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.
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