This Day In History: April 1st
If you have heard the phrase, “the revolution won’t be televised,” then you were listening to the words of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron. Gil Scott-Heron rose to popularity during the 1970s and used his poetry to provide critiques of American politics, racism and mass media.
Scott-Heron was born on April 1, 1949, in Chicago, Illinois. His mother worked as a librarian and his father was a Jamaican soccer player. As a teenager, Scott-Heron began exploring his interest in writing and created detective stories that won him a scholarship. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he wrote his first novel The Vulture (1970), a murder mystery.
His time at Lincoln University allowed him to meet Brian Jackson and the two often worked on music collaborations. In 1970, Scott-Heron put out Small Talk at 125th and Lenox which first introduced the world to the piece, “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised.” Other notable features on the album include, “Whitey On The Moon,” “Enough” and “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?” The success of Small Talk at 125th and Lenox brought him to the forefront of the Black Arts Movement and many credit the production as a predecessor to rap music.
The following year, he released Pieces of a Man (1971) and recorded a new rendition of “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised” which included a full band and jazz bassist Ron Carter. He also published the The Nigger Factory in 1972, which told the story of campus unrest at a fictional historically Black college. From 1970 to 1982, Scott-Heron released more than a dozen albums, was signed as an artist to Clive Davis and performed with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Run-DMC and Bob Dylan.
During his height of influence, Scott-Heron recorded works such as Winter in America (1974), Bridges (1977) and Reflections (1981). By the end of the 1980s, he slowed down from production but recorded an album in 1994. He made another return to the studio in 2007 and created his final album I’m New Here in 2010 with XL Recording, an independent British label.
Gil Scott-Heron died on May 27, 2011. A decade after his death, Scott-Heron was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.