gil scott-heron transitioned friday at age 62 in a new york hospital. the beloved author, lyricist, musician, poet & singer enjoyed a successful albeit tumultuous collaboration with musician brian jackson. their work fused blues, jazz & soul with a potent hybrid of critical thinking, political commentary & social consciousness which transcended age, culture, gender, faith & sexuality.
many of scott-heron's friends & musical contemporaries have paid tribute upon learning of his demise. abiodun of the legendary last poets said scott-heron was the "link between john coltrane & malcolm x." public enemy founder chuck d said on twitter, "we do what we do how we do because of you." wu-tang clan's ghostface killah wrote, "salute gil scott-heron for his wisdom & poetry. may he rest in paradise."
as a spoken word artist in the early 60's & 70's some deemed scott-heron the 'godfather of rap' & the 'black bob dylan' - labels he personally appreciated yet publicly rejected. a deeply sensitive man, his impact on today's artists was humbling. eminem wrote on twitter, "rip gil scott-heron. he influenced all of hip hop." cee-lo green called him the "god gil scott-heron," while talib kwali said "he completely influenced me as an artist."
politically outspoken rapper michael franti said scott-heron's talent was his ability to "make us think about the world in a different way." he would make listeners "laugh hysterically about the ironies of american culture, anger at the hypocrisy of our political system, all to a beat that kept us on the dance floor, with a voice & flow that kept you waiting with anticipation for the next phrase."
richard russell, who produced & released scott-heron's final album, i'm new here, in 2010, described him as a "master lyricist, singer, orator & keyboard player." said russell, "gil was not perfect in his own life, but neither is anyone else. and he judge no one. he had a fierce intelligence & a way with words which was untouchable; an incredible sense of humor & a gentleness & humanity that was unique to him. gil shunned all the trappings of fame & success. he could have had all those things. but he was greater than that."
the musician's publisher jamie byng remembered him as "a giant of a man, a truly inspirational figure whom i loved like a father & a brother." scott-heron touched people who encountered him with his "singularity of vision, his charismatic personality, his moral beauty & his willingness to take his fellow travelers through the range of emotions," byng wrote.
byng continued, "throughout a magnificent musical career, he helped people again & again, with his willingness & ability to articulate deep truths, through his eloquent attacks on injustices & by his enormous compassion for people's pain. hundreds of thousands of people saw gil perform live over the decades, always with remarkable bands, & few came away untouched by his magnetism, humility, biting wit & warmth of spirit."
lemn sissay, a friend of scott-heron's who produced a documentary on his work, told the bbc he was a "polymath who spoke crucially of the issues of his people. in the late 60's & early 70's black poets were the news-givers because their stories were not covered in truth by the mainstream media." scott-heron's critically acclaimed & most well-known piece, the revolution will not be televised - which he wrote at age 19 - is often referenced in american pop culture yet resonates with oppressed folk globally.
born april 1, 1949 scott-heron was the son of a jamaican footballer who was the first black man to play for glasgow celtic. he was raised by his grandmother in jackson, tennessee. she introduced him to the writing of langston hughes, a writer whose work scott-heron admired & revered. scott-heron felt hughes spoke intuitively to the people, not at the people, an asset he demonstrated in his grass-roots music.
during in an interview with bbc music 6 last year, scott-heron recalled, "my grandmother bought a piano for about $8 i think it was. i began to listen to the radio & try to pick out what they were playing by ear. there were a lot of blues progressions that i was able to give some life to on the piano, there, & i enjoyed it very much."
at age 17 he wrote the vulture, a story about the death of a drug dealer. by this time scott-heron had moved from segregated tennessee to new york city's chelsea, a neighborhood which he described as "85% puerto rican, 15% white & me." he began his recording career with the independent label flying dutchman records (a nod to the leroi jones play) in 1970, at the height of the black power movement.
scott-heron's militant voice of protest can be heard on his 1974 album winter in america, which produced soul-aching ballads & timeless classics. this caught the attention of music impresario clive davis who made him, in 1975, the first artist he signed to arista records. by age 23 he'd published a book of poetry, two novels & recorded three albums; addressing issues like apartheid, celebrity, drug addiction, nuclear power, poverty & racism.
scott-heron successfully campaigned alongside bob marley & stevie wonder for an american national holiday to be named in honor of one of his heroes, the rev. dr. martin luther king, jr. his spirited activism engendered a level of respect & warmth with his fans wherever he played, both locally & globally. in 1993 he wrote message to the messengers, calling on rappers & musicians to use their art for social change.
in 2001 scott-heron was jailed in new york state for cocaine possession & again, five years later, for violating a plea on a drug-possession charge by leaving a rehabilitation clinic. it was while he was doing jail time when he received a visit from russell, who guided him into the studio for his eagerly anticipated comeback album.
on his blog russell said, "to my knowledge he never accepted an award. he always wanted everyone else to receive credit for their work. he is the only artist i've ever worked with who requested that the studio's engineer photo be given equal prominence to his own on his website. gil meant a massive amount to me, as he did to so many people. his spirit was immense. he channeled something that people derived a huge benefit from."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.