The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2021 inductees today, and among them is the pioneering singer/songwriter and poet Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011), who made socially and politically potent music in the 1970s that fused jazz with R&B and who—although he preferred to refer to himself as a “bluesologist”—is widely regarded as one of the earliest rappers.
Recognizing Scott-Heron’s seminal role in the development of hip-hop, the Rock Hall honored him with an Early Influencer Award. (In an indication of the unusually wide stylistic range of this year’s class of inductees, the other two 2021 winners of that award are the German electronic collective Kraftwerk and the Mississippi Delta bluesman Charley Patton.)
Scott-Heron is one of only a small number of Rock Hall inductees (so far) to have strong jazz connections. Over the 35 years of its existence, the Hall has also inducted Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Nat “King” Cole, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Dr. John, Quincy Jones, Nina Simone, and Dinah Washington. Only Charles, Davis, Dr. John, and Simone were inducted as performers; the others received either the same Early Influencer honor as Scott-Heron or (in Jones’ case) the Ahmet Ertegun Award for music-industry professionals.
In collaboration with keyboardist/songwriter Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron wrote and recorded 10 albums between 1971 and 1980 that featured a string of hugely influential songs, including “Pieces of a Man,” “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” “The Bottle,” “Johannesburg,” “Angel Dust,” “We Almost Lost Detroit,” and—the track he remains best known for—”The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
One of Scott-Heron’s most successful albums, 1975’s Winter in America, was originally released on Strata-East Records, the independent label founded in 1971 by Charles Tolliver and the late Stanley Cowell. Look for a 50th-anniversary oral history of that label, featuring appearances by Scott-Heron and many others, in the June issue of JazzTimes.
The 36th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 30, 2021 at 8 p.m. ET at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, with a radio simulcast on SiriusXM’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Radio channel 310. The ceremony will air at a later date on HBO and stream on HBO Max.