Sunday, August 24, 2014

Part 3 of Exclusive Interview with Irwin Chusid, Administrator for Sun Ra LLC

Christopher Eddy from Sun Ra Arkive: The history of Sun Ra, Alton Abraham and Saturn Research’s business dealings is a long a convoluted one, with an endless trail of agreements, infringements, and disarray. It appears that many of these problems persist. How do you intend to “organize the organization”? 

Irwin Chusid, Administrator for Sun Ra LLC: I undertook representation of Sun Ra LLC—the heirs who lawfully own the recordings and publishing (Enterplanetary Koncepts, a BMI company)—in December 2013, but it was not a management or administrative position per se. It provided me with authority to make inquiries, request documents, and challenge alleged malefactors. In late July 2014, we formalized the arrangement with a more detailed agreement that expands my authorities and makes me the de facto administrator. 

One of the first things I did early on was to forge an alliance between the LLC as rights owners and Michael, who has custody of countless archival session tapes. The LLC owns the rights—I’ve conclusively established chain-of-title from Sun Ra’s death thru several intra-family transfers of his assets, but always with the same principals. There were legal, financial, and geographic reasons why the assets went from conservatorship to estate, to Alabama-based ‘S’ corporation, and finally to Georgia-based LLC. There are no gaps. 

Michael, who played drums for Sun Ra and lived at Saturn House during the 1970s, was Sun Ra’s designated tape librarian. Michael has devoted his life to the safekeeping of those reels and the historic sounds embedded on magnetic plastic film. He’s compiled a meticulous database of what’s on the tapes. He’s very protective of this collection and has a spiritual connection to the music. He doesn’t have a “job”—he has a commitment. There’s no way this material could be commercially developed without Michael’s involvement. He is irreplaceable because he doesn’t just know the music and the contents of tapes—he knows the history of Sun Ra and the various members of the Arkestra. He can put everything in context, including people who have been involved with the catalog over the years but aren’t directly connected to Sun Ra or the Arkestra. Some of this history is documented on paper, some is in his computers, and a lot of it is in his head. I love Michael for who he is and what he does. But I worry about him—his health, his moodswings, his ability to pay the rent. He has become extremely reclusive. 

There has long been a tacit understanding between the family and Michael, each acknowledging the other’s involvement and role, neither interfering with the other, but with little communication and no coordinated effort to run a business. It was obvious to me that these two sides were dependent on each other, and each had an essential role. Business and art. When ownership rights are disrespected or threatened from outside, both sides need to cooperate to protect the realm. Hence, the new alliance. We now have a team with coordinated goals. 

And just to clarify one common misunderstanding: there is no “Sun Ra estate.” There was, but it was closed in 1999 and the executrix, Marie Holston (a niece), was discharged. The estate was replaced by Sun Ra, Inc., with Jenkins as managing director. That ‘S’ corporation was dissolved in 2005 and replaced by Sun Ra LLC, again with Jenkins in charge. Same family principals in each case, with heirs replacing decedents.

Alton Abraham tried twice in court during the 1990s to claim administrative rights over the estate. However, he couldn’t produce a single document proving an active business partnership with Sun Ra at the time of the latter’s death. Judicial decrees were issued denying his claims. That said, anyone who knows the history of Sun Ra acknowledges that without Alton Abraham, the world might never have known about Sun Ra, whose career might not have progressed beyond the strip clubs of Calumet City. They, too, were a team, dependent on each other, with complementary skills. But strong personalities often clash. They went thru a nasty professional divorce, and Sunny ended up owning the store. It was, after all, his music.

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Michael Anderson and Irwin Chusid, September 2013.

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