“The first revolution is when you change your mind,” a prolific statement by poet, novelist, musician, and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron. Best known for his signature spoken word piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil has released more than 20 albums and hundreds of compelling compositions that addressed profound social issues as well as the love, happiness and pain of the human condition. He arrived on the international stage simultaneously with various Black Arts Movement poets, including Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni. He shared their conviction that art must be functional and, therefore, as an artist and communal leader, he must embrace his role as a significant political voice inevitably committed to the liberation of black people.
Gil was born on April 1, 1949 in Chicago Illinois to parents Bobbie Scott Heron, a librarian, and Giles (Gil) Heron, a Jamaican professional soccer player. When he was 18 months old, he went to live with his grandmother, Lily Scott, in Jackson, TN. He grew up in Tennessee and in the Bronx, New York.
By age 13, Gil had written his first collection of poems. While attending DeWitt Clinton high school in the Bronx, his precocious writing talent was recognised by an English teacher, and he was recommended for a place at the prestigious Fieldston school. In 1966, he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received an M.S. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.
In 1968, he published his first novel, The Vulture, a murder mystery whose central themes included the devastating effects of drugs on urban black life set in the ghetto. Encouraged to begin recording by legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele, who had worked with every major jazz great from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane, Gil released his debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lennox (1970), inspired by a volume of poetry of the same name. After recording for Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Records until the mid-’70s. Following a dispute with the label, he moved on to record Winter in America (1974) for Strata East, then moved to Clive Davis’s Arista Records. He was the first artist signed by the newly formed company.
As one of America’s most unique and inspiring voices, Gil’s work has influenced writers, academics and musicians, from indie rockers to hip-hop artists. His work was the template for subsequent African-American music genres, such as hip-hop, neo-soul, and nu-soul. He has been described by music writers as “The Godfather Of Rap”.
On May 27, 2011, Gil Scott-Heron died in a Manhattan hospital. He was 62.
“A good poet feels what his community feels. Like if you stub your toe, the rest of your body hurts.”
“I am a black man dedicated to expression; expression of the joy and pride of blackness. I consider myself neither poet, composer, or musician. These are merely tools used by sensitive men to carve out a piece of beauty or truth that they hope may lead to peace and salvation.”
“All the dreams you show up in are not your own.”
“Colour is not the issue in America; class is.”
“Man is a complex being: he makes deserts bloom – and lakes die.”
“You have to learn and keep learning.”
“The first revolution is when you change your mind”
“The way you get to know yourself is by the expression on other people’s faces.”
“You should be able to do anything you can afford as an adult.”
“As for money – when I have it, it’s great. When I don’t, I go get some. I’ve been a dishwasher, a gardener, a cleaner.”
“I am honestly not sure how capable I am of love. And I’m not sure why.”
“I learned early on that your audience take the songs in the way they want to rather than the way you might want them too.”
“My songs were always about the tone of voice rather than the words.”
Small Talk at 125th and Lennox (1970. album)
The Vulture (1970, book)
Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970, book)
Pieces of a Man (1971, album)
The Nigger Factory (1972, book)
Free Will (1972, album)
Winter in America (1974, album)
The First Minute of a New Day (1975, album)
From South Africa to South Carolina (1975, album)
It’s Your World (1976, album)
The Baron (1977, film)
Bridges (1977, album)
Secrets (1978, album)
1980 (1980, album)
Real Eyes (1980, album)
Reflections (1981, album)
Moving Target (1982, album)
So Far, So Good (1990, book)
Spirits (1994, album)
Now and Then: The Poems of Gil Scott-Heron (2001, book)
I’m New Here (2010, album)
The Last Holiday (2012, book)
AWARDS & HONORS:
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2012)
Grammy Hall of Fame (2014)
ReCreate Model: Clement Mallory
ReCreate Photographer: Jasmine Y. Mallory
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