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Your Memories of Gil Scott-Heron

Saturday, May 28, 2011 - 12:14 PM

Gil Scott-Heron (

Above: Listen to Soundcheck's interview with Gil Scott-Heron from February 10, 2009.

Musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron died Friday in New York. He was 62 years old. Best known for his spoken-word masterpiece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Scott-Heron was dubbed "the godfather of rap," but the albums he released as a singer-songwriter in the 1970s and early '80s skewed toward soul, funk and jazz. His recorded output slowed dramatically until 2010, when he released the comeback album "I'm New Here" to critical acclaim.

My first memory of Gil Scott-Heron was seeing him on an early edition of "Saturday Night Live," performing his song "Johannesburg." It was a startling moment: his lyrics took no prisoners, and his delivery was pointed and angry. I wasn't sure what, exactly, he was doing, but I knew he rocked.

My last memory of Gil Scott-Heron was his visit to Soundcheck in 2009. He was late - I think he walked in just as the NPR newscast was ending and we were scrambling to move our other guests around. But when he arrived, we found him to be - unsurprisingly - a good storyteller, and, to my surprise and relief, a charming guy. If he had the air of an absent-minded professor about him, well that wasn't a surprise either. We'd recorded one of his spoken-word performances at Central Park Summerstage back in, I think, the 90s, but never aired it because we couldn't get him to give his okay for the broadcast.

His ongoing problems with drug addiction were well-known, and I was pleased to see that the man who didn't hesitate to call out rappers when he thought they'd lost the plot was also unflinching in talking about his own demons, even if he couldn't seem to shake them.

How are you marking the death of Gil Scott-Heron? Post your memories of Gil Scott-Heron, his music and his legacy. Leave a comment below.

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Comments [7]

Shadeed Ahmad from New York City

Gil Scott-Heron fit the bill of being a consummate warrior in the fight for human rights. He was wounded enough in that struggle, but he kept up the fight to the end. He fulfilled his mission in life by raising the consciousness of many of the oppressed of the world and being their eloquent and non-negotiable voice.

Gil's legacy of using his GOD given gifts as tools for bringing humanity closer to understanding and respecting its self, is art at its finest level of service.

The Honorable Gil Scott-Heron will be missed immensely. The authenticity of his relationship with purveying truth will in due time evolve into volumes of literature being written about him with the requisite respect for his accomplishments.

Gil's spirit is a precursor of a time when human beings will be predominantly living comfortably with truth, regardless of what it is. The truth indeed will set us free to be our highest and most spiritually eloquent selves, which Gil battled gallantly to be in spite of the often massive trials of life.

God Bless you, Gil and rest in well deserved peace.

Jun. 07 2011 03:50 AM

First, amazing artist, his music will not be forgotten.

Second, not sure of the timeline, but since he had just returned from Europe maybe this has something to do with his death -

May. 30 2011 11:34 AM
Reynold Tortora

The first time I heard "In the bottle" I was indeed a big Gil Scott fan. It was on WBLS. I simply loved everything about that song. I found out that he had been controversial or as they say poitical. I always thought that he was just telling it like it was. HIS GENIUS WILL BE MISSED.
For being one who over the years battled his own demons....I feel I knew him well.
Rest Easy in the love of the hereafter Gil and thanks.

May. 30 2011 12:18 AM

I'm honoring GSH by discovering his later, more soulful, more loving music. It's a completely different thing.
What a beautiful surprise. And the early recordings are remarkable, too, but he clearly kept growing as an artist.

May. 29 2011 04:57 PM
Gregory Wintersteen

May. 28 2011 08:04 PM
Amun-Re Runninghorse from Lidingö, Sweden

I was hired by Arista Records to shoot a picture of Gil Scott-Heron and Clive Davis back in the 70's. It was my first commercial account and I fudged it. Then last year, I had a chance to meet him and photograph his concert and redeem myself - a fitting memorial to this legend:

May. 28 2011 08:00 PM

Gil Scott-Heron's appearance on Soundcheck in 2009 ranks among my favorite during my years working on the show.

First, John and the producers were very excited to have such a remarkable artist on the show. Second, he performed "Your Daddy Loves You" at our piano -- quite a treat. Third, we heard a great "New York moment" when John read this comment from our listener Ash.

"Two Sundays ago, [Scott-Heron] made room for me to sit next to him on the uptown IRT #2 subway. When I realized who he was (another straphanger wanted his autograph), it gave me a chance to tell him how much I have always loved his 'A Very Precious Time.' We even managed to sing a few verses as we made our way uptown."

Scott-Heron's reaction? "I remember that guy! He was a very nice brother!" He laughed. "It's funny when you hear from different people and find out what particular song they might have liked, what mood it put them in."

It's one of my favorite moments on the show. Two years later, I still carry the mental image of Gil Scott-Heron and his fan, Ash, singing a few lines from this song on a subway seat. Only in New York, folks.

May. 28 2011 02:24 PM

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