Albert Murray (writer)

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

Albert L. Murray (May 12, 1916 – August 18, 2013) was an American literary and jazz critic, novelist, essayist and biographer.


Early life

Murray was born in Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama. He attended the Tuskegee Institute on scholarship and received a B.S. in education in 1939. 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

During World War II, he 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

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 wide critical acclaim. Between 1970 and his death, he published nearly a dozen additional books, including four novels. He 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. In 1976, he received the prestigious ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for his music criticism. 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 shortly after Murray graduated. Their mutually influential relationship — reflected in the book Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray — 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.

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.[1]

As detailed in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s New Yorker profile "King of Cats" (April 8, 1996) and in Sanford Pinsker's article in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Murray received greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s due to his influence on critic Stanley Crouch and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.[2][3] Both Crouch and Marsalis gained controversial notoriety for their advocacy of what Murray, in Stomping the Blues, identified as the core elements of jazz: swing, blues tonalities, and acoustic sounds. After detailing Murray's insightful engagement — in non-fiction and fiction — of history, politics, aesthetics, painting, music, and literature, Gates concluded his profile by noting: "This is Albert Murray's century, we just live in it."[2] With Marsalis, Murray was the co-founder of the program and institution known as Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In addition to his own work, Murray was the credited ghostwriter of Count Basie's Good Morning Blues (1985), a memoir.


He died in Harlem in 2013, aged 97.[4]

Selected bibliography

  • The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy (1970)[5]
  • South to a Very Old Place (1971)
  • Train Whistle Guitar (novel) (1974)
  • Stomping the Blues (1976)
  • The Spyglass Tree (1991)
  • The Blue Devils of Nada (essay collecion) (1996)
  • The Hero And the Blues (1996)
  • The Seven League Boots (1996)
  • Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (2001)
  • Conjugations and Reiterations: Poems (2001)
  • From the Briarpatch File: On Context, Procedure, and American Identity (2001)


  1. ^ "Romare Bearden's 'The Block' and Related Drawings On View at Metropolitan Museum Beginning January 15." Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Louis Gates Jr, Henry (April 8, 1996). "King of Cats". New Yorker.
  3. ^ Pinsker, Sanford (Autumn 1996). "Albert Murray: the Black Intellectuals' Maverick Patriarch". Virginia Quarterly Review.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "50 Years of Albert Murray's 'The Omni-Americans'". Tablet Magazine. Nov 11, 2019. Retrieved Jul 7, 2020.

External links