Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Black Artists Who Made Music History | Pharoah Sanders


Each genre has its titans — the almost mythical people who changed the landscape of music in and outside of that genre’s bubble. For spiritual jazz, Pharoah Sanders is one of these people, having led and played on some of the genre’s most revered records. 

But Sanders’ influence soars well beyond the label of jazz and the many subgenres he explored within it. His work influenced the likes of Prince, Marvin Gaye and Iggy Pop, and these artists are just a speck of a speck of a speck in a great cosmic soup of ears entranced by this man who jazz legend Ornette Coleman described as “probably the best tenor player in the world.” 

Sanders was born on Oct. 13, 1940, in Little Rock, Arkansas, entering a life in music by playing along to church hymns on his clarinet. In high school, he began to play the tenor saxophone, the instrument with which he would change the face of jazz.

In 1961, Sanders moved to New York City, joining fellow jazz legend Sun Ra’s Arkestra one year later. After establishing himself with Sun Ra, Sanders took flight, forming his own band and playing on the records of John Coltrane, who some believe to be jazz’s ultimate player. 

Sanders came to be known for his meditative, improvisational, sometimes chaotic style, which found its roots in his work with Coltrane and in religion. The concepts of Karma and Tawhid — the oneness of God in Islam — were regularly referenced in his compositions. 

Sanders’ body of work was one of healing, of peace, of rebellion. Free and spiritual jazz became the perfect forms for Sanders to speak through, as they were genres focused on the destruction — or leaving behind — of genre itself, and, therefore, the destruction of barriers of all kinds. Sanders and his contemporaries were rebels, both musically and socially, showcasing the incalculable, powerful and free nature of a thing like love. 

Sanders’ important works are numerous, especially when considering his time in other artists’ bands, but here are a few of my favorite tracks from him. When listening, one need not be religious to know they are seeing the sonic face of God.

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About the Contributor
Mike Merucci, Entertainment Editor/Host of The Afterglow
Mike Merucci (he/him) is a creative advertising major here at Michigan State, and with a Dr. Pepper always in hand, he leads the Impact's music journalism efforts. His musical loves are Death Grips, Tim Hecker and Carly Rae Jepsen; these loves only build up to his greatest love of all, the Buffalo Bills. "I'm smoking cigarettes in the shower, when they get wet I just light another." - Death Grips

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