Abraham, Alton. Collection of Sun Ra, 1822-2008
- TitleGuide to the Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra1822-2008
- PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
- English French
- Physical Description156 linear feet (146 boxes, 1 oversize folder)
- RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
- AbstractAlton Abraham (1927-1999), entrepreneur and hospital technician, was a longtime friend and business associate of Sun Ra (1914-1993), the influential jazz composer and musician. Alton Abraham collected manuscripts, business records, printed ephemera, artifacts, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other documents of his work with Sun Ra. The collection contains textual, graphic, and audio-visual records of the work of Sun Ra and his collaborators, as well as professional and personal papers of Alton Abraham. The collection spans 1822-2008, with material concentrated in the late 1950s-1980s.
© The contents of this finding aid are the copyright of the University of Chicago Library
Series VIII: Subseries 2 and 3 do not include access copies for material in this series. Researchers must consult with staff before requesting material from this series.
Series XII contains personal financial records restricted for 50 years, and academic and medical records restricted for 80 years.
The remainder of the collection is open for research.
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Abraham, Alton. Collection of Sun Ra, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914 in Birmingham Alabama and was regarded as a skilled pianist and composer by his early teenage years. Although Blount based his musical activities in Birmingham until 1945, his big band toured extensively, playing Chicago in 1934 where he registered with the local musicians union under the name Sonny Blount. Blount read extensively, researching mystical and occult practices, ancient culture, biblical history, and contemporary developments in science and space exploration. During 1942-1943 he was imprisoned for draft resistance prior to being released with a 4-F classification.
In the winter of 1946 Blount migrated to Chicago, settling near Washington Park. Although regarded as eccentric by some, Blount was a respected and studied musician and was regularly employed as a pianist, composer, and arranger in the vibrant south side music scene. During the early 1950s he began rehearsing his own groups, ultimately leading to the 1955 creation of the Arkestra, the large ensemble he directed until his death in 1993. In October 1952 Blount legally changed his name to "Le Sony’r Ra" at the Circuit Court of Cook County, with "Sun Ra" serving thereafter as an abbreviated version of his new name.
Alton Abraham was born in Chicago on May 5, 1927. He served in the U.S Military in Okinawa from 1945-1947, and upon returning to Chicago in 1947 graduated from Du Sable High School, followed by Wilson Junior College in 1950. In 1952 he was certified as an x-ray technician at Provident Hospital. Blount and Abraham became acquainted in 1951, sharing interests in mysticism, the occult, science, numerology, and ancient history.
Along with Abraham’s brother Artis, the men founded El Saturn Research in 1957, which would record and distribute albums by the Arkestra as well as the vocal and R&B groups rehearsed by Sun Ra during the late 1950s.
Additionally, Ra and Abraham organized Thmei Research, an organization dedicated to "subjects cosmic, spiritual, philosophical, religious, historical, scientific, economical, etc." Thmei also provided financing for El Saturn’s earliest releases and issued a newsletter and book catalog. The earliest El Saturn recordings are singles dating from 1955 and 1956, including the Cosmic Rays "Dreaming" b/w "Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie." Some of the Arkestra’s earliest studio recordings were released as Jazz By Sun Ra (1956) on Transition Records, and Super Sonic Jazz (1957) on Saturn Records.
In 1961 Sun Ra left Chicago for Montreal with members of the Arkestra including Marshall Allen and John Gilmore. Lacking sustained employment in Montreal, the group relocated to New York City where further difficulty finding work encouraged communal living arrangements. While Sun Ra would never again reside in Chicago, Abraham continued to manage some of the Arkestra’s business engagements and the Saturn Record label in Chicago. By the late 1960s Sun Ra began giving performances on college campuses and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. During these years, recordings on ESP Records such as The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Vols. 1 and 2 (1965, 1966), added to the growing catalog of Sun Ra recordings available through Saturn Records such as The Magic City (1966) and Atlantis (1969). In 1967 Abraham, along with Sun Ra, James Bryant, and Almeter Hayden, incorporated Ihnfinity, Inc. in the State of Illinois with the intention of it serving as an umbrella organization for Sun Ra’s activities. The following year Sun Ra and members of the Arkestra would move into a large home in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, commuting regularly to New York City for performances. In 1972 Ra and Abraham published two volumes of Sun Ra’s poetry, The Immeasurable Equation, and Extensions Out: The Immeasurable Equation Vol. 2, some of which had previously appeared on the back cover of Saturn Records.
Opportunities for international performance expanded significantly during the 1970’s and Arkestra recordings became more widely available following a 1972 agreement with Impulse Records, who reissued The Magic City and Atlantis in 1973. While Sun Ra would continue sending recordings to Abraham in Chicago through the late 1970s, such as The Soul Vibrations of Man (1977) and Taking a Chance on Chances (1977), he also began independently pressing Saturn records in Philadelphia, relying on the assistance of Arkestra members. Similarly, as performance opportunities expanded throughout the 1970s Arkestra trumpeter Danny Thompson increasingly took on the responsibilities of de facto business and tour manager.
Following Sun Ra’s death in Birmingham 1993, Abraham became involved with the reissue and rerelease of out-of-print Sun Ra recordings. In addition to his activities with Sun Ra, Abraham was employed as an x-ray technician, and independently pursued his interests in spirituality, history, science, and technology. Alton Abraham died June 6, 1999 in Chicago.
Throughout his long friendship and business association with Sun Ra, Alton Abraham collected manuscripts, business records, printed ephemera, artifacts, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other documents. The collection contains textual, graphic, and audio-visual records of the work of Sun Ra and members of the Arkestra, as well as professional and personal papers of Alton Abraham. The collection spans 1822-2008, with material concentrated in the late 1950s-1980s.
This collection also contains material of research value in the subjects of audio and film recording, independent music production and distribution, African-American communities in Chicago, radical politics, health sciences, book collecting, race theories, spirituality and the occult.
There is considerable duplication of materials, particularly printed ephemera, across the collection. Copies of the same item duplicated in multiple series often document different aspects of Sun Ra and Alton Abraham's endeavors.
The collection is arranged in twelve series:
Series I: Biographical, contains writings about Sun Ra, including interviews, critical essays, articles, and obituaries. Also included in this series are a small number of biographical writings about John Gilmore.
Series II: Performance, contains textual and graphic documents of Sun Ra performances from 1966-1989, as well as performances by members of the Arkestra and other associated musicians from 1993-1998. Materials include clippings, broadsides, handbills, programs, press releases, set lists, and tour itineraries.
Series III: Recording, contains textual and graphic documents of recordings by Sun Ra, members of the Arkestra, and other associated musicians from 1955-1995. Materials include discographies, catalogs, clippings, press releases, handbills, broadsides, advertising copy, radio playlists, drafts of track listings and liner notes, and production notes.
Series IV: Music Manuscripts, contains Sun Ra's original works and arrangements of standards. Also included are music manuscripts prepared by others, including Alton Abraham. Materials in this series include arrangements, compositions, sketches, lyrics, notes and fragmentary music notations. Many of the manuscripts are undated, but generally range from the 1960s-1980s.
Series V: Verse, Prose and Notes, contains manuscripts, proofs, broadsides, pamphlets, notebooks and books by Sun Ra. It also includes notes, fragmentary works, and a small number of works by Alton Abraham and unidentified writers. Most items are undated, but generally span the 1950s-1980s.
Series VI: Business Records, contains records of the business operations of Saturn Records and other endeavors managed by Alton Abraham in collaboration with Sun Ra and others. The bulk of this material was kept by Alton Abraham, though some material may have been collected from Sun Ra, John Gilmore and others. Materials date from 1939-1998, but mainly document business activities from the late 1950s through the mid-1990s. Material in this series includes legal agreements, business forms and stationery, financial records, ephemera, instructional books and pamphlets, correspondence and notebooks.
Series VII: Alton Abraham, documents Abraham's education, employment, personal life, and interests in areas such as spirituality, the supernatural, science and technology, politics, history, and music. There is also some material related to Abraham's friends, associates and family members. Materials in this series include publications, ephemera, educational and instructional materials, correspondence, notes, sheet music, songbooks and manuscripts. This series spans 1822-1993, with material concentrated in the 1940s-1980s.
Series VIII: Audio-Visual, contains photographs, audio recordings, and film and video recordings. Included are photographs of Sun Ra and the Arkestra, filmstrips and videocassettes, audio cassette tapes, reel tapes, and vinyl records. Many items are undated, spanning the late 1950s-1990s.
Series IX: Art and Artifacts, contains items related to Sun Ra, Saturn Records, and music in general; as well as personal items that belonged to Alton Abraham. In the first category are sample album jackets; proofs and layouts of album covers, catalogs and advertisements; drawings, sketches and paintings; photographs of artworks; musical instruments and equipment; metal stampers for vinyl records; printing blocks and office supplies. In the second category are decorative ornaments and personal items such as a wallet and a briefcase.
Some items are matted or framed for display. Most items are undated but generally span the late 1950s-1980s.
Series X: Oversize, consists of large-format materials transferred from previous series.
Series XI: Restricted, consists of personal financial records, academic records, medical records, and identification and registration documents, all transferred from Series VII.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
- Abraham, Alton
- Sun Ra
- University of Chicago. Chicago Jazz Archive
- El Saturn Records