The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening

Chris Raschka. Candlewick, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5806-9
For jazz fans who welcomed Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Raschka profiles the uncategorizable musician Sun Ra. One century ago, in 1914, “Sun Ra landed on Earth. Looking around, he found himself in Birmingham, Alabama.” Claiming to be from Saturn and mystified by terrestrial customs, young Herman (Sonny) Blount invented a new name, learned to compose all manner of music, and traveled the U.S. performing and absorbing musical cultures. Raschka pictures Sun Ra and his Arkestra orchestra in chromatic gouache daubs and silhouette-black lowlights, bringing to mind Romare Bearden’s sultry palette and mellifluous collages. Raschka acknowledges the social and musical influences on the innovative artist, noting Sun Ra’s surprise that the “earthlings insisted on sorting themselves into two varieties: the white variety and the black variety” and Sun Ra’s conscientious objector stance during WWII (curiously, Raschka mentions Sun Ra’s love of Egypt, but never the sun god Ra). Although Raschka cannot fully convey “the sound of joy” in a silent picture book, he provides a selective list of recordings, encouraging readers to consider Sun Ra’s nonconformity and genius alongside a first listen to his polyphonic music. Ages 6–9. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/03/2014
Release date: 05/13/2014
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