August 19, 2013

Albert Murray, 1916 – 2013

Albert Murray, 1916 – 2013

Of the incomparably stylish, argumentative and, in the end, authoritative Sage of Harlem, it surely could be argued that his “Stomping the Blues” (1976) is still the most provocative (and without question best illustrated) book ever published on the vast range and richness of African-American music, from the downhome church to the dancehall to Duke Ellington’s sacred extensions and refinements of vernacular forms and feelings. Al Murray taught many of us by his sometimes gruff but patient and always original drawing of distinctions — between Folk Art and Fine Art, for example, and between “The Blues as Such” and “The Blues as Music.” It all began with the insight that blues music was the sound not of mourning or complaint, but of confrontation and transcendence. As he phrased it in “Stomping…” : “The blues as such are synonymous with low spirits. Blues music is not. With all its so-called blue notes and overtones of sadness, blues music of its very nature and function is nothing if not a form of diversion… Not only is its express purpose to make people feel good, which is to say in high spirits, but in the process of doing so it is actually expected to generate a disposition that is both elegantly playful and heroic in its nonchalance…” Praise God for Albert Murray!! And thank you, dear Al.

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