Happy Birthday to the King, Pharoah Sanders (1940 - 2022)


Pharoah Sanders smiling in sunlight. Photograph by Eric Welles-Nyström.

Happy birthday to the King.

Today, October 13, is the birthday of someone who we’re missing very much. Pharoah Sanders would have been 82. It’s maybe strange to say this about someone who lived such a long life and did so much with his time on this earth, but he was such a force, it feels like he had more to do, more that he wanted to do, and it’s hard to come to terms with that loss. Until the end, he just wanted to keep playing, and kept asking about new projects and making plans for the coming year.

Today we want to celebrate him and what he shared with us when he was here. There was that first time he played at a rehearsal in Australia, and a few years later, of course, that very first time he played on Promises.

Pharoah Sanders. Photographed by Eric Welles-Nyström.

When you miss someone, it’s not always the big things you miss, it’s the everyday stuff, like just hanging out and listening to music—or just the trees. Lunches at Langers, breakfasts at Roscoe’s and dinners at the local Thai spot, whether that was home in LA, or when on the road in NY, Europe or Australia. Here’s one of Eric’s favorite memories:

“It was an evening during the ten days when we recorded Promises in LA, and I went to Pharoah's house on one of the days off. His speakers were blown and his CD collection in disorder, so I drove around his neighborhood to see what I could find to fix it. He was so eager to listen to what Sam and him had been making, and just wanted to play it over... and over... and over again. It wasn't just that he was excited by their music, but he also was never satisfied with his own contribution. How was his playing and how could he improve it before the next take? Did it really sound the way he wanted it to? His drive to practice and constantly improve was relentless.

Pharoah Sanders. Photographed by Eric Welles-Nyström.

After tidying up the sound system and getting it set up for him to listen, a family friend brought us a slice of carrot cake and a glass of milk for his night snack, and we took this photo together. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. He told me some stories that I wish I remember now, and would then occasionally drift off, listening to the music. He was so beautiful. His hands... that incredible beard... and the striking features of his face. Seeing him being at peace and just 'listening', was one of my favorite things in the world.

Pharoah Sanders. Photographed by Eric Welles-Nyström.

As I left him to rest a little bit later, he gave me a hug and said "awww I love you man! Thank you so much!!" His gratitude for the smallest of things would always catch me off guard. He was such a beautiful human being and I miss him dearly.”

Pharoah, we love you.

Happy birthday.


P.S. A lot of beautiful things have been said about Pharoah since his passing. When you have the time, check out Marcus J. Moore’s obituary in New York Magazine, or the French writer Pierre Crepon’s essay in The Wire. The author Hua Hsu very much hit the nail on the head here.

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