Travelling the Spaceways: The Cult of Sun Ra

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Jez Nelson explores the life of Sun Ra - the renowned jazz composer, bandleader and pianist born 100 years ago.
Sun Ra was the first black avant-garde musician, paving the way for Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp. He set up his own record label before independent labels existed, and was one of the first to use synthesizers in his music. He also commanded a unique and, some would say, unhealthy dedication from his band. They lived in his house and eschewed sex, drugs and even sleep in the pursuit of a higher cause - music.

Two decades after his death, Sun Ra continues to inspire a dedicated following. His original band, the Arkestra, regularly sell-out European concert halls, there are numerous tribute bands around the World and even an annual Italian music festival exclusively devoted to him. So why does he continue to hold this cult status? Revisiting an intriguing interview he gave shortly before he died, and with new interviews with band members and Sun Ra obsessives, Jez Nelson asks whether, a century on from his birth, we are any better placed to understand Sun Ra's message.

Contributors include Gilles Peterson, Marshall Allen, John Sinclair and Jerry Dammers.

Producer: Joby Waldman
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.
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