May 12, 1916 - August 18, 2013
Albert Murray was born in Nokomis, Ala. Shortly after his birth, he was adopted by a couple who soon moved to Magazine Point on the outskirts of Mobile. Murray attended Mobile County Training School where he participated in several sports and in theater productions. His academic performance earned him a scholarship to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) where he became interested in writing during a freshman composition class. While at Tuskegee, Murray developed interests in jazz music and in literature. He graduated with a baccalaureate degree in English literature in 1939. After a year in graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Murray returned to Tuskegee and taught there from 1940 to 1943. Murray served in the US Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, then transferred to the US Air Force Reserve and returned to teach at Tuskegee. The following year, he attended graduate school at New York University, earning an MA in 1948. From 1948 to 1951, Murray taught at Tuskegee and was the director of the college theater group. He spent his summers in Paris, studying and immersing himself in the artistic community. In 1951, Murray returned to active service in the US Air Force. He spent four years as the head of the ROTC program at Tuskegee, then was stationed in Morocco, California, and Massachusetts.
After leaving the Air Force in 1962, Murray settled in New York City with his family and worked on his writing. He began publishing essays in scholarly journals in the 1960s. In 1970, a collection of his essays was published as The Omni-Americans. The following year, Murray published South to a Very Old Place, a memoir based on a trip to his native region that he had made for Harper’s magazine. In the middle 1970s, he published two more collections of essays and an autobiographical novel called Train Whistle Guitar. In 1978, Murray began collaborating with the jazz musician Count Basie on Basie’s autobiography. Good Morning Blues, the result of extensive interviews and travels with the Basie big band, was published in 1986. Since then, Murray has published novels, collections of essays, a book of poems, and a book of correspondence between himself and Ralph Ellison. Murray has been a visiting professor or writer-in-residence at colleges and universities such as Barnard, Columbia, Colgate, and Emory. He is on the board of directors of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, a program he helped found.
In his writing, Albert Murray presents a positive picture of black American tradition, culture, and achievement. One of his themes is that black culture influences and is influenced by white culture and that both are the richer for it. Another major theme is that jazz music and the blues are a metaphor for black American life.
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Photo by Joan Bingham; courtesy of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.