Friday, December 26, 2008

Gil Heron, 81, Father of Musician Gil Scott-Heron, Joins the Ancestors

Gil Heron, 81, father of Gil Scott-Heron, joins the ancestors

By Norman (Otis) Richmond

Gil Heron, who was known as the Black Arrow has joined the ancestors.

Heron was 87 years old, a poet and professional soccer player.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1921, he was the father of the revolutionary author/poet/singer and musician Gil Scott-Heron, who received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known songs,” The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

Gil Heron passed away in a nursing home in Detroit on Nov.27.

Heron is survived by three children: Gil, Gail and Dennis. Another son, Kenny, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Detroit. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

One of Heron’s surviving brothers, Roy Heron, was featured in a 2008 article,” At 85, Roy Heron’s a leader”, in Share newspaper by Dr. Lorne Foster.

Dr. Foster wrote then: “Heron has been a stalwart in African Canadian life and politics for over 60 years, fiercely dedicated to the principles of self-determination and consciousness-raising. He has single-mindedly maintained the same impassioned commitment to social justice that he possessed when he arrived in Canada in 1941.”

After Scott-Heron’s last performance in Toronto at the El Mocambo, he introduced “Uncle Roy”.

Roy Heron, remembered his younger brother with the following statement. “He was a brilliant person who showed people of color what they can achieve.” The older Heron attended his brother’s funeral in Detroit.

Gil Heron moved to Canada as a boy, and is believed to have
first shown evidence of football skills during a spell in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He moved to the USA after World II and joined the Detroit Wolverines. Heron played in the United States and was invited to Scotland for a public trail at Celtic Park on Aug 4, 1951, scoring twice in the game.

According to press reports from Scottish newspapers: “The club signed him and he made his debut on August 18, 1951 in a League Cup tie against Morton at Celtic Park. He scored once in a 2-0 victory.

Heron was a published poet. One of his books was entitled, “I Shall Wish For You”. He was featured in a 1947 Ebony magazine article which referred to him as the “Black Babe Ruth.“ I spent many hours in the library at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) looking for that article, to no avail.

I met Gil Scott-Heron in the summer of 1976 when he made his first Canadian appearance at the world-famous El Mocambo. I interviewed him at a downtown hotel and asked him about his father. Arista records publicity campaign had gone to great lengths to point out that Scott-Heron’s father, Gil Heron, had been a professional soccer player for Scotland. Scott-Heron appeared to be taken aback. “The Scott’s raised me” was his acid reply.

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, but spent his early childhood in the home of his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother, Bobbie Scott-Heron, sang with the New York Oratorial Society. At the time of my first meeting with Scott-Heron he had not met his father. It was at that time I met his Jamaican-born uncle, Roy Heron, Aunt Noreen and cousins Melissa and Kathleen.

Heron was at Celtic for a year, making five appearances and scoring two goals before joining Third Lanark.

He eventually returned to the United States and settled in Detroit. He was also the father of jazz musician and composer, Gil Scott-Heron, who received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known songs: "The Revolution Will Not be Televised.”

After the show with Scott-Heron and the Midnight Band, people hung out on that warm summer night at College and Spadina. Many of us watched Scott-Heron get into a taxi cab with three women. An African-Canadian sister confronted me outside the club and said, “I just saw your boy, Gil Scott-Heron, get into a cab with three White women.”

I replied, “I saw him too and the three women were his aunt and two cousins.”

Scott-Heron finally met his father when he was 26. The meeting is immortalized on the “Bridges” album on the song “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”

Says Scott-Heron:
”Manager we had just couldn't manage
So midnight managed right along
And it's got me out here with my brothers
And that's the thing that keeps me strong
Say Hello Sunday, Hello Road
Seems like Midnights' coming up on a town
The children on their way to Sunday school
I'm tippin' my hat to Miss Chocolate Brown
And it was on a Sunday that I met my old man
I was twenty-six years old
Naw but it was much too late to speculate
Say Hello Sunday, Hello Road
Hello Sunday, Hello Road“

When Bob Marley became too ill to perform, Stevie Wonder invited Scott-Heron to replace Marley on that tour. The Toronto Star assigned me to cover the concert and interview the 'Eighth Wonder of the World,' Stevie.

I ventured to Montreal only to discover that my soon-to-be friend, Dick Griffey, a concert promoter, president of the Black Music Association and head of Solar records-- was the promoter of this concert.

I was reunited with Scott-Heron in Montreal and he introduced me to his wife at the time, the Shreveport, Louisiana born actress Brenda Sykes.

When I was introduced to Ms. Sykes I joked: “My Uncle Printis married Rose who I believed was a Sykes and she was also born in Louisiana. We may be cousins by marriage.”

In a telephone conversion with my aunt she confirmed that Brenda is indeed her cousin.

It was in Montreal that I first met Scott-Heron’s brother, Dennis. Besides being a bit lighter in complexion than his brother, there was no doubt about it they were blood brothers. Dennis went on to manage his brother for a time.

Scott-Heron spoke about his father on one of his last tours of Scotland. Said Scott-Heron, “You Scottish folk always mention that my dad played for Celtic. It’s a blessing from the spirits”.

It has become a tradition among Scott-Heron fans to show up at his Glasgow shows in Celtic tops.

At one concert, he joked: “There you go again – once again overshadowed by a parent.”
Norman Richmond is a Toronto-based writer/broadcaster/human rights activist. Richmond can be reached

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