Ronnie Boykins

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Ronnie Boykins
Birth nameRonald Boykins
Born(1935-12-17)December 17, 1935
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 20, 1980(1980-04-20) (aged 44)
InstrumentsDouble Bass
Associated actsSun Ra

Ronald Boykins (December 17, 1935 – April 20, 1980) was a jazz bassist and is best known for his work with pianist/bandleader Sun Ra, although he had played with such disparate musicians as Muddy Waters, Johnny Griffin, and Jimmy Witherspoon prior to joining Sun Ra's Arkestra.[1]


Like his fellow Sun Ra bandmates, John Gilmore and Pat Patrick, Boykins attended Chicago's DuSable High School and studied under its famed music teacher "Captain" Walter Dyett. He also studied with Ernie Shepard, who would later work with Duke Ellington.[2] Boykins joined the Arkestra in 1958, during the Chicago period,[3] and travelled with them to Canada and then to New York City.[4] Boykins has been described as "the pivot around which much of Sun Ra's music revolved for eight years, as well as one of the most determining elements in the sound of the Arkestra."[2] This is especially pronounced on the key recordings from 1965 (The Magic City, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two) where the intertwining lines of Boykins' bass and Ra's electronic keyboards provide the cohesion. Boykins' arco solo on Sun Ra's "Rocket No. 9 Take Off for Planet Venus" from 1960 may be the first recorded example of the bass being played in a horn-like manner within a relatively free context, predating similar work by Alan Silva and David Izenzon.[2] Boykins appeared on over fifty Sun Ra albums, and was a regular member of Sun Ra's band from 1958 until 1966, and occasionally thereafter.[5]

Before joining Ra, Boykins had joined with a trombonist friend to open a private club—The House of Culture—with the intent of promoting black culture.[2]

In 1962, Boykins recorded with the hard bop tenor saxophonist Bill Barron and, the next year, with pianist Elmo Hope.[5] Boykins worked with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp's New York Contemporary Five in 1964.[5] He left Ra in 1966, ostensibly to pursue more lucrative opportunities. Ra had a difficult time finding a replacement, at times settling for playing his own bass lines on keyboard.[6]

In the late '60s, Boykins formed his own group, the Free Jazz Society, which included the pianist John Hicks.[5]

In the '70s, Boykins played with the Melodic Art-tet, a cooperative free jazz ensemble that also included drummer Roger Blank, saxophonist Charles Brackeen, and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah.[5]

In 1975, the bassist led a session for ESP Disk that produced his sole LP as a leader, The Will Come, Is Now. Reviewer Jerry D'Souza wrote: "Boykins made just one record as leader, but it marks his place as an adventurous bassist and a composer with a gift for style and genre."[7]

In 1979 he played with Steve Lacy and Dennis Charles on Capers. In the course of his career, Boykins also worked with Mary Lou Williams, Marion Brown, and Sarah Vaughan, among others.[5]

He died in New York City in 1980 at the age of 44.[1]


As leader[edit]

  • 1975: The Will Come, Is Now

As sideman[edit]

For albums with Sun Ra see the Sun Ra discography


  1. ^ a b Wilmer, Val (2018). As Serious as your Life. Serpent's Tail. p. 357.
  2. ^ a b c d Wilmer, Val (2018). As Serious as your Life. Serpent's Tail. p. 111.
  3. ^ Wilmer, Val (2018). As Serious as your Life. Serpent's Tail. p. 103.
  4. ^ Wilmer, Val (2018). As Serious as your Life. Serpent's Tail. p. 115.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Kelsey, Chris. "Ronnie Boykins: Biography". Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  6. ^ Wilmer, Val (2018). As Serious as your Life. Serpent's Tail. p. 118.
  7. ^ D'Souza, Jerry (May 31, 2009). "Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now". Retrieved July 18, 2020.