Scott Heron’s Music ‘Reflected Black Anger’ (WTH ?!) I Can’t…

On Friday, May 27th, 2011, Gil Scott-Heron died, and it was up to the rest of us left here on Earth to decide whether that mattered much. Within hours, the Internet began buzzing about his life, his incredible talent, and the impression his words and music left on the minds and hearts of millions of us, of every ethnicity, around the globe.

I was one of the writers online that day, hurriedly putting together a post that might somehow reflect the impact this man had on me when I was first exposed to his music/heart/genius at a young age. Finding words to explain the emotional connection I feel to this poet/griot/brother I never even met is impossible, so I posted his words instead  and mourned his passing privately.

Two days later, after spending the weekend with his music, I thought I’d try again at a more in-depth tribute to Mr. Scott-Heron. I began a fact-finding mission by visiting Google to find details related to his life and death. I typed “Gil Scott-Heron” “died,” and at the top of the results list was this headline from a Washington Post obituary by Christian Salazar, a writer for the Associated Press:

Gil Scott-Heron, Whose Music Reflected Black Anger, Dies at 62


You’re a journalist for the AP. You are given the great honor of writing Gil Scott-Heron’s obituary.  That’s your headline?

I can’t…

The matter-of-fact obituary was sprinkled with bland tidbits about Scott-Heron’s life, but was mostly a commentary on his “battle with crack cocaine,”  “time in jail,”  and “living with HIV.”

It is beyond me to figure out how anyone who has investigated this incredible artist’s body of work could write 546 words about him without the terms “legend” “genius,” “soul,” “passion” or “intensity” ever coming to mind.

“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.” -Christian Salazar

There was no mention of  Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man:

I saw my grandma sweeping
With her old straw broom
But she didn’t know what she was doing
She could hardly understand
That she was really sweeping up..
Pieces of a man

Save the Children:

“We got to do something yeah to save the children
Soon it will be their test to try and save the world
Right now they seem to play such a small part of
The things that they soon be right at the heart of

Rivers of My Fathers:

Looking for a way. Got to find a way out of this confusion
Looking for a sign point my way home
Let me lay down by a stream miles from everything
Rivers of my fathers. Rivers of my fathers
Carry me home. Please carry me home

or his rendition of Withers’ Grandma’s Hands:

Grandma’s hands clapped in church on Sunday mornings
Grandma’s hands played the tambourine so well
Grandma’s hands used to issue out a warning…

Grandma’s hands soothed the local unwed mothers
Grandma’s hands used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma’s hands, well they really came in handy…

But I don’t have grandma anymore…
When I get to heaven I’ll look for grandma’s hands.

It feels sadly tragic to me that a person could focus so intently on the perceived deficits in Gil Scott-Heron’s life and character and miss the wealth of love, honesty and instruction with which he gifted us.

As with countless creative geniuses such as Jackson, Joplin, Gibran, Hemingway, etc. (who possessed an extraordinary ability to tap into the love, hopes, struggles, pain and anger of a people) Heron spent much of his life emotionally raw—it is an existence that often leads exceptional poets, authors, artists and musicians to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

It is interesting/frustrating/infuriating to peruse the Internet for obituaries of other infamous icons and find the legendary Johnny Cash, who fought drug and alcohol addiction and had several brushes with the law, but whose “angry music” is respectfully balanced against his entire body of work.

Yet, somehow the genius of Gil Scott Heron can so easily be reduced to “…black anger.”

Black anger.


I’m wondering what you might say about that today, Mr. Scott-Heron ?

A Prayer for Everybody to be Free
by Gil Scott-Heron

This is a prayer for everybody
In the world
‘Cause I need you and you need me
We need each other

This is a prayer for everybody
in the world
A prayer for you
A prayer for me
A prayer for love and harmony
A prayer for light for all to see
A prayer that someday we’ll all be free

There’s a lot that’s wrong
We must be strong
And not become bitter
If there’s a chance
That mankind will profit
Why should we scoff at something new
Or old – if it can make us better?

This is a prayer for everybody
In the world
‘Cause without you
And without me
Without love and harmony
Without courage and dignity
What would it mean
To be free?

Amen, Brother Gil.


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