Andreas Huyssen, “Introduction: World Cultures, World Cities,” in Other Cities, Other Worlds, ed. Andreas Huyssen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 3. For historical studies of urban imaginaries, see Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), and Nick Yablon, Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819–1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). See also Alev Çinar and Thomas Bender, eds., Urban Imaginaries: Locating the Modern City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006); Daniel Matlin, “‘A New Reality of Harlem’: Imagining the African American Urban Future during the 1960s,” Journal of American Studies 52, no. 4 (2018): 991–1024. 12. For blueprint utopianism, see Russell Jacoby, Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); for everyday utopianism, Michael E. Gardiner, “Everyday Utopianism: Lefebvre and His Critics,” Cultural Studies 18, nos. 2/3 (2004): 228–54. Archival sources for this study include the Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (hereafter AACSR). Most of the AACSR documents and artifacts apparently came from Abraham’s Chicago home; see Peter Margasak, “Ra Materials,” Chicago Reader, 28 September 2006. Shortly after the materials were acquired by the library, I relied on the Alton Abraham Collection Preliminary Inventory (hereafter AACPI) for two scholarly publications: William Sites, “Radical Culture in Black Necropolis: Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, and Postwar Chicago,” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 4 (2012): 687–719, and William Sites, “‘We Travel the Spaceways’: Urban Utopianism and the Imagined Spaces of Black Experimental Music,” Urban Geography 33, no. 4 (2012): 566–92. For this book, I have also drawn from an array of other archival materials, especially the Charles Walton Papers, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library; a series of interviews conducted by music journalist Ted Panken, many accessible in transcript form through the blog Today Is the Question: Ted Panken on Music, Politics and the Arts,; and a number of collections housed at the Birmingham, Alabama, Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts. 13. Huyssen, “Introduction,” 7. See also John A. Agnew, “Space and Place,” in The Sage Handbook of Geographical Knowledge, ed. John A. Agnew and David N. Livingstone (Los Angeles: Sage, 2011), 316–30, and related entries in The Dictionary of Human Geography, 5th ed., ed. Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael J. Watts, and Sarah Whatmore (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). For pioneering studies of imaginative geographies, see Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), and Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1994). 14. From a broad range of scholarship on black religious heterodoxy, see Bogues, Black Heretics; Stephen G. Hall, A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Judith Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York: New York University

Notes to Pages 7–8


Press, 2016). See also Edward E. Curtis IV and Danielle Brune Sigler, eds., The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009); Bivens, Spirits Rejoice! 15. See, e.g., Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); Eric Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Benjamin Looker, “Point from Which Creation Begins”: The Black Artists’ Group of St. Louis (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2004); Steven L. Isoardi, The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Anthony F. Macias, Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935–1968 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). For insightful studies of musical styles and American culture more broadly, see also Gerald Early, One Nation under a Groove: Motown and American Culture, rev. ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), and George Lipsitz, Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). 16. For musical studies of race and culture in the interwar and early postwar United States, see David W. Stowe, Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994); Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Lewis A. Erenberg, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); and Ingrid Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). For perceptive studies of music scene and musical meaning in more recent periods, see Travis A. Jackson, Blowin’ the Blues Away: Performance and Meaning on the New York Jazz Scene (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), and Michael C. Heller, Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017). 17. For historical scholarship on musicians and Chicago, see, e.g., William Howland Kenney, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Derek Vaillant, Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873–1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Amy Absher, The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900–1967 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014); and Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself. For historical studies of music and other cities, see Gavin James Campbell, Music and the Making of a New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Charles Hersch, Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); and Michael Denning, Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution (New York: Verso, 2015).


Notes to Pages 8–11

18. For scholarship emphasizing the urban origins of many 1940s-era black southern migrants to northern cities, see J. Trent Alexander, “The Great Migration in Comparative Perspective: Interpreting the Urban Origins of Southern Black Migrants to DepressionEra Pittsburgh,” Social Science History 22, no. 3 (1998): 349–76; Stewart E. Tolnay, “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond,” Annual Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 209–32; James N. Gregory, “The Second Great Migration: A Historical Overview,” in African American Urban History Since World War II, ed. Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe W. Trotter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 19–38; and Leah Platt Boustan, Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 39–64. 19. On the growing salience of white/black racial distinctions in postwar Chicago, see Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 171–211; Andrew J. Diamond, Mean Streets: Chicago Youths and the Everyday Struggle for Empowerment in the Multiracial City, 1908–1969 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 152–92; Lilia Fernández, Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 57–90; and Thomas A. Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 172–76. For broader historical discussion, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 91–135; Arnold R. Hirsch, “E Pluribus Duo? Thoughts on ‘Whiteness’ and Chicago’s ‘New’ Immigration as a Transient Third Tier,” Journal of American Ethnic History 23, no. 4 (2004): 7–44; Ronald H. Bayor, “Another Look at ‘Whiteness’: The Persistence of Ethnicity in American Life,” Journal of American Ethnic History 29, no. 1 (2009): 13–30; and Neil Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: Norton, 2010), 366–72. 20. The quintessential presentation of postwar Chicago as a defeated city can be found in Nelson Algren, City on the Make (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1951); see also Carlo Rotella, October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 25. For the blues, see, e.g., Mike Rowe, Chicago Blues: The City and the Music (New York: Da Capo, 1975); for the subsequent identification of Chicago with blues music as an invented tradition, see David Grazian, Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 255–56n11. For an insightful survey of twentieth-century “renditions of Chicago,” see Larry Bennett, The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Part 1 1. “Unhampered Development of the Races” (editorial), Birmingham News, 24 April 1917 (emphasis added). 2. Interview with Sun Ra in Robert D. Rusch, Jazz Talk: The Cadence Interviews (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984), 62 (“time zone”); John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 6 (“true birthday”). 3. Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin

Notes to Pages 13–15


Nicolaus (New York: Vintage, 1973), 539. For racial subordination as denial of shared historical time, see, e.g., Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 202n13; Saidiya V. Hartman, “The Time of Slavery,” South Atlantic Quarterly 101, no. 4 (2002): 757–77; and Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 37–48.

Chapter 1 1. Nathan Ben Young, “Eighteenth Street (Birmingham): An Anthology in Color,” in Ebony and Topaz: A Collectanea, ed. Charles S. Johnson (New York: National Urban League, 1927), 37–46. 2. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 4; Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews, Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 68 (“rickety, raggedy”); The Shoppers’ Guide of Greater Birmingham (Birmingham: Davis Advertising and Sales Co., 1909), accessed 27 May 2019,; US Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States (1920), Population Schedule, accessed 2 July 2018, (Ida and Jim); US Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States (1910), Population Schedule, accessed 12 Dec 2019, (Cary Blount); Ellen Tarry, The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), 24 (“store-bought suits”). 3. Birmingham City Directory 1917, LPR104, box 17, 1913–1917, Alabama Department of Archives and History; Birmingham City Directory, 1922, Jefferson County, Alabama Online Historical Directories, accessed 3 November 2014, onlinedirectorysite/Home/usa/al/jefferson; Birmingham, Alabama (Birmingham: Nathan Nirenstein, 1937), Alabama Department of Archives and History, accessed 28 June 2017,; “The Greek Community in Birmingham,” transcript of interview with Nicholas Christu, University of Alabama in Birmingham Oral History Project, 3 February 1977; Birmingham City Directory, Polk, 1922, Jefferson County, Alabama Online Historical Directories, accessed 14 May 2014, jefferson (Tom Stevens); US Census, 1920 Census , accessed 2 July 2018, https://www (DiGesu). See also Franklin D. Wilson, “The Ecology of a Black Business District,” Review of Black Political Economy 5, no. 4 (1975): 353–75; Lynne B. Feldman, A Sense of Place: Birmingham’s Black Middle Class Community, 1890–1930 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), 86; John N. Ingham, “Building Businesses, Creating Communities: Residential Segregation and the Growth of African American Businesses in Southern Cities,” Business History Review 77, no. 4 (2003): 658–60. 4. Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, The Magic City (Saturn LPB 711, 1966, LP). For a lead sheet titled “Magic City,” see “Sun Ra Charts,” Tone Science, accessed 15 January 2015, See also Szwed, Space Is the Place, 213.


Notes to Pages 15–18

5. Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, “Roots of Birmingham’s Gospel Quartet Training Culture: Spiritual Singing at Industrial High School,” Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association 23 (2010): 7–25; Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 113–216; Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2017), 145–46 (Charles Anderson); Sammy Lowe, “Diary of a Black Musician,” Sammy Lowe Collection, AR1137, Birmingham (AL) Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, part 1, p. 30 (Reverend Becton). 6. For Birmingham’s black commercial district, see Ingham, “Building Businesses”; Zane L. Miller, “Urban Blacks in the South, 1865–1920: The Richmond, Savannah, New Orleans, Louisville and Birmingham Experience,” in The New Urban History: Quantitative Explorations by American Historians, ed. Leo F. Schnore (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), 184–204; and Margaret Longnecker White, ed., The Birmingham District: An Industrial History and Guide (Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society, 1981), 321. 7. For classic ghetto-formation studies emphasizing black isolation, see Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870– 1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976); and Thomas Lee Philpott, The Slum and the Ghetto: Neighborhood Deterioration and Middle-Class Reform, Chicago, 1880–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). For a critique, see Thomas J. Sugrue, “Revisiting the Second Ghetto,” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 3 (2003): 281–90. For the legal “separation of races,” see The Code of City of Birmingham, Alabama (Birmingham: Birmingham Printing and Bindery Co., 1917), and The General Code of the City of Birmingham, Alabama, of 1930 (Birmingham: Birmingham Printing Co., 1930). For areas zoned for black settlement in the 1920s, see Charles E. Connerly, “The Most Segregated City in America”: City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920–1980 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 50. 8. For black elites and the black middle classes in the urban South in this period, see Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk, Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Leslie Brown, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); and Feldman, Sense of Place. 9. For spatial patterns in early twentieth-century Southern cities, see Connerly, Most Segregated City; Ingham, “Building Businesses”; Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875–1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Wilson, “Ecology of a Black Business District”; Miller, “Urban Blacks in the South”; White, Birmingham District, 321. See also Alison Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 107–23. 10. Feldman, Sense of Place; Allen R. Durough, The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield, Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010); Michael W. Fazio, Landscape of Transformations: Architecture and Birmingham, Alabama (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2010), 162.

Notes to Pages 18–22


11. Quoted in William A. Muraskin, Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 199 (“history tells us”). For the temple interior, see Monique Jones, “Building History: Inside the Closed Masonic Temple in Downtown Birmingham,” Birmingham Times, 13 April 2017. 12. “Birmingham Public Library: Triennial Report, 1935–1937,” 27, Smithfield Branch Library Clippings Files, AR1824.1.13B, Birmingham (AL) Public Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts; Jones, “Building History.” For early Prince Hall texts, see Joanna Brooks, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 115–50, and Laurie F. MafflyKipp, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 20–40. 13. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 35–36; Marilyn T. Peebles, The Alabama Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia: A Brief History (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 10 (“They showed”). 14. See “A Note or Two,” Chicago Defender, 15 December 1917 and 11 October 1924; Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2014), 451–53; Oscar W. Adams, “What Negroes Are Doing,” Birmingham News, 22 April 1917, 25. 15. Paige A. McGinley, Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 31–37; Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2017); Tabernacle Baptist Church, accessed 2 December 2014, http://www; Szwed, Space Is the Place, 9 (“help Jesus”). 16. Apparently, no score or lead sheet for “Chocolate Avenue” survives, and the composer himself never recorded the piece, which was written in 1929 or 1930; see Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, .html. For “city within a city,” see James Weldon Johnson, “Harlem: The Culture Capital,” in The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1925), 301. For “great mass,” see W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Social Evolution of the Black South,” American Negro Monographs 1, no. 4 (March 1911): 8–9, accessed 20 October 2014, 17. John R. Hornady, The Book of Birmingham (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1921), 69 (“There has never”); Feldman, Sense of Place, 96 (“Over and beyond”). For the class and racial ideology of black elites in Birmingham and the New South, see Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 61, and Brian Kelly, “Beyond the ‘Talented Tenth’: Black Elites, Black Workers, and the Limits of Accommodation in Industrial Birmingham,” in Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, ed. Charles M. Payne and Adam Green (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 276–301. 18. Joe William Trotter Jr., Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–1945, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), xiv (“race-conscious


Notes to Pages 22–25

agenda”). For the class and racial agenda of interwar black Chicago, see Christopher Robert Reed, The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 146–85. For foundational studies of racial uplift, see August Meier, Negro Thought in America: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), and Gaines, Uplifting the Race. On uplift ideology in Birmingham, see Feldman, Sense of Place. 19. August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto, 3rd ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 222; William S. Toll, The Resurgence of Race: Black Social Theory from Reconstruction to the Pan-African Conferences (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), 109; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Economic Co-operation among Negro Americans” (electronic edition; Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), 138, accessed 26 June 2017,; transcript of oral history interview with H. D. Coke, University of Alabama Libraries, Digital Collections, CK-16 (2) A and B, 27 June 1984, pp. 13, 29, accessed 3 October 2013, (“temporary chairman”; emphasis added); St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 81 (“dream of a black metropolis”). 20. Hornady, Book of Birmingham, 57 (“prostrate”), 170 (Heaviest Corner). 21. Code of City of Birmingham, Alabama, sec. 1529, p. 658 (“human voice,” “musical instrument”); see also Carl V. Harris, Political Power in Birmingham, 1871–1921 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977), 186–216. 22. William R. Snell, “Masked Men in the Magic City: Activities of the Revised Klan in Birmingham, 1916–1940,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 34 (Fall–Winter 1972): 206–27; “Klan Will Ride Thursday Night,” Birmingham Post, 15 September 1931, Ku Klux Klan Scrapbooks, 1913–1967, AR257, Birmingham (AL) Public Library. See also Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 82; Kathleen Blee and Amy McDowell, “The Duality of Spectacle and Secrecy: A Case Study of Fraternalism in the 1920s US Ku Klux Klan,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 36, no. 2 (2013): 249–65. 23. Octavus Roy Cohen, Assorted Chocolates (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922); Octavus Roy Cohen, Bigger and Blacker (Boston: Little, Brown, 1925). See also Paul McCann, “Performing Primitivism: Disarming the Social Threat of Jazz in Narrative Fiction of the Early Twenties,” Journal of Popular Culture 41, no. 4 (2008): 672. 24. Young, “Eighteenth Street.” For biographical information, see “Nathan B. Young (1894–1993),” Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections: Archives and Manuscripts, accessed 4 January 2014, 25. Young, “Eighteenth Street,” 37. 26. Young, “Eighteenth Street,” 37. 27. Young, “Eighteenth Street,” 37. 28. Will Friedwald, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (New York: Pantheon, 2010), 556. See also “Marion Harris,” Red Hot Jazz, accessed 26 June 2017,

Notes to Pages 26–30


29. Clarence Williams and His Orchestra, “Chocolate Avenue/Dispossessin’ Me” (recorded 1 September 1933; Vocalion 2584); see CollectorsFrenzy, accessed 20 May 2014, http:// details/ 331205567044/ Clarence _Williams _Orch _Chocolate_Avenue_Dispossessin_Me_Vocalion_1445_78_rpm. See also Tom Lord, Clarence Williams (Essex, England: Storyville, 1976), 350–51, and “Clarence Williams and His Orchestra,” Red Hot Jazz, accessed 26 June 2017, williamso.html. Both sides have been reissued on Clarence Williams 1933 (Classics 845, 1995), CD.

Chapter 2 1. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 19–22; US Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930), Population Schedule, accessed 29 May 2019, 2. Contrast, e.g., Thomas Brothers, Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans (New York: Norton, 2006), and Al Kennedy, Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002). For “incubation points,” see Kennedy, Chord Changes, xix. 3. Lynne B. Feldman, A Sense of Place: Birmingham’s Black Middle Class Community, 1890–1930 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), 112–36; Vantella Vaughn, “School Activities,” Birmingham World, 15 October 1932, 2. 4. Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews, Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 62–63; Chip Stern, “Tribal Elders: Wilson Driver, Driver Man: Reflections of an Urban Griot,” accessed 12 February 2015,; Sammy Lowe, “Diary of a Black Musician,” Sammy Lowe Collection, AR1137, Birmingham (AL) Public Library Archive, part 1, pp. 92–93 (“Congo Rock”). 5. For the relation between interwar American development and swing music, see Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); David W. Stowe, Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994); and Lewis A. Erenberg, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 6. Erskine Hawkins, transcript of oral history interview, 18 September 1978, University of Alabama Libraries, Digital Collections, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, accessed 28 May 2019, http:// contentdm .mhsl .uab .edu/ cdm/ compoundobject/collection/oralhistory/id/424/show/422/rec/2; Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra, “Tuxedo Junction” (Bluebird B-10409-B, 1939). 7. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 54–55. For Sun Ra’s “Discipline” series, see Robert L. Campbell and Christopher Trent, The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra, 2nd ed. (Redwood, NY: Cadence, 2000).


Notes to Pages 30–32

8. W. David Lewis, Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District: An Industrial Epic (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994), 49; Matthew A. Kierstead, “Vulcan: Birmingham’s Industrial Colossus,” Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology 28, no.1 (2002): 59–74; The WPA Guide to 1930s Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000), 177. 9. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 7. 10. For black urbanization and Birmingham, see Carl V. Harris, “Reforms in Government Control of Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama, 1890–1920,” Journal of Southern History 38, no. 4 (1972): 567–600; Paul K. Edwards, The Southern Urban Negro as a Consumer (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1932), 3; US Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States, 1920–1932 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1935), table 11 (“Negro Population of Cities and Other Urban Places: 1930 and 1920”), 56; and August Meier, Negro Thought in America: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), 274. For Birmingham’s labor and racial politics, see Henry M. McKiven Jr., Iron and Steel: Class, Race, and Community in Birmingham, Alabama, 1875–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Gerald Friedman, “The Political Economy of Early Southern Unionism: Race, Politics, and Labor in the South, 1880–1953,” Journal of Economic History 60, no. 2 (2000): 384–413; and Brian Kelly, “Beyond the ‘Talented Tenth’: Black Elites, Black Workers, and the Limits of Accommodation in Industrial Birmingham, 1900–1921,” in Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850–1950, ed. Charles M. Payne and Adam Green (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 276–301. For black proletarianization, see Joe William Trotter Jr., Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–1945, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007). 11. Ellen Tarry, The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), 85 (“half-naked,” “goggled,” “industrial magic”); James Saxon Childers, A White Man and a Black Man in the Deep South (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936), 67; Lewis, Sloss Furnaces, 374 (“white persons of the Caucasian race”); Virginia van der Veer Hamilton, Teddy’s Child: Growing Up in the Anxious Southern Gentry between the Great Wars: A Family Memoir (Montgomery, AL: New South Books, 2009), 4 (“dark cloud”). 12. Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities (New York: Harper & Row, 1965); Harold L. Platt, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); John R. Hornady, The Book of Birmingham (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1921), 1–2 (“They planned”); Lewis, Sloss Furnaces, 33; W. David Lewis, “The Emergence of Birmingham as a Case Study of Continuity between the Antebellum Planter Class and Industrialization in the ‘New South,’” Agricultural History 68, no. 2 (Spring 1994): 62–79; Henry W. Grady, The Complete Orations and Speeches of Henry W. Grady, ed. Edwin DuBois Shurter (New York: Hinds, Noble and Eldredge, 1910), 7–22 (“the New South”). 13. Andrew Zimmerman, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 32–40.

Notes to Pages 32–35


14. Gavin Wright, “The Economic Revolution in the American South,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 1, no. 1 (1987): 161–78. 15. Bobby M. Wilson, America’s Johannesburg: Industrialization and Racial Transformation in Birmingham (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000); Edwards, Southern Urban Negro, 16–21; James Saxon Childers, Mumbo Jumbo, Esquire: A Book about the Two Africas (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1941), 92–94. 16. Virginia van der Veer Hamilton, Alabama: A History (New York: Norton, 1984), 137 (“great workshop town”). For the economic implications of the Birmingham regime, see Wilson, America’s Johannesburg, 108–35, and Wright, “Economic Revolution.” 17. Pittsburgh Courier, 3 November 1934, 8 (“Fess Whatley of Birmingham”); Robert D. Rusch, Jazz Talk: The Cadence Interviews (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984), 63 (“bought the bus”). 18. David R. Goldfield, “The Urban South: A Regional Framework,” American Historical Review 86, no. 5 (1981): 1016 (“urbanization without cities”). See also Rudolph Heberle, “The Mainsprings of Southern Urbanization,” in The Urban South, ed. Rupert B. Vance and Nicholas J. Demerath (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954), 6–23. 19. The 1930 census defined a city as having a minimum of twenty-five hundred inhabitants. For the black populations of particular cities, see US Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States, 1920–1932, table 11, 56–66. As of 1930, fifty-one of the eighty US cities having African American populations of at least ten thousand were located in the South; see Robert E. Weems Jr., Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 11. On radio ownership, see Edwards, Southern Urban Negro, 183–84. For Stanleigh Malotte, see Tim Hollis, Memories of Downtown Birmingham: Where All the Lights Were Bright (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014), 69. 20. Jothan McKinley Callins, “The Birmingham Jazz Community: The Role and Contributions of Afro-Americans (Up to 1940)” (MA thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 1982), 74 (live broadcasts). For radio programs, see “Those Wild Radio Waves,” Birmingham World, for the following dates: 15 October 1932, p. 2; 18 October 1932, p. 2; 25 October 1932, p. 3. See also Lowe, “Diary,” part 1, p. 34 (widespread recognition), 27 (“starved for dancing”). For territory-band venues, see Thomas J. Hennessey, From Jazz to Swing: African American Jazz Musicians and Their Music, 1890–1935 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 107. 21. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 66 (weekend trips); transcript of oral history interview with Amos F. Gordon, University of Alabama Libraries, Digital Collections, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, p. 4 (“they have dances”), accessed 15 June 2017, http://acumen.lib For Blount’s 1934 tour, see “To Hold Dance at Casino Club,” Kingsport Times, 12 October 1934, 3; “Danville, Ill.,” Pittsburgh Courier, 1 December 1934, A6; Katherine Kent Lambert, “Alabama State: Birmingham News,” Chicago Defender, 15 December 1934, national edition, 24; “At Cotton Club,” Chicago Defender, 24 November 1934, national edition, 8; and Jack Ellis, “The Orchestras,” Chicago Defender 24 November 1934, national edition, 8. 22. “Danville, Ill.,” Pittsburgh Courier, 1 December 1934, A6; “Sonny Blount Will Play


Notes to Pages 35–38

Here Tonight,” Atlanta Daily World, 8 February 1935, A3; Allen J. Singer, Stepping Out in Cincinnati: Queen City Entertainment 1900–1960 (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005), 69–70; “Sonny Blount and Band Now in Louisville,” Chicago Defender, 1 December 1934, national edition, 9; “Dance,” Middlesboro Daily News, 31 December 1934, 3; “Across the Desk of the Theatrical Editor,” Pittsburgh Courier, 27 April 1935, A9; “Sheffield, Ala.,” Chicago Defender, national edition, 7 September 1935, 20. 23. Hennessey, From Jazz to Swing, 108; C. Marzette-Bolivar, Swing Lowe (Birmingham: Marzette Media, 2013), 35 (“first to master”); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 11. 24. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Bantam Dell, 1989), 56; Negro Motorist Green-Book (New York: Victor H. Green, 1938), 10 (Yeah Man), accessed via New York Public Library, Digital Collections, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. 25. Lucius Jones, “Society Slants,” Atlanta Daily World, 21 February 1935, 3, and 18 February 1935, 3. On the Sunset, see Clifford M. Kuhn, Harlon E. Joye, and E. Bernard West, Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914–1948 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 293–94. See also the Sunset Casino–related archive: James Neal Montgomery Collection, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, accessed 3 June 2014, http://aafa 26. Lucius Jones, “Society Slants,” Atlanta Daily World, 10 March 1935, 2 (“Nagasaki”); Jeffrey Magee, The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 182–83; Lane Earns and Brian Burke-Gaffney, “Back in Nagasaki Where the Fellers Chew Tobaccy . . . ,” Crossroads: A Journal of Nagasaki History and Culture 2 (1994), See also the Five Chances, “Nagasaki” (recorded 10 April 1954; Chance CH-1157); reissued on Sun Ra, The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency 0316, 2012, CD 8 of 14). 27. Ralph Matthews, Baltimore Afro-American, 1 January 1933 (“plunking banjo”); Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2014), 12. For the complex cultural positionings entailed by 1930s-era black performances of Oriental exoticism, see Stephanie Leigh Batiste, Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation-Era African American Performance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 115–65. 28. Marzette-Bolivar, Swing Lowe, 56 (“On the road”); transcript of oral history interview with Irene Monroe, Bessemer, Alabama, 11 July 1994, “Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South” (digital collection), John Hope Franklin Research Center, Duke University Libraries, accessed 28 June 2018, https://library.duke .edu/rubenstein/findingaids/btv/ (“tourist homes”). 29. Marzette-Bolivar, Swing Lowe, 56 (“ours for the asking”), 214–15 (“easy prey”); Hazel V. Carby, Race Men (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 144 (“weights”); Lowe, “Diary” (Bascomb). 30. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 85 (“So he crawled”). 31. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 85 (“can’t be stopped”). For the transition in black masculine ideals, see Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North

Notes to Pages 40–41


Carolina Press, 2004); Marlon B. Ross, Manning the Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim Crow Era (New York: New York University Press, 2004); and Angela Hornsby-Gutting, Black Manhood and Community Building in North Carolina, 1900–1930 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009).

Chapter 3 1. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 23, 29–30. 2. Robert Gooding-Williams, In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 19–65; Erica R. Edwards, Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Thomas R. Gray and Nat Turner, “The Confessions of Nat Turner” (1831), Zea E-Books in American Studies, accessed 11 September 2017, http://digitalcommons.unl .edu/zeaamericanstudies/11; Delores S. Williams, “Visions, Inner Voices, Apparitions and Defiance in Black Women’s Nineteenth Century Narratives,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 21, nos. 1–2 (1993): 81–89; Anthony B. Pinn, “Church of God and Saints of Christ,” in African American Religious Cultures, vol. 1, ed. Anthony B. Pinn (Santa Barbara, CA: ABCCLIO, 2009), 152–56; Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 23–55. 3. Emanuel Swedenborg, The Worlds in Space, trans. John Chadwick (1758; London: Swedenborg Society, 1997); K. Paul Johnson, Edgar Cayce in Context: The Readings: Truth or Fiction (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998), 7. For the downtown location of the Theosophical Society Hall, see the map Birmingham, Alabama (Birmingham: Nathan Nirenstein, 1937), Alabama Department of Archives and History, accessed 28 June 2017, .html. 4. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 32 (“sake of beauty”); US Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930), Population Schedule. By 1940 Ida had turned a major portion of the building into a boarding house, with eight lodgers; see US Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States (1940), Population Schedule. Both accessed 2 July 2018, 5. Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth Century Norfolk, Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 5–6 (“home sphere”). On female leadership and the “homeplace,” see bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990), 41–50. 6. Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews, Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 71. By 1941, readers of the Atlanta Daily World were being invited to “Dance with the ‘Solo-Vax’ Artist SONNY BLOUNT and his Birmingham, Ala. SWING ORCHESTRA”; see Atlanta Daily World, 1 August 1941, 3. The wire recorder was an early magnetic recording device that stored audio signals on a thin steel wire; see Mark Brend, The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012), 14–18.


Notes to Pages 42–48

7. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 71 (“I don’t know,” “man’s not crazy”). 8. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 36 (“radical claim”); Adams and Mathews, Doc, 81. 9. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 30 (Shaw); Mildred Hocutt Easterling, transcript of oral history interview, 20 May 1976, University of Alabama Libraries, Digital Collections, University of Alabama, Birmingham, accessed 18 June 2017, mhe/sternelibrary (“saved people”); “District History,” Southern District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, accessed 20 August 2015, History.aspx (Tingley); Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 132–33 (Jane Speed). 10. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 92–116, 196. 11. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 35 (“Thermodynamics,” “Fission”). See also John Cheng, Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); George S. Schuyler, Black Empire (1936–1938; Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991); Adams and Mathews, Doc, 71 (“x-ray ears”); W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Bantam Dell, 1989), 3 (second-sight). 12. Rev. A. W. Nix and Congregation, “The White Flyer to Heaven, Parts I and II” (Brunswick 7020-A and 7020-B, 1927). See also Paul Oliver, Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 152–53; Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 31–32; Alan Rice, Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (New York: Continuum, 2003), 115; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “Rethinking Vernacular Culture: Black Religion and Race Records in the 1920s and 1930s,” in African American Religious Thought: An Anthology, ed. Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 989, 994; Jonathan L. Walton, “The Preachers’ Blues: Religious Race Records and Claims of Authority on Wax,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 20, no. 2 (2010): 205–32. 13. Adams and Mathews, Doc, xxi, 81. 14. Chip Stern, “Tribal Elders: Wilson Driver, Driver Man: Reflections of an Urban Griot,” accessed 12 February 2015, 15. Adams and Mathews, Doc, 81. 16. “Herman Blount, Band Leader, Held as Draft Dodger,” Atlanta Daily World, 2 January 1943, 2. 17. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 43, 45. 18. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 47. 19. “Hits and Bits,” Atlanta Daily World, 2 February 1945, 5; Charles E. Connerly, “The Most Segregated City in America”: City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920–1980 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 74; Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1994), 35–54; “Society Slants,” Birmingham World, 9 March 1945, 3 (“hoodlums and cutups,” “banned out”). 20. For classic ghetto-synthesis studies, see Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967);

Notes to Pages 48–49


Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976); and Thomas Lee Philpott, The Slum and the Ghetto: Neighborhood Deterioration and Middle-Class Reform, Chicago, 1880–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). For a critique, see Thomas J. Sugrue, “Revisiting the Second Ghetto,” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 3 (2003): 281–90. For a range of studies addressing black musical settings, communal pleasure, moral censure, and dreams of freedom in early twentieth-century cities, see, e.g., Tera W. Hunter, “‘Sexual Pantomimes,’ the Blues Aesthetic, and Black Women in the New South,” in Music and the Racial Imagination, ed. Ronald M. Radano and Philip V. Bohlman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 145–64; Victoria W. Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 96–106; Gavin James Campbell, Music and the Making of a New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Charles Hersch, Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); and Lara Putnam, Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 153–95. 21. The classic urban study of black proletarianization is Joe William Trotter Jr., Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–1945, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, while not explicitly presented in the same terms, addresses many related issues of class, race, and political consciousness in 1930s Birmingham. 22. For urban historical literature that draws in various ways on a communitybuilding approach, see Lewis, In Their Own Interests; Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Kimberley L. Phillips, AlabamaNorth: African-American Migrants, Community, and Working Class Activism in Cleveland, 1915–45 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Richard W. Thomas, Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915–1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Wendell E. Pritchett, Brownsville: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Peter Gottlieb, Making Their Own Way: Southern Blacks’ Migration to Pittsburgh, 1916–30 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997); and Leslie Brown, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). See also Earl Lewis, “To Turn as on a Pivot: Writing African Americans into a History of Overlapping Diasporas,” American Historical Review 100, no. 3 (June 1995), 765–87, which articulates a definition of community-building approaches. 23. For popular accounts emphasizing a rural-to-urban migration, see Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (New York: Vintage, 1992), and Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Vintage, 2011). For recent scholarship emphasizing the urban origins of many 1940s-era black southern migrants, see James N. Gregory, “The Second Great Migration: A Historical Overview,” in African American Urban History Since World War II, ed. Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe W. Trotter (Chicago: University of Chicago


Notes to Pages 52–53

Press, 2009), 26; J. Trent Alexander, “The Great Migration in Comparative Perspective: Interpreting the Urban Origins of Southern Black Migrants to Depression-Era Pittsburgh,” Social Science History 22, no. 3 (1998): 349–76; Stewart E. Tolnay, “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond,” Annual Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 209–32; and Leah Platt Boustan, Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 39–64.

Part 2 1. William Everett Samuels, The Union and the Black Musician (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984); Clark Halker, “A History of Local 208 and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the American Federation of Musicians,” Black Music Research Journal 8, no. 2 (1988): 207–22; Amy Absher, The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900–1967 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 59–72. Beyond the legitimate clubs, a number of South Side venues were not union-approved and did not pay scale. 2. For racial segregation in nineteenth-century Chicago, see Thomas Lee Philpott, The Slum and the Ghetto: Neighborhood Deterioration and Middle-Class Reform, Chicago, 1880–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 113–61; Margaret Garb, City of American Dreams: A History of Home Ownership and Housing Reform in Chicago, 1871–1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 39, 57; and John R. Logan, Weiwei Zhang, and Miao David Chunyu, “Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940,” American Journal of Sociology 120, no. 4 (2015): 1055–94. For population data, see Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for Large Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States,” Working Paper 76, Population Division, US Census Bureau, February 2005, accessed 10 September 2018, population/www/documentation/twps0076/twps0076.html. For the emergent South Side ghetto, see Alzada P. Comstock, “Chicago Housing Conditions, VI: The Problem of the Negro,” American Journal of Sociology 18, no. 2 (1912): 241–57; Sophonisba P. Breckenridge, “The Color Line in the Housing Problem,” Survey 29 (1913): 575–76; Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 11–27; and Robin F. Bachin, Building the South Side: Urban Space and Civic Culture in Chicago, 1890–1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 55–61. For early activists, see Christopher Robert Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, vol. 1, 1833–1900 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005); Spear, Black Chicago, 58–62; and Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago (1935; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 206–7. For racial self-reliance, see St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 57; and Christopher Robert Reed, The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011). 3. James Weldon Johnson, “Harlem: The Culture Capital,” in The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1925), 301–

Notes to Pages 53–54


11 (city within a city); Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 81; August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto, 3rd ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 252 (“dream of Black Metropolis”); James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 123–60 (Old Settlers and migrants). Unlike New South cities such as Birmingham, black Chicago drew its leadership cohort from more diverse walks of life, including elected officials and ward bosses, rival newspaper editors, policy barons, theater owners, religious leaders, sports heroes, and, especially by the 1930s, civil rights activists, union organizers, artists, and intellectuals. See Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 77–97; Davarian L. Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 21–52; Christopher Robert Reed, The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966 (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997), 1–108; Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932–1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 59–85; Bill V. Mullen, Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935–1946 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 19–43. For respectability and Chicago’s music of this era, see Willliam Howland Kenney, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 56–57; Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes, 170–77; and Absher, Black Musician, 34–36. 4. On black politics, see Gosnell, Negro Politicians; Rita Werner Gordon, “The Change in the Political Realignment of Chicago’s Negroes during the New Deal,” Journal of American History 56, no. 3 (1969): 584–603; and Philpott, Slum and the Ghetto, 158, 368n30. For nightlife commerce, see Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes, 48–49; and Cynthia M. Blair, I’ve Got to Make My Livin’: Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 224–37. On interracial subcultures, see Kevin J. Mumford, Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in the Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Chad Heap, Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885–1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); and Derek Vaillant, Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873–1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 208–13. See also Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 4 (“sharp and clear”). 5. On the 1919 race riot, see Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922); William M. Tuttle Jr., Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum, 1970); and Philpott, Slum and the Ghetto, 162–227. For racial segregation in interwar Chicago, see Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 174–90; Robert C. Weaver, The Negro Ghetto (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948), 33–51, 231–56; Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto, 1–39; Wendy Plotkin, “Deeds of Mistrust: Race, Housing, and Racial Covenants in Chicago, 1900–1953” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Chicago, 1999); Joseph P. Schwieterman and Dana M. Caspall, The Politics of Place: A History of Zoning in Chicago (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2006), 28–30; David M. P. Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago


Notes to Pages 54–58

Press, 2007), 45–98; and Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 36–47. For Birmingham’s legally mandated “separation of races,” see, e.g., The General Code of the City of Birmingham, Alabama, of 1930 (Birmingham: Birmingham Printing Co., 1930), sec. 5516. 6. See Kenney, Chicago Jazz, 10–19, 25 (“exotic and perhaps dangerous”); Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes, 44–45. 7. Absher, Black Musician, 61–62; Lewis A. Erenberg, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 95 (“traveling representatives”); Stanley Dance, The World of Earl Hines (New York: Scribner, 1977), 63. 8. Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 92–103; David W. Stowe, Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 121–27; Andrew S. Berish, Lonesome Roads and Streets of Dreams: Place, Mobility, and Race in Jazz of the 1930s and ’40s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 121 (“all places”). 9. Estimate of Black Belt residents is derived from the African American population in Chicago in 1944 (Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 8) exclusive of the African American residents of non–Black Belt Community Areas 27, 28, and 75 in 1940; for the latter, see Philip M. Hauser and Evelyn M. Kitagawa, eds., Local Community Fact Book for Chicago, 1950 (Chicago Community Inventory, University of Chicago, 1953).

Chapter 4 1. Ted Panken, “For Bass Maestro Richard Davis’ 87th Birthday,” Today Is the Question, 15 April 2017 (interview recorded 18 August 1993), accessed 26 June 2017, (“tunes”). 2. Music producer John Hammond entitled the first major reissue of Henderson’s recordings A Study in Frustration: The Fletcher Henderson Story (orig. release 1961; Columbia Jazz Masterpieces C4L 19, 1994, 3 CDs)—a title that apparently incensed Sun Ra; see John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 224. 3. Although Walter C. Allen maintains that the Defender notice announcing Henderson’s appearance at the DeLisa appeared on January 26, 1946, the piece seems to have appeared a week later; see Al Monroe, “Swinging the News,” Chicago Defender, 2 February 1946, national edition, 16. Whether Sonny Blount arrived in Chicago before or after this announcement was published is not clear. See Walter C. Allen, Hendersonia: The Music of Fletcher Henderson and His Musicians (Highland Park, NJ: Walter C. Allen, 1973), 437. 4. Otis Dudley Duncan and Beverly Duncan, The Negro Population of Chicago: A Study of Residential Succession (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 27, 302; interview with Lonnie Simmons, Charles Walton Papers, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library (hereafter CWP), box 23, folder 205; Eugene Chadbourne, “Lonnie Simmons: Biography,” All Music, accessed

Notes to Pages 60–61


10 April 2018,; Bernadette Pruitt, The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900–1941 (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2013), 187–91 (Archia); interview with Vernel Fournier, CWP, box 3, folder 37; Herman Poole Blount, Dues Payment Record Card, Local 208, 1929–1966, Chicago Local 10-208 Archives, Music Information Center, Chicago Public Library. 5. “Mile of Beauty: Giant Plan for Michigan Blvd,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 10 April 1947, 5; Chicago Plan Commission, An Opportunity for Private and Public Investment in Rebuilding Chicago (Chicago, 1947), 7; “Gremlin Gambols of ‘46’ at the Opera House Sunday Nite, June 23,” Chicago Bee, 16 June 1946, 14; “Menu—Chicago—Hotel Continental—New Horizon Restaurant—Michigan Avenue—1946,” Chuckman’s Photos on World Press: Chicago Nostalgia and Memorabilia, accessed 15 October 2016,». 6. For a map of restrictive covenants surrounding the Black Belt in 1947, see “Contested Spaces,” in Encyclopedia of Chicago, ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Rieff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 205; for their declining enforcement, see Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 29–31. See also Preston H. Smith II, Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis: Housing Policy in Postwar Chicago (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 347n5 (Supreme Liberty); Paul Robeson, “Some Reflections on Othello and the Nature of Our Time,” American Scholar (Autumn 1945), reprinted in Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches and Interviews, 1918–1974, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Citadel Press, 1978), 163 (“What a vista”); “Paul Robeson Pleads for Unity at Annual Music Festival,” Chicago Defender, 20 July 1946, national edition, 12 (“scroll of achievement”). 7. Robert M. Marovich, A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 143; Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 158; St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 646 (“swingy”); Kay Norton, “‘Yes, [Gospel] Is Real’: Half a Century with Chicago’s Martin and Morris Company,” Journal of the Society for American Music 11, no. 4 (2017): 420–51. 8. J. E. Curren, Use of Shoulders and Narrow Lanes to Increase Freeway Capacity (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1995), 32 (“urban freeway”); Norman W. Spaulding, “History of Black Oriented Radio in Chicago, 1929–1963” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981); Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 89; Anand Kumar Sethi, The Business of Electronics: A Concise History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 90; David Morton, Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 95; Harold P. Manly and L. O. Gorder, Drake’s Cyclopedia of Radio and Electronics: A Reference and Instruction Book, 12th ed. (Chicago: Frederick J. Drake, 1946).


Notes to Pages 61–64

9. Herman S. Blount, Chicago telephone directory, April 1951; Sanborn Map, Chicago 1905–1951, vol. 14 (Chicago: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Company, 1950), item # 133417; untitled display ad, Chicago Defender, 9 June 1951, national edition, 14 (Kiah’s); interview with Jimmy Ellis, CWP, box 11, folder 57 (“gospel bird”); interview with Von Freeman, CWP, box 13, folder 69 (“Main Street”); “Sepia Spot Goes Up in Smoke,” Down Beat, 14 January 1946, 4; Chicago Bee, 5 May 1946, 14 (“Jazz Astronomy”); Chicago Bee, 25 August 1946, 14 (Jesse Miller); Juanita M. Logan, “Whirl Wind,” Chicago Bee, 6 October 1946, 14 (Lester Young); “Pat Patterson and His Musical Combination” (display ad), Chicago Bee, 10 February 1946, 14. 10. Josh Abrams, “Two Beats from a Different Drum: Robert Barry,” Stop Smiling, 12 March 2008, accessed 6 May 2014, .php?id=1001 (“Everybody was coming”); Timuel D. Black Jr., ed., Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration: An Oral History (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press; Chicago: DuSable Museum of African American History, 2003), 180 (“black musicians”); Amy Absher, The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900–1967 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 59–66; “South Side Shots,” Down Beat, 11 March 1946, 4. 11. Art Hodes, “Looking at Red,” Down Beat, 10 August 1967, 18–19; “Dan Burley’s Back Door Stuff: Defense Job Blues in the Windy City,” New York Amsterdam News, city edition, 7 August 1943, 16; Sadik Hakim, “Reflections of an Era: My Experiences with Bird and Prez,” accessed 8 December 2013, .htm, originally published in Jazz Journal International 49, no. 8 (1996): 16–18, 35 (“On Saturday”); interview with William Lefty Bates, CWP, box 7, folder 8 (“pocket”). 12. Display ad, Chicago Bee, 18 May 1947, 14 [no cover]; Hodes, “Looking at Red.” For social clubs at the DeLisa, see Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 9 November 1946, national edition, 20; “Green Donkeys Crown Queen at Party at DeLisa,” Chicago Bee, 1 June 1947, 18. See also “Police Kept Busy Distributing Ice Cream at Bud Billiken’s Picnic,” Chicago Defender, 14 September 1946, national edition, 18; Albert G. Barnett, “500,000 View Billiken Parade and Carnival,” Chicago Defender, 17 August 1946, national edition, 1; “‘Swing King’ Watches 4-11 Fire,” Chicago Defender, 31 August 1946, national edition, 19. 13. For most shows, see Allen, Hendersonia, 446–47; for Creole Nights, see Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 23 August 1947, national edition, 8. 14. Barefield Gordon, “This Evening’s Pleasure,” Chicago Bee, 25 May 1947, 11  (Hunter, Adams); Albennie Jones, Savoy Records discography, 1945, accessed 12 November 2014,; Ken Vail, Dizzy Gillespie: The Bebop Years, 1937–1952 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003), 30; Allen, Hendersonia, 455 (Jones), 439 (La Verne); “Photo Standalone 29—No Title,” Chicago Defender, 29 March 1947, 18 (Kirby); Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 4 January 1947 (Moore). 15. Jeffrey Magee, The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 230–31 (“amalgamation”). See also Lewis A.

Notes to Pages 65–67


Erenberg, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 73–77; Magee, Uncrowned King, 33–38, 193–94. 16. For Cornshucks, see “Starred at DeLisa,” Chicago Defender, 31 August 1946, national edition, 19; Bill Chase, “All Ears: Chicago Is Paradoxical but It Is a Great Town,” New York Amsterdam News, 10 August 1946, 8; and Lou Swarz, “Miss Cornshucks in New York: Big Hit at Club Star Dust,” Chicago Defender, 13 October 1945, 14. See also Matt Baldassarri, “Episode #173: Little Miss Cornshucks,” Juke in the Back, PRX-Radio, accessed 11 November 2014, -cornshucks/. For a range of views on how southern black culture was figured in northern cities of this period, see Charles Scruggs, Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Farrah Jasmine Griffin, “Who Set You Flowin’?” The African-American Migration Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Mark Anthony Neal, What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999); and James N. Gregory, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). For Jim Crow nostalgia, see Michelle R. Boyd, Jim Crow Nostalgia: Reconstructing Race in Bronzeville (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). 17. For far-flung vacations, see Ebony cover photos for “California Dude Ranch” (February 1947) and “Holiday in the Tropics” (November 1948). Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra first recorded “Limehouse Blues” in 1934; see Allen, Hendersonia, 315. 18. Charles Hiroshi Garrett, Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 137 (“musical yellowface”); Philip M. Hauser and Evelyn M. Kitagawa, eds., Local Community Fact Book for Chicago, 1950 (Chicago Community Inventory, University of Chicago, 1953); “Classified Ad 1—No Title,” Chicago Defender, 13 July 1946, national edition, 8 (Chinatown property); Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 13 December 1941, national edition, 13, and “Mark 25 Years with Party at Chinatown Inn,” Chicago Defender, 6 July 1946, national edition, 18 (dinner); Nahum Daniel Brascher, “Thoughts To-Day,” Chicago Defender, 2 May 1942, national edition, 15, and “Visit ‘Chinatown,’” Chicago Defender, 24 October 1942, national edition, 18 (tours); Lucius C. Harper, “Dustin’ Off the News: We Do Not Need to Urge or Sponsor Segregation,” Chicago Defender, 27 January 1945, national edition, 1. 19. Allen, Hendersonia, 439 (“turned the DeLisa out”). 20. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 56 (“The notes were there,” “Fletcher didn’t say anything”); Allen, Hendersonia, 440 (“I was playing”). 21. Nadine Cohodas, Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington (New York: Pantheon, 2004), 48 (“jumping jack vibe king”); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 55 (“he himself”), 57 (“angelic thing”). See also Geoffrey Hodson, The Brotherhood of Angels and Men (1927; Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982). 22. Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, “Matthew Rucker and the Spirits of Swing,” Detroit Music History, 2012, accessed 4 February 2014, -rucker.html.


Notes to Pages 67–75

23. Allen, Hendersonia, 456. 24. “Photo Standalone 30—No Title,” Chicago Defender, 9 August 1947, national edition, 18 (battle-of-the-bands); Al Monroe, “Swinging the News,” Chicago Defender, 17 June 1948, national edition, 8; Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, http://; Marv Goldberg, “The Dozier Boys,” accessed 4 February 2014, (ballads). 25. Frederick Burgess Lindstrom, “The Negro Invasion of the Washington Park Subdivision” (MA thesis, University of Chicago, 1941); Egbert Frederick Schietinger, “Racial Succession and Changing Property Values in Residential Chicago” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1953), 110–12; Wendy Plotkin, “Deeds of Mistrust: Race, Housing, and Racial Covenants in Chicago, 1900–1953” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Chicago, 1999), 116–31; Al Monroe, “Swinging the News,” Chicago Defender, 11 December 1943, national edition, 10; Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 23 December 1944, national edition, 10. 26. For extended ghetto, see Mary Pattillo, “Extending the Boundaries and Definition of the Ghetto,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 26, no. 6 (2003): 1046–57; see also the maps in Pattillo’s foreword to Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, xxi–xxiv. 27. Ira Rosenwaike, Population History of New York City (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1972), 140–41; Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 298–99; Patrick Burke, Come In and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 173; John Mitchell, “John Levy, NEA Jazz Master,” 99, Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, accessed 25 November 2015, http:// 28. “Chicago Band Briefs,” Down Beat, 14 January 1946, 22, and 11 March 1946, 4; Samuel Floyd, “An Oral History: The Great Lakes Experience,” Black Perspective in Music 11, no. 1 (1983): 41–61 (“Chicago style”); display ads, Chicago Bee, 4 May 1947, 14 (Waller, Handy), and 18 May 1947, 14 (“twenty-six-piece band,” Cole Porter). 29. Juanita M. Logan, “Whirl Wind,” Chicago Bee, 11 August 1946, 14; Al Monroe, “Swinging the News,” Chicago Defender, 10 August 1946, national edition, 10 (Hawkins); Ted Panken, “Von Freeman and John Young: November 20, 1991,” Ted Panken’s Chicago Transcripts, accessed 6 May 2014, 30. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” Spellbound was released in 1945. Blount, an avid moviegoer, would have noticed that the main character’s first psychotic episode occurs when another character draws a set of parallel lines—or what could be construed as a music staff—on a tablecloth with the tines of a fork. 31. Barefield Gordon, “This Evening’s Pleasure,” Chicago Bee, 10 August 1947, 15; “Chicago Band Briefs,” Down Beat, 15 July 1946, 4; Juanita M. Logan, “Whirl Wind,” Chicago Bee, 21 July 1946, 14 (“loads”). See also Robert Pruter, Doowop: The Chicago Scene (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 13–14. 32. Display ads in Chicago Bee, 16 June 1946, 15, and 26 May 1946, 15; “Female Impersonators: Unique Chicago Night Club Features Make-Believe Ladies as Entertain-

Notes to Pages 76–79


ers,” Ebony, March 1948, 59–63; “Petite Swanson,” Queer Music Heritage, accessed 1 July 2017,; Allen Drexel, “Before Paris Burned: Race, Class, and Male Homosexuality on the Chicago South Side, 1935–1960,” in Creating a Place for Ourselves: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community Histories, ed. Brett Beemyn (New York: Routledge, 1997), 133 (“drag balls”); Andrew J. Diamond, Mean Streets: Chicago Youths and the Everyday Struggle for Empowerment in the Multiracial City, 1908–1969 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 143; Barefield Gordon, “This Evening’s Pleasure,” Chicago Bee, 10 August 1947, 15; “Trianon Boss Charged with Rights Breach,” Chicago Defender, 29 April 1950, national edition, 11; “Nothing for Five,” Chicago Defender, 29 July 1950, national edition, 22. 33. Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 133–35; Patrick D. Bowen, A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, vol. 2, The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920–1975 (Boston: Brill, 2017), 481–85; Robin D. G. Kelley, Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 94–96; Allen, Hendersonia, 439 (Shihab); George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 55 (Salaheldeen); Christopher W. Chase, “Prophetics in the Key of Allah: Towards an Understanding of Islam in Jazz,” Jazz Perspectives 4, no. 2 (2010): 157–81; Yusef Lateef with Herb Boyd, The Gentle Giant: The Autobiography of Yusef Lateef (Irvington, NJ: Morton, 2006), 48–49. Born William Emmanuel Huddleston, Lateef adopted the surname Evans at an early age and performed under this name with the Dukes of Swing. 34. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” 35. Schietinger, “Racial Succession,” 39 (“invasion,” “assault”); Zorita Wise Mikva, “The Neighborhood Improvement Association: A Counter-Force to the Expansion of Chicago’s Negro Population” (MA thesis, University of Chicago, 1951); Mary Pattillo, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 47–51. For Japanese Americans, see Matthew M. Briones, Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 186–90; and interview with John Steiner, CWP, box 19, folder 164. 36. Bronzeville Conversations, “DuSable Hotel,” CWP, box 2, folder 6. See also Hauser and Kitagawa, Local Community Fact Book, 150–51; “Display Ad 8—No title,” Chicago Defender, 1 November 1941, 3; Bronzeville Conversations, “Charles Davis,” CWP, box 3, folder 32 (“instigator,” “product”). 37. Charles Walton, “The DuSable Hotel and the Drexel Square Area,” Jazz Institute of Chicago, accessed 22 January 2014, 38. Interview with Brennan Glanton, CWP, box 13, folder 77 (“a status thing,” “when you got to a place”); Bronzeville Conversations, “Vernel Fournier,” CWP, box 3, folder 37 (“I was making plenty of money”). 39. Walton, “DuSable Hotel and the Drexel Square Area” (“There were commercial show bands”). See also Barefield Gordon, “This Evening’s Pleasure,” Chicago Bee, 11 May 1947, 14; Robert Pruter, Doowop: The Chicago Scene (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 11; Chicago Bee, 13 January 1946, 14 (Palmore); Bronzeville Conversations, “Jodie


Notes to Pages 79–83

Christian,” CWP, box 3, folder 2. See also interview with Duke Groner, CWP, box 13, folder 81 (“Mecca,” “caste system,” “big shots,” “prostitutes”). 40. Bronzeville Conversations, “Eddie Flagg,” CWP, box 3, folder 33 (“white people”); Bronzeville Conversations, “DuSable Hotel,” CWP, box 2, folder 6; interview with John Steiner, CWP, box 19, folder 164 (“sort of scummy,” “too sweaty”). DuSable music venues received little mention in Down Beat, the white-run jazz magazine; see, e.g., the “Chicago Band Briefs” column by Don C. Haynes, January–December 1946. 41. Nadine Cohodas, Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 36–38, 81–83; Dozier Boys and Eugene Wright, “Pork ’n’ Beans,” “Dawn Mist,” and “Music Goes ’Round and ’Round” (recorded 12 December 1948; Aristocrat UB-9546, UB-9547 and UB-9548; reissued on Sun Ra, The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, Transparency 0316, 2012, CD 4 of 14). 42. Red Saunders Orchestra, “Synthesis” (recorded 18 December 1948; Supreme SU180, SU-181; reissued on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 4 of 14); Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (“meticulous”); Red Saunders Orchestra, “Jitterbuggin’” and “Legs Gettin’ Bigger and Bigger” (recorded 18 December 1948; Supreme SU-182, SU-183; reissued on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 4 of 14). 43. Andrew Hill, quoted in Stanley Crouch, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz (New York: Basic, 2006), 116 (“separated”). 44. Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., “Blues and the Ethnographic Truth,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 13 (2001): 41–58 (“intra-black”). 45. Blount’s earliest Chicago recordings were made on a wire recorder he had brought from Birmingham; see Abrams, “Two Beats.” Sometime in 1948 he acquired an early Ampex paper-tape reel-to-reel recorder; see Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” 46. The roughly thirty-five surviving tracks were recorded, typically without a formal audience, in a variety of settings: Blount playing a church or theater organ, sometimes accompanied by a vocalist or instrumentalist; Blount playing piano, Solovox, or celeste in small-group settings at home or inside a club; or Blount singing along with his piano. See Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CDs 3 and 4 of 14. 47. “All the Things You Are,” “Wind in the Trees (Early Avant-Garde),” “Willow Weep for Me”—all issued on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 3 of 14; see also commentary by Michael Anderson, narrator and producer (“venture into the abstract”). For other organ tracks from this period, see Sun Ra Music Archive, 1949 Recordings, SR-112 (Reel 104_2) and SR-062 (Reel 25_2), Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago. For nineteenthcentury Irish American minstrelsy, see Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 198. 48. Eric Lott, “Double V, Double-Time: Bebop’s Politics of Style,” Callaloo 36 (Summer 1988): 597–605; Robin D. G. Kelley, “The Riddle of the Zoot: Malcolm Little and Black Cultural Politics during World War II,” chap. 7 in Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1994), 161–81; Sonny Blount, “Ode to Mary Lou,” “I’ve Got a Secret,” “Something in Your Smile,” High Steppin’” (all recorded 10 August 1948), and “I’ve Got Some New Blues” (recorded 21 July 1949)—all issued on

Notes to Pages 84–86


Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 3 of 14. See Williams’s own liner notes on Mary Lou Williams, Zodiac Suite (Smithsonian Folkways SF 40810, 1995, CD; orig. release, Signs of the Zodiac, Asch 620 and 621, 1945, LP); see also Farah Jasmine Griffin, Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics during World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 164–65. 49. Sonny Blount and John Jenkins, “Cocktails for Two” and “The Phantom” (both recorded 11 November 1950), issued on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 5 of 14. Several years later, explicit references to The Phantom of the Opera—the story of an opera house haunted by a rejected composer whose music had been stolen—would emerge in Blount’s writings about the black man as the walking ghost of a dead being. For “You Go to My Head” and “Sunny’s Place #1,” see Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CDs 4 and 5 of 14. For other examples of Chicago musicians integrating bebop styles on their own terms, see “Upstairs” and “Just One of Those Things” by Sonny Blount, Calvin Newborn, and Wilbur Ware (recorded 4 June 1949), on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 4 of 14. 50. Ted Panken, “Two Interviews with Pianist Chris Anderson from 1986 on his 87th Birthday Anniversary,” Today Is the Question, 26 February 2013 (interview recorded 16 March 1986), accessed 10 April 2018, 26/ two -interviews -with -pianist -chris -anderson -from -1986 -on -his -87th -birthday -anniversary/; my emphasis. 51. Abrams, “Two Beats”; Ted Panken, “For Bass Maestro Richard Davis’ 87th Birthday,” Today Is the Question, 15 April 2017 (interview recorded 18 August 1993), accessed 26 June 2017, 52. Ted Panken, “Tommy Hunter on Sun Ra and John Gilmore,” Jazz Journalists Association Library, 1999, accessed 26 June 2017, panken7. Muhal Richard Abrams has said that, as a young musician in Chicago, his own conversations with Sun Ra focused on nonmusical issues; see Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 159. 53. Joseph C. Bigott, From Cottage to Bungalow: Houses and the Working Class in Metropolitan Chicago, 1869–1929 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 202–3; “Life Spends Saturday Night in Calumet City,” Life, 20 January 1941, 74; William Kornblum, Blue Collar Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 13; Dominic Pacyga, “Polish America in Transition: Social Change and the Chicago Polonia, 1945–1980,” Polish American Studies 44, no. 1 (Spring 1987): 38–55; Gail Danks Welter, “Calumet City,” in Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area, ed. Chicago Fact Book Consortium (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1984), 212. 54. Gordon Linkon, “Disorganization of Metropolitan Law Enforcement and Some Proposed Solutions (The Illinois Cook County Situation),” Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science 43, no. 1 (1952): 63–78; “List of 300 Spots Facing Loss of Liquor License,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 27 May 1949, A10; “Special Census of Calumet City, Illinois, April 19, 1954,” Current Population Reports, Special Censuses, series P-28, no. 645 (Washington DC: US Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1954); Louis Corsino, The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights (Urbana: University of Illinois


Notes to Pages 87–91

Press, 2014); Matthew J. Luzi, The Boys in Chicago Heights: The Forgotten Crew of the Chicago Outfit (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012), which includes a photo of Cal City’s State Street clubs on page 72; “Marge Summit Survey,” Chicago Gay History, accessed 10 March 2015,; Virgil W. Peterson, “The Career of a Syndicate Boss,” Crime and Delinquency 8, no. 4 (1962): 339–54; Virgil W. Peterson, “Shades of Capone,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 347 (1963): 30–39; Clovis E. Semmes, The Regal Theatre and Black Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 340. 55. Chicagoland Road Map (Chicago: Chicago Tribune, 1934); Federal Writers’ Project, WPA Guide to Illinois (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 531; Emma Lou Thornbrough, “Breaking Racial Barriers to Public Accommodations in Indiana, 1935–1963,” Indiana Magazine of History 83, no. 4 (1987): 301–43 (“white only”); Panken, “Tommy Hunter” (“If you were a black musician,” “you know what?”). 56. Kornblum, Blue Collar Community, 36; Panken, “Richard Davis” (“factory job”); Rachel Shteir, Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 274 (“continuous action”). 57. Shteir, Striptease, 310; Panken, “Tommy Hunter” (“steal their money”); Corsino, Neighborhood Outfit; Russell Baker, “An Equitable Remedy to Combat Gambling in Illinois,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 28, no. 4 (1950): 287–303. 58. Panken, “Richard Davis” (“We could see her”); and Geoffrey Johnson, “Slower, Elvis . . . Kiss . . . Kiss!” Chicago Magazine, 10 February 2011, accessed 3 February 2016, -Kiss-Kiss/ (“He would sit,” “down the road”); Shteir, Striptease, 274. 59. Interview with Freddy Cole, CWP, box 10, folder 39 (“too much”); Bronzeville Conversations, “Freddy Cole,” CWP, box 3, folder 3 (“slow tempo”). 60. Shteir, Striptease, 311 (“The Stripper”); Dave Hoekstra, “Sun Ra’s Calumet City,” Dave Hoekstra’s Website, 30 August 1987, accessed 2 February 2015, http://www (“They always wanted”). 61. Panken, “Von Freeman and John Young” (“Some of these striptease artists,” “You’d sit there playing”); Hoekstra, “Sun Ra’s Calumet City” (“I had never heard”); Charles Walton, interview with Freddy Cole, CWP, box 10, folder 39 (“got themselves together”). 62. Charles Walton, interview with Freddy Cole, CWP, box 10, folder 39 (“I worked out there”); Panken, “Tommy Hunter” (“The problem”). 63. Panken, “Richard Davis” (“I was going to college”); see also Karl Erik Haddock Seigfried, “Old-Timey and Avant-Garde: The Innovation and Influence of Wilbur Ware” (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2002). I am grateful to Chris Anderson (the philosophy teacher, not the musician) for drawing my attention to this study. 64. Panken, “Richard Davis” (“We have to advance”). 65. Panken, “Richard Davis” (“He would be reading,” “Watch me sober him up”). 66. Hoekstra, “Sun Ra’s Calumet City” (“What I remember”). 67. Hoekstra, “Sun Ra’s Calumet City” (“One night”). For a strip-club skit with this

Notes to Pages 93–96


name, see Don Rickles with David Ritz, Rickles’ Book: A Memoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007), 48.

Chapter 5 1. “Solution to the Negro Problem,” Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (hereafter AACSR), box 15, folder 10. Some materials in this collection, examined before they were fully inventoried, are cited as Alton Abraham Collection Preliminary Inventory (hereafter AACPI). 2. See, e.g., the fine studies by Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), and Wallace D. Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915–1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005). 3. “Solution to the Negro Problem,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 4. For urban scholarship that does engage with black nationalist conceptions of community in the early postwar period, see Matthew J. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); see also Green, Selling the Race. For broader treatments of twentieth-century black nationalist thought, see, among other studies, Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post–Civil Rights Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Michael C. Dawson, Blacks In and Out of the Left (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). For revisionist studies of heterodox black religions of the early postwar era, see, for example, a number of the contributions to The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religions, ed. Edward E. Curtis IV and Danielle Brune Sigler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009); see also Vaughn Booker, “Civil Rights Religion? Rethinking 1950s and 1960s Political Activism for African American History,” Journal of Africana Religions 2, no. 2 (2014): 211–43. For a harder white racial identity in mid-twentieth-century America, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 91–137; Arnold R. Hirsch, “E Pluribus Duo? Thoughts on ‘Whiteness’ and Chicago’s ‘New’ Immigration as a Transient Third Tier,” Journal of American Ethnic History 23, no. 4 (2004): 7–44; and Ronald H. Bayor, “Another Look at ‘Whiteness’: The Persistence of Ethnicity in American Life,” Journal of American Ethnic History 29, no. 1 (2009): 13–30. 5. For temporal heterogeneity and racial redemption, see Anthony Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals (New York: Routledge, 2003), 153–86; see also Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 39. 6. “The Bible Was Not Written for Negroes!!!!!!!” (“separate and apart”); “Satan Is the God of the Spooks, Negroes Are the Children of the ‘Devil’” (“most hated and confused”); “IT IS TIME TO DISCUSS” (“free not only Negroes”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10.


Notes to Pages 97–98

7. See Alton E. Abraham, US Army Service Record, 1945–1947, p. 6, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives, St. Louis, MO; “Local Boy in Manila,” Hyde Park Herald, 24 October 1946, 2; “Bilbo’s Disciples Spread Prejudice in Philippines,” Chicago Defender, 20 April 1946, 14 (“could only happen”). See also Enoch P. Waters Jr., “U.S. Army Installs Jim Crow in Manila,” Chicago Defender, 13 October 1945, national edition, 1; “Shocked,” Letter to the Mail Bag, Daily Pacifican, 29 November 1945, in Douglas L. McCabe Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, box 1, folder 6; “Manila Press Tries to Whip Up Race Hate,” Chicago Defender, 19 October 1946, national edition, 13. Abraham’s likely conduit to theosophy in the Philippines was Luis T. Clarin; see “Carlos Polistico Garcia,” Theosopedia, accessed 26 June 2017,,_Carlos_Polistico. See also Jaime Licauco, “Inner Awareness: Father Boyno’s Miraculous Sto. Niño,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23 August 2004, reprinted on Inner Mind and Metaphysical Awareness, accessed 18 July 2008, .html. Abraham later would produce several recordings by Clarin’s daughter, Dimpna, a vocalist who settled in the United States. 8. For Wilson College (now Kennedy-King), see Alton E. Abraham, registration card, 14 September 1948, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives, St. Louis, MO; for Wilson study materials, see AACSR, box 47, folders 4 through 7. On Wilson, see also George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 66, 74–75; and Craig Hansen Werner, Playing the Changes: From Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 248. For class picture, see Wilson Junior College Graduates 1950, AACSR, box 60, folder 4. For Knights of Music, see “The August Club Presents the Knights of Music, August 26, 1951” and “The Knights of Music in Concert, October 19, 1952,” in “Concert Programs, 1951–52,” AACSR, box 51, folder 15. See also William Sites, “Radical Culture in Black Necropolis: Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, and Postwar Chicago,” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 4 (2012): 687–719. 9. John Corbett, Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 218 (“We found out”), 219; Paul Youngquist, A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), 33; John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1997), 83. 10. Corbett, Extended Play, 222 (“We used to meet”). 11. The broadsheets are typed manuscripts, several pages each, approximately fortyfive of which have survived as part of Abraham’s personal papers; see AACSR, box 13, folder 3, and box 15, folder 10. For an account of their provenance, see Peter Margasak, “Ra Materials,” Chicago Reader, 28 September 2006. Many of the extant broadsheets were compiled and published in John Corbett, ed., The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (Chicago: WhiteWalls, 2006). 12. “I Don’t Give a Hoot,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (broadsheet); John Corbett, “One of Everything: Blount Hermeneutics and the Wisdom of Ra,” in Wisdom of Sun Ra,

Notes to Pages 99–101


6. The verse referenced is Isaiah 40:17. For Smith’s All Nations Pentecostal Church, see Best, Passionately Human, 147–80. 13. “What Must Negroes Do to Be Saved?” AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 14. “Jesus Said ‘Let the Negro Bury the Negro,’” AACSR, box 13, folder 3 (Q & A); “Satan Is the God of the Spooks, Negroes Are the Children of the ‘Devil,’” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“THEY HATE”). 15. Robert Bone, “Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance,” Callaloo 28 (Summer 1986): 446–68; Bill V. Mullen, Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935–1946 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Anne Meis Knupfer, The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932–1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011); Liesl Olson, Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 235–83. See also Werner, Playing the Changes, 241–62; Steven C. Tracey, ed., Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011); Darlene Clark Hine and John McCluskey Jr., eds., The Black Chicago Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012). On Ebony, Jet, and early postwar black consumerism, see Green, Selling the Race, 129–77, and Robert E. Weems Jr., Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 31–55. For postwar antiradicalism and black organizations in Chicago, see Arvarh E. Strickland, History of the Chicago Urban League (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1966), 155–84; Christopher Robert Reed, The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 133; and Preston H. Smith II, “The Quest for Racial Democracy: Black Civic Ideology and Housing Interests in Postwar Chicago,” Journal of Urban History 26, no. 2 (January 2000): 131–57. For Browning and Burroughs, see Mullen, Popular Fronts, 106–9, 192. See also Timothy J. Gilfoyle, “Culture Makers: Interviews with Timuel Black and Margaret Burroughs,” Chicago History 36, no. 3 (2010); Alice Browning Collection, 1936–1998, box 12, folder 1, The Browning Letter, August 1953-November 1955, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library. 16. On twentieth-century black lyceums, see Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883–1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 70–82; Anne Meis Knupfer, Toward a Tenderer Humanity and a Nobler Womanhood: African American Women’s Clubs in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 108–22; and Dawson, Blacks In and Out of the Left, 36. For World War II–era antiwar resistance in Washington Park, see “Twelve Negro Chiefs Seized by FBI in Sedition Raids; Arrest 68 Others for Draft Evasion,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 September 1942, 9; “FBI Arrests Cleric for Conspiracy to Sabotage Draft and Hinder War,” Chicago Defender, 7 November 1942, national edition, 7; “FBI Jails 12 Church Cult Men,” Chicago Defender, 26 December 1942, national edition, 1; and Jack Mason, letter to the editor, Chicago Defender, 8 August 1942, 14. See also Ernest Allen Jr., “When Japan Was ‘Champion of the Darker Races’: Satokata Takahashi and the Flowering of Black Messianic National-


Notes to Pages 101–103

ism,” Black Scholar 24, no. 1 (Winter 1994): 23–46. On Gordon, see the unredacted copy of Federal Bureau of Investigation, Survey of Racial Conditions in the United States, section 2 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 1943), 556, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY; see also Keisha N. Blain, “‘Confraternity among All Dark Races’: Mittie Maude Lena Gordon and the Practice of Black (Inter)nationalism in Chicago, 1932–1942,” Palimpsest 5, no. 2 (2016): 151–81. On postwar repression and the African American left, see Manning Marable, Race, Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1982 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), 12–41; Penny M. Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 96–144; and Dawson, Blacks In and Out of the Left, 72–86. 17. Ole Nosey, “Everybody Goes When the Wagon Comes,” Chicago Defender, 24 August 1946, national edition, 20 (“the most gigantic”). 18. Ezra Adamawa, “Black Jews in U.S.,” Chicago Defender, 1 July 1950, national edition, 6; and “Other 6—No Title”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 28 August 1954, 6. Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew, taught that black Americans were Moors whose forebears inhabited Morocco before they were enslaved in North America. He founded and led the Moorish Science Temple of America before his death in Chicago in 1929. See Susan Nance, “Respectability and Representation: Moorish Science, Morocco, and Black Public Culture in 1920s Chicago,” American Quarterly 54, no. 4 (2002): 623–59; Edward E. Curtis IV, “Debating the Origins of the Moorish Science Temple,” in Curtis and Sigler, New Black Gods, 70–90. Elijah Muhammad organized the first Nation of Islam temple in Detroit in 1932. Moving to Chicago two years later, he founded a second temple, which was situated at various South Side locations over the following two decades. For Islamic faiths and African Americans, see Edward E. Curtis IV, Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002), 45–62; and Patrick D. Bowen, A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, vol. 2, The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920–1975 (Boston: Brill, 2017). For Black Israelites, see James E. Landing, Black Judaism: Story of an American Movement (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Judith Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York: New York University, 2016). 19. See, e.g., Ted Watson, “The Rise of the Muhammad Temple of Islam,” Pittsburgh Courier, 7 April 1956, SM3. See also Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (New York: Viking, 2011), 107; apparently, Malcolm’s first visit to Elijah Muhammad in Chicago took place in 1952, followed by further stays over the coming years. 20. For shops in Chicago, see “Book Dealers—Retail” and “Incense,” Chicago classified telephone directory (“The Red Book”), December 1954. For Abraham’s books, see, e.g., C. F. Volney, The Ruins (1920), AACSR, box 40, folder 3; and J. A. Rogers, 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro with Complete Proof, AACSR, box 42, folder 15. On the origins and influence of Afrocentric ideas, see Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and

Notes to Pages 104–105


Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (New York: Verso, 1998), 38, 56n7, 63. 21. For Abraham’s theosophical texts, see H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, 1889, AACSR, box 34, folder 4; C. Jiharaˉjadaˉsa, ed., H. P. B. Speaks, vol. 1 (1950), AACSR, box 36, folder 3; C. Jiharaˉjadaˉsa, ed., H. P. B. Speaks, vol. 2 (1951), AACSR, box 36, folder 4; Albert Ross Parsons, New Light from the Great Pyramid, AACSR, box 37, folder 1. For Abraham’s betting book, see Pete Quinn, Policy Pete’s Dream Book, 1965, AACSR, box 42, folder 13. 22. For key discussions of the ideas of Delany and Garvey as well as other variants of black nationalist thought, see Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 19–29; Wilson Jeremiah Moses, The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 149–55, 262–71; and Michael C. Dawson, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 29–30, 85–134. 23. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 20 (“vocabularies of agency”). For a range of approaches to Garveyism, see Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Dover, MA: The Majority Press, 1976); Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (New York: Verso, 1998), 134–55; Michelle Ann Stephens, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 74– 126; Steven Hahn, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 115–62; and Adam Ewing, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). For the enduring influence of Garveyism in early postwar Chicago, see E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). 24. “The Bible Was Not Written for Negroes!!!!!!!” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“NEGROES ARE WORSHIPPING”); Nation of Islam pamphlet, quoted in Hatim A. Sahib, “The Nation of Islam” (MA thesis, University of Chicago, 1951), 149 (“There is no mystery God”); Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 47. 25. Sahib, “Nation of Islam,” 152–53. See also Edward E. Curtis IV, Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960–1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 10–13; “What Must Negroes Do to Be Saved?” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID”); W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Bantam Dell, 1989), 31–44; Jacqueline M. Moore, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003); William S. Toll, The Resurgence of Race: Black Social Theory from Reconstruction to the Pan-African Confer-


Notes to Pages 105–109

ences (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979); and Adolph Reed Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois and American Political Thought: Fabianism and the Color Line (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), esp. 60–65. 26. “What Must Negroes Do to Be Saved?” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“ALL THE RELIGION,” “IF THEY,” and “ART KNOWS NO COLOR LINE”); see also J. A. Rogers, Nature Knows No Color-Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race, electronic reprint (1952; Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014). On Afrocentric suspicion toward African American popular culture, see Howe, Afrocentrism, 105. 27. Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans, 3rd ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 135 (“inchoate, unofficial theology”). The key biblical inspiration for Ethiopianist thought comes from Psalms 68:31: “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” See also “I Have Set before You Life and Death—Choose Life,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“The Negroes now in America”); St. Clair Drake, The Redemption of Africa and Black Religion (Chicago: Third World Press, 1970), 11, 71–75 (“thought-style,” “energizing myth,” “pre-political”). 28. Stephen G. Hall, A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 29. Hall, Faithful Account, 8 (“pamphlet culture”). For the Hamitic hypothesis, see James W. C. Pennington, A Text Book of the Origin and History, &c. &c. of the Colored People (1841; Detroit: Negro History Press, 1969), 5–18. See also Hall, Faithful Account, 59; Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 70; Sylvester Johnson, The Myth of Ham in NineteenthCentury American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Bruce D. Haynes, “People of God, Children of Ham,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 8, no. 2 (2009): 237–54. On the “blameless Ethiops,” see Frank M. Snowden Jr., Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 144–55. 30. “There Are Two Ethiopias” (“ETHIOPS ARE ETHIOPIANS!!”); “I Don’t Give a Hoot” (“THE ETHIOPS WERE KNOWN”); “Solution to the Negro Problem” (“THE PEOPLE WHO MOSES WERE LEADING,” “the Jews in the Bible were black”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 31. “The True Way to Life” (“THE PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES”); “Jacob in the Land of U.S.” (“GOD’S COUNTRY”); “Lucifer Means Light Bearer” (“Men everywhere have forgotten”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10. For essence history and the jeremiad, see Hall, Faithful Account, xxiv–xxv. 32. Dorman, Chosen People, 121 (Ford); Nance, “Respectability and Representation,” 651n2; Robert Athlyi Rogers, The Holy Piby (1924; Hogarth Blake E-Book, 2008); Drake, Redemption of Africa, 74 (“deeply imbedded” and “identity quest”). For Ethiopianism in the Caribbean, see Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets, 153–86, and Lara Putnam, Radical

Notes to Pages 110–113


Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 196–229. 33. Jacob S. Dorman, “‘A True Moslem Is a True Spiritualist’: Black Orientalism and Black Gods of the Metropolis,” in Curtis and Sigler, New Black Gods, 116–42. On the search for new ethnicities, see Sylvester A. Johnson, “Religion Proper and Proper Religion: Arthur Fauset and the Study of African American Religions,” in Curtis and Sigler, New Black Gods, 145–70; see also Stuart Hall, “New Ethnicities,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (New York: Routledge, 1996), 441–49. 34. “The Reach for a Better World” (“WORD OF GOD”); “The Light Is G” (“DEEP WISDOM,” “H bomb”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10. See also De Laurence’s Catalog of Books for Mystics, Together with a Complete “Cabinet” of Materials Accessory to the Pursuit of Mystic Study (Chicago: De Laurence Co., 1949), 351; Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (New York: Oxford, 2009), 214–31. 35. Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 22 (“hidden wisdom”); H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, vol. 2 (Theosophical University Press, PDF e-book), 205–6, 560 (“tree of life,” “tree of death”), accessed 23 July 2017,; “The Great Whore,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“THE CROSS IS DAMNATION”). 36. “Satan Is the God of the Spooks, Negroes Are the Children of the ‘Devil’” (“spooks”); “Message to the Spook” (“another name for ghost”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10. Theosophy’s essentialist notion of “root-races” and evolutionary racial hierarchies identified the white race as a higher type of humanity than other racial groups; see Kidd, Forging of Races, 243. For the broadsheets as a “call for willful autonomy,” see Brent Hayes Edwards, Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 144. 37. “There Are Two Ethiopias” (“Two places”); “The True Way to Life” (“ETHIOPS IS OUDE”); “Lucifer Means Light Bearer” (“modern Nubia”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 38. Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 2nd ed., trans. and ed. Robert M. Adams (New York: Norton, 1992); Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (Boston: Ticknor, 1888); William Morris, News from Nowhere (Boston: Roberts, 1890). See also Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, eds., The Utopia Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1999). For a fuller discussion of these issues in relation to Sun Ra, see William Sites, “‘We Travel the Spaceways’: Urban Utopianism and the Imagined Spaces of Black Experimental Music,” Urban Geography 33, no. 4 (2012): 566–92. 39. Dorman, “True Moslem,” 127 (“Manichean othering”). Primitivist phrases are quoted in Martin Staniland, American Intellectuals and African Nationalists, 1955–1970 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 32 (“jungle neighborhoods”), 42 (“rhythm of Africa”); see also the discussion in Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins, Reading National Geographic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 131. For “darkest Africa,” see


Notes to Pages 114–118

Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, Chicago Confidential (New York: Crown Publishers, 1950), 43. On Orientalist geographies, see Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978); Derek Gregory, “Imaginative Geographies,” in The Dictionary of Human Geography, 5th ed., ed. Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael J. Watts, and Sarah Whatmore (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 372–73. 40. Dorman, “True Moslem,” 117 (“recalcitrant”); John Ernest, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861 (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 9 (“imaginary order”). See also Bill V. Mullen, Afro-Orientalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004). 41. “There Are Two Ethiopias” (“The Ethiops at one time,” “mighty builders, ” “THE BLAMELESS ETHIOPS”); “I Have Set before You Life and Death—Choose Life” (“first real civilization”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10. See also Snowden, Blacks in Antiquity, 144–55; W. E. B. Du Bois, The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History (New York: Viking Press, 1947), 176–77. For a similar geographical doubling in Orientalist approaches to ancient Egypt, see Scott Trafton, Egypt Land: Race and Nineteenth-Century American Egyptomania (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). 42. “There Are Two Ethiopias,” AACSR, box 15, folder 1 (“ISRAEL is my son”). 43. “I Have Set before You Life and Death—Choose Life” (“Black-Brown Not White,” “Seed of Shem-Ham”); “There Are Two Ethiopias” (“Aith-io-pians of AFRICA”); “Lucifer Means Light Bearer” (“MOTHER- FATHER of civilization”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 44. “There Are Two Ethiopias,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“The American negro”). For folk identities as polycultural constructions, see Robin D. G. Kelley, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Folk,’” American Historical Review 97, no. 5 (1992): 1400–1408; and Dorman, Chosen People, 19–20. 45. “Place” and “Place-Names,” in Gregory et al., Dictionary of Human Geography, 539– 42. On More and place-names, see Louis Marin, Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces, trans. Robert A. Vollrath (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1984), 115. 46. “Why Don’t You Turn Again!” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“demonstrated”). 47. “Solution to the Negro Problem,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 48. “Zoroastrianism,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“Question,” “leaders”). 49. Pennington, quoted in Hall, Faithful Account, 57 (“ancestors”). 50. “The Way of the Cross” (“gentiles”); “The Bible Was Not Written for Negroes!!!!!!!” (“concealing”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 51. For music as a marker of national identity, see Paul Allen Anderson, Deep River: Music and Memory in Harlem Renaissance Thought (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 13–56; and Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 21–62. For black music as a stolen legacy, see “Jesus Said, ‘Let the Negro Bury the Negro,’” AACSR, box 13, folder 3; see also George G. M. James, Stolen Legacy (San Francisco, Julian Richardson Associates, 1954). 52. For racial self-assertion implicated in black musical repertoire, see William R.

Notes to Pages 119–126


Ferris Jr., “Racial Repertoires among Blues Performers,” Ethnomusicology 14, no. 3 (1970): 439–49; Gavin James Campbell, Music and the Making of a New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 66–99; and Mark Burford, “Sam Cooke as Pop Album Artist—A Reinvention in Three Songs,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 65, no. 1 (2012): 113–78. 53. The most successful song in the “moon and coon” genre was “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon,” by Fred Fisher, songwriter of “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”; for others, see Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, “Coon Songs,” and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 11–38, and Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2014), 713, 717. For “Little i’s I Love You,” see Corbett, Wisdom of Sun Ra, 94 (“Them There Eyes”); see also “The Light Is G,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Jerusalem trodden down”). 54. “The Stumbling Block” (“Whatcha Know Joe?”); “I Don’t Give a Hoot” (“Blow, ‘Mr. Low Blow’”); “Neptune Is Rex . . . The Ruler with the Iron Fork” (“Stormy Weather,” “You just can’t”)—all AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 55. “There’s a Nigger in the Woodpile” (“Holy Smoke”); “The Negro Is a Burden to the White Man” (“He toucheth”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10. 56. “Days of Vengeance,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“Ballin’ the Jack”); “There’s a Nigger in the Woodpile,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“As you can”); “A Spook Sho’ Is a Dragg, Man . . . He’s a Dragg,” in Corbett, Wisdom of Sun Ra, 70. 57. “There Are Two Ethiopias,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“Drinkin’ wine, spoihteoihte”). See also Youngquist, Pure Solar World, 58; Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years before Elvis (New York: Da Capo, 1999) (“motherfucker”); “The True Way to Life,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“his enemies”). 58. “Johnny One Note,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“You’ve got”). 59. “Johnny One Note,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“How you goin’ to sound?” “i know”). For the lyrics to “Where Shall I Be,” see African American Heritage Hymnal #196, accessed 28 June 2017, _nigh. See also Anna Kranz Odum, “Negro Folk-Songs from Tennessee,” Journal of American Folklore 27 (1914): 257. 60. “Neptune Is Rex,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (“Victim Man,” “He is Prometheus”). 61. Sahib, “Nation of Islam,” 177–78; Redmond, Anthem, 20–41. 62. Kidd, Forging of Races, 28; Ruth Benedict, Race: Science and Politics (New York: Modern Age Books, 1940), 50–53; Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, The Races of Mankind (New York: Public Affairs Committee, 1943); Mark Anderson, “Ruth Benedict, Boasian Anthropology, and the Problem of the Colour Line,” History and Anthropology 25, no. 3 (2014): 395–414. On whiteness and early postwar Chicago, see Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 195–98; Thomas A. Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 172–76; Hirsch, “E Pluribus Duo?” 7–44; and Andrew J. Diamond, Mean Streets: Chicago Youths and the


Notes to Pages 127–131

Everyday Struggle for Empowerment in the Multiracial City, 1908–1969 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 5–6, 316n13. See also Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color, 91–137; S. Hall, “New Ethnicities,” 441–49. 63. Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity, trans. Dennis J. Schmidt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986), 205 (“social utopian”); see also Phillip E. Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 17, 158–59. For a more extensive discussion of Bloch’s conceptions of utopia in relation to Sun Ra, see Sites, “We Travel the Spaceways.” 64. “Why Don’t You Turn Again!” (“only people,” “light of the world”); “A Nigger Is a Mess” (“mess,” “messiah”)—both AACSR, box 15, folder 10.

Chapter 6 1. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 76. 2. Mike Rowe, Chicago Blues: The City and the Music (New York: Da Capo, 1975), 145, 148, 158. 3. George Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 213 (“hidden histories”); see also Brett Lashua, Sara Cohen, and John Schofield, “Popular Music, Mapping, and the Characterization of Liverpool,” Popular Music History 4, no. 2 (2010): 126–44. 4. For historical treatments of different African American, movement-oriented “community organizing” traditions, see Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: Free Press, 1984); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); and Bonnie Young Laing, “The Universal Negro Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Black Panther Party: Lessons for Understanding African American Culture-Based Organizing,” Journal of Black Studies 39, no. 4 (2009): 635–56. Historical studies of black “community-building,” by contrast, tend to focus more broadly on efforts to build African American community institutions; see, e.g., Richard W. Thomas, Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915–1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), and Leslie Brown, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). See also Earl Lewis, “To Turn as on a Pivot: Writing African Americans into a History of Overlapping Diasporas,” American Historical Review 100, no. 3 (June 1995): 765–87. 5. John Corbett, Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 219 (“His chords”). 6. See Szwed, Space Is the Place, 74. A photo negative of Abraham’s driver’s license found among his personal papers indicates he was born in 1929, but the final digit appears to have been altered; driver’s license, 1958, Alton Abraham Collection Preliminary Inventory (hereafter AACPI), box 24, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. Among his military records, year of birth is listed variously as 1927

Notes to Pages 131–134


and 1928; compare, e.g., registration card, Selective Service System, and service record, Army of the United States, both National Personnel Records Center, National Archives, St. Louis, MO. For Barney and Mary Abraham, see US Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States (1920), Population Schedule, De Soto Parish, Louisiana; for Mary Abraham, US Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930), Population Schedule, Bowie County, Texas (note that Alton’s name in this census report is listed as Allinton); for Alton Abraham, see US Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States (1940), Population Schedule, Bowie County, Texas—all accessed 21 October 2016, 7. Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), 85; James R. Greeson, Gretchen B. Gearhart, and Conlon Nancarrow, “Conlon Nancarrow: An Arkansas Original,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54, no. 4 (1995): 457–69. 8. Beverly J. Rowe, Historic Texarkana: An Illustrated History (San Antonio, TX: Historical Publishing Network, 2009), 24–25; US Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States, 1920–1932 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1935), table 11 (“Negro Population of Cities and Other Urban Places: 1930 and 1920”), 56, 65; Arvarh E. Strickland, “Lorenzo Johnston Greene’s Book-Selling Odyssey: Touring Arkansas in 1930, Memphis to Texarkana,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 55, no. 3 (1996): 295 (“Negro professional men”); Texarkana Negro Business League Directory, 1937, Texarkana Museums System Archive, accessed 12 July 2017, (“name bands”). 9. J. Olson Anders, “Local Church Records as Source Material,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 1, no. 2 (1942): 134–40 (“Hebrew patriarchs”); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 88–90. 10. Mary Abraham, 560 East 50th Place, Chicago telephone directory, March 1947 and September 1948; David Roediger, “The Making of a Historian: An Interview with Sterling Stuckey,” Journal of African American History 99, 1–2 (2014): 89–105; Alton E. Abraham, infantry, soldier’s qualification card, US military service record, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives, St. Louis, MO; “Jimmy Ellis,” in Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration, ed. Timuel D. Black Jr. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press and DuSable Museum of African American History, 2003), 171. 11. Arthur C. Cromwell, “Jazz Mecca: An Ethnographic Study of Chicago’s South Side Jazz Community” (PhD diss., Ohio University, 1998), 136, 145; Sepians’ “Queen of May Frolic” invitation, 1950, Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (hereafter AACSR), box 51, folder 12; interview with Jimmy Ellis, Charles Walton Papers, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library (hereafter CWP), box 11, folder 57; Concert Programs, 1951–52, AACSR, box 51, folder 15; Memorabilia, Walter Henri Dyett Papers, box 18, folder 9, and box 19, folder 2, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library. 12. “Artis A. Abraham Pledges City Aid,” Chicago Defender, 11 December 1956, daily edition, 4; “Says Bronzeville Needs Leadership,” Chicago Defender, 27 January 1959, daily


Notes to Pages 135–138

edition, 30; “Two Students Tied to Carts, Taken to Court,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 17 July 1950, 13; “Reach Youth Says Abraham” (Other 4—No Title), Chicago Defender, 9 March 1961, daily edition, 8. See also Robert E. Weems Jr., “The Chicago Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company: A Profile of a Black-Owned Business,” Illinois Historical Journal 86, no. 1 (1993): 15–26; Peter M. Rutkoff and William B. Scott, “Pinkster in Chicago: Bud Billiken and the Mayor of Bronzeville, 1930–1945,” Journal of African American History 89, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 316–30. For Abraham family signatories, see articles of incorporation, Saturn “II” Research, February 1967, AACPI, box 24, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. 13. Notebook, AACPI, box 8, unfiled. 14. Bill Banfield, Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), 23–27; Josh Abrams, “Two Beats from a Different Drum: Robert Barry,” Stop Smiling, 12 March 2008, accessed 6 May 2014, http://www; Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, (Hines); Valerie Wilmer, As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (London: Allison & Busby, 1977), 85 (“utterly amazed”); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 89 (“another kind of being”), 116 (Gilmore); Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (stable octet). 15. Corbett, Extended Play, 222 (nine-by-twelve); Art Hoyle, public comments at “Sun Ra: Reality Has Touched against Myth,” Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, 28 September 2013 (“crawling around on the floor”); Deval Patrick, A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life (New York: Broadway Books, 2011); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 97–98 (“exhausting but exhilarating”). See also Ted Panken, “Tommy Hunter on Sun Ra and John Gilmore,” Jazz Journalists Association Library, 1999, accessed 26 June 2017, Early versions of Ra’s ensemble appeared under various names, including Sun Ra and His Rays of Jazz, before becoming the Arkestra in 1957; see Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” For simplicity, I refer to all versions as the Arkestra. 16. Corbett, Extended Play, 219–20; Dempsey J. Travis, An Autobiography of Black Jazz (Chicago: Urban Research Institute, 1983), 191–201; James Porter, “Before the Civil Rights Act, Herman Roberts’s Club Defined Black Nightlife on the South Side,” Chicago Reader, 3 December 2014; Sandor Demlinger and John Steiner, Destination Chicago Jazz (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 60; account book, AACPI, box 24, and Sun Ra LP sign, organizational listings dated 10-3-57, AACPI, box 24 (social clubs). 17. Nu Sounds, “A Foggy Day” (Saturn 9/1954, 1954 or 1955), 45-rpm single, reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence 22164, 1996), 1 of 2 CDs; Nu Sounds, “The Wooden Soldier and the China Doll” (recorded 1954 or 1955), on Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic UMS/ALP243, 2003, CD). See also Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (“too good”). For Cosmic Rays, see, e.g., “Dreaming” and “Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie” (Saturn SR-401/SR-402, 1960, 45-rpm single), reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles.

Notes to Pages 139–143


18. For reissue of a number of Sun Ra’s vocal-group recordings, see Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby. For a historical treatment of the tangled relationship between commercial pop music and romantic love, see David Hajdu, Love for Sale: Pop Music in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). 19. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” Remarkably, sections of the stage mural for the Autumn Follies show have survived. See Michael Allemana, “‘Will You Still Be Mine?’ Memory, Place, Race and Jazz on Chicago’s South Side” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2020), 148. 20. “Ivory Joe Hunter, Arnett Cobb, Chuck Berry on Tavern Parade,” Chicago Defender, 24 December 1955, national edition, 7; Robert L. Campbell, Armin Büttner, and Robert Pruter, “The Willie Jones Discography,” revised 2 December 2013, accessed 28 June 2017, (Scott); Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (well-known performers); “Is Chicago the New Jazz Capital?” Ebony, December 1957, 100 (“local group”). 21. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 152; Receipts already entered in books, 1957, AACPI, box 24 (Allen’s address); Mary Abraham, Chicago telephone directory, June 1955; AACSR, box 123 (necklace). 22. John Corbett, “Sun Ra in Chicago: Street Priest and Father of D.I.Y. Jazz,” in Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954– 68, ed. John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis (Chicago: WhiteWalls, 2006), 5 (West Eighteenth St.), 8 (“uncommon agreement”); “Chicago Television Alumni Club: Rudy Orisek,” Chicago Television, accessed 31 October 2016, http://chicagotelevision .com/RUDY.htm (Croatian and Serbian); Sun-Ra and His Arkistra, “Super Blonde” and “Soft Talk” (Saturn Z1111, 1956), 45-rpm single. See Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (El Saturn releases); Le Sun-Ra and His Arkistra, “Medicine for a Nightmare” and “Urnack,” (Saturn Z222A/B, 1956), 45-rpm single. 23. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (Roberts); Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 84 (Squares). 24. Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 87 (“bread truck drivers”) and 117; “Is Chicago the New Jazz Capital?” Ebony, 98 (Rounders). 25. Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (Transition TRLP J-10, 1957, recorded 12 July 1956, Chicago, LP), reissued as Sun Ra, Sun Song (Delmark DD-411, 1990, CD); Sun Ra and the Arkestra, Sound of Joy (Delmark DS-414, 1968, recorded 1 December 1956, Chicago, LP; 1994, CD). For full discography, see Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (“most advanced”). Prominent jazz critic Nat Hentoff’s review of Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1 was patronizing and largely dismissive, though Harold Keith gave the album an enthusiastic four stars. Nat Hentoff, “Sun Ra,” Down Beat, 4 April 1957, 28, 37; Harold L. Keith, “Data ’bout Discs,” Pittsburgh Courier, 16 March 1957, 54. 26. Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Super-Sonic Jazz: 21st Century Limited Edition (recorded 21 November 1956, Chicago; Saturn H7OP0216, 1957, LP), reissued as Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Supersonic Jazz (Evidence 22015, 1992, CD); Claude Dangerfield, US Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States (1940), Population Schedule, Cook


Notes to Pages 143–147

County, Illinois, accessed 21 October 2016,; Eric C. Schneider, Smack: Heroin and the American City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 38; Corbett, “Sun Ra in Chicago,” 7 (“tiki lounge”). 27. Corbett, “Sun Ra in Chicago,” 8 (businesses). 28. For the expanding territory of the black South Side in the 1950s, compare Philip M. Hauser and Evelyn M. Kitagawa, eds., Local Community Fact Book for Chicago, 1950 (Chicago Community Inventory, University of Chicago, 1953), and Evelyn M. Kitagawa and Karl E. Taeuber, eds., Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area, 1960 (Chicago Community Inventory, University of Chicago, 1963). For urban renewal, see Chicago Urban League, Urban Renewal and the Negro in Chicago (Chicago, 1958), appendix, map 2. For black outmigration from Bronzeville, see Mary Pattillo-McCoy, “The Limits of OutMigration for the Black Middle Class,” Journal of Urban Affairs 22, no. 3 (2000): 225–41; Mary Pattillo, “Extending the Boundaries and Definition of the Ghetto,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 26, no. 6 (2003): 1046–57; and Mary Pattillo, foreword to St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), xiii–liii; for the West Side expansion, see Amanda I. Seligman, Block by Block: Neighborhoods and Public Policy on Chicago’s West Side (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 32–33. 29. City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations, “The Growing Negro Middle Class in Chicago: A Research Report,” 1 September 1962 (“remarkable growth”); Leah Platt Boustan, Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 82–86; Bart Landry, The New Black Middle Class (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 68; Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 812–13; Census of Population: 1960, vol. 1, part 15: Illinois (US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC, 1961), 626–29, 630–33; Robert W. Fairlie and William A. Sundstrom, “The Emergence, Persistence, and Recent Widening of the Racial Unemployment Gap,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 52, no. 2 (1999): 252–70; Michael B. Katz, Mark J. Stern, and Jamie J. Fader, “The New African American Inequality,” Journal of American History 92, no. 1 (2005): 75–108; William Sites and Virginia Parks, “What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes,” Politics and Society 39, no. 1 (2011): 40–73. 30. Amy Absher, The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900–1967 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 72 (“gilded cage”), 77–81; see also Clark Halker, “A History of Local 208 and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the American Federation of Musicians,” Black Music Research Journal 8, no. 2 (1988): 207–22. For a range of perspectives on the larger racial dynamics implicated in postwar commercial music trends, see LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Black Music (New York: William Morrow, 1967), 180–211; Mark Anthony Neal, What the Music Said: Black Popular Culture and Black Public Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999), 25–53; Reebee Garofalo, “From Black Rhythm and Blues to White Rock ’n’ Roll,” in R&B, Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music, ed. Norman Kelley (New York: Akashic Books, 2002), 112–37; Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm & Blues (New York: Penguin, 2003); Ingrid Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (New York: Oxford University

Notes to Pages 147–152


Press, 2007), 29–65; and Jack Hamilton, Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016). 31. Davarian L. Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 21–52; Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago (1935; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 115–35 (“underworld”). 32. Will Cooley, “‘Stones Run It’: Taking Back Control of Organized Crime in Chicago, 1940–1975,” Journal of Urban History 37, no. 6 (2011): 913 (“last independent policy king”); Clovis E. Semmes, The Regal Theater and Black Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 145, 149–50; Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 73; Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey, Possibilities (New York: Viking, 2014), 29–30; Ted Panken, “R.I.P., Mark Murphy, March 14, 1932–October 21, 2015,” Today Is the Question, 22 October 2015 (Jefferson), -14-1932-oct-21-2015/; Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (Pryor, Randolph). 33. See, e.g., Evelyn M. Kitagawa and De Ver Sholes, eds., Chicagoland’s Retail Market (Chicago: Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, 1957), 279, 281; “Grand Terrace, DeLisa Tops for Years Due for a Revival,” Chicago Defender, 22 March 1958, national edition, 18; Semmes, Regal Theater, 135–69. 34. Porter, “Before the Civil Rights Act” (Roberts); interview with Eddie Johnson, CWP, box 14, folder 98 (“He would give”); interview with Ben Gold, CWP, box 13, folder 78 (Gaines); Scott’s Blue Book: A Classified Business and Service Directory of Chicago’s Citizens with Inter-Racial Features (Chicago: Scott’s Business and Directory Service, 1956) (Gaines); “The DuSable Hotel,” CWP, box 2, folder 6 (Bob); Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (Bob). 35. Charles Walton, “The DuSable Hotel and the Drexel Square Area,” CWP, box 2, folder 7 (Bob); Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (Budland). 36. See Red Saunders Research Foundation, accessed 12 March 2017, http://campber (labels). 37. Among many sources on the Five Spot, see Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (New York: Free Press, 2009), 225–35; and Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens, Jazz: Essential Listening (New York: Norton, 2011), 314. On New York’s downtown scene of this period, see George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 29–36. 38. Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 51 (“solidly rooted”) , 21 (Christian); Ted Panken, “An Interview with Alvin Fielder,” Today Is the Question, 1 July 2002, accessed 8 April 2018, (clubs). 39. Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 114–15 (“of our own”; italics in original). For “community feeling”—an adaptation of Raymond Williams’s concept “structure of feeling”—see Adam Green, Selling the Race, 80. 40. Ted Vincent, Keep Cool: The Black Activists Who Built the Jazz Age (London: Pluto


Notes to Pages 153–156

Press, 1995), 63–65; Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 88–89 (Clef Club); David Suisman, “Co-Workers in the Kingdom of Culture: Black Swan Records and the Political Economy of African American Music,” Journal of American History 90, no. 4 (2004): 1295–1324. 41. Eric Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 102–17. 42. See liner notes, Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Super-Sonic Jazz: 21st Century Limited Edition (recorded 21 November 1956; Saturn H7OP0216, 1957, LP); reissued as Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Supersonic Jazz (Evidence 22015, 1992, CD) (“le SUN RA’s arkestra is of CHICAGO origin”). 43. Michael C. Heller, “‘Complaining Time Is Over’: Network and Collective Strategies of the New York Musicians Organization,” in The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives: This Is Our Music, ed. Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton (New York: Routledge, 2015), 16–41; Alberto Melucci, Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 60; Darcy K. Leach and Sebastian Haunss, “Scenes and Social Movements,” in Culture, Social Movements, and Protest, ed. Hank Johnston (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 255–76 (cultural laboratory); Jimmy Ellis, quoted in Cromwell, “Jazz Mecca,” 150 (“beautiful ideas”). 44. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (hard bop). On the music’s sense of dislocation, one seasoned reviewer commented upon listening to Jazz in Silhouette three decades after it was recorded, “With no prior knowledge, it might be difficult to determine even the vintage of this performance”; see Francis Davis, liner notes, Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Jazz in Silhouette (Evidence 22012-2, 1991, CD). 45. On cultural modernism and urban planning, see “Thinking Through Urban Renewal,” special section of Journal of Urban History 39, no. 3 (2013). See also Christopher Klemek, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Brian D. Goldstein, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 16–57. On postwar musical modernism and systematizing techniques, see Georgina Born, Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 47–56. Produced in Chicago, The Cry of Jazz was a film directed by Edward O. Bland (KHTB Productions, 1959, B&W, 16mm); rereleased by Atavistic (2004, DVD). I address Bland’s film, and Sun Ra’s relation to it, in chapter 7. For postwar urbanism in musical cinema, see Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 157–59; and Martha Shearer, New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 153–92. See also Phil Ford, “Jazz Exotica and the Naked City,” Journal of Musicological Research 27 (2008): 113–33. 46. Liner notes to Jazz by Sun Ra (“intelligent approach,” “intelligent reach”). 47. Nu Sounds, “Chicago USA” (Version A), “Chicago USA” (Version B), and “Spaceship Lullaby” (all recorded 1954 or 1955), later released on Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby. The two compositions were copyrighted at the Library of Congress as “Spaceship Lullaby

Notes to Pages 156–161


(Bop Is a Spaceship Lullaby)” and “Chicago USA” in 1954; see “Sun Ra Charts,” Tone Science, accessed 15 January 2015, 48. John Corbett, liner notes to Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby (“astonishingly corny”); Albert Murray, Stomping the Blues (New York: Da Capo, 1976), 117–25. 49. Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940– 1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 100–134; “Chocolate City,” first released on Parliament, Chocolate City (Casablanca, NBLP 7014, 1975, LP) (“gainin’ on ya!”); for discussion of this song in an urban-historical context, see Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 5. 50. Liner notes to Jazz by Sun Ra (“sometimes the Grecians”); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 153 (“Hotter Than ’Ell”). 51. There is a wide-ranging literature on trains as symbols in African American music. See, e.g., John Lovell Jr., “The Social Implications of the Negro Spiritual,” Journal of Negro Education 8, no. 4 (1939): 634–43; Houston A. Baker Jr., Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 11; Samuel A. Floyd Jr., The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 77; Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Vintage, 1998), 66–90; Hazel Carby, Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America (New York: Verso, 1999), 13; Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the Wars (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 92. 52. “Street Named Hell,” Jazz by Sun Ra; Allan S. Chase, “Sun Ra: Musical Change and Musical Meaning in the Life and Work of a Jazz Composer” (MA thesis, Tufts University, 1992), 103 (“surreal effect”). 53. Liner notes to Jazz by Sun Ra (“Dedicated to scientists”); “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing,” in Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), 8; Gene Shupak, “Tunes from Brainville: Improvised Jazz and/as Utopia,” International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, accessed 15 June 2016, http://www.improvcommunity .ca/sites/ _utopia.pdf (surplus leisure). 54. Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 2nd ed., trans. and ed. Robert M. Adams (New York: Norton, 1992), 32n1 (London). 55. For cities and utopian visions, see many of the selections in Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, eds., The Utopia Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1999). See also Lewis Mumford, “Utopia, the City and the Machine,” in Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Frank E. Manuel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 3–24; Ruth Eaton, “The City as an Intellectual Exercise,” in Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World, ed. Roland Schaer, Gregory Claeys, and Lyman Tower Sargent (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 119–131; Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow (Cambridge, MA:


Notes to Pages 161–165

Blackwell, 1988); David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 159–73; David Pinder, Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in TwentiethCentury Urbanism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005). For International Style modernism and urban renewal, see Franz Schulze, “Mies van der Rohe in America,” in Chicago Architecture and Design, 1923–1993: Reconfiguration of a Metropolis, ed. John Zukowsky (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1993), 141–57; Zipp, Manhattan Projects; and Samuel Zipp, “The Roots and Routes of Urban Renewal,” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 3 (2012): 377 (“smooth, rational city of the now”). 56. “A Note from the Composer,” program note to Stan Kenton, City of Glass (Capitol H 353, 1952, LP), reproduced on All Things Kenton, accessed 4 August 2017, http:// (“tonal skyscrapers”); the original Kenton recording is reissued on Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger, City of Glass (Capitol Jazz, 7243 8 32084 2 5, 1995, CD). For Harlem, see Duke Ellington, Ellington Uptown (Columbia, ML 4639, 1952, LP); reissued as Duke Ellington, Ellington Uptown (CBS, 512 917 2, 2004, CD) (“tour”). For the marked tensions between Harlem’s musical innovations and its program note’s more outmoded portrait of the community, see John Howland, Ellington Uptown: Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 280–93; see also Denise von Glahn, The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003), 155–60. 57. “Brainville,” Jazz by Sun Ra; for musical analysis, see Chase, “Sun Ra,” 100. Although the composition was entitled “Brainville, Uranus” on Ra’s copyrighted lead sheet, the planetary reference was excised for the Transition album; see “Sun Ra Charts,” Tone Science. 58. For the legacy of the Black Chicago Renaissance, see Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932– 1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 225–34; for an account that encompasses 1950s-era musicians such as Sun Ra, see Robert H. Cataliotti, “African American Music in Chicago During the Chicago Renaissance,” in Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance, ed. Steven C. Tracy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 424– 47. For a sustained emphasis on the rise of black-led commercial media in Chicago, see Green, Selling the Race. 59. Schulze, “Mies van der Rohe in America”; Nelson Algren, City on the Make (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1951), 33; Carlo Rotella, October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 22–23; Elizabeth Fraterrigo, Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 80–81 (“ultra-urban”); Gwendolyn Brooks, “kitchenette building,” in Selected Poems (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 3 (“dream”); Margaret Burroughs, “Slum Child” (1960), Mutual Art, accessed 22 July 2019, Artwork/Slum-Child/A07DAE79472612D4; Mike Rowe, Chicago Blues: The City and the Music (New York: Da Capo, 1975), 172 (“sawdust on the floor”). 60. Michael E. Gardiner, “Everyday Utopianism: Lefebvre and His Critics,” Cultural Studies 18, nos. 2/3 (2004): 228–54.

Notes to Pages 166–171


Chapter 7 1. Trowbridge Hall, Egypt in Silhouette (New York: Macmillan, 1928), 2, in Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (hereafter AACSR), box 36, folder 1. 2. E. P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (Pontypool, Wales: Merlin Press, 2011), 791. 3. For the concept of “Africanist presence,” see Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). Morrison employs the term to convey how American literature has been pervasively shaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of a people whose influence it has persistently denied. I am using “Africanist” and “Africanizing” in a more restrictive sense, to describe the effort by a black American musical artist to discover signs of African connection within a US-centered postwar culture that routinely obscured them. For a related use of the term présence Africaine, see Stuart Hall, The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation, ed. Kobena Mercer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 167. 4. For the collapse of inherited urban ideals, see, e.g., the writers discussed in Charles Scruggs, Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 206. 5. Draft letter to James C. Petrillo, Miscellaneous Letters, Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra Preliminary Inventory, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (hereafter AACPI), box 24 (“We need”); for a slightly different draft letter, see John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis, eds., Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954–1968 (Chicago: WhiteWalls, 2006), 27. 6. Draft letter to Petrillo, AACPI, box 24. Despite the term “atonal” in this letter, Ra’s compositions from this period continued to be based mostly on chordal or modal harmonic structures; see John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 165–71. Aton (or Aten) was the name given to an ancient Egyptian sun god whose supremacy was briefly established by the pharaoh Akhenaten; see E. A. Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism (1923; New York: Dover, 1991), 55–74; Dominic Montserrat, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt (New York: Routledge, 2000). Abraham elsewhere used the term “Atonites” to refer to devotees of Ra’s music. 7. Draft letter to Petrillo, AACPI, box 24. 8. “Disc Jockey Show Club Will Jump Tonight,” Chicago Defender, 30 January 1958, daily edition, 18; “Night Spots in Gay Mood, Tonight,” Chicago Defender, 4 February 1958, daily edition, 17 (“platter-spinning”); “Club DeLisa Up for Sale; Rings Down Curtain Feb. 16,” Chicago Defender, 15 February 1958, national edition, 22; Rob Roy, “The Latest Headache? How to Put Cabarets on Profitable ‘Kick,’” Chicago Defender, 21 July 1959, daily edition, 18 (“downtowners”); Rachel Shteir, Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 310–11. 9. Alton Abraham petition, 3 August 1958, AACPI, box 24.


Notes to Pages 171–176

10. “Casino to Open with Big Dance,” Chicago Defender 28 March 1957, daily edition, 14; “Overbea, Muddy Waters Score,” Chicago Defender, 2 April 1957, daily edition, 14 (Hernandez); Display Ad 18—No Title (“The Fabulous Queen’s Mansion”), Chicago Defender, 5 June 1958, daily edition, 18; for the Arkestra repertoire performed at the club, see Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, http://campber.people.clemson .edu/sunra.html. See also Sun Ra and His Arkestra, “I Could Have Danced All Night” (recorded 6 March 1959); issued on Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra, Sound Sun Pleasure!! (Saturn SR 512, 1970, LP; reissued, Evidence 22014, 1992, CD). 11. John Corbett, “Sun Ra in Chicago: Street Priest and Father of D.I.Y. Jazz,” in Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 5 (Hines); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 92 (“music?”); Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 116 (“Girls Girls Girls”). 12. Alvin C. Adams, “Combine Jazz, Church to Benefit Youth,” Chicago Defender, 1 November 1960, daily edition, 9 (“astray”). 13. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 111 (“spirit”); Allan S. Chase, “Sun Ra: Musical Change and Musical Meaning in the Life and Work of a Jazz Composer” (MA thesis, Tufts University, 1992), 123 (“free form”); Clifford Allen, “James Spaulding: ’60s Sideman Extraordinaire,” All about Jazz, 11 February 2004, accessed 5 August 2017, https://www -clifford-allen.php (“human race”); Steve Wallace, “Unsung Bassists, Part 4” (blog), 3 September 2013,; Valerie Wilmer, As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (London: Allison & Busby, 1977), 86 (“thinking,” “big band”). 14. Cosmic Rays with the Sun Ra Arkestra, “Black Sky & Blue Moon” and “Africa” (recorded 1958), issued on Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic UMS/ALP243, 2003, CD). 15. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (“eccentric,” “descended”); Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist), “M uck M uck (Matt Matt)” and “Hot Skillet Momma” (Saturn 4236/7, 1957, 45-rpm single); reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence 22164, 1996, CD); “Rocket Ship Rock” (recorded 1957), issued on Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Rocket Ship Rock (Norton, CED-354, 2009, CD). 16. The Cry of Jazz, film directed by Edward O. Bland (KHTB Productions, 1959, B&W, 16mm; rereleased by Atavistic, 2004, DVD); Chuck Kleinhans, “The Cry of Jazz and the Expressive Politics of Music and Race: Interview with Ed Bland,” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 54 (2012), accessed 4 March 2015, archive/jc54.2012/klBlandJazz/text.html (“structural identity”). 17. Letter from Edward Bland to Nelam Hill, n.d. (ca. 1960), Nelam L. Hill Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, box 1, folder 8 (critics). For reviews, see “The Symposiums,” Coda, 15 September 1959, 21; Ernest Callenbach and Dominic Salvatore, “The Cry of Jazz,” Film Quarterly, Winter 1959 (“anti-white”); Kenneth Tynan, “A Contrast in Black and White,” London Observer, 20 March 1960—all reviews in Nelam L. Hill Papers, box 4. See also Anna McCarthy, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 105–10; Anna McCarthy, “Screen Culture and Group Discussion in Postwar Race Relations,” in Learning with the

Notes to Pages 176–181


Lights Off: An Educational Film Reader, ed. Deron Orgeron, Marsha Orgeron, and Dan Streible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 397–423. 18. Sun Ra, Jazz in Silhouette (Saturn K7OP3590/1, 1959, LP), reissued as Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Jazz in Silhouette (Evidence 22012, 1991, CD); Paul Youngquist, A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), 127 (“joyous”). For album design, see Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra”; Corbett, “Sun Ra in Chicago,” 7. For hectographed booklet, see Dr. Progresso, “Sun Ra,” Society of Art Rock, accessed 5 August 2017, dr-progresso/85-dr-progresso/179-sun-ra.html. 19. Sun Ra, “Ancient Aiethopia” and “Enlightenment,” Jazz in Silhouette (Saturn K7OP3590/1, 1959, LP), reissued on Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Jazz in Silhouette (Evidence 22012, 1991, CD). See also Terri Kapsalis, “Enlightment,” in Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro Black and Other Solar Myths, ed. John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis (Chicago: WhiteWalls, 2010), 66–71; Youngquist, Pure Solar World, 127. 20. “JAZZ IN SILHOUETTE,” a poem accompanying Sun Ra, Jazz in Silhouette, LP. 21. For a probing discussion of these debates, see Ingrid Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 66–106. 22. “The Shadow of Tomorrow,” a poem accompanying Sun Ra, Jazz in Silhouette, LP; see also Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 257–58. 23. John Corbett, “Obscure Past, Bright Future,” in Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Traveling the Spaceways, 42 (“outline of jazz”). 24. For a black newspaper depiction of Africa as a primitive land, see “5th Reprieve in Voodoo Killings,” Chicago Bee, 9 March 1947, 9. 25. Frank London Brown, Trumbull Park (Chicago: Regnery, 1959), 412. 26. Red Saunders Orchestra with Joe Williams, “Voodoo Blues” (recorded 21 January 1953; Okeh, CCO-5403, unissued); Red Saunders Orchestra with Joe Williams, “It’s Raining Again” (Blue Lake, 53126, 1953); Red Saunders Orchestra, “Mambo in Trumpet” (Okeh, CCO-5400, 1953); Red Saunders Orchestra, “Summertime” (Blue Lake, 101, 1954); Red Saunders Band with Billy Brooks, “Mambo Is Everywhere” (Duke, 142, 1955); King Kolax and His Quintette, “Vivian” (Vee-Jay, 136, 1955)—all reissued on Sun Ra, The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency 0316, 2012; CDs 7, 10, and 11 of 14). For discographical details, see producer Michael Anderson’s commentary, as well as Robert L. Campbell, Armin Büttner, and Dan Kochakian, Red Saunders Discography, http://, and Robert L. Campbell, Armin Büttner, and Robert Pruter, King Kolax Discography, .html. See also untitled display ad, Chicago Defender, 2 April 1955, national edition, 2 (“Tempo Mambo”). 27. “New Fad: Those Club Sponsored Balls in Cities: Interracial Turnout Plus Mixing of Clubs and Society Sell ’Em,” Chicago Defender, 4 December 1954, national edition, 6 (Trianon); “Miles Davis, Young Chicago Club’ Aces,” Chicago Defender, 14 January 1956, national edition, 14 (Roberts); Display Ad 25—No Title, Chicago Defender, 27 February 1956, national edition, 20 (Roberts); “Music-Crazed Spots Sock Patrons with Star Talent,”


Notes to Pages 182–184

Chicago Defender, 11 July 1956, daily edition, 19 (Santiago, Flores, Battle); Display Ad 9—No Title, Chicago Defender, 11 June 1957, daily edition, 19 (“greatest”); Carlos Flores, “Five Decades of the Puerto Rican Music Scene in Chicago: A Personal Recollection,” Centro Journal 16, no. 1 (2004): 140–53 (Santiago); “Casino Ballroom Sets Trio Fetes,” Chicago Defender, 25 April 1957, daily edition, 14 (Latin Socialites). 28. Marion B. Campfield, “Mostly about Women,” Chicago Defender, 22 June 1957, national edition, 15 (“Sun Ray”); Photo Standalone 19—No Title, Chicago Defender, 23 December 1957, daily edition, 19; Display Ad 6—No Title, Chicago Defender, 24 December 1957, daily edition, 18 (Budland); the Supremes with Sun Ra and His Rays of Jazz, “Everybody Mambo,” on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 10 of 14. 29. “Knights Fiesta,” n.d., Woodlawn Community Collection, Harold Washington Library Special Collections; Wilfredo Cruz, City of Dreams: Latino Immigration to Chicago (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007), 72, 81–82 (Los Caballeros); Sun Ra and Calvin Newborn, “Blue Space” (recorded 25 August 1957), on Sun Ra, Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1, CD 13 of 14; The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra and the Arkestra, “Dreaming” and “Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie” (Saturn 401/2, 1960), reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence, 22164, 1996, CD 1 of 2). 30. On New York, see Christina D. Abreu, Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York and Miami, 1940–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 173 (Palladium, “Cuban-ness”); Flores, “Five Decades.” 31. Jairo Moreno, “Bauzá–Gillespie–Latin/Jazz: Difference, Modernity, and the Black Caribbean,” South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2004): 81–99; for African retentions, see Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), xxxix–xl; Samuel A. Floyd Jr., The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Samuel A. Floyd Jr. with Melanie L. Zeck and Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., The Transformation of Black Music: The Rhythms, the Songs, and the Ships of the African Diaspora (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). On the problems with using Western musical assumptions to understand African musics, see Kofi Agawu, Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions (New York: Routledge, 2003), 71–96. 32. Norman C. Weinstein, A Night in Tunisia: Imaginings of Africa in Jazz (New York: Limelight, 1993); Monson, Freedom Sounds, 107–51; Herb Lyon, “Tower Ticker,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 30 July 1958, A2; “Find Juaria Hard to Beat,” Chicago Defender, 5 July 1958, national edition, 7; “Ancient Nigerian Rhythms Beat at Ghana Ball,” Chicago Defender, 12 March 1957, daily edition, 12; Michael Babatunde Olatunji: African drumming and folk songs, 10 January 1959, Arts Club of Chicago, Arts Club Records, 1892–1995, series 4: “Music, 1917–1995,” 8, 164, Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections, Newberry Library; Guy Warren with Red Saunders Orchestra, Africa Speaks, America Answers! (Decca DL-8446, 1956, LP); Robin D. G. Kelley, Africa Speaks America Answers! Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 23. 33. Sun Ra, “Africa” and “Nubia” (recorded 1958 or 1959), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Lady with the Golden Stockings (The Nubians of Plutonia) (Saturn

Notes to Pages 184–190


9956-11E/F, 1966, LP); reissued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Angels and Demons at Play/The Nubians of Plutonia (Evidence 22066, 1993, CD). 34. Chesly Manley, “Witchcraft, Sexual Evils, Paganism Run Riot in Africa: Natives Commit Ritual Murders and Cannibalism Despite City Veneer of Civilization,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 15 June 1958, 1; Marion B. Campfield, “Mostly about Women,” Chicago Defender, 23 February 1957, national edition, 16 (“Can’t you just see”); George F. McCray, “Africans Proud of Culture, History,” Chicago Defender, 22 March 1958, national edition, 11. 35. Display Ad 2—No Title, Chicago Defender, 18 January 1958, national edition, 2, and “House of Knowledge Has World Program,” Chicago Defender, 7 November 1957, daily edition, 23 (Hammurabi); Lee Blackwell, “Off the Record,” Chicago Defender, 12 May 1958, daily edition, A10; Jeffrey Helgeson, Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 179–80; Marion B. Campfield and Darcy DeVille, “Day by Day,” Chicago Defender, 25 February 1959, daily edition, 14. 36. Jonathan Bellman, “Introduction,” in The Exotic in Western Music, ed. J. Bellman (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), xii–xiii (“there”). See also Rebecca Leydon, “Utopias of the Tropics: The Exotic Music of Les Baxter and Yma Sumac,” in Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music, ed. Philip Hayward (Sydney: John Libbey, 1999), 45–71; Phil Ford, “Jazz Exotica and the Naked City,” Journal of Musicological Research 27 (2008): 113–33; Travis A. Jackson, “Tourist Point of View? Musics of the World and Ellington’s Suites,” Musical Quarterly 3–4, no. 1 (2013): 513–40. For commercial Orientalism, see John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). 37. “I Have Set before You Life and Death—Choose Life,” AACSR, box 15, folder 10 (India). Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra, “India,” Super-Sonic Jazz: 21st Century Limited Edition (Saturn H7OP0216, 1957, LP); reissued as Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Supersonic Jazz (Evidence 22015, 1992, CD); Chase, “Sun Ra,” 107. 38. Sun Ra, “Ancient Aiethopia,” Jazz in Silhouette (Saturn K7OP3590/1, 1959, LP); reissued on Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Jazz in Silhouette (Evidence 22012, 1991, CD); Chase, “Sun Ra,” 128 (“a bold step”). 39. Sun Ra and His Astro-Infinity Orchestra, “October” (recorded 1959; Saturn 874, 1968, 45-rpm single); reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence 22164, 1996, CD). The song title may relate to the importance of the month of October for Ra-related holidays in the ancient Egyptian calendar; see Ancient Egyptian Holidays, accessed 6 August 2017, 40. Sun Ra, “Interplanetary Suite,” copyrighted score dated 10 October 1960; see “Sun Ra Charts,” Tone Science, accessed 15 January 2015, sun-ra-charts/. A fragmentary rehearsal performance of this “Africa” section can be heard on Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby. 41. For the longer history of American culture focused on the national conquest of space, see De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Astrofuturism: Science, Race and Visions of Utopia in


Notes to Pages 190–191

Space (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); and John Cheng, Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012). For historical studies of suburban spatial imaginaries, see Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987); Delores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000 (New York: Vintage, 2003); and Greg Dickinson, Suburban Dreams: Imagining and Building the Good Life (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015). For race and postwar suburbanization, see Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); and Gyan Prakash, ed., Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). For Hollywood music and the suburban landscape, see Neil Lerner, “Copland’s Music of Wide Open Spaces: Surveying the Pastoral Trope in Hollywood,” Musical Quarterly 85, no. 3 (2001): 477–515. 42. For the utopian aspirations attached to American urban renewal, see Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 157–61. For postwar Chicago, see Development Plan for the Central Area of Chicago (Chicago, Department of City Planning, 1958), Hathi Trust Digital Library, accessed 12 April 2018, Home; Chicago Urban League, Urban Renewal and the Negro in Chicago (Chicago, 1958), appendix, map 2; Arnold Hirsch, “‘Containment’ on the Home Front: Race and Federal Housing Policy from the New Deal to the Cold War,” Journal of Urban History 26, no. 2 (2000): 158–89; Larry Bennett, The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010), 39–41; and D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries, Planning Chicago (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2013), 29–33. On the University of Chicago and urban renewal, see Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 135–85; and LaDale C. Winling, Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 79–118. On displacement of the Beehive and two dozen other bars, lounges, and cafes along East Fifty-Fifth Street, see “Beehive Jazz Combo Blows Renewal Blues,” Hyde Park Herald, 1 June 1955, 4; Brian J. L. Berry, Sandra J. Parsons, and Rutherford H. Platt, The Impact of Urban Renewal: The Hyde Park-Kenwood Case (Chicago: University of Chicago Center for Urban Studies, 1968), 18; and letter to the editor, Hyde Park Herald, 1 October 1958, 2 (“primitive beat,” “effluvia”). 43. R/D: Research/Development, Chicago Midway Laboratories, n.d. [prob. 1958], in John A. Simpson Papers, 1940–1988, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, box 237, folder 1; Allan A. Needell, “Preparing for the Space Age: University-Based Research, 1946–1957,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sci-

Notes to Pages 192–194


ences 18, no. 1 (1987): 89–109; Winling, Building the Ivory Tower, 108 (“University interest and dominance”); Karal Ann Marling, “Disneyland, 1955,” American Art (1991); 168–207; Mark Eades, “Disneyland Opening Day,” Orange County Register, 16 July 2015; Avila, Popular Culture, 121–23; Timothy D. Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001), 74–75. 44. Lynn Spigel, Welcome to the Dream House: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 148; Duke Ellington, “The Race for Space,” in The Duke Ellington Reader, ed. Mark Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 293–96; “Negroes Who Help Conquer Space,” Ebony, May 1958, 4; “Our Lost Leadership,” Chicago Defender, 6 November 1957, daily edition, 11; David M. Warren, “The First Man on the Moon,” Pittsburgh Courier, 15 February 1958, B3 (“vast emptiness”). 45. Marion B. Campfield, “With the Women . . . Day by Day,” Chicago Defender, 6 February 1958, daily edition, 20; “Jet Age Wardrobe,” Chicago Defender, 13 February 1958, daily edition, 14; “Chicagoans Take Time to Join in Night at the Mardi Gras Benefit,” Chicago Defender, 20 February 1958, daily edition, A16; Photo Standalone 17—No Title (“Charting a Trip to Outer Space”), Chicago Defender, 17 May 1958, national edition, 6; Marion B. Campfield, “Mostly about Women,” Chicago Defender, 23 September 1961, national edition, 13; “Gaines Club Makes Last Minute Plans for Coloratura Luncheon,” Chicago Defender, 5 November 1959, daily edition, 16; “Space Age Fantasy,” Chicago Defender, 15 June 1959, daily edition, 14; “Funeral Directors’ Wives Crown a Mrs. Astronaut,” Chicago Defender, 7 October 1961, national edition, 13. 46. “Off the Record: The Mail Bag,” Chicago Defender, 10 September 1957, daily edition, 10 (“dancing”); “The Outer Space Club Presents Sun Ra and His Super-Sonic Jaz Muzik,” in Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 120; “Pilgrim I.K.A.’s Plan ‘Outer Space’ Launching,” Chicago Defender, 10 June 1961, national edition, 13; “‘Outer Space’ Theme Sparks an Array of Fashions for Sunday’s Revue,” Chicago Defender, 16 September 1961, national edition, 14 (“sputnik chapeaux”); Szwed, Space Is the Place, 175 (“costumes are music”; emphasis added). 47. Britt Rusert, “Delany’s Comet: Fugitive Science and the Speculative Imaginary of Emancipation,” American Quarterly 65, no. 4 (December 2013): 800. See also Paul Gilroy, Between Camps: Natures, Cultures and the Allure of Race (New York: Routledge, 2000), 337–38; Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self (1902; New York: Washington Square Press, 2004); E. A. Johnson, Light Ahead for the Negro (New York: Grafton Press, 1904) (“dirigible airship”). 48. Robert Athlyi Rogers, The Holy Piby (1924; Hogarth Blake E-Book, 2008), 45 (“O sun”); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 150–51. Rogers’s book strongly influenced Leonard Howell’s The Promised Key, a foundational text for Rastafarianism; see Bogues, Black Heretics, 153–86. 49. Wayne Taylor, “Premillennium Tension: Malcolm X and the Eschatology of the Nation of Islam,” Souls 7, no. 1 (2005): 52–65; Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom: Solution to the So-Called Negroes’ Problem, vol. 1 (Newport News, VA: National Newport News and Commentator, 1957), 14 (“dreadful”), 17 (Mother Plane).


Notes to Pages 195–203

50. Notebook, “Equations,” AACPI, box 18 (“Ark,” “skyenke”). See also Corbett, Elms, and Kapsalis, Pathways to Unknown Worlds, 90–93. 51. Claude Dangerfield, “Music from Tomorrow’s World,” AACSR, box 84. 52. Chase, “Sun Ra,” 131. “Plutonian Nights” and “Lady with the Golden Stockings/ The Golden Lady” (recorded 1958 or 1959), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Lady with the Golden Stockings (The Nubians of Plutonia), LP, reissued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Angels and Demons at Play/The Nubians of Plutonia, CD; “Interstellar Low Ways” (recorded 6 March 1959), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus (Interstellar Low Ways) (Saturn SR 9956-2-M/N, 1966–1969, LP), reissued on Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, Visits Planet Earth/Interstellar Low Ways (Evidence 22039, 1992, CD). 53. “Music from the World Tomorrow” (recorded 1960), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Angels and Demons at Play/The Nubians of Plutonia, CD; “Interplanetary Music” (recorded 1960), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, We Travel the Spaceways (Saturn HK 5445, 1967, LP), reissued on Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, We Travel the Spaceways/Bad & Beautiful (Evidence 22-038-2, 1992, CD). For Cohran’s violinuke, see “Going to Meet the Man,” Hypnotic Brass, 13 December 2006, accessed 7 August 2017,; and Interview with Kelan Phil Cohran, WNUR Radio 89.3, Evanston, IL, broadcast 13 June 2007. 54. “Space Aura,” “Somewhere in Space,” and “Space Loneliness” (all recorded 1960), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus (Interstellar Low Ways), LP, reissued on Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, Visits Planet Earth/Interstellar Low Ways, CD; Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra” (“It sounds like”). 55. “Interplanetary Music” and “We Travel the Spaceways” (recorded 1960), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, We Travel the Spaceways, LP, reissued on We Travel the Spaceways/Bad & Beautiful, CD. For work songs, see Floyd, Power of Black Music, 50; Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 208–15; and Ted Gioia, Work Songs (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). For the robot, see “New Toy,” Chicago Defender, 26 February 1955, national edition, 16. 56. “Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus” (recorded 1960), issued on Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus (Interstellar Low Ways), LP, reissued on Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, Visits Planet Earth/ Interstellar Low Ways, CD. 57. Nelson Algren, City on the Make (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1951); Carlo Rotella, October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 25; Bland, Cry of Jazz (“futureless future”).

Chapter 8 1. Paul Youngquist, A Pure Solar Myth: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), 5 (“soars”). A number of Wonder Inn recordings have

Notes to Pages 203–208


been issued on Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Music from Tomorrow’s World (recorded 1960; Atavistic UMS ALP237, 2002, CD). Other recordings probably made at the Wonder Inn are included on Sun Ra, The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency 0316, 2012, CD 12 of 14); for discographical details, see Robert L. Campbell, Christopher Trent, and Robert Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years,” revised 9 September 2016, 2. For Wonder Inn promotions, see “Eat Out Folk Find Toppers along Rialto,” Chicago Defender, 1 January 1959, daily edition, 18; Display Ad 25—No Title, Chicago Defender, 28 January 1960, daily edition, 17; and “Wonder Inn on Cha Cha Kick Tonite,” Chicago Defender, 5 November 1959, daily edition, A20. 3. China Gate, a film directed by Samuel Fuller (Twentieth-Century Fox, 1957). 4. The poem is recited at the beginning of “How High the Moon,” track 6 on Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Music from Tomorrow’s World. 5. Sun Ra, “Imagination,” in The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. James L. Wolf and Hartmut Geerken (Wartaweil, Germany: Waitawhile, 2005), 206. 6. Transcript of oral history interview with Jack DeJohnette, 10–11 November 2011, pp. 13–14, Archives Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, accessed 12 April 2018, _Interview_Transcription.pdf. 7. Bob Gluck, You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 32; Dave Hotep, “Luqman Ali, Artistic Bio,” 2007, reproduced in Steve Hoffman: Music Forums, accessed 7 August 2017, http:// -the-planet.123434/. 8. Anthony Braxton, “Keynote Address at the Guelph Jazz Festival,” Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation 4, no. 1 (2008), accessed 29 July 2017, (“Sun Ra helped me”). For Braxton’s own music and philosophy, see Graham Lock, Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton (New York: Da Capo, 1989), and Ronald M. Radano, New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton’s Cultural Critique (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993). 9. See George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 156–62, along with John Corbett’s liner notes accompanying Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence 22066, 1993, CD). 10. Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” 11. Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 157 (“thirteen”); Bronzeville Conversations, “William ‘Bill’ Fielder,” Charles Walton Papers, box 3, folder 4, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library; “‘A Door to Other Doors’: Henry Threadgill Interview with Daniel Fischlin,” Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation 7, no. 2 (2011): 1–14. 12. “Space Is the Place” became the title of various works associated with Sun Ra; see, e.g., Sun Ra and His Astro Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra, Space Is the Place (recorded 1972; Impulse IMPD-249, 1998, CD), and Space Is the Place, a film directed by John Coney,


Notes to Pages 209–211

with music by Sun Ra (Plexifilm, 1974, color; rereleased in 2003 on DVD). For space and place as understood by geographers, see John A. Agnew, “Space and Place,” in The Sage Handbook of Geographical Knowledge, ed. John A. Agnew and David N. Livingstone (Los Angeles: Sage, 2011), 316–30. For place and space in relation to music making, see Bernard Gendron, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Patrick Burke, Come In and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Andrew S. Berish, Lonesome Roads and Streets of Dreams: Place, Mobility, and Race in Jazz of the 1930s and ’40s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 1–31; and Michael C. Heller, Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 130–35. 13. Robert A. Beauregard, When America Became Suburban (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 40–69. See also Lewis Mumford, The City in History (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1961), 509–11; Jon C. Teaford, The Metropolitan Revolution: The Rise of Post-Urban America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006) (“post-urban”). For the persistence of extreme racial segregation in Chicago 1940–1970 despite dramatic changes in metropolitan spatial settlement, see Mary Pattillo, foreword to St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), xxi–xxii, xxviii. 14. See Development Plan for the Central Area of Chicago (Chicago, Department of City Planning, 1958), Hathi Trust Digital Library, accessed 12 April 2018, https://catalog See also Larry Bennett, The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 39–41; D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries, Planning Chicago (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2013), 22–33. For this period’s most influential statement on the value of neighborhood, see Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage, 1961), esp. 112–40. For a variety of Chicago-focused neighborhood approaches, see Saul D. Alinsky, “Community Analysis and Organization,” American Journal of Sociology 46, no. 6 (1941): 797–808; Chicago Plan Commission, “Woodlawn: A Study in Community Conservation” (Chicago, 1946); Gerald D. Suttles, The Social Construction of Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); Larry Bennett, Neighborhood Politics: Chicago and Sheffield (New York: Garland, 1997); Joseph Heathcott, “Urban Activism in a Downsizing World: Neighborhood Organizing in Postindustrial Chicago,” City and Community 4, no. 3 (2005): 277–94. For later Central Area plans, see Gerald D. Suttles, The Man-Made City: The LandUse Confidence Game in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), esp. 34–38; and Hunt and DeVries, Planning Chicago, 58–66, 277–79. 15. Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 100–132; Jeffrey Helgeson, Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 181–88. 16. Sutton E. Griggs, Imperium in Imperio (1899; New York: Modern Library, 2003); George S. Schuyler, Black Empire (1936–1938; Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991). Neither work offers a straightforward presentation of an idealized black society;

Notes to Pages 211–214


see John Gruesser, “Empires at Home and Abroad in Sutton E. Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio,” in Jim Crow, Literature, and the Legacy of Sutton E. Griggs, ed. Tess Chakkalakal and Kenneth W. Warren (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 49–68; and Michelle Ann Stephens, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 68–73. 17. David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 159–81; Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Research Arkestra, It’s After the End of the World: Live at the Donaueschingen and Berlin Festivals (MPS CRM-748, 1971, LP). Although Harvey understands utopias of temporal process in a modernist, teleological way, postmodern utopians conceptualize temporal process in recursive, reverse, or even random ways. On multitemporality and music, see Georgina Born, “Marking Time: Temporality, History, and the Cultural Object,” New Literary History 46, no. 3 (2015): 361–86. 18. Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra Preliminary Inventory, Bill Paid—Laurentian Hotel, Montreal, and Rent receipts—both in box 8; see also Campbell, Trent, and Pruter, “From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra.” 19. Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, On the Beach (Zulu Records 0004, 1967, LP); reissued by Aestuarium (AES1, 2006, LP). See also Clovis E. Semmes, “Dialectics of Cultural Survival and the Community Artist: Phil Cohran and the AffroArts Theatre,” Journal of Black Studies 24, no. 4 (1994): 447–61; Rebecca Zorach, Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965–1975 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 85–123. 20. Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 162 (“I went”). Sun Ra’s patriarchalism was not simply an artifact of the 1950s Chicago scene; on his hostility toward women’s involvement in the Jazz Composers Guild in 1960s New York, see Benjamin Piekut, “Race, Community, and Conflict in the Jazz Composers Guild,” Jazz Perspectives 3, no. 3 (2009): 191–231. For the AACM’s struggles with this issue, see Lewis, Power Stronger Than Itself, 203, 295. 21. For Caton and Webber, see Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art/University of Chicago Press, 2015), 96–97; Marissa H. Baker, “Getting the Message Out, Calling the People In: The Mural Movement on the South Side of Chicago,” in The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960–1980, ed. Rebecca Zorach and Marissa H. Baker (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art and University of Chicago Press, 2018), 174; Rebecca Zorach, “Lost Murals of Chicago/Philosophy of the Spiritual,” Vamonde Art and Theater, accessed 31 July 2019, -the-spiritual/59; and C. Siddha Webber, Never the Same, accessed 31 July 2019, https:// For Ayé Aton, see Ayé black-light painting, Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra, box 89, folder 1, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. See also Beckwith and Roelstraete, Freedom Principle, 66–68; Zorach and Baker, Time Is Now!, 205. For OBAC and AfriCOBRA, see Rebecca Zorach, “The Positive Aesthetics of the Black Arts of Movement,” in Beckwith and Roelstraete, Freedom Principle, 95–113.


Notes to Pages 215–220

Lineages/Legacies 1. See, e.g., Richard Brody, “The Sun Ra Centenary,” New Yorker, 22 May 2014, https:// culture/ richard -brody/ the -sun -ra -centenary; Peter McLaren, “Sun Ra: One Hundred Years On,” Jazz in Europe, 22 May 2014, https://; Holland Cotter, “Going Beyond Blackness, into the Starry Skies,” New York Times, 14 November 2013, -studio-museum.html; “Sun Ra Arkestra with Marshall Allen at Jazz at Lincoln Center,” Classicalite, 16 October 2013, sun-ra-arkestra-marshall-allen-jazz-lincoln-center-photos.htm; “Sun Ra: Astro Black Mythology and Black Resistance,” Symposium of the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture, University of Chicago, May 2015, 2014_15/sun_ra/; Nadia Lauro, “Sun Ra (1914–1993): The Cosmo Man,” Scenographies, 2015,; Brad Farberman, “Why Is Sun Ra Suddenly Having His Moment?” Rolling Stone, 18 October 2017, -having-his-moment-197156/. 2. John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 5–6. 3. Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 32 (“backwater colony”); Virginia van der Veer Hamilton, Alabama: A History (New York: Norton, 1984), 137 (“great workshop town”); Paul Hemphill, Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son (New York: Viking, 1993), 26 (“very little gentility or grace”); George R. Leighton, “Birmingham, Alabama: The City of Perpetual Promise,” Harpers Monthly Magazine, August 1937, 242 (“Jim Crow poison”). 4. Virginia Foster Durr and Hollinger F. Barnard, Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 34 (“terrific desire”). 5. Development Plan for the Central Area of Chicago (Chicago, Department of City Planning, 1958), Hathi Trust Digital Library, accessed 12 April 2018, https://catalog.hathitrust .org/Record/002817222/Home. On late twentieth-century Chicago visions oriented around city versus neighborhood, see Larry Bennett, The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); and D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries, Planning Chicago (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2013). 6. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Bantam Dell, 1989), 3 (second-sight); Shamoon Zamir, Dark Voices: W. E. B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888– 1903 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 135–41; Wilson J. Moses, “The Poetics of Ethiopianism: W. E. B. Du Bois and Literary Black Nationalism,” American Literature 47, no. 3 (1975): 411–26; Robert Gooding-Williams, In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 77–86.

Notes to Pages 221–222


7. For black traditions of persuasion, see Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 59. See also Joanna Brooks, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 115–50 (Prince Hall); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29–37 (Crowdy); Robert Athlyi Rogers, The Holy Piby (1924; Hogarth Blake E-Book, 2008); Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 240 (“white-washed”); Louis Chude-Sokei, The Last ‘Darky’: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); Paige A. McGinley, Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 3 (Rainey). 8. See Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 2nd ed., trans. and ed. Robert M. Adams (New York: Norton, 1992), 33n7 (Amaurot); Mitchell Duneier, The Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016), 5–7. See also Lewis Mumford, “Utopia, the City and the Machine,” in Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Frank E. Manuel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 3–24; Françoise Choay, L’Urbanisme, Utopies et Réalités: Un Anthologie (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1965), 7–83; Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987); Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1988); Raymond Williams, Politics of Modernism (New York: Verso, 1989), 37–48; Simon Parker, Urban Theory and Urban Experience: Encountering the City (New York: Routledge, 2004), 51–73; Stephen Duncombe, Open Utopia, accessed 8 January 2020, 9. For confinement and movement, see Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 261–67; James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 13–37; Farah Jasmine Griffin, “Who Set You Flowin’?” The African-American Migration Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); and Rashad Shabazz, Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015). For creative community-building within the bounds of ghettoization, see Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk, Viriginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Richard W. Thomas, Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915–1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Kimberley L. Phillips, AlabamaNorth: African-American Migrants, Community, and Working Class Activism in Cleveland, 1915–45 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); and Leslie Brown, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). For twentieth-century black utopian visions, see Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002). See also Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader, ed. Robert S. Levine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 25–28; Sutton E. Griggs, Imperium in Imperio (New York: Modern Library, 2003); Gabriel A. Briggs, The New Negro in the Old South (New


Notes to Pages 222–226

Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 79–113 (Griggs); Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 56 (“peering out”). 10. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 183–228. 11. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 228–78; Benjamin Piekut, Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 102–39; Christopher Funkhouser, “LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, and ‘The Cricket’: Jazz and Poets’ Black Fire,” African American Review 37, 2/3 (2003): 237–44; The Ark and the Ankh: Sun Ra/Henry Dumas in Conversation, 1966 (Ikef 02, 2001, CD); Jeffrey B. Leak, Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017), 114–19; Stefan Brecht, “Sun Ra,” unpublished manuscript (1968), accessed 18 December 2018, http:// 12. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 266–68, 274, 286, 294–95, 350; Space Is the Place, a film directed by John Coney (Plexifilm, 1974, color; rereleased 2003, DVD); Oliver Hall, “Pharaoh’s Den: The Sun Ra Themed Grocery in Philadelphia,” Dangerous Minds (blog), 8 August 2017, https:// dangerousminds .net/ comments/ pharaohs _den _the _sun _ra -themed_grocery_store_in_philadelphia. 13. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 372–80. In recent years, a considerable body of recordings by Sun Ra and the Arkestra has been remastered and released by the Sun Ra Music Archive, accessed 20 June 2020, https://sunraarchive.webstarts.sites/index.html. 14. Sun Ra and His Intergalaxtic Arkestra, Second Star to the Right (Salute to Walt Disney) (Leo, LR 230, 1995, CD); The Qualities, “It’s Christmas Time!” (Saturn M08W4052/3m, 1961, 45-rpm single); reissued on Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence 22164, 1996, CD 1 of 2). 15. Szwed, Space Is the Place, 224–28 (Henderson). For “jazz historiography” and musicians as historicists, see Scott DeVeaux, “Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography,” Black American Literature Forum 25, no. 3 (1991): 525–60; Eric Porter, What Is this Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); and Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens, Jazz: Essential Listening (New York: Norton, 2011), 373–89. 16. Brecht, “Sun Ra,” 8. 17. Sun Ra, “Astro Black,” on Astro Black (Impulse! AS-9255, 1973, LP); reissued on Sun Ra, Astro Black (Modern Harmonic MHCD-080, 2018, CD). For the reminder that Sun Ra drew freely across white and black intellectual and cultural traditions, see Paul Gilroy, Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race (New York: Routledge, 2000), 341– 42. On the notion of “Great Black Music,” see George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 449–52; see also Paul Steinbeck, Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 224–25. 18. Horace Tapscott, Song of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott, ed. Steven Isoardi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), and Steven L. Isoardi, The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Mark Anthony Neal, What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999), 112–16; Hua Hsu, “The Spectacular Per-

Notes to Pages 226–227


sonal Mythology of Rammellzee,” New Yorker, 21 May 2018, https://www.newyorker .com/magazine/2018/05/28/the-spectacular-personal-mythology-of-rammellzee; Lexi Manatakis, “Tracking OutKast’s Obsession with Space,” Dazed, 13 May 2019, https:// -3000-high-life; Steffi Njoh Monny, “Sun Ra—Janelle Monae: Discrete Cameos,” Blacks to the Future,; Nathalie Aghoro, “Agency in the Afrofuturist Ontologies of Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe,” Open Cultural Studies 2 (2018): 330–40; Anthony Reed, “African Space Programs: Spaces and Times of the Black Fantastic,” Souls 16, nos. 3/4 (2014): 351–71; Gabriel Solis, “Soul, Afrofuturism and the Timeliness of Contemporary Jazz Futurisms,” Daedalus 148, no. 2 (2019): 23–35. 19. Giovanni Russonello, “Greg Tate on Burnt Sugar, Afrofuturism and Black Music’s Maroon Spaces,” CapitalBop, 30 April 2015, -burnt-sugar-afrofuturism-and-the-maroon-spaces-that-music-allows/; Brian Lefresne, “Sun Ra Speaks About the Trial of Angela Davis,” Black Perspectives, 20 June 2018, https:// For Afrofuturist “lineages” that come not from Sun Ra but from Octavia Butler, see Alondra Nelson, quoted in Ytasha L. Womack, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2013), 109. 20. For recent historical discussions of Afrofuturism, see “25 Years of Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Thought: Roundtable with Tiffany E. Barber, Reynaldo Anderson, Mark Dery, and Sheree Renée Thomas,” TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies 39 (2018): 136–44; and Alex Zamalin, Black Utopia: The History of an Idea from Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019). 21. For fuller discussion of this point, see William Sites, “‘We Travel the Spaceways’: Urban Utopianism and the Imagined Spaces of Black Experimental Music,” Urban Geography 33, no. 4 (2012): 566–92. 22. Many African American artists of the 1950s found their utopian impulse in jazz music. On the surrealist poets Ted Joans and Bob Kaufman, see Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora, ed. Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 219–27; for Gurdjieffian composer and musician George Russell, see Ingrid Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 287–93. On cultural nationalism and the African American urban imagination in the 1960s, see Daniel Matlin, “‘A New Reality of Harlem’: Imagining the African American Urban Future in the 1960s,’’ Journal of American Studies 52, no. 4 (2018): 991–1024; Brian D. Goldstein, “‘The Search for New Forms’: Black Power and the Making of the Postmodern City,” Journal of American History 103, no. 2 (2016): 375–99; Brian D. Goldstein, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 58–106; Rebecca Zorach, Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965–1975 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 85–123; Rebecca Zorach, “Visions of the City,” in The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960–1980, ed. Rebecca


Note to Page 227

Zorach and Marissa H. Baker (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art and University of Chicago Press, 2018), 67–76; Jeffrey Helgeson, Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 201–37; Mary Pattillo, “Coloring Outside the Lines,” in Zorach and Baker, Time Is Now!, 78–89; Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 117–52; and Isoardi, Dark Tree, 65–145.


Abraham, Almeter, 131, 134, 135 Abraham, Alton, 5, 8, 15; aspirations, 96, 134–35; Chicago residences, 97, 138, 140, 143, 206; community networks, 136, 144, 212; early years, 93, 96–97, 130–32, 134; entrepreneurial abilities, 138, 141, 143, 144, 212; family, 129– 30, 132–34; importance to Sun Ra, 97, 136, 221–22; letter to Petrillo, 169, 179; role in El Saturn, 140; in Washington Park, 97, 128, 132, 134. See also Thmei Research Abraham, Artis, 131, 134, 141 Abraham, Mary (Ford), 130, 132 Abraham, Zenophon, 131, 134 Abrams, Muhal Richard, 212 Abreu, Christina, 182 Absher, Amy, 147 abstract expressionism, 151 Adams, Frank, 28, 34, 38, 41, 42, 44 Adams, Jo Jo, 63, 78, 207 Adams, Oscar, 11, 20 Adorno, Theodor, 160 Adventureland, 189, 190, 191, 199, 200 Aethiopia, 112 Affro-Arts Theater, 212 Africa, 11, 18, 23; Africa-in-Alabama, 47; Africa-in-Chicago, 184, 191, 201; Africanist (defined), 279n3; Africanist political consciousness, 106; ancient, 6, 9, 48, 93, 102, 103; cities, 32, 184,

194, 216; continent, 24, 25; as creative inspiration, 168, 183, 184; cultural retentions in America, 183; diaspora, 109, 193–94, 211, 219; earliest civilizations, 106; future, 107–8; as homeland, 104, 107, 180; imaginary order, 114, 194; independence, 179, 184–85, 187, 191; pan-Africanism, 10, 104, 180, 224; postwar music, 183 “Africa” (song), 173, 184, 189, 196 African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 42 AfriCOBRA, 215 Afrofuturism, 1–4, 6, 82, 154, 225–26 Ahmadiyya Islam, 76, 102 Alabama, 32, 42 Alabama A & M, 39 Alabama Penny Savings and Loan Company, 21–22, 27 Alabama Theatre, 34 Algren, Nelson, 164, 199 Ali, Luqman, 206 Ali, Noble Drew, 102, 104 Allen, Ed, 25 Allen, Lawrence, 97, 140 Allen, Marshall, 172, 193, 203, 204, 212, 223 All Nations Pentecostal Church, 98 “All the Things You Are,” 82 Ambassador Nite Club, 131 America, 5, 19, 21, 24–25, 40, 55;



America (continued) American Dream, 60, 190; destiny in space, 189–90, 191–92; granting of nationhood to the Philippines, 96; internationalism, 187; leaders, 169; nationalism, 127; popular culture, 96, 105; religious-utopian ideal, 127. See also suburbs American Woodmen, 19 Anaheim, CA, 191 “Ancient Aiethopia,” 177, 186–87, 197 Anderson, Charles, 15 Anderson, Chris, 84, 88 Andre 3000, 225 “Angels and Demons at Play,” 203 Anniston, AL, 33 anticolonialism and anticolonial movements, 101, 104, 179, 184 anti-Semitism, 116 Archia, Tom, 58 Aristocrat Records, 76, 79, 80, 82, 92 Arkestra, 1, 2, 5, 9, 52, 80, 85, 122, 128, 129, 130, 133; audiences, 198, 204–6; becoming established, 139–40, 144; at Budland, 139–40, 148, 150; chants, 186, 191, 198, 200, 203, 205, 222; Chicago recordings, 137, 141–43, 154–59, 162–63, 171, 173, 176, 182, 184, 186–87, 202–6, 222; costumes, 192–93, 202–3; in The Cry of Jazz, 173–76; DuSable-trained members, 133–35, 163, 172; early names, 138, 139; as emissaries, 167, 214; entertaining qualities, 172, 198; final years in Chicago, 200, 202; Jazz in Silhouette, 176–79; later versions, 167, 202; legacies, 212, 223, 225–26; major South Side club dates, 149; members with post office jobs, 148; in Montreal, 212; in New York, 212, 222–24; performance style, 2, 15, 167, 187, 197, 198, 201, 202, 214, 222, 223; rehearsals, 135–37, 156, 172–73, 203, 206, 208,

218; relation to El Saturn, 140, 163; Sun Ra’s leadership over, 211, 213; at Wonder Inn, 202–6, 214. See also music venues Arlen, Harold, 119 Armstrong, Louis, 34, 54 Art Ensemble of Chicago, 207, 224 Artistic Heritage Ensemble, 212 Asheville, NC, 33 Ashville, AL, 33 Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), 207, 212, 213 Astaire, Fred, 65 “Astro Black,” 224 astrology, 83, 97, 136 astronomy, 61, 103, 136, 195 Atlanta, GA, 4, 17, 35–36, 221 Atlanta Daily World, 36, 46 Atlantic Records, 139 Aton (sun god), 170 Aton, Ayé, 214 Auburn Avenue, 36 Auld, Georgie, 75 Babylon, 99 Badu, Erykah, 226 Baker, LaVern, 63 Baldwin, Davarian, 54 Baldwin, James, 168 Balkan Music Company, 141 Baltimore Afro-American, 36 ’Bama State Collegians, 29 Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones), 222 Barnett, Claude, 4 Barry, Robert, 61, 84, 135, 156, 159 Bascomb, Paul, 34, 37 Basie, Count, 68, 159 Bates, William “Lefty,” 77 Battle, Frank, 181 Beat poets, 151 Becton, Reverend, 15 Beehive, 139, 190

Index Beige Room, 68, 71, 92, 138. See also Budland/Birdland; El Grotto Café Bellamy, Edward, 113 Bellman, Jonathan, 185 Benjamin, Walter, 178 ben Shlomo, Abshalom, 208 Benson, Al, 150 Berish, Andrew, 55 Berry, Chuck, 129, 139, 146 Bessemer Park, 86 B-girls, 87 Bible, 6, 93, 109, 110, 125; commentary on, 98, 103, 106, 111, 178; genealogies, 107–8; narratives, 95; unreliability of, 98, 105 Big Mules, 31–32, 47 Birmingham, AL, 3, 4, 67, 82; activists, 42–44; Africa in, 24, 26; architecture, 17–18; Atlanta and, 35–36; black businesses, 17, 18, 21–22, 43, 47, 152; black downtown, 3, 15, 17, 20–25, 46–47; black labor, 17, 31–32, 216; black population, 30; churches, 17, 29, 42; city leaders, 20–23; class coalition, 23; class tensions, 22, 43, 49; commercial values, 8, 9, 40, 47, 48, 217; convict labor, 32; downtown, 13, 15, 16; economy, 20, 28, 30–32; fraternal associations, 17–20, 28–29; industry, 17, 22, 23, 30–32, 38, 40, 216; Jim Crow, 16–17, 21–22, 33, 38; legal codes, 16, 54, 252n5; Magic City nickname, 32; Magic City sign, 14, 23; ministers, 21–22, 40, 42, 43, 47; musicians (see musicians); music scene, 15, 20, 23–25, 48–49, 216; New South city, 31–32, 42, 47; regime, 32; religious values, 8, 9, 40–41; schools, 17, 27, 32; segregation, 16, 17, 31, 32, 46–47, 216; social clubs, 29; suburbs, 31; urban ideals, 8, 21, 30–33, 46–48, 216–17; utopian visions, 30–31, 46, 49; vaudeville theaters, 20, 23; Vulcan


statue, 30; white businesses, 20, 22, 30, 32; white downtown, 22; white supremacy, 8, 23, 31–32, 47; women’s organizations, 17, 19, 29; workers, 17, 22, 30–32 Birmingham Gospel Tabernacle, 42 Birmingham News, 11, 15 black and African Americans: book culture, 18, 42, 103, 110, 131; classes and class divisions, 22, 30, 36, 49, 78–79, 81, 109; communal autonomy and self-determination, 4–5, 8, 17, 29, 38, 52, 54, 60, 69, 85, 101, 104, 109, 111, 152, 210, 217; community-building, 28, 47, 49, 53, 130, 151–52; consumers, 21, 33–34, 77, 80; counterpublic, 101, 110, 126, 128; cultural ideals and aspirations, 3, 5, 8, 9–10, 29, 37, 40, 49, 53, 54, 60, 92, 109, 130, 155, 164– 65, 168, 191, 216–17, 227; described as “Ethiopians” or “Ethiops,” 93, 96, 108, 112, 114, 121; described as “Negroes,” 98, 99, 110, 111, 114, 126, 194; described as “Spooks,” 111, 120; diasporic imagination, 3, 23, 106, 109, 115, 180, 183–84, 187, 191, 193; economic fortunes, 145, 208–9; emancipation, 94, 96, 123–24, 143, 159, 192; empire, 37, 210; Ethiopianism among, 107–10; exoticization of, 111, 113, 126; folk wisdom, 98; freemasonry, 18–19, 47, 220; future of, 96–97, 104, 106–7; generational differences among, 85; home sphere, 41; ideologies, 17, 49, 96, 104; intrablack dialogue, 81; leadership, 21–22, 27, 39–40, 44–45, 58, 64, 67, 69, 83, 91, 109, 132–33, 136, 151, 211, 213, 217; lyceums, 101; men and masculinity, 37–38; migrants and migration, 8, 49, 52, 55, 58, 64–65, 69, 96, 113, 132, 145, 174, 221, 222; modernity and modernism, 36–37, 47, 48,



black and African Americans (continued) 64–65, 92, 155, 162, 179, 185; moral reformers, 21, 48; movements, 5, 42, 48, 75, 104, 210; moving out, 60, 145; nationalism, 94, 101, 104, 106–10, 210, 225; pamphlet culture of, 108; political disenfranchisement of, 16, 32; political radicalism of, 42–43, 45, 48, 104, 221; primitivist depictions of, 112, 113; proletarianization of, 30, 48; protest by, 134, 210; racial and ethnic identity, 4, 5, 9, 25, 31–32, 40, 81, 92, 94, 96, 106–18, 126, 173–74, 177–82, 206, 211, 220, 225–27; respectability narratives, 21, 37, 47, 49, 54, 99, 217; self-help, 4, 22, 102, 105, 129, 144, 152, 154; sexuality, 37, 81; slavery and slave labor, 31, 108, 117, 221; solidarity among, 48, 85; superiority of, 192; swing life, 40, 47, 217; traditions of persuasion, 220; transhistorical agents, 7, 9, 96, 112, 115–16, 126; utopians, 192–94, 210, 221 (see also utopia); war resistance, 45–46, 84; as workers, 21, 30–32, 48, 85–87, 145– 46, 147–48, 160, 198 Black Arts movement, 222 Black Belt (Alabama), 30 Black Belt (Chicago), 53–54, 69, 132, 144– 48, 190, 252n9 Black Chicago Renaissance, 3, 94, 100, 163 Black Israelites, 5, 102, 109, 110, 123, 124, 132 black metropolis, 4, 21, 22, 53, 152, 228. See also city: city within the city Black Panthers, 222 “Black Sky, Blue Moon,” 173 Black Swan Records, 152 Bland, Edward O., 140, 155, 167, 173–80, 199, 225 Blavatsky, H. P., 40, 103, 111 Blevins, Leo, 83, 207

Blount, Cary, 13 Blount, Ida, 13 Blount, Sonny. See Sonny Blount Orchestra; Sun Ra Blue Lake Records, 150 “Blue Space,” 182 Blyden, Edward, 106 Bob’s Savoy, 34 “Body and Soul,” 66, 90 Bohemian bakery, 14 Bontemps, Arna, 100 Booker T. Washington Library, 18, 40 Bottoms, William, 54 Bowie, Lester, 224 Boykins, Ronald, 172, 193, 203, 204, 212 Bracken, Jimmy, 150, 181 “Brainville,” 159–62 Braxton, Anthony, 207 Bridges, Charles, 60 Bronzeville, 54, 62, 63, 65, 66, 69, 75, 78, 85, 86, 92, 100, 101, 129, 134, 136, 144, 145, 147, 148, 152, 163, 164, 167, 171, 190, 199, 200, 209, 213, 216, 217. See also South Side (Chicago) Brooks, Billy, 181 Brooks, Gwendolyn, 164 Brown, Frank London, 168, 180 Brown, Ruth, 139 Browning, Alice, 100 Brubeck, Dave, 177, 207 Bryant, James, 97 Bud Billiken parade, 63, 101 Budland/Birdland, 1, 138–42, 148, 150, 151, 182, 192, 207, 218. See also Beige Room; El Grotto Café Burley, Dan, 62 Burroughs, Margaret, 100, 132, 164 Butler, Octavia, 226 Byas, Don, 63 Caballeros de San Juan, Los, 182 Cadillac Bob, 138, 148, 150–51, 207 Café de Society, 61

Index Calloway, Cab, 29, 36, 67, 131 Calumet City, IL, 57, 81, 85–92, 122, 171 Campbell, Robert, 154 Campfield, Marion B., 184, 192 C&C Lounge, 209 Carby, Hazel, 37 Caribbean, 109 Carter, Vivian, 150, 181 Casey, Floyd, 25 Casino Moderne, 171, 181, 192 Castle Farm, 35 Caton, Mitchell, 213 Cayce, Edgar, 40 Cayton, Horace R., 4, 152 Chaldea, 114 Champion Theater, 20 Charleston, SC, 58 Chase, Allan, 159, 186 Chase, Bill, 64 Chess, Leonard, 76, 79, 80, 82 Chess Records, 79, 129, 203 Chicago: black population, 52, 55, 145; blues music, 10, 79, 129; business leaders, 53, 59, 134, 147; central area plans, 190, 209, 219; city in decline, 199; city of “broad shoulders,” 10; community culture, 8, 49, 52, 55, 58, 64, 91, 129, 163, 187; cultural societies, 180, 216; destination for African musicians, 183; destination for black musicians from the urban South, 58; economy, 55, 85–86, 145, 147; futureoriented city, 60, 218–19; gambling in, 54, 62, 79, 86, 147–48; housing in, 86, 145; immigrants, 86, 125; industrial and postindustrial city, 10, 85, 129, 209, 218; Loop, 52, 62, 147, 157, 161, 190, 199, 209, 225; “L” train, 68, 83, 156, 159, 171, 199; neighborhoods, 52, 65, 77–79, 86, 125, 145, 148, 164, 209, 219; and New York, 69, 84–85, 151, 182; 1919 riot, 54; North Side, 52, 62, 69, 79, 151; organized


crime, 86–87, 147–48; planners and plans, 145, 209; politics, 53, 54, 100; prostitution, 79; queer, 75, 86; racial violence, 54, 76, 86, 91, 101, 125, 213; religious diversity, 94; segregation, 10, 52, 85–86, 125, 145, 146, 199, 217; South Chicago, 85–87; South Side (see South Side [Chicago]); steel mills, 85–87; suburbs, 69, 85–86, 145; Sun Ra’s legacy in, 212; unions, 52, 54–55, 86–87, 146, 169; as veiled object of knowledge, 54, 217, 219; West Side, 85, 87, 145, 210 Chicago Bee, 69, 75 Chicago Defender, 35, 58, 62, 63, 64, 65, 69, 96, 101, 170, 181, 184, 185, 192, 203 Chicago Heights, IL, 86 Chicago Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company, 134 Chicago Midway Laboratories, 191 Chicago Plan Commission, 59 Chicago Renaissance. See Black Chicago Renaissance Chicago Tribune, 184 Chicago Urban League, 146, 185 “Chicago USA,” 156–57, 158, 190, 199 Childers, James Saxon, 31, 32 “China Gate,” 204 “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” 36 “Chocolate Avenue,” 20–21, 25–26, 80 Christian, Jodie, 88, 152, 212 Christian, William, 132 Church of the Living God, 132 Cicero, IL, 86 Cincinnati, OH, 35 Circle Bar, 75 city: central city, 146, 209; city beyond the city, 154, 228; City on a Hill, 15, 127; city within the city, 3–5, 21–22, 53, 54, 152, 161, 168, 217–18; downtown, 4, 8, 13–15, 17–21, 22–26, 46– 47, 58–60, 61, 86, 131, 144, 145, 147, 157, 190, 209, 227; dystopian city,



city (continued) 168, 174; experienced vs. imagined, 129, 130, 190, 219, 220–21; gateway to another world, 158, 168, 196; harbinger and portent, 164, 167; humanist city, 160; immoral and corrupt, 19, 86, 99; lost city, 111, 193; New South, 9, 31–32, 42, 47; northern, 17, 22, 30, 64, 168; racialization of, 107, 126, 190; restorative city, 161; shock city, 31; sound of the city, 129, 225; southern, 17, 22, 30, 47; as springboard, 8, 51, 55, 218, 222, 228; as stage, 51, 54, 217, 218, 228; as trial, 51, 53, 54; utopian city, 9, 19, 129, 155, 159–61, 165, 193, 196, 209, 219; as veil, 54, 201, 217, 219, 228; white racial identity and, 94, 126. See also Birmingham, AL; Chicago; urbanism Civic Opera House, 59 Civil War, 22, 23 Clef Club, 152 Cleveland, OH, 21 Clinton, George, 157, 225 Club DeLisa, 57–58, 61–68, 73, 76, 80–82, 86–87, 90, 92, 148, 170, 181, 183, 198 Club House Lounge, 134 Cobb, Arnett, 150 Cobb, Clarence, 60, 127 “Cocktails for Two,” 83 Cohen, Octavus Roy, 23–24, 47 Cohran, Phil, 197, 203, 212 Coke, H. D., 22 Cold War, 85, 93, 98, 101, 118, 166, 170, 185, 189 Cole, Charlie, 68, 77 Cole, Freddy, 88 Cole, Nat King, 88, 146, 204 Coleman, Ornette, 151 Colored Masonic Temple, 17, 18, 20, 28, 34, 40, 44, 131 Coltrane, John, 151 Columbus, GA, 33

Columbus, MS, 34 communism, 42, 43, 124 community organizations: dance-related, 181; fraternal, 134; hybrid, 129, 164; music-related, 142, 153; pettybourgeois, 154; Puerto Rican, 182; religious, 101–2; segregated, 52 “Congo Rock,” 29 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), 134 Cook County, IL, 130 Corbett, John, 98, 142, 143, 156, 179 Corbissero, H. P., 176 Cosmic Rays, 137, 173, 182, 184 Cotton Club (Chicago), 151 Cotton Club (Louisville, KY), 35 Crowdy, William Saunders, 40, 220 Crown Propeller Lounge, 139, 151 Crummell, Alexander, 106 Cry of Jazz, The (film), 140, 155, 167, 173– 76, 177, 180, 199, 225 Daley, Richard J., 60 dancers, 85–89 Dangerfield, Claude, 143, 195–96 Davis, Charles, 77 Davis, Frank Marshall, 100 Davis, Miles, 138, 176 Davis, Richard, 84, 87, 88, 89–90, 213 “Dawn Mist,” 80 Day, Ike, 88 Dayton, OH, 64 Debussy, Claude, 185 Debut Records, 153 Decatur, AL, 33 Dee Gee Records, 153 DeJohnette, Jack, 2, 206 Delany, Martin, 104, 106, 192, 221 Delany, Samuel R., 226 de Laurence, L. W., 110, 124 DeLisa. See Club DeLisa DeLisa, Mike, 58, 62 DeLuxe 400 Club, 75 Demopolis, AL, 30

Index Denny, Martin, 185 Detroit, MI, 223 Development Plan for the Central Area of Chicago, 190 Diddley, Bo, 129 Digesu Brothers, 14 “Discipline,” 30 Disney, 166, 191, 224 “Dispossessin’ Me,” 26 Dixon, Willie, 76, 79, 129, 165 Dorman, Jacob, 110, 113, 115 Dorsey, Tommy, 119 Dothan, AL, 33 Dotson, Hobart, 80, 176, 177, 187 Down Beat, 75 Dozier Boys, 71, 76, 80 Drake, St. Clair, 4, 109, 152 Dreamland Theater, 13, 24 Driver, Wilson, 28, 29, 44 Du Bois, W. E. B., 4, 21, 35, 43, 44, 105, 118, 152, 219 Dukes of Swing, 68, 71, 75, 76, 138, 139 Dumas, Henry, 222 Durr, Virginia Foster, 217 DuSable district, 69, 76–80, 85, 92, 148, 209 DuSable High School, 77, 96, 97, 132–35, 143, 163, 172, 218, 221 DuSable Hotel, 73, 76–77, 79, 85, 138, 148 DuSable Lounge, 77, 78, 79 Dyer, Sammy, 63, 65, 181 Dyett, Walter, 132–34, 142, 172 Dylan, Bob, 142 Earl Hines Orchestra, 55, 71. See also Hines, Earl East Chicago, IN, 85–86 “East St. Louis Toodle-O,” 20 Ebony, 4, 60, 65, 100, 140, 142 Edwards, Brent Hayes, 111 Egypt, 97, 103, 106, 112, 114, 115, 166, 170, 213, 228


Egyptology, 103 Eighteenth Street, 15, 16, 19, 23–25, 27 “Eighteenth Street (Birmingham),” 13, 23–25 Elaw, Zilpha, 40 Eldridge, Roy, 62 El Grotto Café, 68, 75. See also Beige Room; Budland/Birdland “El Is a Sound of Joy,” 158 Elks Club, 28 Ellington, Duke, 20, 29, 62, 67, 147, 159, 161, 191 Ellis, Jack, 35 Ellis, Jimmy, 2, 134, 154 Ellis, Morris, 62 Ellison, Ralph, 168 El Saturn Research; album art, 143, 195– 96; album production and releases, 142–43, 171, 176–77; as communitybuilding, 144, 152; as community social work, 170, 172; as cultural project or laboratory, 143, 153–54, 170, 195; formation, 128, 152; headquarters, 140, 143, 212; hybrid nature, 9, 153; incorporation papers, 134; independence, 143, 153; instruments and cultural objects, 140, 141; marketing, 172; recording activities, 140–43, 154, 162, 163, 173, 176, 222; as Saturn Records, 137; shoestring operation, 144, 153; singles releases, 141–42, 162, 163, 173, 200, 224; spiritual purpose, 135, 153, 172; umbrella organization, 140; utopian aspirations, 169, 170, 195, 200 “Enlightenment,” 177 Enon Ridge, 27 Erenberg, Lewis, 55 Ernest, John, 114 Esquivel, Juan Garcia, 185 Ethiopia, 108 Ethiopianism. See Thmei Research ethnomusicology, 7



etymology, 93, 103, 136 Europe, James Reese, 152 Evans, Richard, 135 Famous Blue Jay Singers, 15, 60 Fard, W. D., 102 Fazio, Michael, 18 Fellowship of Reconciliation, 45 Fielder, Alvin, 206 Fielder, Bill, 208 Fields, Harry, 68, 77 Finian’s Rainbow (musical), 82 First Church of Deliverance, 60, 63 Fitzhugh, McKie, 71 Five Chances, 36 Five Spot, 151 Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, 35, 58, 63, 64, 66, 67, 76. See also Henderson, Fletcher Flores, Josephine, 181 Ford, Arnold Josiah, 109, 124 Foster, Stephen, 119 Fournier, Vernel, 58, 77 Fourth Avenue North, 13, 15, 16, 20, 23, 41, 42, 47 Freeman, Von, 61, 71, 84, 88 Froggy Bottom Nite Club, 132 Frolic Theater, 20 Fulson, Lowell, 139

Gilmore, John, 88, 134, 135, 137, 173, 193, 203, 204, 212 Glanton, Brennan, 77 Glenn, Charlie, 61 Gobineau, Joseph Arthur de, 125 Goldberg, Sammy, 79 Golson, Benny, 153 Gooding-Williams, Robert, 40 Goodman, Benny, 29, 64 Gordon, Amos, 34 Gordon, Mittie Maude Lena, 101 Gosnell, Harold, 147 “Gouge of Armour Avenue, The,” 35 Grady, Henry W., 31 Graettinger, Bob, 161 Graham, George, 131 Grand Terrace, 55, 138, 148, 149 Gray, Wardell, 150 Great American Songbook, 118, 125, 138 Great Depression, 35, 42, 48, 55 Great Migration, 8, 49, 58 Green, Adam, 3–4 Greene, Lorenzo Johnston, 131 Greenwich Village, 151 Grey, Valda, 25 Griggs, Sutton, 210, 221 Grinnell College, 206 Groner, Duke, 79 Gryce, Gigi, 153

Gadsden, AL, 33 Gaines, Dan, 148, 150 gambling, 54, 62, 79, 86, 103, 147 Garland, Judy, 121 Garvey, Marcus, 7, 104, 109, 118, 192, 194 Garveyism, 104, 109, 110. See also Garvey, Marcus Gary, IN, 85, 150 Gay Theater, 20 geography, 6, 33, 55, 107, 112, 180 Gershwin, George, 88, 137, 181, 205 Gillespie, Dizzy, 63, 71, 84, 153, 183

Hall, Prince, 18–19, 220 Hall, Stephen G., 108 Hall, Trowbridge, 166 Hammond, IN, 85, 86 Hammond organ, 60, 71 Hammurabi, F. H., 184 Hampton, Lionel, 67 Hancock, Herbie, 148, 206 Handy, W. C., 71 Hansberry, Lorraine, 168, 180 Hans Christian Andersen (film), 159 Hardy, Jon L., 203, 204 Harlan, KY, 35

Index Harlem, 4, 62 Harlem Globetrotters, 134 Harper, Lucius C., 65 Harris, Marion, 25 Harris, Wynonie, 58 Hart, Stokely Delmar, 101 Harvey, David, 211 Harvey, IL, 86 Hawkins, Coleman, 71, 150 Hawkins, Erskine, 29–30 Heaviest Corner on Earth, 22, 47 Hefner, Hugh, 164 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 2 Henderson, Fletcher, 35, 57, 58, 63, 64, 66, 67, 152, 158, 224. See also Fletcher Henderson Orchestra Hernandez, Mike, 171 Herndon, Jim, 135, 159 Hewlett, James, 220 Hi-Jinks, 133 Hill, Andrew, 81 Hines, Earl, 71, 135. See also Earl Hines Orchestra history: African American, 42, 48–49, 92, 106–9, 221, 226; ancient, 94, 103, 106, 108, 111, 112–15; anti-abolitionist, 107; cultural, 6, 191, 208, 226; essence, 108; hidden, 18, 129, 216; music, 7, 27, 82, 129, 151, 152, 154, 174, 176, 179, 186; religious, 6–7, 108–10, 123–24; South Side, 3–4, 6, 51–55, 93, 101; temporality and, 10, 24, 94, 179, 227; universal, 107; urban, 3, 6, 8, 15, 31, 48–49, 94, 129, 160–61, 216–17, 227; utopian thought, 160–61, 227 Hitchcock, Alfred, 71 Hodson, Geoffrey, 67 Holiday, Billie, 119, 139 Hollywood, 8, 71, 185, 190 Holy Piby, The (Rogers), 109 Home Baking Company, 14 Homer, 108 Hooker, John Lee, 150


Hopkins, Pauline, 193 Hornady, John, 21, 31 Hotel Continental, 59 “Hot Skillet Momma,” 173 Houston, TX, 58 Howard, Ebenezer, 211 Howard, Ida, 13, 20, 41 Howard, Jim, 13 “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” 82 Hoyle, Art, 136, 142, 186 Hudson, George, 203, 204, 205, 206 Hunter, Ivory Joe, 139 Hunter, Lurlean, 63 Hunter, Tommy (Bugs), 84, 86–87, 89 Huntsville, AL, 39–41 Hurricane Theatre Lounge, 61 Huyssen, Andreas, 5, 6 Hyde Park, 102, 190 Hyde Park Herald, 190 Iliad (Homer), 108 “Imagination,” 206 India, 59, 76, 112, 114, 115, 186, 228 “India,” 186 Industrial High School, 27–30, 32, 47, 60, 216 International Style, 161, 164 “Interplanetary Music,” 166, 188–89, 197, 198 “Interstellar Low Ways,” 187, 197 Islam, 76, 102, 104–5, 123, 126, 194, 206 Israel, 112, 114 “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” 1, 205 Japanese Americans, 76 Japanese internment camp, 88 Jarman, Joseph, 207, 208, 213 Jazz Age, 18, 38 Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1, 143, 155, 158, 159, 183 Jazz Composers Guild, 222 Jazz Demons, 28 Jazz Informer (newsletter), 142



Jazz in Silhouette (album), 171, 176–77, 178–79, 186 J. C. Green’s Swing Band, 132 Jefferson, Eddie, 148 Jefferson County, AL, 15 Jenkins, John, 83 Jenkins, Mary, 27, 223 Jenkins, Thomas, 27 Jet, 4, 100 Jim Crow, 4, 16–17, 21–22, 33, 38, 62, 64, 85, 96. See also Birmingham, AL; black and African Americans; race and racial identity “Jitterbuggin’,” 80 Joe’s De Luxe Club, 75, 171 Johannesburg, South Africa, 32 Johnson, E. A., 193 Johnson, James Weldon, 4, 21 Johnson, John H., 4 Jones, Albennie, 63 Jones, Charles Price, 122 Jones, Henry “Teenan,” 54 Jones, Lucius, 36 Jones, Margaret, 13 Joplin, Scott, 131 Jordan, Clifford, 88 Judah, 108, 112, 114, 120 Jupiter, 42 Kansas City, 131 Kaye, Danny, 159 Kelley, Robin D. G., 43, 183, 221 Kennedy, Julie Mae, 60 Kenton, Stan, 161 Kiah’s, 61 Kimpton, Lawrence, 191 King, B. B., 139 King Fleming, 150 Kirby, George, 63, 80 Kirk, Andy, 34 Kitty Kat Lounge, 151 Knights of Music, 97, 134, 136 Knights of Pythias, 19–20, 29

Koehler, Ted, 119 Korean War, 84 Kornblum, William, 87 Ku Klux Klan, 23, 44, 47, 132 “Lady with the Golden Stocking, The,” 196 Lait, Jack, 113 Lang, Fritz, 226 Lansing, IL, 86 Last Chance, 61 Lateef, Yusef, 76 Leaner, Ernie, 150 Leaner, George, 150 Le Corbusier, 161, 211 “Legs Gettin’ Bigger and Bigger,” 80 Lewis, George, 151 Lewis, Robert Benjamin, 108 liberalism: civil rights, 3–4; Cold War, 85; market, 100; postwar, 4, 58, 82, 98, 103, 109; racial, 58, 82, 98, 103, 109 Life, 113 “Limehouse Blues,” 65 “Lime House Nites,” 63, 65 Lion Tamers, 36 Little Miss Cornshucks, 64–65, 81, 139, 140 Local 10, American Federation of Musicians, 52, 62, 146 Local 208, American Federation of Musicians, 52, 54, 58, 62, 147, 176 Lock, Graham, 43 Loesser, Frank, 159 Lombardo, Guy, 28 London, 65, 160 Los Angeles, 83, 146, 225 Louis, Joe, 61 Lowe, J. L., 35 Lowe, Sammy, 37 lynching, 17, 96, 111, 120, 132 Mabon, Willie, 203 Macomba Lounge, 73, 76, 77, 79

Index Magee, Jeffrey, 36 Magic City, 8, 14, 17, 23, 24 “Magic City, The,” 14 Magnificent Mile, 59 Malcolm X, 102 Malotte, Stanleigh, 34, 82 Mandrake, 59 “Man from Harlem,” 36 Manila, 96 “Man with the Glass Head, The,” 90–91 Martin, Louis, 185 Marx, Karl, 11 Marxism, 43 Matthews, Ralph, 37 McCall, Steve, 212 McCarthyism, 100, 101 McGhee, Stick, 120 McKie’s Disc Jockey Lounge, 170 McShann, Jay, 150 “Medicine for a Nightmare,” 141 Melotone Music, 153 Meridian, MS, 35 Meroe, 112 Mexican Americans, 86 Middlesboro, KY, 35 Miller, Jesse, 61 Milner, John T., 31 Milwaukee, WI, 22 Mingus, Charles, 153 Monáe, Janelle, 226 Monk, Thelonious, 151 Montreal, 212 Moonlight Gardens, 35 Moore, Dwight “Gatemouth,” 63 Moore, Juaria, 183 Moorish Science Temple of America, 101–2, 104, 109, 110, 123 More, Thomas, 112–13, 115, 160, 211, 214, 220, 228 Morocco Hotel, 78 Morris, William, 113 Mortimer, Lee, 113 Morton, Jelly Roll, 54


Moten, Bennie, 131 Muhammad, Elijah, 101, 102, 104, 173, 194 Murray, Albert, 156 Murray, Ricky, 203, 212 music: Afro-Caribbean, 168, 180–83, 187, 201; Afro-Cuban, 180–83, 185; atonal, 151, 169–70; bebop, 42, 63, 66, 71, 75, 80, 83–84, 92, 129, 151, 157; black and white, 64, 125, 174, 177–79, 224; blackface minstrelsy, 82, 119; blues, 10, 20, 54, 63, 76, 78, 79, 84, 129, 146, 168; bolero, 196; booster songs, 7, 156; Broadway show tunes, 82, 83, 118; calypso, 181; cha-cha, 171, 196; classical, 88, 131; “Community Sing,” 15; cool jazz, 151; coon songs, 119; country and western, 79; doo-wop, 71, 129, 137; early jazz, 8, 15, 27, 29, 54, 61; exotica, 65, 79, 185, 187, 201; experimental, 51, 78, 82, 131, 142, 151, 168; gospel, 15, 25, 150, 205; Great American Songbook, 118, 125, 138; hard bop, 7, 129, 151, 178; Hollywood soundtracks, 8, 71, 185, 190; improvisation, 7, 29, 151, 168, 172, 203; jump blues, 58, 63, 75, 76, 78, 79, 129; Latin dance music, 168, 180–82, 185, 187, 196, 197; mambo, 181–82, 185, 203; modal jazz, 151; modernist, 155, 161–62, 164, 174, 186, 187; musical onomatopoeia, 156, 158, 199; musical travelogues, 63, 65–66, 92, 155, 157, 168, 198; Orientalist, 65– 66; polka, 79; processional, 186–87; race records, 34; radio broadcasts, 34, 41–42, 55, 61, 64; ragtime, 15, 20, 131; rhythm and blues, 63, 71, 88, 96, 118, 129, 146, 172, 173; scenes, 20, 23, 27, 54, 57–92, 136–40, 146–52, 170–73, 181–84, 207–9, 212–13; serialism, 155; silence in, 197; space chant, 7, 168, 198, 222; spirituals, 15, 96, 118; stan-



music (continued) dards, 82–83, 84, 88, 89, 92, 173, 176; stride piano, 89; striptease accompaniment, 88–89; style-mixing, 8, 9, 15, 25, 57, 68–69, 71, 80, 81, 152–53; swing, 29, 34–36, 55, 64, 66, 71, 75, 76, 80, 83–84, 118, 129, 151, 168; Tin Pan Alley songs, 84, 88, 118, 173; as transport, 9, 52, 90, 159, 165, 181; variety stage shows, 51, 63; vaudeville, 15, 20, 54; venues (see music venues); vocal quartet, 24, 71, 75, 136, 158; as wakeup call, 122–23, 170; work song, 198 “Music from the World Tomorrow,” 197 “Music Goes ’Round and Around, The,” 80 musicians: bandleaders, 28–33, 35–38, 57–58, 64, 67, 68, 71, 130, 132–34; community-builders, 7, 28, 34; crossover celebrity, 146; employment, 61–62, 146–48, 160; jug bands, 15; as leaders, 30, 58, 63–64, 67, 83; organizations and collectives, 152–53, 163–64, 207, 212–13, 222; professional life, 28, 30, 33, 52, 62, 132–34; society dance bands, 15, 29; spirituality, 44, 57, 60, 75–76; swing-band life and ideal, 34, 37–38, 40, 55, 58, 64, 80; territory bands, 33–38; training and musicianship, 27, 29, 32–38, 44, 85, 88–90, 132–33; as traveling representatives of the modern city, 55; unions, 22, 52, 54, 58, 62, 85, 87, 146, 147, 150, 152, 169; as workers, 32–33, 37, 52– 55, 58, 62, 77, 86–89 music venues: amphitheaters, 51; armories, 34; auditoriums, 18, 46, 52; black-and-tan clubs, 53, 54; blackowned, 134, 137, 148, 150; cabarets, 54; cemeteries, 19; churches, 34, 51, 60, 81, 172; dancehalls and ballrooms, 35, 36, 37, 51, 55, 172; drag balls, 75; firehouses, 34; foundry, 31; homes,

41–42, 81, 136; hospital, 171; hotels, 62, 131; listening clubs, 136, 172; lodges and community halls, 20, 34, 136; mining camps, 15; night clubs, 34, 35, 41, 62–67, 68–75, 77–79; park, 51, 81; record shops, 148, 150; retail market, 51; revival tent, 15; saloons and taverns, 22–23, 41, 51, 77, 136, 172; schools, 15, 27–28, 29, 132–33; storefronts, 81; street, 23–25; strip clubs, 51, 81; theaters, 62, 81, 82, 83; tobacco barns, 34; warehouses, 34; white-owned, 75, 76, 147; work camp, 45 “Nagasaki,” 36 Nancarrow, Conlon, 131 Nashville, TN, 17, 58, 221 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 98 National Geographic, 113 Nation of Islam, 5, 101, 102–3, 104–5, 110, 123–24, 194 Negro Motorist Green-Book, 37 Negro People’s Front, 100 Newby, Charles, 101 New Deal, 54, 64 New Horizon, 59 New Negro (Harlem) Renaissance, 3 New Orleans, 27, 54, 58 New Town Rhythm Club, 132 New York Amsterdam News, 64 New York City: black community leaders, 21; compared to Chicago, 69, 79, 83–85, 151, 182; Latin dance scene, 182; music center, 21, 25, 42, 69, 83, 146, 152, 161; music reviewers, 2, 222; Sun Ra Arkestra in, 202, 212, 222–23, 224 New York World’s Fair, 41 Nigeria, 185 “Night in Harlem, A,” 20 Night Owls Night Club, 34

Index Nix, A. W., 43 North Africa, 102 North Side (Chicago), 62 Nubia, 112, 186 “Nubia,” 183–84 nuclear threat, 110, 117, 170, 189 numerology, 93, 103, 136 Nu Sounds, 137, 156, 157 Oakland (Chicago), 76 “October,” 186 “Ode to Mary Lou,” 83 Okinawa, Japan, 96 Olatunji, Babatunde, 183 “Old Man River,” 82 Onyx Club (Chicago), 61 Order of Calanthe, 19 Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), 214 Orient, 9, 59, 65, 113 Orientalism: black, 113; freemasonry and, 18; geographers and, 114; histories and, 110; magic and, 59; music and, 65–66, 204; mysticism and, 110; theosophy and, 186 Orioles, 150 Outer Drive, 60 outer space: Africa and, 168, 189, 191, 197, 200, 210, 211, 213, 216, 223; African American views on, 191–92; alternate futures and, 157, 191, 196, 214, 217–18; as America’s future, 189, 200; as black realm, 192, 205, 219, 225, 227; Cold War and, 166, 170; conquest of, 166, 168, 189, 191, 199, 200, 210; dancing, 192; Disney and, 191; as distraction, 191, 210; as home, 206; Man from Outer Space, 173; music and, 168, 169, 196, 197, 200, 204, 224–25; mysticism and, 194; pop-song references to, 138; as process, 198–99; science fiction and, 113; suburbs and, 166, 189, 191, 199, 200; travel, 39, 40,


42, 156, 189–94, 198, 201, 205, 214; urban space and, 168, 199; as utopia, 166; visual depictions of, 143, 195, 214 Outer Space Club, 192 Outkast, 225 Overbea, Danny, 203 Pace, Harry, 152 Palm Garden, 79 Palmore, Lil, 79 Parker, A. H., 27 Parker, Charlie, 71, 84 Parkway Ballroom, 73, 137, 138, 148 Parkway Records, 150 Parliament-Funkadelic, 225 Parrish, Avery, 79 Parrot Records, 150 Parsons, Albert Ross, 103 Patrick, Deval, 136 Patrick, Pat, 135, 136, 156, 159, 184, 206 Patterson, Pat, 61 Peace Movement of Ethiopia, 101 “Pennies from Heaven,” 83 Pennington, James W. C., 108 Pershing Ballroom, 68, 71 Pershing district, 69, 71, 72–73, 75, 79, 80, 81, 85, 92 Pershing Hotel, 68–75, 82, 85, 134, 136, 139, 150, 182, 191, 209 Pershing Lounge, 68, 71, 74, 148, 212 Petrillo, James, 54, 169, 171 Pettiford, William, 21, 27 “Phantom, The,” 83 Phantom of the Opera, The (film), 83, 120 Philadelphia, PA, 222–23 Philippines, 96 Pittsburgh, PA, 221 Pittsburgh Courier, 33, 43, 191 Pitts Pub, 78 place and places, 6, 39, 48, 55, 94–96, 112–13, 115, 203, 208, 209, 219 place-names, 96, 112, 115, 185 Playboy Town House, 164



Playhouse, 86 “Plutonian Nights,” 196 “Pork n Beans,” 80 Porter, Cole, 71 Porter, Eric, 153 Powell, Bud, 84, 139 Priester, Julian, 135 Prince Hall Masons, 18–19. See also Hall, Prince prostitution, 79, 87, 88, 171 Provident Hospital, 97 Pruter, Robert, 154 Pryor, Nate, 148 Puerto Ricans, 181, 182 Pythian Hall, 19–20, 131 Queen’s Mansion, 1, 171, 197, 208 Queen theater, 20 race and racial identity: ethnicity and, 4, 9, 31–32, 65, 85, 106–18, 125–27, 178, 182, 227; Hamitic hypothesis and, 108; interracial solidarity, 55, 134; neighborhood transition, 68, 70, 72–73, 76–77; origins of mankind, 97, 107; race man, 26; racial amalgamation, 64; racial economic disparities, 145; racial equality, 64; racial integration, 60; racial lineage, 96, 106–11; racial mixing and interracialism, 53, 63, 65, 69, 75, 79, 86, 98, 100, 101, 194; racial progress, 82, 98, 100, 218; racial redemption, 94; racial theology, 118 racial uplift, 21–22, 26, 40, 47, 49, 53, 54, 60, 105, 130, 217; theories of, 125–26 racism, 76, 96, 113; caricature, 23, 65, 113; exclusion, 65, 69, 75, 134, 209; prejudice, 46; restrictive covenants, 60; segregation, 42, 46, 53–55, 62, 65– 66, 68, 69, 86, 109, 110, 209, 216, 217, 228; violence, 17, 32, 44, 53, 76, 86, 96, 111, 120, 125, 132; white supremacy, 7, 8, 48, 104, 113, 132

Ramsey, Guthrie, Jr., 81 Randolph, Hattie, 176 Randolph, Lucious, 148 Rayfield, Wallace, 18 Redman, Don, 35 Red Saunders Orchestra, 68, 80. See also Saunders, Red Reed, Ishmael, 222 Reed, Jimmy, 129 Regal Theatre, 62, 134, 147, 148 religion: ancient Egyptian, 97, 170; angels, 67; Christianity, 98, 104, 106, 110, 111, 117, 132; Ethiopianism, 106–8, 109, 110; heterodox, 6, 9, 96, 110, 114, 132, 194; Holiness churches, 132, 220; millenarianism, 7, 93, 100; mysticism, 103; New Thought movement, 111; occult, 67, 97, 103, 104, 110; Pentecostal, 98, 132; prophets and visionaries, 40, 42, 94, 103; racialism and, 106–9; Rastafarianism, 94; redemption and, 94, 118, 170; religious conversion, 42, 63; revelation and, 5, 109–10; secularization and, 109; storefront churches, 4, 27; supernatural transport and, 40, 43; theologies and, 10, 94, 95, 107–8, 110, 114 “Rhapsody in Blue,” 88 Rhumboogie Café, 61 Rice, Alan, 43 Rickles, Don, 91 Riptide, 86 Roach, Max, 153 Roberts Show Club/Lounge, 136, 142, 148, 171, 181, 192, 209 Robeson, Paul, 60 “Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus,” 198–99 “Rocket Ship Rock,” 173 Roe, Theodore, 147 Rogers, J. A., 103, 105 Rogers, Robert Athlyi, 109, 194, 220 Rollins, Sonny, 88

Index Rondavoo Club, 86, 87 Roosevelt University Jazz Club, 142 Rose, David, 88 Rosza, Miklos, 71 Rounders, 142 Rowe, Mike, 129 Rubloff, Arthur, 59 Rucker, Matthew, 67 Salaheldeen, Ahmad, 76 Santiago, Vitin, 181, 182 Satana, Tura, 87–88 Saturn, 39–40, 57, 158, 165, 228 “Saturn,” 166–87 Saturn Records. See El Saturn Research Saunders, Red, 68, 82, 119, 130, 180, 181, 183, 192 Savoy Ballroom (Chicago), 35, 73 Savoy Ballroom (New York), 29, 42 Sax-o-Society Orchestra, 28, 35 Schuyler, George, 43, 210 science fiction, 40, 43, 71, 90 Scott, Cecil, 25 Segal, Joe, 142 Selassie, Haile, 108 “Shanghai Shuffle,” 35 Shaw, Benjamin Garland, 42 Sheffield, AL, 35 Shihab, Sahib, 76 Simmons, John, 68, 77 Simmons, Lonnie, 58, 71 Sloss Works, 31 Slugs’, 222, 223, 224 Smith, Bessie, 25 Smith, Elder Lucy, 98 Smith, Mamie, 25 Smithfield, 27, 46 Society Troubadours, 35 “Soft Talk,” 141 Soler, Juan, 181, 182 solovox, 41, 71 “Somewhere in Space,” 197 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” 82


Sonny Blount Orchestra, 35–37, 41 Sonny Boswell’s, 61 South: Jim Crow, 16, 17, 33, 47, 81, 96; New South, 31–32, 42, 47, 129–32, 163, 217, 222; Old South, 92; rural South, 22, 32, 33, 37, 48, 49, 58, 64, 112; Upper South, 132; urban South, 13, 17, 29, 32, 34, 37, 49, 58, 129–32, 163, 217, 222 South Africa, 32, 109, 216 South Side (Chicago): activists, 53, 75, 209–10, 218; Africa and, 178–85; as black metropolis, 22, 53, 152; businesses, 53, 143, 144, 148, 152; Chinese Americans in, 65; churches, 53, 63, 136; comedians, 63, 80; communal autonomy and, 52–53, 152–53; communal pedagogy, 152; communal ties and networks, 8, 132, 134, 136, 147; community associations and social clubs, 6, 53, 134, 136, 192; community culture, 8, 10, 52, 64, 100, 129, 132, 192; community ecology, 128, 147–48, 163; community leaders, 53, 54, 69, 133, 134; cultural ideals, 52–55, 57–58; dance scene, 63, 71, 180–82; depicted as a different country, 113; drugs, 79, 143; economy, 9, 53, 54, 62, 77, 85, 144, 146, 148; fraternal organizations, 134; gambling, 54, 79, 147; gay and queer entertainment culture, 75, 86, 171; as ghetto, 17, 52–54, 65, 69; Harlem and, 69; history of musical performance in, 52–55; Japanese Americans in, 76; Latin music and, 181–83; music clubs, 53, 61–79, 148–52, 165, 171, 190, 202–7 (see also music venues); music scenes, 8, 9, 51– 55, 57–92, 132–43, 146–54, 163–65, 171–73, 180–85, 187, 192, 197–99, 201–9, 212–14; nightlife districts, 8, 10, 53, 54, 61, 68, 81, 146, 148; Old Settlers, 53; organized crime, 62, 147,



South Side (Chicago): (continued) 148; political culture, 100–101, 104, 212, 213; political organizations and parties, 52, 53, 54, 147, 148; prostitution in, 79; racial boundaries in, 54, 55, 62, 69, 91, 146, 148, 208; racial uplift and, 53; record labels, 75, 79, 80, 91, 142, 150; settlement houses, 53; social hierarchy, 78–79; spatial dynamics, 68–69, 76–77, 81, 129, 144–47, 152, 163, 190; unions, 52, 54, 58, 62, 85, 147–48, 150, 176, 210; visual artists, 100, 143–44, 164–65, 195–96, 214–15; women’s clubs, 53, 65. See also Black Belt (Chicago) South Side Community Arts Center, 100, 132 Space Age, 7, 173, 189–90 space and spatiality, 6, 48, 203, 208; abstract space, 160–61, 208–9, 218; counterspaces, 5, 94–95, 101, 110, 216; metropolitan space, 86, 145, 166, 189– 90; spatial isolation, 15, 48; spatial order, 158; wide-open spaces, 55, 190 “Space Aura,” 166, 187, 197, 203 Space Is the Place (film), 222 “Space Loneliness,” 197 “Spaceship Lullaby,” 156, 157–58, 198, 199 Space Trio, 135, 156 Spaulding, James, 172 Speed, Jane, 42 Spellbound (film), 71 Sputnik, 166, 189, 192 Stage Lounge, 139 Staple Singers, 150 “Star Dust,” 36 “Stars Fell on Alabama,” 34 “Star-Spangled Banner,” 25 Steele, Silas, 15 Steiner, John, 79 Stevens, Tom, 14 Stitt, Sonny, 88 Stravinsky, Igor, 185

Strayhorn, Billy, 159 “Street Named Hell,” 158 “Stripper, The,” 88 striptease, 87–91 Stroll, 54, 147, 152 Stuckey, Sterling, 132 suburbs, 5, 86, 91, 144–46, 209; as composite social ideal, 190, 227; as destination, 69, 86, 209; effects on central cities, 167, 209; as exclusionary, 5, 31, 69, 146, 209; Hollywood movie music and, 190; as models for outer-space conquest, 166, 191, 200; “sin” suburb, 85, 86, 92; as sites of national rebirth, 166; as utopias, 161, 166, 189, 190 Sunbeam Records, 75 Sunnyland Slim, 150 Sun Ra: accompanist, 57, 64, 79–80, 85–91; as Afrofuturist, 1, 2, 40, 43, 45, 67, 154, 226, 227; arrival in Chicago, 35, 51, 57, 58; avant-garde and, 35, 44, 168, 186; becoming Sun Ra, 94, 97, 167, 201; Birmingham residence, 13–14, 27, 41–42, 216; birth, 11, 13, 30, 215; broadsheet writings (see Thmei broadsheets); Chicago residence, 61, 208; college year, 39–41; composer and arranger, 7, 14, 20–21, 36, 43, 57, 63, 64, 66, 68, 71, 79–80, 119, 142, 168, 171, 181, 205; conscientious objector (CO), 45–46, 84; as cultural phenomenon, 215; death, 215, 223; dream, 39–40, 214; exotica and, 8, 9, 36, 79, 185, 187, 201, 203, 204; experimental musician, 66, 137, 223–24; extraterrestrial traveler, 39–40, 166, 220; family, 13, 27, 41; as free-jazz musician, 154, 186; as Herman Poole Blount, 13, 18, 19, 20, 27, 33; as historiographer, 4, 94, 108, 115–16, 125–26, 136, 168, 176– 78, 216, 224–25; joins Thmei Research group, 97; Latin music and, 180–83, 196–97; leadership, 20, 38, 39–41,

Index 43–45, 47, 57, 84–85, 91, 136, 167, 201, 203, 211, 213; as Le Sony’r Ra, 97; liner-note writings, 154, 158, 159, 162, 164, 176–79, 224; migrant, 8, 49, 58, 92; musical Ethiopianism, 181, 191, 218; musical geography, 185–86, 210– 11; musical style-mixing, 15, 92, 154, 155, 162, 177; music-hall theatricality, 44, 65; organist, 82–83; pacifist, 45, 84, 191, 217; performance style, 36–37, 65, 90, 136, 202; as philosopher, 5, 7, 84–85, 104, 135–36, 163, 167, 172, 183, 202; pianist, 7, 27, 41, 64, 68, 80, 130, 135; poetry, 176–79, 203, 205–6; racial identity, 42; reader, 19, 84; recent writings about, 2, 215; rehearsals with, 30, 41, 46, 49, 51, 66, 68, 136–37, 156, 172–73, 202–3, 228; self-recordings, 81–84; as Sonny Blount, 8, 20, 33, 34, 38–39, 46–50, 55, 57–92; as spiritual mentor, 57, 84–85, 92, 135, 137, 172; standards and, 130, 138, 142, 171, 173, 176, 202, 206; strip-club accompanist, 85–91; territory bandleader, 34–39; Thmei writings (see Thmei broadsheets); time and, 11, 94, 178–79, 211; union member, 58; university lecturer, 222; as utopian, 2, 21, 51, 129, 130, 153, 155–56, 161–65, 168, 179, 187, 192, 219, 220; vocal quartets and, 136– 38, 155–58, 163, 172–73 Sunset Casino, 36 “Super Blonde,” 141 Super-Sonic Jazz (album), 143, 153, 170, 186 Supreme Liberty Life, 60 Supreme Records, 80 Sutherland Hotel, 209 Swan Silvertones, 150 Swanson, Petite, 75 Swarz, Lou, 64 Swedenborg, Emanuel, 40 “Sweet Ando-line,” 24


“Sweet Mama,” 25 Swingland, 151 “Synthesis,” 80 Szwed, John, 3, 13, 41, 130, 136, 158 Tabernacle Baptist Church, 20 Talladega, AL, 38 Tapscott, Horace, 225 Tarry, Ellen, 31 Taylor, Cecil, 142, 150 Taylor, Robert Robinson, 18 Taylor, Wayne, 194 Terminal Station, 13, 22 Terry, Clark, 71 Texarkana, TX, 96, 130–32, 163 Texarkana Negro Business League, 131 Theosophy, 9, 40, 103, 111, 124, 134, 186 theremin, 71 Thmei broadsheets: aesthetic values, 105; audiences, 98; authorship, 98; black agency, 115–18; on community leaders, 109; counter-Ethiopianism, 110, 111, 114, 121, 126–27; date of, 97–98; Ethiopianism and, 9, 107, 109, 110, 158, 164, 178; ethnicity claims, 126; genealogies, 108; geographies, 112–15, 186; historical claims, 108, 115, 116, 178, 206; intellectual origins, 100–106; interlocutors, 101–2, 123, 173; millenarianism, 100, 117–18; musical commentary, 118–25; as proto-utopian, 127; racial narratives in, 124–25, 138; religious claims, 109, 116–17; rhetorical qualities and techniques of, 98, 109, 111, 178; sources, 103, 106, 107–9, 110–11, 222; as wake-up call, 98, 117, 121–25, 128 Thmei Research, 5, 7, 8, 9, 93, 97, 130, 143, 170, 218 Thompson, E. P., 168 Threadgill, Henry, 208 Tibbs, Andrew, 76, 79, 197 Time, 113



time and temporality, 10, 11, 48, 105, 117–18 Tingley, Glenn V., 42 Tito, 182 Toast of the Town, 209 Tomorrowland, 190, 191 To New Horizons (film), 41 Tophet, 99 Totem Music, 153 train, 13, 14, 40, 47, 60, 68, 83, 155, 156–59, 164, 165, 167, 196, 198, 199, 216, 218 Transition Records, 142–43 Trent, Christopher, 80, 154 Trianon Ballroom, 75, 134, 183 Trotter, Joe William, 22 Trumbull Park, 86 Tuggle Institute, 29 Turner, Nat, 40 Tuscaloosa, AL, 33 Tuskegee Institute, 21–22, 27 Tutwiler Hotel, 28 “Tuxedo Junction,” 29 21 Club, 86 UFOs (unidentified flying objects), 40 Underground Musicians Association, 225 Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, 225 United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), 104, 109 Universal Recording, 143 University of Alabama, 29 University of California, Berkeley, 222 University of Chicago, 75, 76, 190–91, 204 urbanism: architecture, 13, 18–19, 155, 161, 195, 211; community, 13–26, 51– 55, 144–54, 161, 164, 190, 200, 209, 219; ghetto, 17, 48, 52–55, 60, 65, 145, 174, 199–221, 227; housing, 46, 65, 68, 86, 91, 145–46, 161, 190; planners and planning, 5, 59, 155, 160–61, 190, 218– 19; post-urban character, 209; regional

musical economy, 33–37, 85; rural, 36–37, 58, 64; settlement patterns, 17, 33, 91, 227; slum-clearance urban renewal, 59, 147, 148, 155, 157, 161, 163, 164, 175, 189, 190, 200; smaller cities and towns, 33–34; suburbs and suburbanization, 85–91, 145–46, 161, 166–68, 189–90, 199–200; urban cultural modernism, 6, 8, 11, 18, 22, 25, 31–32, 36–37, 47, 48, 53–55, 60, 155, 161–62, 164, 174, 179, 186–87, 216; urbanization, 30–33, 58, 209–10, 227; urban space, 6, 10–11, 47–50, 69, 78, 81, 146, 156, 161, 190, 209, 217–21, 227–28; zoning, 17. See also city; space and spatiality “Urnack,” 141 US Steel, 216 utopia: architecture and, 59, 155; autonomy and, 127; black utopianism, 6, 43, 115, 155, 191, 217, 226; blueprint utopianism, 5, 127, 160, 209, 211; community-based utopianism, 50, 129, 154, 168, 227; critical utopian sensibility, 4, 127, 218; cultural possibility, 8, 58–59, 91, 94, 126, 138; defined, 112, 160; dystopia, 5, 96, 190; as education of desire, 168; as empire within the empire, 210; everyday utopianism, 5–6, 165, 198, 218; as the impossible, 128, 130, 144, 213; location of, 112– 13; modernism and, 155, 161–62, 164, 174, 179; musical utopianism, 8, 155, 160, 187, 207; as New Land, 187, 210; open, 211; as performed, 167; as postapocalyptic paradise, 194; postwar utopianism, 58–61, 130, 155, 166–67, 189–91; proto-utopian, 49, 96, 127; as redemption, 127, 226–27; spatial form and, 211, 228; temporal process and, 211, 228; urban, 4–5, 8–10, 30, 51, 59, 209, 220 utopian city, 9, 155, 159–61, 165, 219;

Index utopian imagination, 3, 5–6, 30, 209, 211–12; utopian project, 92, 127; utopian travelers, 47, 55, 112–13, 214; utopian writers and artists, 113, 115, 127, 160, 193, 196, 207, 220–21 Vaughan, Sarah, 147 Vee-Jay Records, 137, 150 Velvet Underground, 142 Ventura, Charlie, 80, 91 Volney, Constantin-François, 103 von Braun, Werner, 191 Vulcan, 30 Waller, Fats, 20, 71 Walton, Charles, 77, 89, 150 Ware, Wilbur, 83, 88, 89 Warren, Guy (Kofi Ghanaba), 183 Washington, Booker T., 4, 21–22, 44, 144, 154 Washington, Dinah, 61, 139, 146, 150 Washington Park, 61, 63, 68, 94, 95, 97, 101, 102, 110, 113, 123, 126, 128, 132, 134, 164, 173, 184, 206, 216, 218 Washington Park Forum, 101 Waters, Ethel, 25 Waters, Muddy, 129, 146 Webber, C. Siddha, 213 Webster, Freddie, 66 Wells-Barnett, Ida B., 53 West Side (Chicago), 85, 87, 145, 173, 210 “We Travel the Spaceways,” 187, 198, 211 Whatley, John T. (’Fess), 23, 28–30, 33, 34, 44, 133 “When the Saints Go Marching In,” 24 “White Flyer to Heaven,” 43 whites: anti-abolitionists, 107; artists, 151; audiences, 28, 29, 54, 62, 64, 77, 79; commercial areas, 15, 25, 69; community leaders, 22, 30, 47, 58–60, 98; conceptions of civilization, 114; cultural entrepreneurs, 151; ethnicities, 125; freemasons, 18; investors, 20;


market, 28, 33, 146, 152; nativism, 23; organized crime, 147; racial identity, 125–26; residents, 23, 31, 53, 68, 69, 76, 145, 209; supremacy, 23, 48, 104, 132; workers, 30, 32; writers, 23, 151 Williams, Bert, 220 Williams, Clarence, 21, 26 Williams, Joe, 119, 181 Williams, Mary Lou, 80, 83 Williams, Sidney, 184 “Willow Weep for Me,” 82 Wilmore, Gayraud, 107 Wilson, Bobby, 32 Wilson, Edward E., 53 Wilson, Tom, 142–43 Wilson Junior College, 97 “Wind in the Trees,” 82 Winthrop, John, 127 Witherspoon, Jimmy, 139 Wonder Inn, 1, 97, 202–7, 212, 213, 214, 218 Woodlawn (Chicago), 191 World War I, 11, 13, 22, 104 World War II, 26, 40, 45, 51, 55, 58, 60, 64, 76, 85, 87, 101, 189 Wright, Eugene, 68 Wright, Lammar, 131 Wright, Richard, 100 Yeah Man, 36 Yochanan, 7, 173 “You and the Night and the Music,” 83 “You Go to My Head,” 83 Young, Dave, 135 Young, John, 88 Young, Lester, 61 Young, Marl, 150 Young, Nathan Ben, Jr., 23–25 Youngquist, Paul, 3, 97, 176, 177, 202 Ziegfeld Follies (film), 65 Zimmerman, Andrew, 32 Zodiac Suite, 83