Gil Scott-Heron Rhymes a Revolution

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Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron helped to create the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. NPR hide caption

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The man who rapped about revolution in 1971 is talking about civil rights, but now he's signing a different tune.

Gil Scott-Heron won fame with his funky spoken-word piece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." To this day, the subjects of Scott-Heron's soulful piano tunes range from civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer to coal mining towns in Tennessee.

But what people may not know is that Scott-Heron played an instrumental role in getting an official national holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. In the summer of 1980, Scott-Heron went on tour with Stevie Wonder. They rallied people in Washington to support the Black Congressional Caucus' proposal for a King holiday.

"Stevie wanted to make a serious point," says Scott-Heron. "For that, he believed he needed someone whose music was both serious and entertaining. That's where I came in."

Asked whether there are any modern-day revolutionaries like King, Scott-Heron says revolution doesn't happen with one person "turning on a light switch." Rather, he says, it's like moving a large obstacle that takes "a lot of folks' efforts to push it in one direction."

On our blog, Gil Scott-Heron reads a poem from his new collection, The Last Holiday and also plays "Three Miles Down."

Plus, an open thread: It's MLK Day. Where's your head?

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