Celebrating Lincoln’s legacy: Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron, as a Lincoln University student, in 1970 (The Lincolnian Archives)

Gil Scott-Heron, as a Lincoln University student, in 1970 (The Lincolnian Archives)

By: Nicole E. Webb

As another week in Black History month comes to a close, this week The Lincolnian would like to remember another Lincoln Lion – the legendary Gil Scott-Heron.

The soul and jazz poet was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1949 to Bobbie Scott-Heron, an opera singer, and Gil Heron, a Jamaican soccer player who went on to be the 1st Black to play for the Glasgow Celtic Football Club.

After his parents’ separation, Scott-Heron moved to the Bronx, New York where he earned a full scholarship for his impressive writings to the Ivy League Preparatory League School, The Ethical Culture Fieldston School. There the young writer excelled in creative writing and was known for his boldness and ability to speak his mind.

In the 1960’s, Scott-Heron attended Lincoln University where he met Bran Jackson and formed the band Black and Blues.

Though he never finished his undergraduate degree, in 1972, Scott-Heron received a master’s degree from John Hopkins University in Creative Writing. During this time, he wrote the novels “The Vulture and “The Nigger Factory.”

In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron began his recording career, releasing the album “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox” The album consisted of songs that focused on the themes of the superficiality of television and mass consumerism, the hypocrisy of some Black revolutionaries, and white middle-class ignorance of the difficulties faced by inner-city residents.

One of Scott-Heron’s best compositions is stated to be “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, a poem and song off of his 1971 album “Pieces of a Man”. The song is known by the New Statesman as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs” for its controversial slogan and its appeal to address many of the political issues occurring during the time.

In 1978, his hit “Angel Dust” reached No. 15 on the R&B charts.

Scott-Heron would go on to inspire other African American genres including hip-hop and neo-soul. He is also known as one of the founders of political rap. In an interview relating to hip-hop in the 1990’s, Scott-Heron stated, “They need to study music. 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…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.”

In 2001, Scott-Heron was arrested in New York for narcotic possession. After his release in 2002, he appeared on Blackalicious’ album “Blazing Arrow”. He would later continue to perform, mainly in New York at the famous SOBs.

On May 27, 2011, Scott-Heron died at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, after becoming ill during a trip to Europe. The causes of his death have yet to be released.

Today, many artists, especially in the rap community, appreciate Scott-Heron’s legacy. Hip-Hop mogul Kanye West performed at Scott-Heron’s funeral “Lost in the World” off of his album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, which Scott-Heron’s poem “Who Will Survive In America” is featured on.

In January of 2012, Scott-Heron’s memoir, “The Last Holiday” was published by Canongate in England and Grove Press in the United States.

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