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Today, a brief review of The Cosmo-Biography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening, which is a bit delayed - I've had a review copy here from Candlewick Press for a couple of months. Hoping to get myself back into the swing of things by actually getting to the things I've been meaning to do, so this is one of them.

This picture book biography of the jazz musician Sun Ra features exuberant illustrations in a riot of colors. There's a concise more "adult" biography of Sun Ra (Herman P. "Sonny" Blount) at the back of the book, along with a page full of Selected Recordings. The text itself includes the sort of information folks usually like to know, with the occasional poetically beautiful line thrown in for emphasis, as on the second two-page spread, where Sun Ra's childhood is introduced:

Being from another planet, Sun Ra was naturally interested in everything earthy. Trees, clouds, and spotted dogs; apples, hot dogs, and corn on the cob; hats, socks, and wigs; drawing, dancing, and throwing a ball.

And most of all, music!

It was the thing about the earth that was most like the stars.

The book includes fascinating information on Sun Ra, including his interest in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, his musical prodigy, and his conscientious objection during World War II. One of my favorite images from the book may be the two-page spread introducing some of the other musicians with whom Sun Ra played. He's shown in a red suit, near his piano, while the other musicians are a bit more classically attired in black suits and skinny ties:

Again, the expository text on the first page sets up a poetic conclusion:

"Sun Ra drew other musicians to him. They played in small groups, medium-size groups, and big groups, with singers or without singers--all kinds of ways. They were like sailors on a boat bound for a new world, a new world of sound." See what I mean?

Turns out that Sun Ra was a pioneer in the use of electronic keyboards - he was given a prototype mini-Moog by the inventor of the electronic keyboard, though that's one of the thousands of details about Sun Ra's life left out of the book - and created music that was pushing the boundaries of jazz at the time.

Raschka has done a terrific job of presenting the basic outline of Sun Ra's life, with just enough colorful detail to make it swing - not an easy feat when summarizing the life of a man who lived to be 79 years old and had a varied and fascinating life and career.

A great purchase for school and public libraries looking to expand their collections on musicians and/or African American history, even though the book itself is limited to Sun Ra's peaceable nature and dismay at racism, and does not truly examine his place in African American history. (For instance, it does not mention his central position in the movement known as "Afrofuturism", nor his early ties to the black liberation movement, which he later moved away from once the Black Power movement of the 1960s came to the fore, largely due to its use of violence.) Still, it's an original take on a biography of a true original, and it's not often you can say that.

You can see the book trailer for the book here:

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