Collected Essays and Memoirs by Albert Murray, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Paul Devlin; Library of America, 1,072 pages, $45.
The Library of America is a lot of magnificent and crucial things in the world of American publishing but superhuman is not one of them.
When McGraw-Hill originally published Albert Murray’s “Stomping the Blues” in 1976, the book came with a generous splendorous complement of vintage photographs (would you believe Duke Ellington playing the accordion?) The photographs are sadly gone from the perfectly human publication of Murray’s great “Stomping the Blues” inside this omnibus volume of one of the more tragically overlooked and even forgotten writers of post-war America.
When Murray was in the middle of his long life and remarkable work, a credible notion would have been that America at large was no more ready for a black intellectual as brilliant as Albert Murray than it was a black president and a black family in the White House.
To Murray in “Hero and the Blues” “the blues aesthetic” was at the very heart of America: “The United States, is in actuality, not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multi-colored people. There are white Americans so to speak and black Americans. But any fool can see that the white people are not really white and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another.”
Murray was born May 12, 1916 in Nakomis, Alabama. By the time of his death Aug. 18, 2013, the nonagenarian was one of the greatest writers on blues and jazz and popular arts that this country will ever have. He is also, as the author of “South to a Very Old Place” a nonpareil memoirist of the South he had been born into and the South he had watched arise in the Civil Rights era.
When, for instance, William Faulkner, lovingly eulogized his “black mammy,” Murray wanted to ask “Damn man, if the mammyness of blackness or the blackness of mammyness was so magnificent and of such crucial significance as you now claim, how come you let other white folks disrespect and re-segregate her like that?” Are you ready for a chapter titled “Ernest Hemingway Swings the Blues at This Nothing?” A great writer getting his due.
Email Jeff Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org