Monday, April 09, 2012


Few people have ever seen this photograph in its entirety. It was made by the great Chuck Stewart and appeared on Gil Scott-Heron's very first album, on the Flying Dutchman label, the album on which some of us first heard "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" before the rest of the world heard it again, with a larger band on the recording, on the next album. But on that first LP, the space of the photograph taken up by the alley was blacked out and text appeared above Gil's head. It was still a striking photo. (What's up with that newspaper under his leg?) Still, the version on the album cover altered Stewart's amazing composition. Note that fellow all down the alley, counterposed to the new young poet.

This original composition was just one of the treasures put on display this past Saturday by Andrew Sekou Jackson, Director of the Langston Hughes Center of the Queens Library, who had organized this day of tributes to the late poet/novelist/memoirist/songwriter/performer. After playing some selections from Gil's works, the program kicked off with a screening of Robert Mugge's indispensable film shot in D.C.'s old Wax Museum and at various locations around the city. Black Wax remains by far the finest film of Scott-Heron in performance, and is, I'm happy to see, sill available. Next, David Mills, who I had last seen in Ghana, performed several of Gil's poems, after which I presented a portion of my on-going Scott-Heroniad, with photos from his D.C. days at Federal City College. There followed a panel featuring Herb Boyd, Tony Medina, Sonia Sanchez, Nana Camille Yarbrough and Atiba Wilson. My colleague Keith Gilyard was scheduled to be on the panel, but had to miss it due to poor health. His daughter read a statement from Keith to the audience and we were all glad to hear from him. The day closed out with a performance by Atiba Wilson's B 4 Quo'tet, with poetry recitations from David Mills and Tony Medina.

"I'm new here," wrote Gil Scott-Heron near the end. His work is the proverbial news that stays news, and we're always in need of his reports from the field.

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