GREG TATE, VISIONARY CULTURAL CRITIC, DIES AT 64
Greg Tate, journalist, essayist, and author—one of the most influential writers of this century, who elevated writing on Black culture and all it influenced from jazz to hip hop, art and film—died on Dec. 7, in New York City. He was 64.
His daughter, Chinara Tate, confirmed the death. No cause was given.
Standing on a long line in Trader Joe’s, casually glancing down at my phone and suddenly without any self-control, I yell out, “What, What the hell!!!!!” Immediately all eyes are on me. People standing near me on line started inching away. Tears were running out of my eyes like a waterfall at the cashier, words were difficult. No, they didn’t understand: the text on my phone stated, Greg Tate has died.
NO, not Tate. He was our indestructible “Iron Man,” a Black warrior, fighting through America’s dark cloak of myths, swinging his sharp words like a long sword penetrating through the B.S. Just acknowledging he is gone is very difficult.
No fronting here, Tate and I weren’t running buddies but we were kindred brothers. We appeared together on a few panels some years ago. Every time he spoke I wanted to pull out a pen and take notes, he was that prolific. This cat was like a ray of sunshine: in his presence he made you glow, gave you confidence to move forward with your project or another perspective on whatever subject.
He was a mentor to thousands from around the world. After contacting a friend in South Africa, he texted me the following, “I will never forget the long silent walk in the direction of the mountain of the San and Khoi gods, Table Mountain, in Cape Town where we were both scheduled to talk at a literary festival, Open Book Fest. I will never forget Greg. I will never forget not to forget Greg. Even if, in a fit of exorcism I try to: because Greg now fully lives in our spiritual and intellectual blood streams. The realm of the gods,” said Bongani Madondo, personal friend and one of Tate’s mentees by osmosis, in Johannesburg, SA.
You didn’t have to be in his presence; just read his works to feel his WORDS and understand the urgency of Now. His “Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America” and “Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader (2016)” are mandatory readings. If you date back to the 1980s like me, then reading him every week in the Village Voice (which hit the newsstands on Tuesday night) was an automatic reflex. His weekly afro-futurism interpretation of the music from funk, jazz, hip hop, art, literature, sci-fi, race, film, and history were astounding (at the same time he opened doors for so many young folks in all these fields). He was a Black intellectual with roots in the hood never looking to take prisoners, writing in the middle of a Cecil Taylor tune which only the hip or inspired could really dig.
Not seeing him playing and conducting his big band Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber is a big loss. They were unlike any other, but you wouldn’t expect any less from the cofounder of the Black Rock Coalition. Their repertoire of classics and original compositions swung in deep funk, hip hop, avant garde and everything in between. Earlier this year, Tate conducted the Arkestra during a live performance at the Apollo Theater during the screening of the original Gordon Parks film of “Shaft.” Kicking a new rendition of Issac Hayes’ theme song “Theme from Shaft.” And, lest we forget, his collaboration with one of the most important figures in jazz, composer Butch Morris on the Burnt Sugar Album “The Rites.” The rock group Bad Brains would have never entered my vocabulary if not for Tate.
Those in-person chats made it possible to see that smile, the twinkle in his eyes and hear his words that flowed like a Wayne Shorter solo. Always one to ask “How is the writing going?” or “What are you working on?” It wasn’t about him, it was about him sharing his knowledge and just being real.
During his time at the Village Voice, young Tate was writing with big willie cats like Stanley Crouch, Nat Hentoff, Gary Giddins and investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. He was swimming with these big fish and shining. I read his piece first, then on to Crouch and Barrett, Giddins and Hentoff, who was on the last page. At that point Tate and Crouch were blazing guns and Thulani Davis—dam, all hard-hittin visionaries, nuff said.
At times his words were so deep it felt like Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra caught up in a beef, looking through my dictionary or googling online to understand his lines. His vocabulary was so enticing, so hip with a groove that caught the attention of the Black bourgeoisie, LBGTQ crew, hip hop and intellectuals of all races. Yo, this brother got it going on and on and on!! His words danced with Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray with the wit of Oscar Brown Jr.
You know the brother that wears the hip caps, colorful scarf wrapped around his neck and the tinted glasses. He had swag with a tad of Monk happening, don’t even think about attempting to duplicate Tate, it’s not going to happen! But we can all take his advice and keep reading his writings. Gon’ Greg Tate, we got your legacy, thanks so much for Being and sharing.