Sun, Sin & Starvation: Sun Ra’s Strip Club residencies

Later famous for the otherworldly and enigmatic music he created for his Arkestra, bandleader/keyboardist/composer Sun Ra initially worked at every musical gig he could while creating his own visionary sounds. In this fascinating article from Lapham’s Quarterly John Corbett outlines the jobbing Ra and others had to take, especially in the Chicago area. Although many know about the band’s later struggles in New York, where for instance band stalwart tenor saxophonist John Gilmore joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a year and Ra and other Arkestra members played on limbo and Batman themed records, the musical heavy lifting had taken place in the early 1950s. For steady work and as a way to hone their chops, Ra and other committed musicians such as saxophonist Red Holloway and drummer Robert Barry among many others labored from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in  sleazy, often dangerous Mafia-controlled strips clubs in Calumet City, Illinois, 20 miles from Chicago.