Remembering Gil Scott Heron 1949 – 2011

May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, musician, has died at the age of 62.  He was best known for his seminal 1970 spoken word hit “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”   However it’s his influence on other performers – notably the hip hop movement that began in the mid 1970s  that will prove to be his legacy.

The release last year of his  first new music in 16 years — I’m New Here — was praiseworthy. While none of the tracks on that collection initially struck me as “Winter in America” or “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” did back-in-the-day, the mere fact that after a few stints in prison (drug related) GSH comes back with a collection of new music worthy of multiple listens is astounding. No, strike that… it’s testament to the strength of his vision and creativity.

Gil Scott-Heron will be remembered as a National Treasure who should have had many more admirers. Perhaps in death, hundreds of new, younger fans will discover this American genius. Undoubtedly,  some of his followers notably Common and Mos Def who are totally conscious and vocal about the influence the man has had on their music will continue to spread the word.  As for his impact on Hip Hop, Heron told New York Magazine in 2008, “I ain’t saying I didn’t invent rapping. I just cannot recall the circumstances.”

The article also quoted Princeton’s Cornel West who said, “His example has been a profound inspiration to me and so many others, in terms of fusing the musical with the prophetic and being willing to take a risk or pay a cost in order to lay bare some unsettling truths with such artistic sophistication.”

NPR’s All Things Considered profiles Gil last year.

Alan Light profiled him for Mother Jones last year.


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