DANCING the Spaceways with the Sun Ra Arkestra
The Sun Ra Centennial Dream Arkestra, under the Direction of Marshall Allen has been on a steady, extensive tour schedule throughout Europe since May, 2014. They are also scheduled to go to Japan before I get picked up for another 6-country European tour in July, where I will share the dance floor with the legendary Wisteria! I don’t recall that we ever shared the stage in the past; she was stationed on the West Coast, and I was on the Eastern Seaboard. We’re the last dancers standing who performed with Sun Ra. WHAT A BLESSSING to be a part of this tour! This year (2014) would’ve been Sun Ra’s 100th birthday. Commemorative performances began last fall, and continue throughout this year.
Sunny let me join the band in the summer of 1979. It never would've happened had it not been for Bro. Yahyah, who took me down to the Bayou (a club that was on K. St. in Washington, D.C. at the time) where the Arkestra was playing that evening. I don’t believe Yahyah was even a member of the band at the time, but he eventually joined. He told Marshall I could dance, and Marshall relayed the information to Sunny. Next thing I knew, I was invited to join the Arkestra onstage! I remember EXACTLY what I wore; my favorite golden-yellow, floor-length sun dress. I recall the hem of the dress was torn after I finished, but I didn't care. I have NO recollection of what I did, but after the show, Marshall delivered the message that I was "in." After that, whenever I was in proximity of the Arkestra, Marshall would always ask me, "You gonna dance...?"
In the earlier days, we truly did it for the love of The Music because often there simply wasn’t enough money to go around. Despite this, Sunny always managed to pay me a minimum of $20 a night. I had the opportunity to tour with the Arkestra back then, but didn’t. Sunny would often call “a tour” without any detailed plans other than “we’re going!” I could’ve been a part of one of those tours; was considering it until one evening at Blues Alley in D.C., Ed Cherry (guitar, sideman for Dizzy Gillespie for many years) related a story to me about running into the Arkestra while he was touring with Dizzy in Europe (they were in Italy, at the time). I don’t remember who Ed said he was talking to but at one point, the Arkestra member asked Ed where they were staying and Ed told him the name of the hotel. When Ed asked where the Arkestra was staying, the Brother replied, “Man, we’re sleeping on the bus…”
Hearing this, I recalled an incident where I was warming up backstage (stretching). An Arkestra member at the time (currently deceased) standing nearby was observing me. He was pissy drunk. The FILTH slurred out of that man’s mouth toward me made Marshall Allen blush. Marshall looked so embarrassed, I felt bad FOR HIM.
With that said, there were several “characters” in the band at the time I did not want to be sleeping in a bus with, on the side of the road in some foreign country! I regretted that decision for many years; felt I missed a really great opportunity. That was in the ‘80s. I did some stateside performances with the Arkestra in subsequent years, but never toured…
Fast-forward to some 30 years later. Had been through some major challenges, but managed to find some peace in a meditation this particular morning. The date was April 12, 2012. I go to my computer to check my e-mails. I notice a message simply stating “The Sun Ra Arkestra” in the subject field. Also saw a similar Facebook notice. I thought it was an announcement about upcoming performances. Turned out it was indeed a notice about upcoming performances that I was being requested to participate in. In SWITZERLAND, for 2 WEEKS; date of departure June 9, one day after my birthday!
Since that magical 2 weeks, I have performed with the Arkestra in Mexico City, New York and Philadelphia (Marshall Allen’s 89th birthday). I didn’t even know I was on the roster for this latest excursion; a 6-country European tour, in honor of Sun Ra’s Centennial. The tour schedule can be accessed through this LINK: http://www.hillstone.jp/artists/sun-ra-arkestra/#coco
I envisioned myself dancing for a very long time, but performing in this capacity as a dancer at this stage of my life was beyond my wildest dreams! And gone are the days of camping out and waiting backstage all night for 20 bucks! Dues Paid by ALL still standing! Just goes to show, some opportunities are simply meant to be. Faith and Patience reaps rewards! I Give Thanks for Bro. Yahyah, for seeing the connection back in ‘79!
The Sun Ra Arkhestra tour schedule can be accessed here.
Chandra Washington is a Dancer, Vocalist, Percussionist, Performance Poet, Writer, and Healing Cuisine Culinary Artist. She is Artistic Director of Healing Caravan, and author of a self-help book for youth, No Mistake: Journey to Self-Acceptance.