Rock music and biomedical science are strange bedfellows, but it is the bed that John Blangero, has made for himself. One listen to Delta Tales, the soulful debut album he released in 2020 under his aflter-ego, Sun King Rising, will make the oddness of that pairing seem almost normal. The intermingling of his music and his work as a genetic scientist are not strange at all, it turns out. “Call it the Genetics of Soul,” he says.
The follow up, Signs & Wonders, was released in October 2022. John calls it “The New Wave of Southern Rock ‘n Soul Music.” Lyrically, the songs of both albums are vignettes of love found, love lost, family, faith, historical burden, betrayal, sin, and redemption, set in a southern cultural landscape, but still expressing themes that are universal and compelling.
Although born and raised in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, John’s connection to Southern music is at least partially explained by his mother’s upbringing. “I’d always heard a lot of hymns,” John recalls. “My mother comes from a Southern family…[they were] Primitive Baptists,” a group known for its “sacred harp” gospel singing.
His musical journey involved a typical rebellion against his beginnings playing hymns on piano, as he spent his teens and subsequent years doing rock & roll, mainly as a front man. He let the piano fade into the rear view for an extended period. However, as he has evolved musically, the instrument has reasserted its importance for him. “I didn’t play piano for quite a while there…Now I’m very focused on keyboards,” says John.
When asked about his distinctive alter-ego, John explains, “I’m kind of a flamboyant dresser and speaker. I have a notable look with my ‘lion’s mane’…As a scientific speaker, people started calling me the “Sun King” because there was resemblance with the French Sun King…” (Louis XIV).
By Dan Walsh