28 May 2011

Gil Scott-Heron. b. April 1, 1949 - d. May 27, 2011.

Recording artist Gil Scott-Heron performing at the Asbury Park Community Center in Asbury Park, NJ in 1993. Heron, sometimes known as the godfather of rap was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949, and raised in Jackson, TN. He died on May 27, 2011 in Harlem. He was 62. © www.chetgordon.com/blog

I just learned this evening that Gil Scott-Heron has died. He was one of the most influential poets and recording artists in the last 30 years or so, and one whose body of work I greatly admired. Some of his signature tunes and readings like "Johannesburg", "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", "The Bottle", "Winter in America", "Must Be Something", "Angel Dust", "Lady Day & John Coltrane", "We Almost Lost Detroit", and "The Bicentennial Blues" all spoke to social injustices in the inner cities and the hypocrisy he continually exposed in Washington, as well as Apartheid South Africa in the '70's. Although his work didn't get a lot of mainstream airplay, he had quite a following both here in the U.S., and like a lot of outspoken performers, internationally as well. His work is now routinely sampled by other artists. Nowadays he's been referred to as the "godfather of rap", which of course doesn't do justice to his musical genius and political awareness and activism. There would be no Chuck D and Public Enemy, Michael Franti, and I'm sure no Jay Z if there hadn't been a Gil Scott-Heron laying it down 30 years ago. In an interview on WFUV-FM, his reply was simply "I'm just a piano player from Tennessee and I'd rather they call me that, then call collect..." I had the opportunity to photograph Gil in a really small venue in Asbury Park, NJ back in the early '90's. If memory serves, this image was obviously made on a film camera back then, probably one of my old Nikon F-3's or even an f-4. I'm pretty sure the image was shot on T-Max P3200. I remember when he arrived in the community center's gym and there were probably all of 20 - 30 people there milling around with folding chairs set up. He mumbled a few inaudible things on stage to the band and proceeded to put on a knockout show. I'd also seen him perform in Atlanta, and a few other times in the NYC / metro area, including one of his regular stops at the club SOB's on Varick and West Houston Streets in lower Manhattan. ~cg.

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