Gil Scott-Heron, Spoken-Word Musician, Dies at 62

29 May, 2011 — Jazz on the Tube

Gil Scott-Heron, Spoken-Word Musician, Dies at 62


NEW YORK (AP) — Musician Gil Scott-Heron, who helped lay the groundwork for rap by fusing minimalistic percussion, political expression and spoken-word poetry on songs such as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” died Friday at age 62.

Gil Scott-Heron – The Power of Jazz

A friend, Doris C. Nolan, who answered the telephone listed for his Manhattan recording company, said he died in the afternoon at St. Luke’s Hospital after becoming sick upon returning from a European trip.

“We’re all sort of shattered,” she said.

Scott-Heron’s influence on rap was such that he sometimes was referred to as the Godfather of Rap, a title he rejected.

“If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating ‘hooks,’ which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion,” he wrote in the introduction to his 1990 collection of poems, “Now and Then.”

He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply “black music or black American music.”

“Because Black Americans are now a tremendously diverse essence of all the places we’ve come from and the music and rhythms we brought with us,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, his influence on generations of rappers has been demonstrated through sampling of his recordings by artists, including Kanye West.

Scott-Heron recorded the song that would make him famous, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which critiqued mass media, for the album “125th and Lenox” in Harlem in the 1970s. He followed up that recording with more than a dozen albums, initially collaborating with musician Brian Jackson. His most recent album was “I’m New Here,” which he began recording in 2007 and was released in 2010.

Throughout his musical career, he took on political issues of his time, including apartheid in South Africa and nuclear arms. He had been shaped by the politics of the 1960s and the black literature, especially of the Harlem Renaissance.

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of “The Vulture,” a murder mystery.

He also was the author of “The Nigger Factory,” a social satire.

“I consider myself neither poet, composer, nor musician. These are merely tools used by sensitive men to carve out a piece of beauty or truth they hope may lead to peace and salvation.” – Gil Scott Heron

Gil Scott-Heron has been doing something his with his life and music few dare to do; look at himself and the culture around him honestly and articulate clearly his experiences and feelings about what he sees. Few artists have been as honest about their own experiences and flaws as Scott-Heron and it inspires us to look as honestly at ourselves. For Gil-Scott Heron and many contemporary artists the Civil Rights Movement didn’t end thirty years ago. Through Gil’s music we learn and recognize how much further we need to go and take an honest look at the continuing struggle of African-Americans and all people alike.

Scott-Heron was raised in Tennessee and the Bronx and his influences include Oscar Brown Jr., Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. By the time Gil was twenty he had written a novel called ‘The Vulture’, a book of poetry titled ‘Small Talk at 125th and Lenox’ and released his first album ‘New Black Poet:Small Talk at 125th and Lenox’ which featured one of his most well known songs ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’. Scott-Heron followed that album with ‘Pieces of a Man’ in 1971 with Brian Jackson, Ron Carter, Bernard Purdie and Hubert Laws. Gil and Brian Jackson would collaborate together on many more albums including ‘Winter In America’, ‘It’s Your World’, ‘Bridges’ and ‘Secrets’. Gil took part in the No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1979, protesting the use of nuclear energy after the Three Mile Island accident and wrote a song about the incident called ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ referencing the book of the title and speaking about the previous incident. Scott-Heron is known as the Godfather of Rap and continues making music and poetry to this day and trying to inspire new generations of musicians, hip-hop artists and people alike to take an honest look at themselves and the world around them.

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