From the Publisher
"[Albert Murray] is possessed of the poet's language, the novelist's sensibility, the essayist's clarity, the jazzman's Imagination, the gospel singer's depth of feeling."
The New Yorker
In this visionary book, the author of the legendary Stomping the Blues takes an audacious new look at black music and, in the process, succeeds in changing the way we read all literature. Albert Murray's subject is the previously unacknowledged kinship between fiction and the blues. Both, he argues, are virtuoso performances that impart information, wisdom, and moral guidance to their audiences. Both place a high value on improvisation. And both fiction and the blues create a delicate balance between the holy and the obscene, essential human values and cosmic absurdity.
Encompassing artists from Ernest Hemingway to Duke Ellington, and from Thomas Mann to Richard Wright, The Hero and the Blues is at once an homage and a manifesto for a new black aesthetic. Erudite, eloquent, appreciative, and iconoclastic, it is further evidence of Murray's ability to turn the essay into a kind of poetry as enchanting as it is instructive.
"The size of his reputation is incommensurate with his quality .... Murray is as close to a classic nineteenth-century man of letters as one might find in this country today."
According to Murray in The Hero and the Blues, in literature "storybook images are indispensable to the basic human processes of world comprehension and self-definition.... the most delicately wrought short stories and the most elaborately textured novels, along with the homespun anecdotes, parables, fables, tales, legends, and sagas, are as strongly motivated by immediate educational objectives as are signs, labels... and directives. ... To make the telling more effective is to make the tale more to the point, more meaningful, and in consequence, if not coincidentally, more useful. Nor is the painter or the musician any less concerned than the writer with achieving a telling effect."
So begins Murray's three-part essay to writers, editors, educators, publishers, reviewers, and teachers, scolding them for having forgotten that "fiction of its very nature is most germane and useful not when it restricts itself to... social and political agitation and propaganda.., but when it performs the fundamental and universal functions of literature." Murray, an academician and historian, believed that literature established the context for social and political action. And that the writer, who created stories or narrated incidents that embodied aspects of human nature not only described them but also suggested possibilities thai could contribute most to people's welfare.
Calling on Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Marx Freud, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Count Basic, Duke Elling ton, and many others to support his premise, Murray's slim but sweeping narrative praises the artist, writer, and musician as soda commentator and educator, as long as he doesn't venture far from his storytelling roots.