Tuesday, June 01, 2021

MEET... Gil Scott-Heron

“The revolution will  not be televised”: Famous words known by many, but the originator of the phrase - not as much. 

Gil Scott-Heron was an African-American poet, singer-songwriter and musician whose work served as a type of social commentary for the times and events unfolding both in and outside of the United States during his lifetime. Scott-Heron’s recording career began in 1970 with his debut album ‘Small Talk at 125th and Lenox’ where he confidently addressed themes involving the poor quality of television and issues faced by those who lived in the inner-city.  The album also includes ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; one of his most well-known pieces of work. 

As an overtly political artist, Gil did not take the easy route of ‘playing it safe’ with the content of his music; discussing glaring problems like the racism in apartheid-era South Africa in his song ‘Johannesburg’, and comparing it with racism in the United States; insinuating that the US was not much better. This was in addition to also taking aim at political leaders; primarily criticising Former President Ronald Regan in his song ‘B Movie’. Though this song was recorded in 1981 the relevancy of Gil’s lyrics today (specifically “racism's up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot…Jobs are down, money is scarce, and common sense is at an all-time low on heavy trading”) are testament to his ability to transcend time as an Artist. 

The years of 2001-2007 were a personal low for Scott-Heron, which saw him in and out of prison and rehab for drug-related problems; before eventually being paroled in 2007. Upon his release, Gil returned to music and - after a 16yr hiatus - released the critically acclaimed album ‘I’m New Here’ independently in 2009. But just two years later - on 27th May 2011 - he passed away in New York City after becoming ill having returned from Europe. 

Gil Scott-Heron’s body of work - from a 40 year career - consists of social and political commentary and criticism; displaying a bold voice that refused to refrain from documenting the times he lived in. He was an artist who stood firm in using his platform differently to most of his peers; some of whom dabbled temporarily in making ‘conscious’ music before returning to their own original sound. For music fans who want to experience an Artist who was ‘woke’ long before it was ever considered popular…meet Gil Scott-Heron. 

Shahida Wood

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Image: Gil Scott-Heron: A Tribute to Greatness | SPIN

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