Although sometimes referred to as “the godfather of rap,” in reality Gil Scott-Heron at his peak was one of the world’s top poets and an important voice in expressing the feelings of minorities and those on the left side of politics. Born in Chicago in 1949, Scott-Heron spent time living in Tennessee before attending high school in the Bronx. He finished his first volume of poetry by the time he was 13. Scott-Heron attended college at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, meeting keyboardist Brian Jackson, who would become involved in Scott-Heron’s most important recordings. However, Scott-Heron dropped out after a year to work as a writer, having success with his first novel, The Vulture.
A charismatic performer, Scott-Heron made his recording debut in 1970 with Small Talk at 125th And Lenox, a set of poetry readings backed by jazz and funk musicians. That set included “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a powerful piece of social commentary that would become his best-known composition. Scott-Heron recorded several classic albums for Flying Dutchman in the early 1970s before switching to Arista, where he had some success with R&B-oriented recordings including “Johannesburg,” “Angel Dust” and “The Bottle” and made insightful and sometimes humorous points on “H2O Gate Blues” and “Bicentennial Blues.” He also developed into a singer and paid tribute to jazz on “Lady Day and John Coltrane.” But after the release of his 1984 single “Re-Ron,” He has recorded only sporadically during the past two decades.