Afrofuturism, Sun Ra and Others

A Transatlantic Perspective

Afrofuturism, Sun Ra and Others: A Transatlantic Perspective
UChicago Book Salon
Monday June 14th, 2021
11:00 AM (Chicago Time) / 6:00 PM (Paris Time)

Join us for a webinar on William Sites’ new book Sun Ra’s Chicago. Afrofuturism and the City: University of Chicago Press, 2020.

Sun Ra (1914–93) was one of the most wildly prolific and unfailingly eccentric figures in the history of music. Renowned for extravagant performances in which his Arkestra appeared in neo-Egyptian garb, the keyboardist and bandleader also espoused an interstellar cosmology that claimed the planet Saturn as his true home. In Sun Ra’s Chicago, William Sites brings this visionary musician back to earth—specifically to the city’s South Side, where from 1946 to 1961 he lived and relaunched his career. The postwar South Side was a hotbed of unorthodox religious and cultural activism: Afrocentric philosophies flourished, storefront prophets sold “dream-book bibles,” and Elijah Muhammad was building the Nation of Islam. It was also an unruly musical crossroads where the man then known as Sonny Blount drew from an array of intellectual and musical sources—from radical nationalism, revisionist Christianity, and science fiction to jazz, blues, Latin dance music, and pop exotica—to construct a philosophy and performance style that imagined a new identity and future for African Americans.

Panelists will be discussing the impact of Sun Ra's artistic production and the Afrofuturist political aesthetic across the Atlantic.

William Sites is Associate Professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago. His fields of interest include urban and community studies, political economy, race, music and culture, social theory, and historical methods.  His first book, Remaking New York: Primitive Globalization and the Politics of Urban Community, explored the transformation of New York City during the final quarter of the twentieth century.  Recent publications on Sun Ra include articles in the Journal of Urban HistoryUrban Geography, and American Studies.

John Szwed is an Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University where he was Professor of Music and Jazz Studies, Editor-in-Chief of the website, and Director of the Center for Jazz Studies from 2008-2014. He is the author of many books on jazz and American music, including studies of Sun Ra (Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, Pantheon Books, 2000), Miles Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Alan Lomax and Billie Holiday.

Nicole Mitchell is an award-winning creative flutist, composer, conceptualist, bandleader, and educator. She is also the director of jazz studies in the University of Pittsburgh's Deitrich School. Her research centers on the powerful legacy of contemporary African American culture and black experimental art.

Alexandre Pierrepont is an anthropologist whose work focuses on African-American music as an alternative social institution. Since 2012, Alexandre Pierrepont is the artistic director of the French-American exchange program The Bridge, A transatlantic Network for Jazz and Creative Music. He is the author of La Nuée - l’Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM): un jeu de société musicale, Éditions Parenthèses, 2015, as well as Chaos, cosmos, musique, Éditions M-F, 2021.

Greg Tate is a music and popular culture critic and journalist whose work has appeared in many publications, including the Village Voice, Vibe, Spin, the Wire, and Downbeat. He is the author of Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America and Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience. Tate, via guitar and baton, also leads the conducted improvisation ensemble Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, who tour internationally.

Frédéric Trottier-Pistien is an anthropologist of electronic music. His dissertation entitled « Techno Worlds in Detroit » is mainly based on participating observation of four young DJs ‘life and festival ethnographies. Trottier-Pistien taught Urban Anthropology at the Université de Reims, he is associate member of the Centre Georg Simmel (EHESS/CNRS), and also consultant at the Philharmonie de Paris - Cité de la Musique.

Frédéric Trottier-Pistien will moderate the panel discussion.

This event is organized by The University of Chicago Center in Paris in partnership with The University of Chicago Press, the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.