Gil Scott-Heron, at 62; musician sang, spoke about social injustice
NEW YORK — Long before Public Enemy urged the need to “Fight the Power’’ or N.W.A. offered a crude rebuke of the police, Gil-Scott Heron was articulating the rage and the disillusionment of the black masses through song and spoken word. Mr. Scott-Heron, widely considered one of the godfathers of rap with his piercing social and political prose laid against the backdrop of minimalist percussion, flute, and other instrumentation, died Friday at age 62. His was a life full of groundbreaking, revolutionary music and personal turmoil that included a battle with crack cocaine and stints behind bars in his later years.
Musician and singer Michael Franti, who also is known for work that has examined racial and social injustices, perhaps summed up the dichotomy of Mr. Scott-Heron in a statement yesterday that described him as “a genius and a junkie.’’
“The first time I met him in San Francisco in 1991 while working as a doorman at the Kennel Klub, my heart was broken to see a hero of mine barely able to make it to the stage, but when he got there he was clear as crystal while singing and dropping knowledge bombs in his between song banter,’’ said Franti, who described himself as a longtime friend. “His view of the world was so sad and yet so inspiring.’’
Mr. Scott-Heron was known for work that reflected the fury of black America in the post-civil rights era and spoke to the social and political disparities in the country. His songs often had incendiary titles — “Home is Where the Hatred Is’’ or “Whitey on the Moon’’ — and through spoken word and song he tapped the frustration of the masses.
Mr. Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of “The Vulture,’’ a murder mystery.