Gil Scott-Heron Dies at 62


INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Gil Scott-Heron performs during day one of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2010 held at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2010 in Indio, California. (Anna Webber/GETTY IMAGES)

Cristian Salazar of the Associated Press writes, “ Mr. Scott-Heron was known for work that reflected the fury of black America in the post-civil rights era and also 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.”

He is sometimes called “the Godfather of Rap,” but rejected the title, even though rappers such as Kanye West, Common, and Tupac have sampled his works.

Salazar also notes a 2008 interview with New York Magazine, in which Scott-Heron said that he had been living with HIV for years and continued to battle an addiction to crack cocaine.

In 2008, Marcus Baram of New York Magazine wrote, “Now out on parole again, he says he’s trying to stay clean (“I’m doing my best”), but he remains unrepentant.”

Baram also noted his influence on academia. “His example has been a profound inspiration to me and so many others,” says Princeton University’s Cornel West in the New York Magazine interview. “In terms of fusing the musical with the prophetic and being willing to take a risk or pay a cost in order to lay bare some unsettling truths with such artistic sophistication.”

In December 2010, Scott-Heron was in Washington for a performance at Blues Alley in Georgetown. He performed and toured until his death, releasing a new album in 2010 entitled “I’m New Here,” his first album after a 16-year break from recording.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.

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