THE DEVELOPMENT OF
THE EXPERIMENTAL BAND
For many musicians, the space race began not in 1957 with the Soviet Union's launch of the satellite Sputnik, but in 1946, when the pianist Herman Blount came up on the train from Birmingham to Bronzeville. Soon after his arrival, Sonny (as he was called) landed a job with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra at the Club De Lisa on 55th and State, a gig that he held down until mid-1947, when the Red Saunders Band succeeded Henderson. Sonny stayed on, rehearsing the band and refashioning Saunders's backup arrangements for singers like Laverne Baker, Dakota Staton, Joe Williams, and Sarah Vaughan. Blount founded his own band in 1950, with people like saxophonists Harold Ousley, Von Freeman, Earl Ezell (later Ahmad Salaheldeen), and John Jenkins, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Vernel Fournier.
Sometime in 1952, Blount announced that the Creator had ordered him to change his name. He went downtown to the Circuit Court of Cook County and legally became “Le Sony'r Ra.” In addition, he registered a business under the name of “Sun Ra.”1 Most musicians in Chicago, however, still knew him as Sonny, one of the qualified musicians of the South Side's musical community. As Jodie Christian remembers,