Source: The New Yorker.
Ferrell Sanders was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1940. His mother was a school-cafeteria cook, and his father worked for the city. When Sanders was growing up, someone at his church advertised a metal clarinet for sale; the previous owner had died in his nineties. Sanders couldn’t afford to buy it outright, so he paid twenty cents a week until it was his. He began taking music seriously in high school, encouraged by a teacher, and traded in his clarinet for a saxophone. At the time, Little Rock was an important stop for Black musicians touring in the segregated South, and Sanders honed his skills jamming with the R. & B. and jazz groups that came through town. After graduating, he briefly lived in Oakland, and then, in 1962, hitchhiked to New York, drawn by the jazz greats working there. He was broke when he arrived, and he picked up odd jobs to make a living, sleeping wherever he could. Soon, he met the visionary bandleader Sun Ra, who offered him a place to stay and a spot in his cosmic-jazz ensemble, Arkestra. The band’s aesthetic drew equally from ancient Egypt and the year 3000. According to Ra’s biographer, John Szwed, Ra gifted Sanders a pair of green-and-yellow pants. He also gave him a new name: Pharoah.