Poet, jazz musician and also rap pioneer who offered mordant lyrics to express his views on politics and culture


Gil Scott-Heron performing in central Park, brand-new York, in June 2010. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Features
Gil Scott-Heron performing in central Park, new York, in June 2010. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Features
In 1970, the American poet and also jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron, who has passed away aged 62 after return from a trip to Europe, tape-recorded a track that has come to be seen as a crucial forerunner of rap. To countless it made that the "godfather" the the medium, despite he to be keener to watch his song-like poetry as just another strand in the diverse people of black music.

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The change Will no Be Televised came on his debut LP, little Talk at 125th and Lenox, a arsenal of proselytising spoken-word pieces set to a sparse, funky tableau the percussion. It served as a militant declaration urging black color pride, and also a blueprint for his life"s work: in the album"s sleeve notes, Scott-Heron defined himself together "a black man devoted to expression; expression of the joy and pride of Blackness". The derided white America"s complacency end inner-city inequality v mordant wit and also social observation:

The transformation will not be right earlier after a post "bout a white tornado, white lightning or white people. You will not need to worry around a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in her tank or the huge in her toilet bowl. The change will not go far better with Coke. The transformation will not fight germs that might cause bad breath. The change will put you in the driver"s seat.

Throughout his 40-year career, Scott-Heron yielded a militant commentary not just on the African-American experience, however on more comprehensive social injustice and also political hypocrisy. Born in Chicago, Illinois, he had a difficult, itinerant childhood. His father, Gilbert Heron, was a Jamaican-born football player who joined Celtic FC – together the Glasgow team"s first black player – throughout Gil"s infancy, and also his mother, Bobbie Scott, to be a librarian and keen singer. After your divorce, Scott-Heron relocated to Lincoln, Tennessee, come live with his grandmother, Lily Scott, a civil legal rights activist and also musician whose affect on him was indelible.

He recalled her in the track On coming from a damaged Home top top his 2010 comeback album I"m new Here together "absolutely not your mail-order, room-service, typecast black grandmother". She bought him his very first piano indigenous a regional undertaker"s and also introduced him come the job-related of the Harlem Renaissance novelist and also jazz poet Langston Hughes, whose affect would resonate throughout his entire career.

In the adjacent Tigrett small high college in 1962, Scott-Heron confronted daily racial abuse as one of only three black youngsters chosen to desegregate the institution. These experiences coincided with the perfect of his first volume of unpublished poetry, when he was 12.

He climate left Lincoln and moved to brand-new York to live with his mother. At first they stayed in the Bronx, wherein he witnessed the most African americans in deprived housing projects. Later on they lived in the an ext predominantly spain neighbourhood the Chelsea. Throughout his brand-new York college years, Scott-Heron encountered the job-related of an additional leading black color writer, LeRoi Jones, now recognized as Amiri Baraka.

While he to be at DeWitt Clinton high institution in the Bronx, Scott-Heron"s precocious composing talent to be recognised by one English teacher, and he to be recommended for a location at the call Fieldston school. From there he won a place to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, where Hughes had additionally studied, and also met the flute player Brian Jackson, who was to be a far-reaching musical collaborator. During his second year at university, in 1968, Scott-Heron dropped the end in bespeak to write his an initial novel, a murder an enig titled The Vulture, set in the ghetto. When it was published, 2 years later, he chose to capitalise on the connected radio public by recording an LP.

The jazz producer Bob Thiele, that had worked with artists ranging from louis Armstrong to john Coltrane, encouraged Scott-Heron to record a club performance of few of his poetry through backing by himself on piano and guitar. The line-up was completed by David Barnes top top vocals and percussion, and also Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders top top congas, and little Talk at 125th and also Lenox to be released ~ above the paris Dutchman label. Piece of a male (1971) confirmed Scott-Heron"s talents turn off to a fuller extent, v songs such as the title track, a fuller version of The revolution Will no Be Televised, and Lady Day and also John Coltrane, a soaring paean come the capacity of soul and jazz come liberate the listener indigenous the travails of day-to-day life.

The adhering to year, his university-set novel, The Nigger Factory, was published and also his final Flying Dutchman disc, cost-free Will, to be released. Adhering to a dispute with the label, Scott-Heron tape-recorded Winter in America (1974) for Strata East, then moved to Clive Davis"s Arista Records; he to be the first artist signed by the newly created company.

Arista command Scott-Heron to graph success v the disco-tinged, however brazenly polemic, anti-apartheid anthem Johannesburg, which got to No 29 in the R&B charts in 1975. The Midnight Band, led through Jackson on keyboards, was central to the success the Scott-Heron"s first two albums because that Arista – The an initial Minute that a new Day and From south Africa to southern Carolina – the same year.

Jackson left the band as the producer Malcolm Cecil arrived. Cecil had helped the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder chart funkier waters previously in the decade, and also under his direction Scott-Heron completed his biggest hit come date, point of view Dust (1978), which got to No 15 in the R&B charts. With its lyrical examination of addiction it became an ironic counterpoint to the cocaine abuse the dogged Scott-Heron"s later years.

During the 1980s, producer Nile Rodgers of the disco team Chic also helped on manufacturing as the Reagan era provided Scott-Heron with new targets come attack. B Movie (1981), a thunderous, nine-minute critique the Reaganomics, stand out as the most representative monitor of this period. Together he placed it:

I psychic what ns said around Reagan... Supposed it. Acted favor an actor... Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Plot like general Franco as soon as he acted choose governor that California, climate he acted prefer a Republican. Then he acted prefer somebody to be going to poll for him because that president. And now us act prefer 26% that the registered voter is in reality a mandate.

Scott-Heron make a practical affect on American public life in 1980, after ~ Wonder exit Hotter 보다 July, on i beg your pardon the track Happy date of birth demanded the commemoration the the date of birth of civil civil liberties leader young name Luther King through a national holiday. Scott-Heron went on tour with Wonder, and in Washington lock campaigned to support the black congressional caucus"s proposal. Wonder and Scott-Heron front a petition signed by 6 million people, and also in November 1983 Reagan signed the bill producing a commonwealth holiday in January, the an initial falling in 1986. Scott-Heron told the united state radio station NPR in 2008 that the holiday offered as a "time for civilization to reflect ~ above how far we have actually come, and also how much we still need to go, in terms of being simply people. Hope it will be a time for human being to reflect top top the persons that have actually done points to acquire us to where we are and also where we"re going."

He also eulogised the work of Fannie Lou Hamer, a black color civil rights leader and also voting activist, in his tune 95 south (All of the places We"ve Been), on the album Bridges (1977). However, though his job-related was frequently overtly political, that told the brand-new Yorker magazine in 2010 the he sought to express an ext than simple sloganeering: "Your life has to consist of more than "black human being should unite". You expect they do, yet not 24 hrs a day. If girlfriend aren"t having no fun, die, due to the fact that you"re running a unsecured programme, much as I"m concerned."

A sense of joyous, rhythmic exuberance comes with on tracks such as Racetrack in France (also native Bridges), where, moving away indigenous his typical commentary, he explains a French audience erupting right into a hand-clapping frenzy as his band performed.

Lightness of music touch and also tone were brilliantly fused in his 1980 single, Legend in His very own Mind, in which he mocks a nameless lothario over a shuffling beat and a loping jazz piano riff that somehow contrives to sound at once sardonic and gentle. The rhyming couplets, though, demolish his delusional victim over a to decrease slap bass sequence:

Well you hate to see him coming once you"re grooving at her favourite bar He"s the fatality of the party and also a self-proclaimed superstar Got a permanent Jones to guarantee you he"s to be everywhere A show-stopping, name-dropping answer to the ladies" prayers.

The party (1974) resurfaced together an underground classic in the years adhering to the brothers acid-house "summer of love" that 1988. The incendiary rhythmic flow and also compassionate lyrical expedition of the links in between material poverty and the equivalent human solution – a drive towards narcotic or alcoholic give up – suited the heart of those times perfectly and recruited a new generation that fans. Scott-Heron himself dropped victim to the alcohol and also substance abuse he had actually so long decried, and also in 1985 he to be dropped through Arista.

To the surprise of many, he went back to recording in 1994 v the album Spirits, on the TVT label. Through then, hip-hop and also rap had come to be the voice the young black America, and attention was again concentrated on his early duty in the genre. In the spirits track message to the Messengers, Scott-Heron sent a warning to young, nihilistic gangsta rappers and implored reflection and restraint: "Protect her community, and spread that respect around," he urged, and also rejected their usage of "four-letter words" and also "four-syllable words" as proof of shallow intellects. Meanwhile, he discovered fame that a more surreal, unexpected selection when he listed the voiceover because that adverts for the brothers fizzy orange drink Tango, declaiming in stentorian tones: "You recognize when you"ve to be Tangoed."

The republication that his novels by Payback Press, an imprint of the radical Scottish publishing residence Canongate, added to a new sense that momentum. However, that was not to last, and his constant live performances came to be tarnished through less-than-perfect renditions the his classic works.

Nonetheless, the could bring a packed Jazz coffee shop in Camden Town, London, come a profound, meditative quiet in the late 1990s together he performed songs such as Winter in America, and all his gigs offered out weeks in advance. His consistent performances on Glastonbury"s jazz phase through the 90s were additionally good-natured, well-attended events as a new generation rediscovered the root of so lot of the finest music of that decade.

But in 1999 his partner Monique de Latour acquired a restraining order against him because that assault, and in November 2001 he was arrested because that possession the 1.2g that cocaine, sentenced come 18-24 months and ordered to to visit rehab complying with that year"s europe tour. As soon as he failure to show up in court after ~ the tour finished, he was arrested and sent come prison. He was released in October 2002. The spent much of that fractured decade in and out of prison on medicine charges, and released no new work, favouring rather live performance and also writing. His struggle with seeks continued, and in July 2006 he to be again jailed after ~ he damaged the terms of a plea bargain deal on medicine charges by leaving a rehab clinic.

He went back to the studio in 2007, and three years later released I"m brand-new Here, created by Richard Russell, on the brother independent brand XL Recordings, to wide vital acclaim. On it, he turned his lyrical contemplation inwards, commenting in confessional and also haunting terms on his own loneliness, his upbringing, and also repentant admissions the his own frailty: "If girlfriend gotta salary for things you done wrong, then i gotta big bill coming!"

Tracks together as where Did the Night walk and brand-new York Is death Me set his touchingly weathering baritone end minimalistic beats and production, completing the redemptive reinstatement of among America"s most rebellious and also influential voices.

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In 1978 Scott-Heron married the gibbs Brenda Sykes, through whom he had a daughter, Gia. He additionally had one more daughter, Che, and a son, Rumal.

Gil Scott-Heron, poet, musician and author, born 1 April 1949; died 27 might 2011