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« on: August 20, 2013, 01:31:05 PM »

Author-critic Albert Murray dies

USA TODAY Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:10 AM

Albert Murray, the influential novelist and critic who celebrated black culture, scorned black separatism and was once praised by Duke Ellington as the "unsquarest man I know," died Sunday. He was 97.

Murray died at home in his sleep, according to Lewis Jones, a family friend and Murray's guardian.

Few authors so forcefully bridged the worlds of words and music. Like his old friend and intellectual ally Ralph Ellison, Murray believed that blues and jazz were not primitive sounds, but sophisticated art, finding kinships among Ellington and Louis Armstrong and novelists such as Thomas Mann and Ernest Hemingway.

He argued his case in a series of autobiographical novels, a nonfiction narrative (South to a Very Old Place), an acclaimed history of music (Stomping the Blues) and several books of criticism. Although slowed by back trouble, Murray continued to write well into his 80s, and also helped Wynton Marsalis and others stage the acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. Millions of television viewers came to know him as a featured commentator in Ken Burns' documentary series Jazz.

An amiable counterpart to the aloof Ellison, Murray was many men: friend of Ellington and artist Romare Bearden (whose paintings hung in Murray's Harlem apartment); foe of Marxists, Freudians, academics, black nationalists and white segregationists; and mentor and inspiration to Ernest J. Gaines, Stanley Crouch, James Alan McPherson and many others.

Marsalis, in the book Moving to Higher Ground, remembered visiting Murray in Harlem amid not just Bearden paintings, but decades-worth of "books and recordings of the most meaningful ideas in the history of humanity."

"He was asking you to pull down this book and that one and go to chapter so-and-so and page so-and-so, and on that page what he was talking about, and it was everything from Plato to John Ford to Frederick Douglass to thermonuclear dynamics to James Brown," explained Marsalis, who cited Stomping the Blues as a profound influence on his music and his life.

Murray often wrote, and spoke, in a jazzy, mock-professorial style, not unlike Ellington's stylized stage introductions. One Murray book was titled The Blue Devils of Nada: A Contemporary American Approach to Aesthetic Statement. He declared that blacks should not be regarded as transplanted Africans, but quintessential Americans, practiced in the art of "I-ma-gi-na-tive ex-al-ta-tion."

Interviewed by the Associated Press in 1998, the raspy-voiced Murray defined the blues as "the extension, improvisation and ritualization of the stylization of the beliefs and the feelings and emotions of the lifestyle of a particular culture."

"People want to say the blues is an ailment," Murray said, waving his hand. "Any fool can tell you the blues is good-time music. It's entertainment. It ain't for no church. 'Kill the white folks,' that's not what the blues is about. You see the blues with that stuff, it means some Marxist got hold of that."

Ellington once referred to him "the unsquarest person I know."

Born in 1916, Murray grew up in Magazine Point, Ala., a hamlet not far from Mobile. Like his fictional alter ego, Scooter, he was a boy who simultaneously knew and did not know who he was. At age 11, he learned, accidentally, that the couple raising him was not his parents; his mother had given him up for adoption out of shame for conceiving him out of wedlock. His real parents were educated and middle-class, his adopted ones common folk.

Murray, bright, self-confident and a born improviser, came to see himself as the adventurer-hero of his own life, a "prince among paupers." He left his hometown to study at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where Ellison was an upperclassman, a music major with two-tone shoes who seemed to check out the same library books as Murray did. Murray graduated in 1939, served in the Air Force during World War II and received a master's degree from New York University after returning to the U.S.

While Ellison attained instant fame in the early 1950s with his first novel, Invisible Man, Murray's turn came more than a decade later, when he was well into middle age. Before publication came the prelude: books read, records remembered, paintings appraised, experiences experienced, what Murray called "the also and the also" of constructing an identity that would reconstruct the identity of American culture.

"I was figuring out what kind of a writer I was going to be," he said. "I didn't have it together."

He finally broke through in the late 1960s, at the peak of the Black Arts Movement, which regarded art as an outlet for protest. Murray ridiculed this and other political art as "social science fiction." Like Ellison, he believed conflict was a given, that life was not a formula to be solved but a dance to be danced.

"(E)ven the most exuberant stomp rendition is likely to contain some trace of sadness as a sobering reminder that life is at bottom, for all the very best of good times, a never-ending struggle," Murray once wrote.

Murray's belated success had one apparent casualty: his bond with Ellison. The two drifted apart in later years, with friends speculating that Ellison, who never completed another novel after Invisible Man, resented Murray's good fortune, while Murray tired of being labeled Ellison's protege.

In 2000, the Modern Library released Trading Twelves, a collection of letters between Murray and Ellison, who died in 1994.

Murray was married to Mozelle Menefee Murray, whom he met at Tuskegee in 1941. They had a daughter, Michele, who performed with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe. Albert Murray wrote the program notes, about which Ailey joked, "Now I understand better what I've been trying to do all these years."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/arts/free/20130820author-critic-albert-murray-dies.html
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2013, 01:40:20 PM »

Ah, Albert Murray.

I thought he was already dead.
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« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2013, 07:54:50 PM »

May Mr. Murray rest in peace.
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2013, 08:13:03 PM »


R.I.P.  Mr. Murray    Angel
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« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2013, 12:43:00 PM »

http://www.tuskegee.edu/Articles/acclaimed_writer_and_alumnus_albert_murray_dies.aspx

Prayers for the Murray family... Angel
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« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2013, 12:34:07 AM »

This tribute to Mr.Murray was written by a Bethune Cookman alumnus and former poster on MEACFans' Meeting of the Minds:

‘THE UNSQUAREST MAN’ – ALBERT MURRAY, 97

Quote
An essayist, fiction writer and poet, Murray also guided the shaping of the craft of the writer Stanley Crouch and musician Wynton Marsalis with whom he worked to establish Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Born in rural Alabama and raised in Mobile by his adoptive parents, Murray’s excellence as a student there earned him admission to what in the late 1930s was the Tuskegee Institute.   There he met Ellison and the woman he would later marry, Mozelle Menefee. It was at Tuskegee that Murray read works by authors such as Faulkner, James Joyce, Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.     

Murray, who is survived by his wife and their daughter Michéle Murray, once wrote that “when the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest and the medicine man.”

In his 1976 book Stomping the Blues, Murray made the argument that the blues is the essential element of the music known around the world today as jazz. His appreciation and respect for the blues as an art form was unwavering: “The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people. It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.”...

Another of Murray’s protégés, the academic Henry Louis Gates Jr., famously said of Murray in a piece he penned for New Yorker magazine that “This is Albert Murray’s century, we just live in it.”

The Real Tracy Fields, host of WLRN radio’s Evening Jazz, used a well-known description of Murray by Duke Ellington to pay tribute to the writer on her program’s social media page this week.  Ellington said Murray was “the unsquarest man I know.”
http://www.sfltimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14037&Itemid=331

A baaaad man!
Afro
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« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2013, 01:00:13 AM »


RIP my brother.
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2013, 05:49:00 AM »

This tribute to Mr.Murray was written by a Bethune Cookman alumnus and former poster on MEACFans' Meeting of the Minds:

‘THE UNSQUAREST MAN’ – ALBERT MURRAY, 97

Quote
An essayist, fiction writer and poet, Murray also guided the shaping of the craft of the writer Stanley Crouch and musician Wynton Marsalis with whom he worked to establish Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Born in rural Alabama and raised in Mobile by his adoptive parents, Murray’s excellence as a student there earned him admission to what in the late 1930s was the Tuskegee Institute.   There he met Ellison and the woman he would later marry, Mozelle Menefee. It was at Tuskegee that Murray read works by authors such as Faulkner, James Joyce, Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.     

Murray, who is survived by his wife and their daughter Michéle Murray, once wrote that “when the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest and the medicine man.”

In his 1976 book Stomping the Blues, Murray made the argument that the blues is the essential element of the music known around the world today as jazz. His appreciation and respect for the blues as an art form was unwavering: “The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people. It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.”...

Another of Murray’s protégés, the academic Henry Louis Gates Jr., famously said of Murray in a piece he penned for New Yorker magazine that “This is Albert Murray’s century, we just live in it.”

The Real Tracy Fields, host of WLRN radio’s Evening Jazz, used a well-known description of Murray by Duke Ellington to pay tribute to the writer on her program’s social media page this week.  Ellington said Murray was “the unsquarest man I know.”
http://www.sfltimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14037&Itemid=331

A baaaad man!
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2013, 06:31:55 AM »

May he Rest in Peace
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2014, 02:54:17 PM »

I had intended to share this much more critical take on Mr. Murray.  It is written by a friend, who is a retired prof of Literature, a serious intellect and an Ex-Pat here in Panama.  It is written (email) in a very informal manner as part of an exchange among others who also knew Murray.

Quote
I always wanted to like Albert Murray, ever since I met him at a conference and he gave me his business card that had only one word under his name--"writer."

He subsequently gave me lessons in the complexity of interpreting Black experience in America from a supposedly hip perspective.  This was in the days when anyone espousing "black" was seen as a friend, because we were not looking at the fine print of their ideologies.  The picture of him got darker the fuller it got, the neo-conservative hook-up with Ellison, the anti-Black Arts rants, the condemnations of the 60s, the rejection of Black in favor of Negro.  The anti African rants. Both Murray and Crouch would pompously declare that Africans smell bad. 

In their crypto-Americanism they could come close to being racists, not in their eyes of course.  They loved a different Black people of their own imaginations.  And they hated any Black man who came off to them as militant, e.g., Baraka, Miles.  One encounter chilled me even further.  After one of Miles'; concerts at Lincoln Center when he was into his Marcus Miller arrangements, you know, "Tutu," etc. Murray says in the lobby, did you like that?  I say Yes.  He said. "That was the most f...ked up s...t I have ever heard."  What hit me was not his critical judgment. I'm talking about the hatred he oozed.
 
So a certain picture jelled when Quincy asked me to interview him for his magazine, Spin.  I owed Quince one or two, so I went up to Murray's place on Lenox and sat while he plied me with good rum and fellowship--he had personality and style--and offered me some of the most toxic Black-hating diatribes I could imagine from a "Brother."  The cherry was when he said I would give Thomas Jefferson a couple thousand more slaves if that would help him write another Declaration of Independence. 

He went on in that vein for an hour and a half, happy to have an audience.  My need to get the interview stifled my itch to tell him his mind was seriously f....d up.  As I was leaving, he gave me one of his books.  Probably The Blue Devils of Nada.  Before handing me the book, he says, wait.  He gets a pen and inks out the blurb on the back by Stanley, explaining he has to do this every time he gives the book to somebody.  Reason why?  He broke from Stanley for good because Stanley had the nerve to blurb him, who was supposed to be the master of the two.
 
This vicious attitude that ran through parts of the little Ellison group intrigues me.  We've all seen some really bitter quarrels among Black writers and artists, but usually about ideas or women, something important like that.

Ellison put Murray down completely before the end because Murray had apparently presumed too much familiarity with his eminent status.  This was Ellison's main man as far as I can see, from way back in Tuskegee days.  And then, he (Murray) puts down Crouch for daring to praise him.  One day I might read up on that crowd to find out how that kind of petty s...t could bloom among supposedly smart cats.  Or I might not.
 
I came home from that interview sickened, running to the shower, and then to a bottle of my own rum.  I was sorry when Quince's magazine folded, but was glad I didn't have to transcribe and print the nastiest interview I was ever part of.
 
I would value something Murray half-taught me, if I can earn to understand it.   
 
Part of the puzzle is the way many Black writers of fiction in that era committed themselves to a trickster shtick.  So many of them were digging a Brer Rabbit style, in their fiction and their personal fronts--Ellison, Ishmael, Cecil Brown (Jive a**  Ni%%er), Melvin--in fact, the rhetoric of the lit was saturated with smart a**  tricksterism.  Right up side of the mau mauing (Black Militancy).  Brilliant in some cases, but in other cases, the tricknology was self-serving.  Using Invisible Man as a clue, maybe the deal with Murray and Crouch is that if the player for the people is not really deeply committed to same, his values can get curdled, and his direction turned.

Thanks, CT.
There's a lot to think about in that!!
Afro
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Blind acceptance of others' assertions EVEN AFTER the underlying "facts" are refuted
Frequent Fallacious arguments
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