Albert Murray (writer)

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Albert Murray
Born(1916-05-12)May 12, 1916
DiedAugust 18, 2013(2013-08-18) (aged 97)

Albert L. Murray (May 12, 1916 – August 18, 2013) was an American literary and music critic, novelist, essayist, and biographer. His books include The Omni-Americans (1970) and Stomping the Blues (1976).


Early life[edit]

Murray was born in Nokomis, Alabama. His biological mother, Sudie Graham, gave him up for adoption to Hugh and Mattie Murray.[1] He grew up in the Magazine Point area of Mobile, Alabama.[2]

He attended the Tuskegee Institute on scholarship and received a B.S. in education in 1939. One of his fellow students was Ralph Ellison, who would later write the classic novel Invisible Man. He briefly enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Michigan before returning to Tuskegee in 1940 to teach literature and composition. In 1941, he married Mozelle Menefee; they would go on to have a daughter, Michele. While based at Tuskegee, he completed additional graduate work at Northwestern University in 1941 and the University of Paris in 1951.

Military service[edit]

Murray joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1943 with the desire to "live long enough for Thomas Mann to finish the last volume of Joseph and His Brothers." In 1946, he transferred to the United States Air Force Reserve and enrolled at New York University on the GI Bill, where he received an M.A. in English in 1948. During this period, he became acquainted with Duke Ellington and solidified his close friendship with Ralph Ellison.

After briefly returning to his position at Tuskegee, he opted to pursue a more financially remunerative career as a member of the Active Guard Reserve in 1951 to better support his young family. Over the next decade, Murray was stationed in a number of locales (ranging from Morocco to California to Massachusetts) and taught a geopolitics course in the Tuskegee ROTC program. He retired from the United States Air Force as a major in 1962 and returned to Harlem, where he was based for the remainder of his life.

Literary career[edit]

Thereafter, Murray began his literary career in earnest, regularly publishing in such periodicals as Life and The New Leader. His first book, The Omni-Americans, was published in 1970 to critical acclaim. The book contained a series of essays on such topics as protest literature and the Moynihan Report on black poverty.[3] He followed that up with a book about the American South called South to a Very Old Place, which was a finalist for the National Book Awards. Starting with Train Whistle Guitar (1974), he wrote four novels that featured an alter ego named Scooter.[4] He received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his 1976 book Stomping the Blues.[5] In addition to his own work, he was the credited ghostwriter of Count Basie's memoir Good Morning Blues (1985).[6]

Murray held visiting lectureships, fellowships and professorships at several institutions, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (1968), Colgate University (1970; 1973; 1982), the University of Massachusetts Boston (1971), the University of Missouri (1972), Emory University (1978), Drew University (1983) and Washington and Lee University (1993). From 1981 to 1983, he was an adjunct associate professor of writing at Barnard College. He also received honorary doctorates from Colgate (Litt.D., 1975) and Spring Hill College (D.H.L., 1995).

Though they did not know each other at Tuskegee, Murray and Ellison became close friends after Murray graduated. Their mutually influential relationship informed the thinking and writing of both men from the time of the writing of Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), through Murray's social-aesthetic works and novels, up until Ellison's death in 1994. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray was published in 2000.[7]

Murray and the American painter Romare Bearden became close friends after meeting in Paris in 1949 and influenced each other's art for several decades. Bearden's 1971 six-panel, 18-foot collage The Block was inspired by the view from Murray's apartment in the Lenox Terrace apartment complex.[8]

Murray received greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s due to his influence on critic Stanley Crouch and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.[9][10] Both Crouch and Marsalis gained notoriety for their advocacy of what Murray, in Stomping the Blues, identified as the core elements of jazz: swing, blues tonalities, and acoustic sounds. With Marsalis, Murray was the co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. concluded his 1996 New Yorker profile of Murray by noting: "This is Albert Murray's century; we just live in it."[9]


He died in Harlem on August 18, 2013.[11] The following month, a memorial service was held at Jazz at Lincoln Center.[12]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy (1970)
  • South to a Very Old Place (1971)
  • The Hero and the Blues (1973)
  • Train Whistle Guitar (1974)
  • Stomping the Blues (1976)
  • The Spyglass Tree (1991)
  • The Blue Devils of Nada (1996)
  • The Seven League Boots (1996)
  • Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (2000)
  • Conjugations and Reiterations: Poems (2001)
  • From the Briarpatch File: On Context, Procedure, and American Identity (2001)
  • The Magic Keys (2005)


  1. ^ David A Taylor, Not Forgotten: Albert Murray’s Magical Youth. Southern Cultures 16, no. 2 (2010): 109-16. Accessed December 16, 2020.
  2. ^ Charles H. Rowell, An All-Purpose, All-American Literary Intellectual. Callaloo, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1997): 399-414. Accessed December 27, 2020.
  3. ^ "50 Years of Albert Murray's 'The Omni-Americans'". Tablet Magazine. Nov 11, 2019. Retrieved Jul 7, 2020.
  4. ^ Thompson, Clifford (May 8, 2016). "Our Hero and His Blues: Celebrating Albert Murray". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Duncan, Amy (February 7, 1986). "The definitive Basie book. Straight talk from the king of jazz". The Christian Science Monitor.
  7. ^ Pinckney, Darryl (January 11, 2001). "Riffs". The New York Review of Books.
  8. ^ "Romare Bearden's 'The Block' and Related Drawings On View at Metropolitan Museum Beginning January 15." Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  9. ^ a b Louis Gates Jr, Henry (April 8, 1996). "King of Cats". New Yorker.
  10. ^ Pinsker, Sanford (Autumn 1996). "Albert Murray: the Black Intellectuals' Maverick Patriarch". Virginia Quarterly Review.
  11. ^ Watkins, Mel. "Albert Murray, Scholar Who Saw a Multicolored American Culture, Dies at 97." The New York Times, August 19, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  12. ^ Boyd, Herb (September 26, 2013). "Blues authority and author Albert Murray celebrated". New York Amsterdam News.

External links[edit]