Gil Scott-Heron Dies Aged 62
Poet and songwriter was hailed as 'Godfather of
Rap' after penning The Revolution Will Not Be
By David Sharrock
May 28, 2011
Exclusive video: Gil Scott-Heron talks about
his life and work, interspersed with intimate
performances of his music
Gil Scott-Heron video:
The musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron - best known for
his pioneering rap The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
- has died at the age of 62, having fallen ill after a
Jamie Byng, his UK publisher, announced the news via
Twitter: "Just heard the very sad news that my dear
friend and one of the most inspiring people I've ever
met, the great Gil Scott-Heron, died today."
Scott-Heron's spoken word recordings helped shape the
emerging hip-hop culture. Generations of rappers cite
his work as an influence.
He was known as the Godfather of Rap but disapproved of
the title, preferring to describe what he did as
"bluesology" - a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and
jazz, all shot through with a piercing social
conscience and strong political messages, tackling
issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.
"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," Scott-Heron wrote in
the introduction to his 1990 Now and Then collection of
He was best known for The Revolution Will Not Be
Televised, the critically acclaimed recording from his
first album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and for his
collaborations with jazz/funk pianist and flautist
In The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, first recorded
in 1970, he issued a fierce critique of the role of
race in the mass media and advertising age. "The
revolution will not be right back after a message about
a white tornado, white lightning or white people," he
He performed at the No Nukes concerts, held in 1979 at
Madison Square Garden. The concerts were organised by a
group called Musicians United for Safe Energy and
protested against the use of nuclear energy following
the meltdown at Three Mile Island. The group included
singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash
and Bonnie Raitt.
Scott-Heron's song We Almost Lost Detroit, written
about a previous accident at a nuclear power plant, is
sampled on rapper Kanye West's single The People.
Scott-Heron's 2010 album, I'm New Here, was his first
new studio release in 16 years and was hailed by
critics. The album's first song, On Coming From a
Broken Home, is an ode to his maternal grandmother,
Lillie, who raised him in Jackson, Tennessee, until her
death when he was 13. He moved to New York after that.
Scott-Heron was HIV positive and battled drug addiction
through most of his career. He spent a year and a half
in prison for possession. In a 2009 interview he said
that his jail term had forced him to confront the
reality of his situation.
"When you wake up every day and you're in the joint,
not only do you have a problem but you have a problem
with admitting you have a problem." Yet in spite of
some "unhappy moments" in the past few years he still
felt the need to challenge rights abuses and "the
things that you pay for with your taxes".
"If the right of free speech is truly what it's
supposed to be, then anything you say is all right."
Scott-Heron's friend Doris Nolan said the musician had
died at St Luke's hospital on Friday afternoon. "We're
all sort of shattered," she told the Associated Press.
Jamie Byng, publisher of Canongate Books, was a friend
of Gil Scott-Heron for more than 20 years. During 2010
they recorded this interview in London where the
rapper-poet talked about his life and work,
interspersed with intimate performances of his music. A
fuller version of the film is to be released later in
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