Professor Sun Ra Talks Idiosyncrasies of Jazz and Religion in University of California, Berkeley Lectures

By Ian Holubiak on Aug 01, 2014 05:13 PM EDT

Sun Ra was arguably out of his gourd, and yet his idiosyncratic interpretations of jazz, religion and basically anything under the golden sun have marked him as close to an "otherworldly being" as anything like "Afrofuturism" ever had.

Ra, at a young age, had an out-of-body experience that he describes as "being transported into outer space."

John Szwed recorded Ra recounting, "My whole body changed into something else. I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn."

While there, aliens with "little antenna on each ear, a little antenna on each eye" instructed him to drop out of college and speak through his music.

Perhaps Ra doesn't even believe his own story, and whether it's a ploy for personae, it shouldn't hold any weight to Herman Poole Blount and his influence on jazz as an idiom. (Hell, Marshall Allen's "Arkestra," via his own brand of free-jazz futurism, has kept Le Sony'r Ra not only relevant, but a heavyweight entirely.)

However you look at it, in 1971, Ra served as an artist-in-residence at UCal Berkeley and offered a spring semester lecture: African-American Studies 198 (a.k.a. "Sun Ra 171"). The course featured readings from theosophist Madame Blavatsky, French philosopher Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Black American poet Henry Dumas and, interestingly enough, The Source of Man's Life and Death, also known as the King James Bible.

Thanks to Open Culture for the audio from these famously obscure seminars at Berkeley (acquired from a bold student, no less). Now, we have the opportunity to hear the possibly insane ramblings of Ra as he leads students through vineyards of personal philosophy, etymologies and his own interpretations of religious texts.

For Classicalite's part, check out a notable Helsinki interview from '71 below.

Also, a reading list of "Sun Ra 171" can be found on the blog New Day.

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TagsSun Ra, UC Berkely, African-American Studies 198, Sun Ra 171, Open Culture

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