Murray was born in Nokomis, Escambia County, Alabama. He attended the Tuskegee Institute and received a Bachelor’s degree in 1939. He later earned a M.A. from New York University in 1948. In 1943 he entered the U.S. Air Force, from which he retired as a major in 1962. Murray began his writing career in earnest in 1962, after he retired from the military. His first book The Omni-Americans (1970) received critical acclaim.
Though they did not know each other at Tuskegee, Murray and Ralph 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 were also close friends and influenced each other’s art. Bearden’s 1971 six-panel, 18-foot collage The Block was inspired by the view from Murray’s Harlem apartment.
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 (linked below), Murray received greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s due to his influence on critic Stanley Crouch and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. 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.” With Wynton Marsalis, Murray was the co-founder of the program and institution known as Jazz at Lincoln Center. Murray was co-author of Count Basie’s autobiography Good Morning Blues (1985). He died in Harlem in 2013, aged 97.
- May, 12, 1916
- Nokomis, Alabama
- August, 18, 2013
- Harlem, New York