Gil Scot Heron, 1949-2011

by Mark Pinder

It is very sad to hear of the death of poet, performer and articulator of the American black experience Gil Scot Heron at the terribly young age of only 62.

Not only did he talk the talk, but he walked the walk, penning and performing songs which articulated forcefully and brilliantly the sense of rage, betrayal and injustice felt not just by black America, but by the American poor as a whole.

Sometimes described as the ‘black Bob Dylan’, I disagree. Heron was no phony like Dylan, a middle class white boy who never really engaged with the 60’s protest movements whilst singing about things he had no experience of, offering a sanitized, unthreatening, white friendly version of a folk genre rooted in American working class and black cultures. Gil, by comparison, was the real deal.

We all know his most famous work, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘ but I’m linking here to one of my other favourite songs, ‘Did You Hear What They Said‘, a song about the way America can send a disproportionate number of its Black citizens to fight and die in wars like Vietnam or Iraq, yet treat them as second class citizens in return. There is also a good profile from Newsnight dating back to 2009 here with part 2, here.

I look forward to hearing Obamas tribute to Gil!