by Patrice Gaines, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
A memorial service has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Riverside Church in New York City for poet-musician-teacher-singer Gil Scott-Heron, who died last Friday in New York at the age of 62.
A public viewing also is scheduled for 6-9 p.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 81st Street and Madison Avenue.
Scott-Heron, who has been called the “godfather of rap,” didn’t always carry the title comfortably but he was adored across generations, parents and children, writers, musicians, poets and political revolutionaries – real and wannabe. His work has been sampled by hip-hop musicians.
He was known for his quick wit and satirical tongue, some of it a defense mechanism against taunting and teasing from classmates.
Lurma Rackley, who had a son, Rumal, with Scott-Heron, recalled Scott-Heron used to tell her how kids teased him when he was growing, calling him “a fool because his birthday was April 1st.”
“He said he used to tell them, ‘Everybody born on December 25th ain’t Jesus.”
Scott-Heron struggled for years with drug addiction and admitted in an interview that he was HIV-positive. An official cause of death has not been released.
When news broke last week that Scott-Heron had died, reporters, music and cultural critics who wrote about him were bombarded with emails and calls from people wanting to tell their “Gil story.” People who posted personal remembrances on their Facebook pages have long strings on their discussion boards from people who had only listened to his records, to those who had seen him in concert, to those who met/interviewed/hung out with/worked with/took a class from him and felt compelled to share their memories.
Days later, people continue to reach out to tell their stories about Scott-Heron. In death, he has triggered an outpouring of love on a scale that normally seems reserved for superstars.
A.L. Nielson, English professor at Pennsylvania State University, took two creative writing courses from Scott-Heron at Federal City College in Washington, D.C. (now part of the University of the District of Columbia) in the early ‘70s and he said Scott-Heron left “a remarkable legacy.”
“The first class, there were hardly any students. By the second, people had an idea who he was and it was full. He was a year and a half older than me and he had written one novel, one poetry book and had three LPs. He already had his master’s from Johns Hopkins. What impressed me was the incredible range of literature he knew. Also, he was interested in pop modern writing. I think he was one of the best creative writing teachers I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of them. People forget what a good literary writer he was. You don’t find him in many anthologies, but he was a good poet.”
“We don’t want to just see him as a guy on stage. No, he was a teacher, a songwriter…He was multi-talented,” said E. Ethelbert Miller, a poet and writer and board chair for the Institute for Policy Studies. “That’s why I say on my blog I hope Gil Scott-Heron will be televised as a full man and not reduced to pieces of a man.”