I discovered Gil Scott-Heron’s music as a college student. While writing a term paper titled “The Linguistics of Hip-Hop”, I stumbled upon Scott-Heron’s seminal album, Winter in America. I was smitten by the songs “The Bottle” and “Rivers of My Fathers” (I liked this one because it reminded me of Langston Hughes’s poem, A Negro Speaks of Rivers.
It is ironic that hip-hop led me to Scott-Heron because the silver-tongued poet was not a big fan of rappers.
“They need to study music,” he said in an interview. “I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humor. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.”
Scott-Heron didn’t do a lot of posturing, but he did make a lot of good music. One of my favorite songs is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It is a powerful song that moves your body and makes you thing.
Scott-Heron released his album Spirits in 1994, the year I graduated from college. It was one of the albums that got me through some tough times during my senior year.
Before I graduated, I got to see Scott-Heron live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC. It was a great show filled with passion, energy, and phenomenal musicianship. I always loved the way he mixed jazz, funk, R&B, soul, and poetry into a singular musical sound.
Although Scott-Heron has gone on to the next life, he will always remain alive in my soul.