The music world is notoriously divided when it comes to deciding who are the great artists and who’s had the biggest impact on a particular genre.
But the loss of one particular musician has produced an unusually united response. From places as far afield as Chicago, where he was born, to South Africa, where he campaigned against Apartheid – almost everyone seems to agree that we have lost one of the greatest musicians that ever lived.
Gil Scott-Heron passed away here in New York, a week ago, and will be buried after a private funeral service tomorrow. He was a novelist, a composer and a lyricist. He combined the insight of a social scientist with the intuition of a poet.
I can remember hearing his most famous song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” as an eight-year-old child in London in 1971, and asking a teacher, how it was possible for a man’s voice to be so dominant across the whole record? She told me, then, what I would soon discover for myself – that Gil Scott-Heron possessed more talent than most bands put together.
His music often conveyed the anger felt by so many African-Americans during the post-Civil Rights era – when the hope of change collided with the still powerful forces of institutional racism. From “Home is where the Hatred is” to “Whitey on the Moon,” he described the predicament of joblessness and hopelessness for so many of his contemporaries.
But it would be a disservice to describe his music as driven solely by anger. In fact, many of his songs are tender and romantic and often speak of the brittle nature of love and family life. And he wrote from experience.
The separation of his parents when he was just two was followed by 10 happy years living with his grandmother. But then, aged 12, he would wake up to find that she had passed away in the night. The pain of that loss lived in his memory and can be heard in the harmonies of so many of his songs.
His album, “Pieces of a Man,” features a song entitled, “I think I’ll Call it Morning.” It is one of Gil Scott-Heron’s most beautiful compositions and may yet prove to be true for him.
“I’m gonna take myself a piece of sunshine,” he wrote, “and paint it all over my sky… be no rain, be no rain.” Gil Scott-Heron was 62. He will be laid to rest tomorrow.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Guest Blog - Martin Bashir on Gil Scott-Heron
but his tribute to the late Gil Scott-Heron, one of my all time favorite performers, was spot-on. From his show today on MSNBC. I'll post the video when it's available.