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Pharoah Sanders in Billboard, 1969–1974

Pierre Crépon


Nonstandard music does not sell: this is a fact of life, except when, once in a while, it does. Pharoah Sanders (1940–2022), one of the key players of the 1960s jazz avant-garde, had a noticeable presence on the one readily available measurement for this aspect of an artist’s career: the charts. The following article gathers chart data on Sanders’s albums found in Billboard, the music industry’s leading trade weekly. Sanders’s albums appeared primarily, but not exclusively, on its “Best Selling Jazz LP’s” listings.

At its core, chart information is both meaningful and meaningless: it cannot be converted into more palpable units of measurement such as sales numbers. Chart presence has always, at the very least, however, carried some degree of symbolic significance, even when rankings were not derived from actual numbers, as was the case during the period under consideration here.

During that period, Billboard mailed forms to selected middlemen and retailers in the largest markets. Those forms contained preestablished lists of recordings that respondents were asked to rank as “very good,” “good,” or “fair” sellers. Blank space was provided to add unlisted titles. Points were then derived from those answers and rankings established. Fewer efforts were deployed to establish charts dedicated to jazz: only twenty-five outlets were surveyed and radio exposure was not factored in. [1]

If the validity of this fairly opaque procedure is accepted, it remains that the only thing charts actually said is that product A sold more than product B. They did not indicate how much A or B sold, what the extent of the gap between them might be, or give any idea of the market’s total volume.

In his book on Impulse Records, the company for whom Sanders started to record in the late 1960s, Ashley Kahn wrote that “sales reports collected by the label itself are long lost.” [2] In absence of archives, personal memories can provide pointers regarding how to interpret chart positions. In his memoir, Impulse producer Bob Thiele wrote that John Coltrane’s sales over a year usually reached a “tremendous” 25–50,000 units and that A Love Supreme was his bestseller, reaching a six-figure number. [3] Billboard did not yet rank jazz releases, and how the album would have fared is not known. Thiele also noted, in passing, that Sanders’s Karma LP (AS-9181) "was at the top of the Billboard jazz charts for 12 weeks,“ confirming that it does constitute information worthy of attention. [4]

Kahn’s book includes another memory of sales number, Impulse general manager Steve Backer recalling Gato Barbieri’s Chapter One (AS-9248) shipping around 100,000 copies and selling an “astounding“ 70,000. [5] Chapter One entered the Billboard jazz charts in November 1973 and stayed there for twenty-two weeks, until April 1974. [6] Sanders’s Village of the Pharoahs (AS-9254) exited the jazz charts simultaneously, after a shorter twelve weeks. It was Sanders’s last Impulse album to chart and not his best performing. Sanders’s final Impulse albums, Elevation (AS-9261) and Love in Us All (AS-9280), both released in 1974, did not appear in Billboard charts.

“Pharoah Sanders, who we have just signed, and has had no recordings released in five years, was a very high selling artist in the mid and late ’60s, as was John Coltrane’s music,” Backer said in a promotional piece for the Arista label in 1977. “Coltrane in fact had a couple of gold records, as hard as it is to believe. Pharoah Sanders sold a couple of hundred thousand records on his Karma album.” [7]

In the 1970s, no Coltrane record had actually been certified gold, i.e. as having generated $1 million in sales at manufacturer’s level or, starting in 1975, having sold 500,000 units. Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, which entered the jazz charts in 1970 and dominated them for a sizeable chunk of Sanders’s presence, was only certified gold in 1976. Coltrane’s albums had to wait until reissues in the 2000s. [8]

In 1976, Billboard published a “Best of Jazz Albums” chart based on its year-end recapitulations for the 1969–1975 period. The number one spot was held by Bitches Brew. Out of 182 titles, Karma was ranked 106, Jewels of Thought 126, Thembi 162, and Live at The East 167. [9] Barbieri’s Chapter One ranked a little lower than Karma, at number 115. Barbieri’s album made it to Billboard’s “Bubbling Under the Top LP’s” category, but not to the “Top LP’s,” the general pop top 200 itself, unlike Sanders’s Karma and Thembi.

It should be noted that Sanders’s Arista “crossover comeback” album, Love Will Find a Way, gave him his highest “Top LP’s” position, peaking at 163 and staying there for five weeks in 1978. [10]

Many unknowns remain and much care should be exerted in interpreting the data below, but it does say something of the magnitude of the diffusion of Sanders’s music. A diffusion that went far beyond the territories generally covered by musicians who came out of the avant-garde, a magnitude corroborated by the breadth of the tributes that appeared in the wake of Sanders’s passing in September 2022. [11]

Albums have been listed in the order in which they charted.

In 1971, Billboard stopped printing jazz charts on a weekly basis and to systematically include the number of weeks spent on the charts. Gaps in the data are indicated by em dashes.

Billboard starred “LP’s registering greatest proportionate upward progress” on a given week; star symbols (★) have been added to corresponding entries in the tables below.


Karma, Impulse AS-9181, 1969.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
July 12, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s201
July 19, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s102
July 26, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s103
August 2, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s74
August 9, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s55
August 16, 1969Top LP’s1961
August 16, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s86
August 23, 1969Top LP’s1992
August 23, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s67
August 30, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s78
September 6, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s119
September 13, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1010
September 20, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1311
September 27, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s912
October 4, 1969Top LP’s1943
October 4, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s913
October 11, 1969Top LP’s1884
October 11, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s491
October 11, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1214
October 18, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s492
October 18, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1915
October 25, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s473
October 25, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1916
November 1, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s474
November 1, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1717
November 8, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s475
November 8, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1518
November 15, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s486
November 15, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1619
November 22, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s487
November 22, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s820
November 29, 1969Best Selling Soul LP’s498
November 29, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s721
December 6, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s922
December 13, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1023
December 20, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1724
December 27, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s1725
December 27, 1969Top Jazz Albums 196917

Tauhid, Impulse A(S)-9138, 1967.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
November 22, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s191
November 29, 1969Best Selling Jazz LP’s192

Jewels of Thought, Impulse AS-9190, 1970.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
May 2, 1970Best Selling Soul LP’s48 ★1
May 2, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s171
May 9, 1970Best Selling Soul LP’s462
May 9, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s132
May 16, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s123
May 23, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s104
May 30, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s105
June 6, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s116
June 13, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s147
June 20, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s158
June 27, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s159
July 4, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1310
July 11, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1011
July 18, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1112
July 25, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s913
August 1, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s914
August 8, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1315
August 15, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1216
August 22, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1717
August 29, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1618
September 5, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1419
September 12, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s1620

Summun Bukmun Umyun, Impulse AS-9199, 1970.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
November 14, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s91
November 21, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s72
November 28, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s73
December 5, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s124
December 12, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s175
December 19, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s126
December 26, 1970Best Selling Jazz LP’s157
January 2, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s148
January 9, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s119
January 16, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s1110
January 23, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s1911
January 30, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s2012

Thembi, Impulse AS-9206, 1971.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
June 19, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s101
June 26, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s52
July 3, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s53
July 24, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s205
July 31, 1971Top LP’s178 ★1
August 7, 1971Top LP’s1782
August 7, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s6
August 14, 1971Top LP’s1753
August 21, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s207
August 28, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s203
September 4, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s201
September 4, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s5
September 11, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s201
September 18, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s203
September 25, 1971Bubbling Under the Top LP’s203
October 2, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s6
November 6, 1971Best Selling Jazz LP’s14
December 25, 1971Top Jazz Albums 197124

Live at The East, Impulse AS-9227, 1972.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
November 4, 1972Best Selling Jazz LP’s16
December 16, 1972Best Selling Jazz LP’s6
January 13, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s6
January 27, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s6
February 24, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s2
March 24, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s11
April 7, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s32
December 29, 1973Top Jazz Albums 197324

The Best of Pharoah Sanders, Impulse AS-9229-2, 1972.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
December 16, 1972Best Selling Jazz LP’s21
January 13, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s14
January 27, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s16
April 7, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s33
April 21, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s37

Black Unity, Impulse AS-9219, 1972.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
June 2, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s36
June 16, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s35
June 23, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s36
June 30, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s32
July 14, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s3210
July 28, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s3112

Wisdom through Music, Impulse AS-9233, 1973.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
July 14, 1973Best Selling Jazz LP’s401

Village of the Pharoahs, Impulse AS-9254, 1973.

DateChartPositionWeeks on Chart
January 12, 1974Best Selling Jazz LP’s341
February 9, 1974Best Selling Jazz LP’s263
March 9, 1974Best Selling Jazz LP’s267
April 13, 1974Best Selling Jazz LP’s2512


The primary sources consulted were every issue of Billboard for the period covered (1969–1974).


[1] For an account of the procedures used by Billboard during the period surveyed here, see Peter Hesbacher, Robert Downing, and David G. Berger, “Sound Recording Popularity Charts: A Useful Tool for Music Research; I. Why and How They Are Compiled,” Popular Music and Society 4, no. 1 (1975): 3–18.

[2] Ashley Kahn, The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 7.

[3] Bob Thiele with Bob Golden, What a Wonderful World: A Lifetime of Recordings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 127.

[4] Thiele, 138.

[5] Kahn, 251.

[6] “Best Selling Jazz LP’s,” Billboard, November 3, 1973, 29; “Best Selling Jazz LP’s,” Billboard, April 13, 1974, 29.

[7] “The Arista A&R Roundtable: The Company’s Ears Speak.” Billboard, November 26, 1977, A15, A45, A50, A53, A55–A56.

[8] See RIAA Gold & Platinum,

[9] “Best of Jazz Albums,” Billboard, July 4, 1976, MR128.

[10] Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Albums, 1955–2001 (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, 2001), 765.

[11] See Pierre Crépon, “Let It End Some Kind of Way: Pharoah Sanders, 1940–2022,” The Wire, September 2022,

Author Information: 
Pierre Crépon is an independent researcher based in France. He has written for The Wire, New York City Jazz Record, Point of Departure, and Improjazz, among others. His research deals with the history of avant-garde jazz, with a particular focus on the American and French scenes of the sixties and seventies.

Pharoah Sanders (1940–2022), one of the key players of the 1960s jazz avant-garde, had a noticeable presence on record sales charts. This article gathers chart data on Sanders’s albums found in Billboard, the music industry’s leading trade weekly.

Pharoah Sanders, Billboard, jazz, charts

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