Sun Ra’s Full Lecture & Reading List From His 1971 UC Berkeley Course, “The Black Man in the Cosmos”

A pio­neer of “Afro­fu­tur­ism,” band­leader Sun Ra emerged from a tra­di­tion­al swing scene in Alaba­ma, tour­ing the coun­try in his teens as a mem­ber of his high school biol­o­gy teacher’s big band. While attend­ing Alaba­ma Agri­cul­tur­al and Mechan­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty, he had an out-of-body expe­ri­ence dur­ing which he was trans­port­ed into out­er space. As biog­ra­ph­er John Szwed records him say­ing, “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. And that’s just what he did, chang­ing his name from Her­man Blount and nev­er look­ing back.

Whether you believe that sto­ry, whether Sun Ra believes it, or whether his entire per­sona is a the­atri­cal put-on should make no dif­fer­ence. Because Sun Ra would be a vision­ary either way. Com­bin­ing Afro­cen­tric sci­ence fic­tion, eso­teric and occult phi­los­o­phy, Egyp­tol­ogy, and, with his “Arkestra,” his own brand of free jazz-futur­ism that has no equal on earth, the man is tru­ly sui gener­is. In 1971, he served as artist-in-res­i­dence at UC Berke­ley and offered a spring semes­ter lec­ture, African-Amer­i­can Stud­ies 198, also known as “Sun Ra 171,” “The Black Man in the Uni­verse,” or “The Black man in the Cos­mos.” The course fea­tured read­ings from—to name just a few—theosophist Madame Blavatsky, French philoso­pher Con­stan­tin Fran­cois de Chas­se­boeuf, black Amer­i­can writer and poet Hen­ry Dumas, and “God,” whom the cos­mic jazz the­o­rist report­ed­ly list­ed as the author of The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (oth­er­wise known as the King James Bible).

Now we have the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear a full lec­ture from that class, thanks to Lis­ten to Sun Ra spin his intri­cate, bizarrely oth­er­world­ly the­o­ries, drawn from his per­son­al phi­los­o­phy, pecu­liar ety­molo­gies, and idio­syn­crat­ic read­ings of reli­gious texts. Hear­ing him speak is a lit­tle like hear­ing him play, so be pre­pared for a lot of free asso­ci­a­tion and jar­ring, unex­pect­ed jux­ta­po­si­tions. Szwed describes a “typ­i­cal lec­ture” below:

Sun Ra wrote bib­li­cal quotes on the board and then ‘per­mu­tat­ed’ them—rewrote and trans­formed their let­ters and syn­tax into new equa­tions of mean­ing, while mem­bers of the Arkestra passed through the room, pre­vent­ing any­one from tap­ing the class. His lec­ture sub­jects includ­ed Neo­pla­ton­ic doc­trines; the appli­ca­tion of ancient his­to­ry and reli­gious texts to racial prob­lems; pol­lu­tion and war; and a rad­i­cal rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Bible in light of Egyp­tol­ogy.

Luck­i­ly for us, some sly stu­dent cap­tured one of those lec­tures on tape.

For more of Pro­fes­sor Ra’s spaced out pre­sen­ta­tion, see the Helsin­ki inter­view above, also from 1971. And if you decide you need your own edu­ca­tion in “Sun Ra 171,” see the full read­ing list from his Berke­ley course below, cour­tesy of the blog New Day.

The Egypt­ian Book of the Dead


Alexan­der His­lop: Two Baby­lons

The Theo­soph­i­cal works of Madame Blavatsky

The Book of Oah­spe

Hen­ry Dumas: Ark of Bones

Hen­ry Dumas: Poet­ry for My Peo­ple eds. Hale Charfield & Eugene Red­mond, Car­bon­dale: South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­si­ty Press 1971

Black Fire: An Anthol­o­gy of Afro-Amer­i­can Writ­ing, eds. Leroi Jones & Lar­ry Neal, New York: William Mor­row 1968

David Liv­ingston: Mis­sion­ary Trav­els

Theodore P. Ford: God Wills the Negro

Rut­ledge: God’s Chil­dren

Sty­lus, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1971), Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty

John S. Wil­son: Jazz. Where It Came From, Where It’s At, Unit­ed States Infor­ma­tion Agency

Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochan­nan: Black Man of the Nile and His Fam­i­ly, Alk­ibu Ian Books 1972

Con­stan­tin Fran­cois de Chas­se­boeuf, Comte de Vol­ney: The Ruins, or, Med­i­ta­tion on the Rev­o­lu­tions of Empires, and the Law of Nature, Lon­don: Pio­neer Press 1921

The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (Ra’s descrip­tion; = The King James Bible)

Pjotr Demi­anovitch Ous­pen­sky: A New Mod­el of the Uni­verse. Prin­ci­ples of the Psy­cho­log­i­cal Method in Its Appli­ca­tion to Prob­lems of Sci­ence, Reli­gion and Art, New York: Knopf 1956

Fred­er­ick Bod­mer: The Loom of Lan­guage. An Approach to the Mas­tery of Many Lan­guages, ed. Lancelot Hog­ben, New York: Nor­ton & Co. 1944

Black­ie’s Ety­mol­o­gy

Count­less oth­er free cours­es from UC Berke­ley can be found in our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds and audio cour­tesy of Sen­si­tive Skin Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Her­bie Han­cock Presents the Pres­ti­gious Nor­ton Lec­tures at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty: Watch Online

Son­ic Youth Gui­tarist Thurston Moore Teach­es a Poet­ry Work­shop at Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty: See His Class Notes (2011)

Space Jazz, a Son­ic Sci-Fi Opera by L. Ron Hub­bard, Fea­tur­ing Chick Corea (1983)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Future Twin says:


  • TRIPPO MARX says:

    If we came from nowhere here why can’t we go some­where there?

  • gerhard koehler says:

    where can i get dics of sun ra?

  • Jesus R says:


    A great start­ing point is the new Sun Ra com­pi­la­tion curat­ed by Mar­shall Allen, “In The Orbit Of Ra”:

    Hope that helps. Orig­i­nals are very hard to find or incred­i­bly expen­sive. Some labels have been reis­su­ing his work and there has been a great re-release cam­paign on iTunes where you can find new­ly mas­tered ver­sions of most of his essen­tial albums.

  • says:

    seems like kind of a dick move to reskin the mp3 file and hotlink to it on Sen­si­tive Skin with­out even giv­ing them a men­tion or a link

  • Joyce Dade says:

    I lis­tened and I learned. In my wildest dreams, how was I to know I would encounter the live voice of Sun Ra today and become at once, a stu­dent of his, and hang­ing on his every word. I am grate­ful to the author of this pre­sen­ta­tion, Josh Jones and Open Cul­ture for this. Thank you. I saw Sun Ra only twic and although some might say, twice ought to be enough. It was the being in the pres­ence of this man and his Arkestra that count­ed most, that I can say in hon­esty, I was there. I saw him liv­ing and breath­ing and per­form­ing live at two Jazz clubs in NYC when I was young and he was going strong. I am a visu­al artist. I know lit­tle about the mechan­ics of music, although I have stud­ied Ori­en­tal phi­los­o­phy and West­ern phi­los­o­phy, Sun Ra’s spin on phi­los­o­phy, I find fas­ci­nat­ing to say the least. I need to replay and notate and rethink and digest and come to my own con­clu­sions about the state­ments and dec­la­ra­tions he made that day this record­ing was made, almost half a cen­tu­ry ago, and make some com­pre­hen­sive sense of how it fits into my own bi-racial phi­los­o­phy and under­stand­ing of the mean­ing of life. If only I could hear Sun Ra sing, “Stars Fell on Alaba­ma,” or “I Dream to Much,” it would be as if the icing had been put on the cake, the cher­ry on the sun­dae and the dream real­ized all at once. Thank you for writ­ing and pre­sent­ing this arti­cle with the rare audio lec­ture, and now I must return to the every­day, return to earth from the cos­mos.

  • Buck Stronghard says:

    Sun Ra is so full of shit, I can’t believe some­body gave him a job teach­ing.

  • Heidi says:

    I rec­om­mend you get in touch with the Hinds broth­ers, who pub­lished a ‘zine, Sun Ra Research, for a decade or so(?).

    They spent as much time as they pos­si­bly could with Sun Ra, record­ed inter­views and basi­cal­ly every­thing the man said. They’re in San Fran­cis­co. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing. When­ev­er they could­n’t under­stand him, they wrote, “unde­ci­pher­able.” It hap­pened a lot, but you sure­ly would get the gist of what the man was puttin’ down.

    I love Sun Ra. I first saw him in 1980 in Hous­ton. The music was spec­tac­u­lar. See­ing him and the Arkestra per­form changed my life. It was live performance/life per­for­mance. After see­ing them, I under­stood that I need to be in the room when art/music/life hap­pens. It’s only by being in the room that you enter into a shared organism/experience with the per­form­ers. I’m so damn glad I was 20 when it hap­pened. It was an ear­ly incor­po­ra­tion into my sys­tem of liv­ing. (Oh, y’know I’m eas­i­ly swayed into lofti­ness and B.S. by talk­ing about Sun Ra.)

    Here’s the link:

    Here’s a link to their works,

  • brother flagg says:

    Joyce, I feel you. Sun­Ra is way too deep for most. Nev­er the less he had much wis­dom to share, and he did. And for that I am grate­ful.

  • Sam says:

    This was a 1971 course?

    How is it that one of books, Black Man in the Nile, was pub­lished in 1972?

  • ntrs says:

    Anoth­er quote of his, from the lec­ture. Fun­ny how white lib­er­als, who are per­fect­ly described in this, pur­pose­ful­ly over­look it:

    “Ain’t noth­ing white good. Every­thing white is evil and wicked. I ain’t nev­er met a good white per­son, and i nev­er will. Because they weren’t made good. They were made evil and wicked.”

  • norma baxter brown says:




  • brother Tom says:

    eras­mus ,
    I hope you live to re track you state­ment.
    Peo­ple judge by the way they are and think.
    A per­son who can not hear the truth from a gen­uine
    source of wis­dom i.e. Le Sun Ra , has not a source of
    wis­dom and truth w/in them­selves. Think on that for a
    good long while.
    I have met and talked w/ le Sun Ra , He was the most gra­cious man i ve EVER met. I expe­ri­enced him and June and Mar­shall and all of the singers and play­ers of instru­ments of the ARKESTRA on three sep­a­rate occa­sions.
    I was ” Grant­ed audi­ence” , just like meet­ing a roy­al King, He and I talked at length on mat­ters con­cern­ing the whole (HUMAN) race. The twins record­ed it (btw)
    He was a stream of con­scious­ness poet. A very Deep SOUL. Please Sir re- con­sid­er your own race relat­ed
    Your name is close to a answer to our prej­u­di­cial prob­lem here on plan­et earth .… Era­sism , can you Dig it ? Erase ism , we all need to make a inner com­mit­ment to doing what we can ‑seen?
    ( to Erase Racism )
    Sun Ra said him­self that he was a test to see if peo­ple could han­dle some­thing dif­fer­ent.
    Sun Ra Lives in the hearts and minds of us all who
    inner­stand his mes­sage and love .
    p.s. after all ( esp. inter­net ” trollers”)
    KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR — fer realz!

  • Pablo Diablo says:


  • Robert Dickow says:

    I took this course in ’71 (and got an ‘A’ in it!). At least I think that was the course. The title of the course I took was ‘Per­vista’ as list­ed in the UC course cat­a­log, but–like the name of the ‘Arkestra’– the title might well have changed from day to day. It was kind of hard to know what the gist of the course actu­al­ly was. Egyp­tol­ogy? Astrology/Astronomy? Social/Race issues? It was a sum­mer ses­sion class. The sum­mer was hot. I was impressed that Sun­Ra wore a heavy African style coat and his sig­na­ture fur hat nev­er­the­less. I stuck out the lec­tures until one day, when only about 7 peo­ple (out of the 25 or so who signed up) were present in the hall. Sun­Ra announced, quite out of the blue, that ‘the rea­son I’m telling you all this is so you can under­stand my music.” Ah! He actu­al­ly only rarely brought up the sub­ject of his music (though he did screen ‘The Cry of Jazz’ one day.). Sure enough, to close the lec­ture, his band came on stage and they played for a good while, with a cou­ple of his scarf dancers in front of the prosce­ni­um, and a slide show of the stars and plan­ets on a screen. To close, the musi­cians walked off stage one by one, with the remain­der still play­ing– Farewell Sym­pho­ny style. Sun­Ra was the last on stage, and he slow­ly walked off s tage as well, while is elec­tric piano/synth seam­less­ly con­tin­ued to play with­out him. Wild!! Any­way, this expe­ri­ence of mine paid off a few years lat­er, when MacMil­lan press asked me to write the bio arti­cle on Sun­Ra that appears in Grove’s Dic­tio­nary and the Dic­tio­nary of Jazz, etc. To get the ‘A,’ I wrote a term paper. I doubt Sun­Ra him­self grad­ed it. He prob­a­bly had read­ers to do the grad­ing. The only grade record­ed for the entire course was for the term paper. Dur­ing one lec­ture he stat­ed that the black peo­ple were cursed in the Bible. I researched that top­ic, and it appeared that the notion was based on the ‘Curse of Ham’ pas­sage. The idea actu­al­ly is based on a mis­read­ing of the pas­sage. The blacks are not cursed in that pas­sage. My argu­ment and report on the analy­ses of oth­ers about the pas­sage in ques­tion was evi­dent­ly looked upon favor­ably by the grad­er!

  • Shahid JIMMI EsSpirit says:

    @🎼🎹🎶🎷🥁with The ARKESTRA = 33-Days @🇺🇸.
    An Enlight­en­ing.

  • C.Patricia Reyes says:

    Wow, I love every­thing relat­ed to the sun. I had no idea about this per­son Sun Ra. My friend post­ed this in her FB page and I clicked on it just because of the ref­er­ence to the sun. In 2005 the spoke with me when I was out­side want­i­ng to take my life. Sec­ond attempt. The Sun changed my exis­tence and from there we had a series of con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing which I received guid­ance to heal and start over. I kept this as a secret avoid­ing to be called crazy. But now, years lat­er, I am about to pub­lish a book about it. I titled it “Sun­di­al in the Shad­ow” Tak­ing my Inner Girl From Sui­ci­dal Depres­sion to a Man­ing­ful Life. I have extend­ed my research and I learned late­ly that peo­ple in the past used to adore the Sun until Chris­tians cre­at­ed Jesus and put him in the sun’s place. There are numer­ous pas­sages in their bible that appar­ent­ly indi­cate so. I don’t know. That’s not what my book is about. But I men­tion it because there is so much that we humans ignore; for­ev­er mys­ter­ies. I now keep an open mind, wel­com­ing or respect­ing what ppl like Sun Ra shares. I’ll het to lis­ten to his lec­tures and music now.

  • Richard says:

    It was Berke­ley. It was the ’70’s. Need you say more?

  • Judy sorro says:

    Man­ny years ago I was at the explorato­ri­um in San Fran­cis­co when it was at the palace of fine arts
    While wan­der­ing around I found this “thing “ for a bet­ter word and when you moved your hands with­out touch­ing it . It made this won­der­ful whis­per­ing vibra­tional tone. A man approached
    With 2 oth­er men . The one man began play­ing with me on this “thing” we did it for a bit of time smil­ing at each oth­er.
    This man was Sun Ra

    One of the trea­sured moments in my life

  • Anita says:

    The BEST live con­cert I’ve EVER experienced…and Sun Ra IS an expe­ri­ence!

  • Anita says:

    The “thing” is called a theremin.

  • JDV says:

    Same here. Oh well.

  • Stuart says:

    It is won­der­ful to see inter­est con­tin­ue in Sun Ra and his music and phi­los­o­phy. I play music in jazz and relat­ed fields, and it seems like there’s more inter­est in him now than ever. His music remains, get­ting played, lis­tened to, and talked about.

    I was for­tu­nate to see the man and his Arkestra twice in Detroit, once in a cool club, packed, and once at an out­door are­na on the Detroit Riv­er, also packed.

  • Bill Hannaford says:

    Wow this was actu­al­ly a course? After hear­ing this I came away think­ing wow what a racist. I could han­dle that ol Her­man con­vinced him­self that he built the pyra­mids and that whole crazy his­to­ry (how are Egyp­tians from Alaba­ma?) but the racist stuff, no thanks. I think it was all a crock.

  • Dr. Hand says:

    There was a dif­fer­ent read­ing list that includ­ed the Uran­tia Book, for a class before 71′ in Harlem or some­where- for the arkestra only. It has since dis­ap­peared and replaced by the 71 class read­ing list copied over and over on many web­sights — where­as the orig­i­nal list had none of the books the 71 list so called had. He’s the rea­son I got Uran­tia.

  • tom says:

    Rare Sun Ra (Sat­urn) vinyl for sale on my discogs page:

    Check it.

  • djtomthump says:


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