Gil Scott-Heron receiving the Lifetime achievement Grammy is entirely fitting and proper because his significance as an historic artist is indelible. He was truly brilliant as a pioneer in fusing scintillating spoken word poetry/rap with a powerful musical brew of blues,jazz,soul and world pop into a fresh, startling presentation of the world probed through a sharp prism of politically conscious, existentially charged lyrics full of deep wisdom and real heart at a crucial time in our nation’s struggle to fully realize the potential of its professed ideals.
Gil was a charismatic genius, gifted with a keen intelligence, highly literate, educated, erudite, articulate and professorial by nature. His voice was a unique and commanding instrument of strength and sensitivity, of grit and grace. He was witty, caustic and funny as hell. His was a clarion call speaking truth to power, and challenging us all to stand up for Right and for human rights. He cared deeply about the fate of Black folks and the future of humanity. In the 70s, he and fellow traveller Brian Jackson made sublime music together that raised the consciousness of a whole generation of Black collegians and liberation minded creative folk in ways that has resonated down through the years to generations in the works now ofso many of great rappers who consider him as the Godfather of Rap. Indeed he was, but he was more than that.
Because Gil was always mainly about The Truth, about justice and righteousness, and connecting those ideal to great music. And that was what he did with remarkable collaborations with Brian Jackson.
I knew him before he started making music with Brian, when we were both 19 and in college, going around performing poetry at different gigs in the Philly area. He was an Old Soul ,even then ,way ahead of the rest of us poets, in his full grown man grasp of Life. He had already written a novel, put out an album of poetry,and was cooking up the magic music he and Brian concocted of “Pieces of a Man” which launched his career in 1971. I think is fair to say that most of his storied recognition stems from the music they made during the 70s because it is without a doubt the music he is most remembered for, right? I’ve always been a huge fan, and I’m so proud to say I knew him well back in the day when he was at his best, and Gil was certainly one of the best when he was at his best.and we are all the better for it.the music he and Brian made for Bob Thiele, and with Malcolm Cecil and the midnight band for Clive Davis, has and will surely stand the test of time. The message he courageously championed will never die in the minds and hearts of those who care about freedom and human progress.
Finally, I’m sure he would be deeply grateful to know he is being honored in this most profound way, and that his legacy will be properly recognized ,protected. And advanced by his family heirs, past comrades and colleagues going forward.