On Point: Scott-Heron Celebration Wasn't Televised

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The spirit of fierce determination that characterized Scott-Heron’s ardently defiant work shone through in virtually every performance.

[Gil Scott-Heron: Celebrations]

If the music of the Black Rock Coalition did not wake the late Gil Scott-Heron from his grave on January 14 at Symphony Space, no homage to the poet-activist in this year after his passing is likely to.

"Pardon Our Analysis," a musical tribute curated by Latasha Diggs and backed by Poets and Writers, Symphony Space, Bill Bragin and notable others – celebrated the legacy of Scott-Heron’s poetry and his music.

The performance seemed a spontaneous combustion of talent, a reverent emulation of the artist himself. In a continuous two-and-a-half-hour set without MC or interruption, the star-studded cast put on a rousing choral performance of Gil’s anthemic Love In a Bottle; a soulful duet by Sandra St. Victor and Martha Redbone with immaculately phrased vocals, a high-octane performance by Nona Hendryx; a reading of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by an ensemble featuring Carl Hancock Rux, and more.

The spirit of fierce determination that characterized Scott-Heron’s ardently defiant work shone through in virtually every performance.

So heavy was the onslaught of talent that you wondered whether the vocalists and spoken word performers were trying to outdo each other. But not for long, as guitar solos by the virtuosic Vernon Reid and Ben Tyree took your breath away.

Much of Scott-Heron’s life remains unknown despite the recent release of his official memoir, The Last Holiday. Bryan Jackson, Gil’s friend and talented keyboardist who gave the audience a glimmer of youthful bohemian days in Washington, D.C. in his personal remembrances, left the impression of a charismatic man who has been sorely missed since he passed on of cancer last year at the age of 62.

Late into the night, Roger Guenveur Smith’s ad lib poetry left you wanting a bit less, but it was still entertaining how he dramatized his poetry with the wide slow motions of a stoned dub poet or a Rastafarian sage. Perhaps Guenveur’s performance was designed to send a message about how far Scott-Heron’s legacy reached, about the pride of those remote followers who claim him hardest: Black nationalists of Caribbean ancestry, die-hard hip hop heads who still credit him with the genre’s creation, and disenchanted urban poets everywhere.


"Speaking Truth To Empower."



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